Howard Epstein



While such savants and intellectual giants as Roger Waters (co-founder of rock group, Pink Floydd) seek to inhibit other musicians from appearing in Israel and condemn “The Occupation” since 1967 of the West Bank with glib sound-bites, the real disgrace gets lost in all the chatter. So too does the proper and correct image of “The Occupation”.

For too long, fifty years too long, the Israeli nation has been held hostage, prisoners of a situation forced upon them by actors who have long since left the stage. Gone are Gamal Abdul Nasser and King Hussein, those luminous Arab leaders who promised to drive the Jews into the sea fifty years ago this week. Gone, too, is Palestinian pin-up, Yassir Arafat, who launched the Fata terror group two years before Israel was forced into occupying Judea and Samaria. (Which occupied territory did he want to liberate in 1965? That’s right. Ashkelon, Haifa and Tel Aviv.)

The Palestinians complain that they have been occupied these past 50 years. That’s nothing! All that time, Israel has been suffering from The Pre-Occupation. Israel has been pre-occupied by the burden of the West Bank and reliving the story of the Tar-Baby.



You remember the parable of the Tar-Baby, the 1880 story of the doll made of tar and turpentine used by the villainous Br’er Fox to entrap the ingenuous Br’er Rabbit. The more that Br’er Rabbit fights to rid himself of the Tar-Baby, the more stuck with him he becomes. That is Israel’s reality. The villains threw the Tar-Baby in our direction in June 1967, we copped it and, the more we have sought to rid ourselves of the sticky problem, the more it is irremovable.



Every time we seek to negotiate a consensual exit, our path is blocked. Why? They find it objectionable that Jews have forgotten their place in the Arab world. We are supposed to be supine in their presence, we are dhimmis, inherently inferior, we should know our place – below theirs – and pay obeisance, not demand that they parley with us as equals.

So there is the basic clash of cultures: we want to talk with them and they want to talk down to us – or they don’t want to talk to us at all.






Following the Six Day War for its survival – into which it was pitched by the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba and the scurrying home of the UN troops who were supposed to safeguard our border with Egypt – Israel made efforts to confer with its vanquished enemies, in order to rid itself of the West Bank Tar-Baby. Were that not so, there would never have been the Three No’s of Khartoum. They came with indecent, self-shaming haste. The Six Day War was over by Friday June 9, 1967. On September 1, having assembled in the Sudan, the Arab League (represented by the leaders of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, and Sudan) delivered their best stab at Arab poetry since Imru’ al-Qais (considered the father of Arabic poetry) was writing his literary gems in the 6th century CE. The pearls that the Arab luminaries in Khartoum cast before the Jewish swine whom they were forced to address, somewhat indirectly, were:-

No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiations with it.

It has a certain ring about it. Like the ring of a bell tolling a future of immobility. It has alliteration, too. Did you notice the repetition of the word “no”? You did! Not the most constructive of terms but, one has to admit, what it lacks in self-interest, it makes up in consistency.

The Three No’s emanate from the long tradition of nihilism that saw the Arabs of British Mandatory Palestine reject the Two State Solution (then called Partition) when it was offered to them by the British Peel Commission in 1936 – and again by the UN in 1947; and ever since it projected into the future a policy of inertia that has been stuffed down the gullets of the Palestinian people, like ducks and geese destined to be foie gras. Stay with this for there is more than one lesson in it.

The fowl of the foul French farmers are forced-fed twice a day for 13 days and the geese three times a day for around 17 days. The ducks are typically slaughtered at 100 days and the geese at 112 days.

And there are those who claim that Kashrut is cruel!

The Palestinians on the other hand are continuously force-fed nonsense by ruthless gangsters, determined to abase (or Abbas) their own people for their own personal aggrandisement. Were they to drop their anti-Semitism, they would receive a cornucopia of beneficence from an Israel that has sought to rid itself of the Tar-Baby for fifty years. But that would, for the Palestinian leadership, spoil everything.

Here is another Arab poet, this time with a stark commentary on the Arab condition:-

Our shouting is louder than our actions

Our swords are taller than us

This is our tragedy.

In short

We wear the cape of civilisation

But our souls live in the stone age.


Nizar Tawfiq Qabbani (born 1923 in Damascus, died 1988 London) was the versifier. A Syrian diplomat, poet and publisher, his style is said “to combine simplicity and elegance in exploring themes of love, eroticism, feminism, religion, and Arab nationalism”. One might add “and the truth”, for the Three No’s of Khartoum confirm his lament.

But back to the Tar-Baby, a metaphor for a sticky situation that gets worse the more one seeks to distance oneself from it. Now where is that briar patch, Br’er Rabbit’s source of escape? It has been sorely desired this last half century.

Can there be one Israeli family that watched its sons and daughters go off to the army, some of them inevitably to patrol the streets of Hebron, up to fifty years (and counting) after their predecessors were first compelled to do so, that saw them off with enthusiasm or even a grain of equanimity? Do the detractors of Israel think that we continue to rule over Judea and Samaria because we enjoy the subjugation of another people, who feel enmity by reason of our very presence. No, the truth about “The Occupation” is that, like the Tar-Baby it has been increasingly difficult to shake off. But being dhimmis no longer, we are not prepared to leave a vacuum in Judaea and Samaria – not least because we tried that twice with Southern Lebanon and Gaza, and got rockets in return for our selflessness.

There is one thing worse than The Occupation and that is The Pre-Occupation, for, when the Israel government wakes up in the morning, as it opens its eyes, it has to worry about what might go wrong on the West Bank that day. That is the condition of being pre-occupied. We have better things to do with our energies and our angst. Being Pre-Occupied by the West Bank (fresh metaphor warning!) is an albatross around our necks. Of course, the Palestinian leadership wants us to find this enervating but, if we did not weaken in the face of the several Intifadas, we are unlikely to give up the fight over the Pre-Occupation.

Talking of the Intifadas means returning to a consideration of terrorism. Here is the good news about terrorist organisations. It is not as though no terrorists have renounced terrorism. Indeed, few terrorists achieve their political ends by the continuation of their terror campaigns. Most recently the IRA appreciated that they could not win with weapons. And when did we last hear of the various European Red Brigades, the German Bader-Meinhof Gang, the American Weather Underground or the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo?

The Sunni terrorism that afflicts Europe today derives from that of the Sunni Palestinian terrorist efforts against Israel that have been tolerated and funded by the USA and Europe over the last half century, that is during the fifty years of the Pre-Occupation. What the Palestinian leadership should have been told at the outset was that Israel is a democratic country and the money-supply would cease unless terror were abandoned. Instead of that, street terrorism, as honed in the laboratory that is Israel, became commonplace and was seen to be wholly tolerated by (until it was inevitably visited upon) the West.

This is not a cynical attempt to de-fang the Palestinians so that their hopes collapse, but a constructive suggestion that their nihilistic leadership be undermined. That leadership has pursued a policy of brutalising its own people, even as they have seen the Israelis create a dynamic and, in many respects, world-leading economy, under the rule of law, with full democracy and an utterly unrestrained press.

The Palestinian people deserved better than their leaders have forced them to endure – deserved what the Israelis enjoy – but Western policy helped to deprive them of it. Thus we see that the Pre-Occupation Tar-Baby was constructed in the USA and Europe.

There is, however, a briar patch on hand. A belated intimation to the Palestinian leadership that no more violence will be tolerated or the philanthropy will cease, would be the second step to changing the narrative. The Gulf states beginning to isolate Qatar last week was the first.

The terrorism now being endured in the UK is on a continuum starting in Israel, passing through Europe and now erupting in the UK. Indicating that it has to stop will act to flag up that all terrorism is a dead-end in every sense.

A new beginning for the Palestinian people, with the equivalent of a Marshall Plan and affordable access to Israeli technology, would be a fitting and instructive reward for abjuring the terrorism that starts with the rearing of their children.

All the peoples of this world, whether in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Ramallah, Hebron or, as tourists, crossing London Bridge, are entitled to safety, peace, the freedom to exploit their own talents, self-respect and the respect of others. Showing that, where terrorism is concerned, only disavowing it pays, would catalyse the process to that outcome.

If the funders of Sunni terrorism change their ways, the Europeans can enjoy the return of peace, and quiet, and, in response to this advice, say: Ta, Baby!

Continue as before and they will be well and truly stuck with one of their own.

© Howard Epstein – June 2017

Howard Epstein’s book: Chaim Weizmann – The Indispensable Zionist will be published in August.

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