Twenty-six people were killed in the Newark riots of 1967. Later that month, 43 people were killed in the Detroit riots. In both cases, and in other race-related riots of that period, some of the dead were victims of the police -- 18 in Detroit alone, where six more were killed by the National Guard. There were many instances of police brutality and insensitivity. I know. I saw some of it.
In contrast, about 22 people have died as a result of Arab rioting in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The figure, while tragic and inexcusable, hardly approaches the total for Newark and Detroit, and yet few concluded back then that the United States had lost all respect for human life. The nation and the world were shocked by the riots in American cities, and Communist countries made much of it for propaganda purposes. Still, America remained America.
The figures are provided for perspective -- not to excuse or condone what has been happening in Israel and its occupied territories. Police all over the world overreact. This is particularly true when troops are employed as policemen -- as has been done with the National Guard in this country. Men trained for combat are often inept when it comes to riots. They have a tendency to panic and to revert to their most basic training: to shoot their enemy.
As with the United States during the 1960s, recent events in the occupied territories hardly mean that Israel has lost its soul -- turned into a Middle Eastern version of South Africa. Indeed, that the world has been shocked by the pictures coming from Gaza and the West Bank testifies to the fact that Israel remains an open society. Such pictures are impossible to obtain in South Africa or, for that matter, some other countries. The press is censored. It is a nifty way to deal with bad publicity.
The riots in the United States were indicative of a larger problem -- poverty, discrimination, the segregation of American society into two distinct racial camps. In the same way, the disturbances in the occupied territories are yet another indication that Israel faces a larger problem: what to do with the territories it won in the 1967 war. Both of them, Gaza and the West Bank, are predominantly Arab. They are administered by what amounts to a handful of Jews. The only way a minority can govern a resentful majority is by force. In recent days, Israel has applied that force.
Israel by itself did not create the present situation. It was the Arab states that, in 1948, refused to accept the United Nations plan for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. It was the Arab states that made war. It was Jordan that seized the West Bank and incorporated it and banned Jews from the holy places in East Jerusalem. And it was Egypt that seized Gaza -- even then a strip of a slum along the Mediterranean.
All of this is true, but, unfortunately, almost academic. White South Africans make a similar point. They did not set out in 1652 to rule black people, to strip them of their land and their rights. Some of the whites were themselves fleeing oppression, and the land they came to was, in some respects, virgin and underpopulated. Now, though, they are the masters of that land -- it and its people. Only by force can the whites of South Africa remain in power.
The sweet dream of Zionism is up against a similar contemporary reality. But a divided, almost paralyzed Israeli government has been unable to come up with a plan to trade land (the West Bank and Gaza) for peace. Extremists in Israel insist that the West Bank remain part of Israel forever. Gaza is not so Biblically cherished, but there, too, extremists have staked out their position. It, too, must be retained. The plan of the government is to do nothing -- to wait. Something will turn up.
The riots of Gaza and the West Bank will be contained, and the over-reaction of the military hardly means that Israel has turned mean and evil. But the status quo is really a slide toward tragedy -- more riots, more oppression and more deaths.
To the fiercely religious, the Bible is destiny. To others, demography plays that role. By the end of the century, Arabs might outnumber Jews in greater Israel. The something that some Israelis hope will turn up is instead a daily event: the birth of even more Arabs. Unless much of the occupied territories is traded for peace, the dream of Zionism may turn into a demographic nightmare. For Samson, Gaza was the end. For Israel, it may be just the beginning.