April 26, 2002
With the kind of impartiality that the United Nations is famous for when it comes to the Middle East, its envoy there -- Terje Roed-Larsen -- looked around the ruins of Jenin's refugee/armed camp and concluded: "Not any objective can justify such action, with colossal suffering ... ."
One wonders if this distinguished envoy has ever seen other such scenes -- the films of Stalingrad after the siege, for example. Or the remains of Dresden. Or what was left of Hiroshima after The Bomb was dropped. Or what Berlin looked like in the final days of Hitler's thousand-year Reich. Or just any city through which a major battle has been fought.
Urban Warfare has such a sterilized, textbook sound. You might see it on a lesson plan in ROTC, or hear a lecture about it at the Army War College by somebody in a well-pressed uniform who uses a pointer and overhead projector. Point by point, it is all so clear, so well organized, so ... theoretical.
The reality is mothers looking for their children amid the stench of decaying corpses, soldiers wounded for life not just physically but in mind and soul, horrors waiting under blankets, assorted body parts, pain impossible to bear, and sheer, bowel-shattering fear.
Was all the death and destruction worth it? Think of how many lives might have been spared if only the counsel of Terje Roed-Larsen had been followed and the camps left untouched, a sanctuary for those who would make the lives of others unbearable.
The U.N.'s envoy is speaking in the hallowed tradition of another great Norwegian, Vidkun Quisling. Think of all the lives he spared by cooperating with the Nazis -- and the only thing lost was freedom.
You who read this in freedom, and we who write it in safety behind our capacious desks in clean, well-lighted offices, can do so only because, in a thousand places at a thousand times, grimy, terrified, unsure young soldiers in the fullness of life were willing to give theirs rather than tell themselves, "Not any objective can justify such action, with colossal suffering ... ."
Mr. Roed-Larsen's is the attitude Yasser Arafat's various militias were counting on when they built their nests in the centers of the Palestinian population. From there they could terrorize Israel's cities, then disappear in the twisted alleys of Nablus or somewhere deep in Jenin's warrens. Or maybe seek out a holy site and cry sanctuary. It worked. Until three weeks ago. Then there was Hell to pay. Yes, General Sherman's one-word definition of war still applies. Just see Jenin.
After one deadly ambush there in a booby-trapped building, the Israelis started bulldozing right through structures, leaving rough avenues for their tanks where blocks of buildings had been. They refused to march down the street like soldiers on parade, perfect targets, the way the terrorists doubtless would have preferred. War is not just Hell but a Hell of a teacher.
The Israelis could have used air power instead of infantry and armor, and, in the style of Americans in Afghanistan, fought much of this war long distance. They could have proceeded to level Nablus' casbah and Jenin's refugee camp with little or no risk to their own troops. Instead, they opted to fight house by house, block by block, in order to minimize civilian casualties, and they paid the price. Thirteen reservists died when one young soldier tripped the wrong wire. (Anything that could be booby-trapped in Jenin was, including the dead.)
Israel's reward is now to be lectured by a handsome, well-dressed official of the United Nations. (On television, even his bright blue flak jacket looks tailored.) Of course he would be with the U.N., which over the years has allowed its camps to become centers of terror, complete with arsenals and bomb factories.
This is the same U.N. that declined offers of blood plasma from Israeli donors for people caught in Jenin, causing a critical delay in humanitarian aid. The U.N. preferred to wait for help from Jordan rather than accept "Jewish blood." The more things change, the more types like Terje Roed-hyphen-Larsen remain the same.
Oh, yes, Mr. Roed-Larsen also objected
to Israel's refusal to allow the U.N. to enter the battle zone sooner.
This time he may have a point: The Israelis missed a bet. They should have
invited Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen himself to cut a few of those trip wires
they found all over Jenin, or maybe defuse some of the bodies that had
been rigged to explode. Now that would have been a sight to see. From a
Back To Politically Incorrect Menu