On Wednesday, Feb. 3, former Knesset member and Israeli Defense Force Brigadier General Effie Eitam spoke to a crowd of teenagers, parents and protestors at the Hillel Jewish University Center. While the presentation was purportedly about the threat of a nuclear Iran to Israel, Eitam spent nearly half his speech discussing the Palestinian conflict.
The Chronicle sat down with Eitam the following day to speak about his perception of both the Palestinian and Iranian situation regarding Israel, as well as his reception in Pittsburgh. In his own words:
Jewish Chronicle: How did you feel your presentation went over last night?
Effie Eitam: I was very pleased. We shouldn’t take the support of these young people in America for granted in Israel. We should make Israel a constant, stable light for them. I allowed in several of these very, I would say, impolite speakers from the Palestinian supporters. For me that was a very big disappointment. I thought they would come and talk about the issues, but what they actually did was shout and offend me and the whole event, demonstrating beyond words how shallow, irrelevant and rude their attitude is. They just gave the feeling that, so far, they’re not ready to talk.
JC: You made that point in your speech as well, that when the Palestinians are ready to talk, Israel would be waiting to talk.
EE: Israel proved it wants to make peace, and it can make peace with its neighbors, even if withdrawal from territories is needed. We withdrew from Sinai; we withdrew from Lebanon. We withdrew from everywhere. But the withdrawal from Gaza, it was followed by more terror. The Palestinians proved again that they don’t miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
JC: With Palestinian leadership being volatile, do you feel they care more about the destruction of Israel than the protection of their own people?
EE: At the end of the day, they are not a mature, responsible leadership. They are evil people, motivated by false religious objectives and goals. They call the name of God in vain; they make God a power who loves killing and bloodshed. That’s one of the reasons Iran as a state has committed itself to the total destruction of Israel while we don’t have any conflict, territorial claims of one from the other.
JC: How representative is the Palestinian leadership of its people? Is there a divide?
EE: It’s very hard to say. In Israel, we can hear the people’s voice. But the Palestinians don’t have a collective voice. If they had a real election free from fear and manipulation, they would’ve elected an entirely different kind of leadership (Hamas was elected in 2006). I can be sure that until they are no longer in the hands of the radical leaders, with intensive, sophisticated brainwash coming through the education system, they won’t have a chance to express or to learn some other alternative. Palestinians are human beings. At the end of the day, they want what everyone wants — pride, security, standards of living being high. But so far, they don’t have any vehicle through which that can happen.
JC: What will it take to give them that vehicle?
EE: A very long time. So what do they need? The journey toward being a stable democracy is a very long journey — that’ll have to be repaired on the very low, minimal level of abandoning this suicide mentality. The sooner that we understand that it’ll be a long process, the better we can help it happen. Withdrawal is not a golden key for peace, it might be a complementary element of a comprehensive peace, but not something which can stand for itself. Those who push Israel to withdraw, it’ll be a failure.
JC: Does Israel have a role in helping to change the mentality?
EE: Yes. Israel is the wonderful window for the Palestinians for how shiny, promising and good the alternative can be. [Palestinians are] not living surrounded by dictatorships. They travel in Israel, they work in Israel. They know how promising and how flourishing democracy can be. We must help them to get rid of those radical elements that dominate their life, bringing them to a dead end. Sometime you have to deal with the wild, natural grass that oppresses and dominates the field. If you don’t deal with that, you’ll have no corn, just wild grass that you can do nothing with.
Then we must do what we can to provide them with the right ideas. One of the problems with the free Western world is that we’re no longer sure that our system is better. The post-modernist ideology says, “Fine. If that’s what they’ve selected, it’s fine.” But it’s not. We must be very clear that our system is a better one, not just for us, but for every human being.
JC: What you’re saying seems similar to America’s current role in Iraq. What could Israel learn from America’s successes and failures in Iraq?
EE: It’s a very appropriate, noble mission that America took on herself to help nations to shift and adapt these better alternatives. Many people who might criticize America for having that goal, I don’t agree. You have to commit yourself to these missions for decades, though. In order to shift into the system that works, it takes decades.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.)