The Game of Learning to Live with It

As I read the grim news from Israel daily — the acts of terrorism, the murders of men, women, and children; the deadly shootings on the roadways — I am struck increasingly by how Israelis have become inured to it all. And that truly is Israel’s worst problem, that the society has “learned to live with it.” They have “learned how to go on” with their lives.

I am reminded of a “Star Trek” episode from the original series, in which two planets are at war. They have been at war for so long, with no end in sight, that they devise a “brilliant” plan to allow their war to continue forever, without marring their ecologies, their lovely buildings, their art. Essentially, they just play an electronic war game, and each side records how many “hits” it has successfully struck each day — how many “virtual people” have been “killed” electronically on the opposing planet. Under the rules of this “painless aesthetic war,” each side agrees to accept the losses registered in the game and gamely sends that number of its real-live people, who are resident in the “hit” areas, to a death machine to expire — pursuant to the losses sustained in the “electronic war game.” Thus, they accept a certain number of deaths each day. They have “learned to live with it.”

That is Jewish life in Planet Israel. As in the “Star Trek” episode, the Israelis have “learned to live with it.”

By coming to “accept the way it is” — in agreeing to allow a certain number of Jews to be sacrificed each day or week to terrorism — the Israeli government and the society that it is duty-bound to protect also have learned to preserve the ecology of the situation, the lush JNF forests, the moral luxury of feeling above-the-fray. Thus, Israel has preserved an “ecology of ethics,” having decided to play the game and to lose a few citizens each day under the rules of the game, citizens murdered on the road, citizens bombed at the vegetable market, or just butchered on the street. And Israel resists changing the rules, fearing to take the actions needed to stop the game.

On the TV show, Captain Kirk finally took the steps necessary to alter the game, to shock the planet’s conscience. He destroyed the death chamber (or something like that) to force the planets to stop “just living with it” and to deal with the grim barbaric realities of their ostensibly interminable situation. Suddenly, with its death chamber destroyed, one planet could not perfunctorily dispatch its victims to die, and the planets faced a breakdown in their bloodless war, with a possiblity of needing to revive their weapons of messy destruction. But that would have created a situation that was unacceptably inelegant, so they had to begin working on changing the status quo, maybe even creating an end to the war atmosphere.

Like those make-believe planets, Israel needs a “shock” that will jolt the playing board. As an American, it is repugnant to me to watch a society just “learn to live with it.” We Americans are fortunate. We are big enough and strong enough to determine that we will not “live with it.” So we don’t. No one goes around taking pot shots at American citizens for long. Drop a boulder from an overpass onto a passing car, and you are in jail for life if it kills someone in that passing vehicle. End of story. Do what Buford Furrow did, and you are in jail for life — if you are lucky. End of story. No parole. No second chance.

In Israel, even if the murderer is caught, and assuming he is tried and convicted, he goes free in a few years. It is all a game. And if Arafat catches him first, then the butcher benefits from an Oslo “double jeopardy” arrangement that basically prohibits Israel from meting justice to someone whom Arafat “punishes” first. So the PLO “catches” the cutthroat, puts him in jail. And then a few days later, he “escapes” — think: “Get Out of Jail Free” — and the game ends after a visit to “Free Parking.” Shuffle the Jews again and play another round.

We don’t do that in America. So our roads are safe. And no politician would dare soft- pedal the issue. More than Israel can benefit from American economic ideas of free enterprise or from American practices of good manners and civility, Israel needs to learn from American impatience towards criminality that is socially unacceptable. Murder is unacceptable. Treason is unacceptable. And one cannot sensibly reach a stage of “living with it.” When the day comes that the Israeli government starts acting to redefine the rules of the game, we should be prepared to be Israel’s first line of moral defense in America.