Since the second Intifada began in September 2000, 4,000 Israeli and Palestinian lives have been lost to fighting and terror. However, in the last five years in the Caucasus, 40,000 Chechens and Russians – mostly Chechens – have been killed in the ethnic-separatist conflict. And in the same five-year period, 3.3 million Congolese have perished from war, famine and mass killings. Even the numbers cannot express the hideous nature of the latter two conflicts, marked by systematic rape, torture, looting and wholesale execution, crimes unknown among the Israelis and Palestinians.
Strange then, that so many know the basics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet so few can even point out on a map where the Chechens live or say why militias are warring at present in the Congo. This betrays the fact that the fixation with Israel has little to do with humble concerns about human rights and peace – as many claim it does – for if that were the case, urgency and moral responsibility would direct their gaze elsewhere. To repeat, 10 times as many Chechens and nearly 1,000 times as many Congolese have died than in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. So what’s going on?
One explanation holds that since Arabs are being killed, it is only natural that this would provoke the lasting enmity of the 22 Arab nations. But Saddam Hussein was the greatest mass murderer of Arabs in the 20th century – killing more in some blood-soaked weeks than Israel has in three decades of war and occupation – yet Arabs marched in support of him last winter.
Could it be a Muslim issue, the concern of 1.2 billion Muslims ensuring a steady spotlight on Israel? In October 2003, the anti-Semitic former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammed spoke to the 57 Muslim-majority nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, calling for solidarity in the struggle against the Jews. But Muslims are now clashing in a dozen places with nearly every religious group – with Catholics in Nigeria and the Philippines; African animists in Sudan; Orthodox Christians in Russia and Serbia; Confucians in Xinjiang, China; Buddhists in Thailand; Hindus in India and Bangladesh – and often with far bloodier results. So why single out Israel?
The outcry over Jenin in April 2002 – based on a massacre that never even happened – was more furious than the perfunctory censure of the Hindu pogroms that butchered hundreds of Indian Muslims in February 2002, the rampaging Russian army that has caused the death and displacement of tens of thousands of Muslim Chechens since the mid-1990s or the brutal Serbian ethnic cleansing of Muslim Albanians in 1999. No one can point to boisterous riots in Arab capitals against India’s leaders, Syrian-sponsored resolutions condemning Russia in the United Nations or a single suicide bombing in Belgrade in revenge against the Serbs.
On the other hand, you can again point to rallies in support of Hussein or against the United States, a country that has saved more Muslims that any other in recent history, having rescued them in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and northern and southern Iraq. Americans recognize that Israel’s behavior epitomizes extraordinary restraint in the face of trials no people should be subjected to. Americans support Israel not just because we watched Palestinians dancing in the streets on 9/11, not just because we see a mirror of our own society in Israel and not just because we refuse to equate terrorism with fighting terrorism. Americans watch with admiration that a tiny country – its population the size of the Bay area’s – which has been the victim of five decades of terrorism and is surrounded by tens of millions of malcontents in unstable societies, still retains its democratic character and its hope.