The following interview with Golda Meir by Oriana Fallaci was posted at Political Vindication on January 1, 2009. Meir speaks about Gaza, the West Bank and the Arab mindset. How easy it is to forget some of the great wisdoms of the world’s most courageous leaders, how easy it is to dismiss lessons already learned, how easy it is to succumb to the sweet sound of tolerance.
Cross-posted by Political Vindication
I’m reading a book containing 14 of Oriana Fallaci’s interviews with the world’s most powerful people as of 1974 (it’s an out of print book titled “Interview With History“). It’s astounding for its raw glimpse into leaders that during the 1970’s were headlining newspapers and affecting nearly every family in the world in one way or another. With the current battle in the Gaza Strip raging right now in Israel, I thought it would be interesting to let you read a little of what Golda Meir said about Israel’s prospects for peace in November of 1972. She had been prime minister of Israel for over three years by then. (Note: I’ve edited some of her answers for brevity, always keeping in mind the power of the scalpel)
Oriana Fallaci: Mrs. Meir, when will there be peace in the Middle East? Will we be able to see this peace in our lifetimes?
Golda Meir: You will, I think. Maybe…I certainly won’t. I think the war in the Middle East will go on for many, many years. And I’ll tell you why. Because of the indifference with which the Arab leaders send their people off to die, because of the low estimate in which they hold human life, because of the inability of the Arab people to rebel and say enough.
Do you remember when Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s crimes during the Twentieth Communist Congress? A voice was raised at the back of the hall, saying, “And where were you, Comrade Khrushchev?” Khrushchev scrutinized the faces before him, found no one, and said, “Who spoke up?” No one answered. “Who spoke up?” Khrushchev exclaimed. And again no one answered. Then Khrushchev exclaimed “Comrade, I was where you are now.” Well, the Arab people are just where Khrushchev was, where the man was who reproached him without having the courage to show his face.
We can only arrive at peace with the Arabs through an evolution on their part that includes democracy. But wherever I turn by eyes to look, I don’t see a shadow of democracy. I see only dictatorial regimes. And a dictator doesn’t have to account to his people for a peace he doesn’t make. He doesn’t even have to account for the dead. Who’s ever found out how many Egyptian soldiers died in the last two wars? Only the mothers, sisters, wives, relatives who didn’t see them come back.Their leaders aren’t even concerned to know where they’re buried, if they’re buried. While we…
Fallaci: While you?…
Meir: Look at these five volumes. they contain the photograph and biography of every man and woman solider who died in the war. For us, every single death is a tragedy. We don’t like to make war, even when we win. After the last one, there was no joy in our streets. No dancing, no songs, no festivities. And you should have seen our soldiers coming back victorious. Each one was a picture of sadness. Not only because they had seen their brothers die, but because they had had to kill their enemies. Many locked themselves in their rooms and wouldn’t speak. Or when they opened their mouths, it was to repeat a refrain: “I had to shoot, I killed.” Just the opposite of the Arabs. After the war we offered the Egyptians an exchange of prisoners. Seventy of theirs for ten of ours, The answered, “but yours are officers, ours are fellahin! It’s impossible.” Fellahin, peasants. I’m afraid…
Fallaci: Will you ever give up Jerusalem, Mrs. Meir?
Meir: No. Never. No. Jerusalem no. Jerusalem never. Inadmissible. Jerusalem is out of the question. We won’t even agree to discuss Jerusalem.
Fallaci: Would you give up the West Bank of the Jordan?
Meir: On this point there are differences of opinion in Israel. So it’s possible that we’d be ready to negotiate about the West Bank. Let me make myself clearer. I believe the majority of Israelis would never ask the Knesset to give up the West Back completely. However, if we should come to negotiate with Hussein, the majority of Israelis would be ready to hand back part of the West Bank…
Fallaci: And Gaza? Would you give up Gaza, Mrs. Meir?
Meir: I say that Gaza must, should be part of Israel. Yes, that’s my opinion. Our opinion, in fact. However, to start negotiating, I don’t ask Hussein or Sadat to agree with me on any point…
Fallaci: And the Golan Heights?
Meir: It’s more or less the same idea. The Syrians would like us to come down from the Golan Heights so that they can shoot down at us as they did before. Needless to say, we have not intention of doing so, we’ll never come down from the plateau. Nevertheless, we’re ready to negotiate with the Syrians too.
Fallaci: And the Sinai?
Meir: We’ve never said that we wanted the whole Sinai or most of the Sinai. We don’t want the whole Sinai. We want control of Sharm El Sheikh and part of the desert, let’s say a strip of the desert, connecting Israel with Sharm El Sheikh. Is that clear? Must I repeat it?…
Fallaci: And so it’s obvious you’ll never go back to your old borders.
Meir: Never. And when I say never, it’s not because we mean to annex new territory. It’s because we mean to ensure our defense, our survival. If there’s any possibility of reaching the peace you spoke of in the beginning, this is the only way. There’d never be peace if the Syrians were to return to the Golan Heights, if the Egyptians were to take back the whole Sinai, if we were to re-establish our 1967 borders with Hussein. In 1967, the distance to Natanya and the sea was barely ten miles, fifteen kilometers, IF we give Hussein the possibility of covering those fifteen kilometers, Israel risks being cut in two and…They accuse us of being expansionist, but believe me, we’re not interested in expanding. We’re only interested in new borders. And look, these Arabs want to go back to the 1967 borders. IF those borders were the right ones, why did they destroy them?
Fallaci: But since the 1967 cease-fire, the war in the Middle East has taken on a new face: the face of terror, of terrorism. What do you think of this war and the men who are conducting it? OF Arafat, for instance, of Habash, of the Black September leaders?
Meir: I simply think they’re not men. I don’t even consider them human beings, and the worst thing you can say of a man is that he’s not a human being. It’s like saying he’s an animal, isn’t it? But how can you call what they’re doing “a war”? Don’t you remember what Habash said when he had a bus full of Israeli children blown up? “It’s best to kill the Iseaelis while they’re still children.”
Come on, what they’re doing isn’t a war. It’s not even a revolutionary movement because a movement that only wants to kill can’t be called revolutionary. Look, at the beginning of the century in Russia, in the revolutionary movement that rose up to overthrow the czar, there was one party that considered terror the only means of struggle. One day a man from this party was sent with a bomb to a street corner where the carriage of one of the czar’s high officials was supposed to pass. The carriage went by at the expected time, but the official was not alone, he was accompanied by his wife and children.
So what did this true revolutionary do? He didn’t throw the bomb. He let it go off in his hand and was blown to pieces. Look, we too had our terrorist groups during the War of Independence: the Stern, the Irgun. And I was opposed to them, I was always opposed to them. But neither of them ever covered itself with such infamy as the Arabs have done with us. Neither of them ever put bombs in supermarkets or dynamite in school buses. Neither of them ever provoked tragedies like Munich or Lod airport.
Fallaci: And how can one fight such terrorism, Mrs. Meir? Do you really think it helps to bomb Lebanese villages?
Meir: …Maybe more than any other Arab country, Lebanon is offering hospitality to the terrorists. The Japanese who carried out the Lod massacre came from Lebanon, The girls who tried to hijack the Sabena plane in Tel Aviv had been trained in Lebanon. Are we supposed to sit here with our hands folded, praying and murmuring, “Let’s hope that nothing happens”? Praying doesn’t help. What helps is to counterattack. With all possible means, including means that we don’t necessarily like. Certainly we’d rather fight them in the open, but since that’s not possible…
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