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What We Can Learn From The London Blitz

Evelyn Gordon- Tuesday 30th Sep 2003

It was thus something of a shock to come across the following sentence in former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani's book, Leadership.

Describing his thoughts on the night of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, he wrote: "I thought about the people of London [during the Blitz] enduring relentless bombing and continuing to lead their lives. I thought about how people in present-day Israel do the same. It reaffirmed a strong feeling I had that Americans would rise to this challenge."

What really struck me about this statement, however, was the comparison between modern-day Israel and London during the Blitz. For me, as for all children of my generation, Britain during World War Two had always been the epitome of heroism: the country that made victory over Hitler's evil possible by defying him, alone and unaided, for almost two years.

Yet it had somehow never occurred to me before, that in the summer of 1940 the Londoners enduring the horrors of the Blitz had no surety of ultimate victory to comfort them; they must often have been gripped by the same despair that has so often gripped Israelis over the past three years.

Indeed, in that summer of 1940 victory seemed impossible. The Nazis had overrun the rest of Europe with frightening ease; the British army had been humiliatingly defeated and escaped by the skin of its teeth at Dunkirk; and America, shamefully, had declared a policy of strict neutrality between the brutal conquerors and its embattled ally. In 1940 the British had no hope, only grim, dogged endurance.

Yet it was precisely in this atmosphere of despair that Winston Churchill offered his famous recipe for victory: "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

That recipe worked for Britain then, and it can still work today for Israel.

LIKE ENGLAND then, Israel - despite its conventional military superiority over the Palestinians - probably cannot achieve victory unaided, because Palestinian terror has long since ceased to be a localized phenomenon. It is part of a global Islamic terrorist network and most of the money and arms it uses to perpetrate its atrocities come from overseas. Thus without international cooperation, Israel will be unable to halt that flow of money and arms.

Sadly, just as it was during World War Two, the necessary worldwide awakening has been painfully slow in coming. Yet when one compares the global situation today to what it was three years ago - the tougher post-9/11 US attitude toward terrorism, the EU's long-overdue decision last week to finally outlaw Hamas - it is clear that the movement has been in the right direction. Slowly the world is starting to realize that Islamic terrorism, in its own way, is as much of a global menace as Hitler was.

But while waiting for this awakening, Israel must also not neglect the first part of Churchill's recipe: Just as Britain did then, it must fight unrelentingly in every sphere where it is capable of acting alone. And on this front Israelis have the right to demand far more of their government.

From the string of successful liquidations of senior Hamas operatives in August - which, though welcome, made it clear that Israel could have eliminated these terrorists long ago, but instead chose to let them keep killing; through last week's disgraceful botch of an opportunity to take out the organization's entire leadership due to reluctance to use the requisite one-ton bomb; to Thursday's humiliating declaration of impotence in the form of a cabinet decision to "remove" Yasser Arafat, but not in the foreseeable future, it has become clear that our government is doing far less than the maximum it could to fight the terrorism scourge.

Yet there is also a third element to Churchill's recipe for success, no less important than cultivating international support and demanding more resolute action from our government: Israelis must never forget that even when the picture looks blackest, courage, endurance and resolution have the power to bring about victory.

It took the Londoners five long years before their courage bore fruit. Victory in the current war may also be heartbreakingly long in coming - but we do have the power, through our own determination, to make it happen.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator.



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