Arnold Roth addresses the previous year's
Med Bridge gathering in Jerusalem, October 2003
ladies and gentlemen of Europe and of Israel, friends:
The world is divided into two camps. On one side are those people who
see terrorism as a warning of danger ahead. Unless something is done,
they say, a catastrophe may happen.
On the other side are those people whose lives have been turned upside
down, never to be the same again, because terrorism has struck them, has
fallen on top of them, has brought catastrophe right into their lives. I
want to spend a few minutes looking at the differences between these two
camps, and to suggest some reasons why each camp seems to find it so
hard to understand the other.
By what right do I speak? I am a professional person, a man in his
fifties, educated, informed, with respectable qualifications. Still, I hold no
academic position and no public office. I harbor absolutely no
political ambitions and I take no part in public debate. Of the
different ways there are to define me, the one I prefer - the one which
best represents who I am and what I do - is that I am a husband and a
I brought my family to Israel in 1988 not because Australia was a
miserable place and not because my wife and I were unable to earn a
living. The opposite is true. We came to Israel despite the comfort and
pleasure of life in Melbourne. There, we earned a good living, lived in
a lovely home, had friends, felt safe and were safe. We moved to Israel
to raise our children here because this is the historic home of the
Jewish people, the right place for Jews to be. Our parents and
grandparents and great-great-great grandparents dreamed of doing this
but were not able. We were able, and therefore we did it.
Everything in our lives changed forever when Malki, our middle child, a
delightful fifteen year old girl with a constant smile on her beautiful
face, was killed on 9th August 2001.
Malki died like more than one
thousand other Israelis in the last four years - innocent and
unprepared. She was not caught in the crossfire of some battle. She was
not a bystander. She was murdered with fourteen other Israelis in a
restaurant in the middle of the day, in the middle of this city. The
women and children in that pizza restaurant on a hot school-holiday
afternoon were the actual target. The terrorists who planned the
massacre took their orders from a pediatrician and from a minister of
religion in a wheelchair. They picked their target with exquisite care.
The bomber was the son of a
land-owning wealthy family. The other gang
members were mainly university-educated and well-traveled. To call them
'desperate', as many journalists have done, is to completely twist the meaning
of the word 'desperate'.
On the day that the joy of life was turned into ashes for my family and
me, men and women in villages close to where we are now sitting danced
in the streets and distributed candies to their children. We have the
I said a few moments ago that I take no part in public debate, but this
is not true any longer. My daughter's murder and the confusion and
ignorance which we have seen around us compelled my wife and me to find
our voice, and to speak and to write at every opportunity. We used to be
the most private of people. Now we feel an urgent need to speak out. We
try to shape abstract ideas for people so they can understand them. We
try to give expression to the agony and the misery of the desperate
families around us - the Israeli families, desperate... for peace.
If, like me, you are ready to sit down and listen to Israeli families
who have experienced murder at the hands of the barbarians, I can tell
you what you will hear. Like almost every Israeli I have ever met,
terror victim families want to see the Palestinian Arabs live productive
lives, travel in safety, obtain a good education for their children,
make money, receive good medical care. The miserable reality of their
daily lives is far from what we wish them - and this brings absolutely
no happiness or comfort to our side. The opposite is true. The struggle
between them and us which is asymmetrical in so many respects is
asymmetrical on this point too. If only they would feel protective of
their achievements, if only they felt they have something to lose, if
only they could experience the pride of a Palestinian Arab winner of a
Nobel Prize for physics or literature...
Forty years of a corrupt and
incompetent regime has assured that there is almost nothing of worth
which they can lose.
Instead, we Israelis today are obliged to cope with the actual
day-to-day legacy of the Arafat regime and its kleptocratic leaders: the
dozens of crooked men who have grown wealthy on the back of their
people's misery; the teachers of religion who have hijacked a noble
faith and turned it into a tragic parody; the teenage boys and girls,
raised on a diet of racist hatred and on the glorification of violence
In 1977 the great political analyst Walter Laqueur
wrote this: "The
disputes about a detailed, comprehensive definition of terrorism will
continue for a long time, they will not result in a consensus and they
will make no notable contribution towards the understanding of
He was absolutely right. The United Nations via its many agencies has
still not found the way to agree on a definition of terror. But
terrorism, like pornography with which it shares some characteristics,
is hard to define but not so hard to recognize when you meet it.
The hatred and the barbarism of the terrorists are not a component of
the political struggle between Israelis and Arabs. They are outside
politics, beyond it and largely unconnected to it. Terrorism is absolute
evil. Unless it is stopped by necessary and sufficient force, it will
neither evaporate nor crumble. It will grow, and change form, and expand
and spread. It cannot be appeased, and it must not be understood. We
suffer from a grotesque surplus of understanding, whose price is human
lives. A force which can take deliberate aim at an infant's head and
shoot, a force which can plant a bomb in a pizza restaurant, or in a
railway station, on a passenger jet or in a kindergarten, is a force
I was raised by parents who knew about hell.
My father, who died before Malki was born, grew up in the Auschwitz
death camp. My mother lives in quiet retirement in Australia today, but
she was there too. A month after her fifteenth birthday, my mother's
little Polish town was over-run by Nazi forces and her father, my
grandfather, was arrested for the usual crime of being Jewish. Before he
could be taken away, my mother threw herself at the feet of a German
soldier and screamed for mercy. Somehow this worked, her father was
released and the family remained together for several more months. My
grandparents, like the grandparents of all of the friends I grew up
with, were eventually murdered.
My parents, like all of the Jewish
refugees who came to Australia after the second world war, came with
nothing - no parents, no property, no education. But they brought with
them a powerful sense of history - of their own history, and of the
history of the Jewish people. They established schools, synagogues,
social welfare agencies, sports clubs. They created a new life. They
found within themselves resources of love and mutual concern and
Although the shape of their lives was marked by their experience as
Holocaust survivors, hatred was unknown in the life they made for me and
for my generation. They simply had no time for hating - they were busy
building a future for themselves, their children and their community.
This success, I believe, was their revenge over the Nazis.
I mentioned the experience of my mother when she was fifteen. In 1967, I
was fifteen. I remember watching my parents and their friends as they
grew deeply apprehensive about Gamal Abdel Nasser and his open threat to
throw all the Jews of Israel into the sea and destroy the young Jewish
state. For the first time in my life, I could see that there were people
ready to annihilate the Jews. And I could see there were others like U
Thant, the then-secretary general of the United Nations, who might have
blocked Nasser's aggression but
chose not to. Arafat was already in the
picture, by the way - he had become one of the key movers in the PLO in 1964 when the
number of Israeli occupied settlements and Israeli army checkpoints was,
of course, zero. All of this made a deep impression on me. Then war
erupted, a Six Day War as it turned out, and Israel was saved. For me,
the distance between Jerusalem and Melbourne grew very small from that
Most of us in this room are parents. We know that fifteen is a young
age. At fifteen we have some of our basic ideas, and the general shape
of our personality is in place. But we still have a lot of growing up to
do. Malki, my daughter, will never reach her sixteenth birthday. We
honour her memory by a fund called the Malki Foundation. Like Malki
herself, the foundation gives support to families who are caring at home
for a severely disabled child. Our foundation has already managed to
support hundreds of such families - Druze, Christian, Moslem, Jewish.
Like my daughter, this work has no political character. Its goal is to
add some light, some happiness to the lives of ordinary people facing an
I had the great privilege of speaking to
the first Med Bridge group in
Jerusalem a year ago - in October 2003. I introduced myself to the 170 distinguished
visiting politicians and parliamentarians as someone who is not at all involved
in the political process - in fact, as someone who tries to keep himself
and his family as far away as possible from politics and from
politicians. Please excuse my bluntness. I am not among those who
seek truth from politicians, because I prefer to get my disappointments
I spoke then about how life can look very different depending on whether
you are sitting on your sofa watching the television news, or standing
on the other side - living the news. The three years that have passed
since my daughter died at the hands of terrorists have taught me how
different those two experiences are - how little information is given by
the news media about the victims of terrorism. The frustration, the
loneliness, the pain.
In the year since the first Med Bridge group came to Jerusalem, I have
met dozens of journalists and my understanding of how they do their work
has gotten a little deeper and wider. The questions I had then, I still
have. I have some additional questions. I'm puzzled by how a reporter
from a serious newspaper or a journalist from an important television
station can arrive at Ben Gurion Airport and know almost nothing about
the history of the Israeli and Arab sides in this terribly long
conflict. I have been asked questions where it's clear to me the person
holding the microphone has almost no ability to understand the context
of the events bring reported. Context is an important thing. Without it,
almost nothing makes sense.
There are many other things about the work of journalists, film editors
and other media professionals which completely baffle me. In fact, it
was not clear to me how large are the questions that informed people
have about the media until I found myself part of the news.
Earlier this year, three friends and I went to a conference in Europe.
This was the first ever conference of victims of terror. Hundreds of
people were in the hall when we arrived - representing the host country,
other European countries, the United States, Latin America, North
Africa. Some weeks earlier, the organizers notified us that citizens of
Israel would be free to take part in this conference provided that we
paid the admission fee and sat quietly in the audience. But as Israelis,
we would not be permitted to speak from the platform, and no steps would
be taken to give official recognition to an Israeli contingent in the
conference. In simple words, the message was "please don't come". So of
course we came.
A few minutes before the start of the conference, one of the officials
in the government of that country, a friend of Israel, approached me and
asked if I would be willing to speak in the opening panel. Though I was
unprepared, I said "of course" and that's when I learned that there were
sitting in that hall, at that exact moment, in the conference of victims
of terror, three special guests - the ambassadors of Syria, Iran and
the Palestinian Authority. But the organizers did not want an official Israeli presence.
The story is long, but I will make it short. From the panel, I spoke
about the personal experience of victims of terror and it was
immediately clear that many of the widows and orphans in that audience
knew exactly what I was describing.
Hundreds of people spoke with my
three Israeli friends and me during the gathering, all of us
identifiable because of the small Israeli flag
badges on our clothing. At the end of the conference, we met by chance
with some officials of the foreign ministry of the host country, and in
our polite Israeli fashion, we explained how really upsetting it was for
us to know that they intended for us to be persona non grata in
the conference and despite this, we found tremendous solidarity from
among the participants.
Well, the response was - please come to our foreign ministry tomorrow
and we will have a conversation. So we did, and in this way we met some
of the top officials of the foreign ministry including the deputy
minister. This senior group explained to us that while there is
authentic terrorism in Europe, in the United States, in Latin America,
we in Israel must recognize that ours is actually a political conflict,
and the solution must be a political solution. One of my Israeli friends
objected to this, and expressed some strong personal words, not so
politically correct, about the broad threat to Europe of radical Islam.
My impression is that his comments were brushed aside or not heard.
Three weeks later, most of the people with whom we met in that foreign
ministry were out of a job. Madrid, the capital of Spain and the host of
our conference, discovered in the hardest possible way that terrorism
can take many forms. I was invited back to a second Spanish conference
which took place in June. This time, I was asked to speak as an Israeli.
Many things had changed for the Spanish since March 11th.
Your mission, as Med Bridge participants, as political leaders concerned
to create a better world for the people of the Middle East, is a
complicated one - and I wish you the greatest possible success. The
mission of my wife and me, and hundreds of other Israeli families, as
people who want to go on living after our child or husband or wife or
parent or brother or sister was murdered by terrorists, is also
complicated. We want to look to the future, but we can only do this by
understanding the present and learning from the past.
There is, as I am sure you already know, a well-developed sense of
history among us Israelis. We turn to history when we want to understand
who we are, where we belong, what we can expect from others. I mention
this, in closing, because I want to share with you the extreme pain I -
we - feel when we read about certain recent developments in European
a German survey of German-born Germans found that more than
half think there is no difference between Israel's current treatment of
the Palestinian Arabs and what the Nazis did to the Jews. 68 percent of
Germans believe that Israel is waging a "war of extermination" against
the Palestinians. I could give you my theory of how the media in
Germany, in Europe and almost everywhere else contributes to ignorance
of Israeli reality. I could tell you how journalists create, and at the
same time are the result of, an almost total ignorance of what the
Holocaust was. But if I did that, I would also have to point out to you
that Germany happens to be one of the countries in Europe where they do
make serious efforts to understand the Holocaust and the truth of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yet they do not share our sense that
Israel has been fighting one long defensive war of survival against an
enemy that wants to ethnically cleanse Jews from their historic homeland
for a century.
Also last week, the
BBC published a survey showing that barely a third
of young people in Britain have even heard the name Auschwitz and don't
know what it is, where it is or what happened there.
I spoke of my experiences in Spain a few moments ago. A Spanish-born
philosopher, George Santayana who died in the year I was born, wrote
this: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I
believe this statement carries with it a great deal of wisdom. My
daughter does not belong to the past - at least, she doesn't when we sit
together around the Sabbath table and enjoy one another's company in our
family. We feel her presence. We feel her absence. We are determined to
do whatever we can so that her memory will endure, that she will never
become just another statistic.
As a family, as a society, we are in a perpetual struggle to remember
the past, to hold a vision of a better future, and to do everything we
can so that the fifteen year old children together with their goodness
and their dreams - children on both sides of the sad conflict here in
this land - can grow to productive adulthood, free of the curse of
hatred and of terror.
May your work be blessed.
Med Bridge website:
Med Bridge Stategy Center is a non-profit organisation
based in Brussels.
What we expect from Europeans is for them not to behave
as judges nor as prosecutors. We have to be a fair partner as well as a
guide for the people of the region. We want to send a strong signal in
order to promote a solid relationship based on trust.
Because Europe will be itself only if it remains faithful
to its own values Because it has to face its responsibilities based on
its own history. Because its future is strongly linked to peace in the
region. Because the political role it plays does not measure up to its
We have created Med Bridge
Med Bridge's objective is to create better understanding
of the situation with European leaders and to establish strong links
between Europe's political and the Middle Eastern political and civil
It is also Med Bridge's mission to identify those in the
Palestinian society that represent democratic values in order to promote
a stronger dialogue between them and their Israeli and European
Med Bridge aims to create and further projects that,
promote peace, security, and stability, in this volatile region.
Haaretz: "Most of the
delegates found Roth far more persuasive than the government officials
Report of the 2003 Med Bridge visit.