The two big international headlines of the moment are the downing of the Malaysian jet over Ukraine and Israel's incursion into Gaza. On the face of it, these two stories don't have much in common, but they are in fact part of the same story. To know Israel it helps to know Ukraine, and to know Ukraine it helps to know Israel.
~This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the day the Soviets re-took the city of Lviv (or Lvov, according to taste) in the western Ukraine, and ended a three-year German occupation. Before the Germans arrived, there were well over 100,000 Jews in the city and just shy of 50 synagogues. On July 26th 1944, when the Soviets returned, there were a couple of hundred Jews left.
Lviv, Lvov, Lemberg had been, variously, Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Habsburg, Soviet - but always, across the centuries, Jewish. All gone.
Same with any number of Ukrainian cities. Chernivtsi, or Czernowitz, was once known as "Jerusalem on the Prut". There were 50,000 Jews out of a population of approximately 100,000, and they dominated the city's commercial life. "There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows," wrote Sir Sacheverell Sitwell in 1937, when it was part of the Kingdom of Roumania ."The entire commerce of the place is in the hands of the Jews. Yiddish is spoken here more than German." Not anymore. Today, the city's population is over a quarter of a million, but only 2,000 are Jews.
There are cities like Lviv or Chernivtsi all over the world, where within living memory the streets were full of Jews - people went to school with Jews, lived next door to Jews, accompanied their mothers as they shopped from Jews. And now there are no Jews. In his what-if? novel Fatherland, Robert Harris captures very well the silence that settles in such communities: no one ever asks, "Do you remember the such-and-such family across the street?" - or what happened to them. Just as, a few years hence, everyone in Sarcelles will agree not to ask "Whatever happened to that pharmacy?"
Which brings us to the tiny Jewish state built in a sliver of a minority of the total land of the British Mandate of Palestine. Israel is dedicated to the proposition that there should be one place on earth where what happened to the Jews in Lviv and Chernivtsi and Baghdad (once the second largest Jewish city in the world) and Tripoli (which was once 40 per cent Jewish) and all over the map will not happen here.
Hamas, by contrast, is committed to the proposition that what happened to the Jews of Lviv should happen here, too.
~But it works the other way round: to know the Ukraine it helps to know Israel. The least worst explanation for what happened to MH17 is that "pro-Russian separatists" mistook it for a Ukrainian military transport and blew it out of the sky: A horrible accident in the fog of war. If that was the agreed storyline, you'd be anxious to make yourself respectable again in the eyes of the world as quickly as possible: You'd seal off the crash site until the international investigators and representatives of the governments who'd lost citizens could get there and retrieve the black boxes and recover the bodies. Instead, as I discussed on Rush on Friday, the "separatists" immediately refused to allow anybody near the site and began looting and defiling the bodies, stealing cash and credit cards and trophies and leaving what's left decomposing out in a field for anyone with a cellphone to shoot souvenir snaps of. As Greg Gutfeld says, "That field is no longer a war zone. It is an international crime scene."
Why? Why would you do this? Why, having "accidentally" shot down a passenger jet, would you then deliberately desecrate and dishonor the dead?
Well, here's Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, in his first international interview since the atrocity:
Those armed in eastern Ukraine should not be referred to as "separatists," he insisted. "There are no separatists there. They are terrorists."
He's right. The word "separatists" conjures something like the Parti QuĂ©bĂ©cois or East Timor or southern Sudan. But these guys have no interest in running a state. They're Putin's goons acting on direct orders from Moscow: It was, for example, almost certainly a Russian dispatched by the Kremlin who actually shot down the Malaysian jet since firing these missiles requires a degree of skill the locals don't have. The purpose of this "separatist" movement is not to build a country but to use the territory they hold to harass and terrorize and weaken the Ukrainian state.
Now who does that sound like? The "Palestinian Authority" is not a fully sovereign nation but it holds roughly the powers the Irish Free State had in 1922. Many aspects of that settlement were obnoxious to southern Ireland's "separatists" - the oath of allegiance to the King, the viceroy, their status as British subjects, the Royal Navy ports - but they nevertheless got on with building an Irish nation. Which is to say, boring stuff like fiscal policy and the education ministry and the department of public works.
Nobody in the "government" of Gaza wants to do that. They were left a lot of great infrastructure and viable businesses when the Israelis withdrew - and they let it all die. They were bequeathed 3,000 greenhouses that grew flowers and fruit for export - and they demolished them. Oh, sure, there's still work to be found in Gaza: They're big customers of construction materials, but they don't use them to build factories or schools or tourist hotels, only a network of state-of-the-art concrete tunnels under the border with Israel, so they can sneak in and kill Jews. In the Sixties and Seventies, many anti-colonial movements used terrorism to advance their nationalist goals. Hamas uses nationalism to advance its terrorist goals.
Likewise, the forces Putin has loosed in eastern Ukraine: They're a terrorist movement masquerading as "separatists". And Putin is to these guys as Iran is to Hamas. That's to say, he could make the desecration of the MH17 site end - with one phone call.
And yet he chose not to. Because whatever misgivings he had about what his killers had done were quickly allayed by the feeble passivity of Obama's response, and the mulligans and do-overs President Fundraiser has had to take in the days since. On Friday, Obama was all about "internationalizing" the situation - an "Asian plane" had come down on "European soil" - ie, it's the world's problem. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the dead are citizens of the core west - 154 Dutch, 27 Australians, plus British, German, Canadian, American. Were Obama willing to accept the role, he would have spoken to Putin as "the leader of the free world" and said that, having conferred with the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom, etc, he wanted to let him know an investigatory team representing the countries of those murdered was en route and expected full access to a properly preserved debris scene.
But Obama doesn't believe in "the free world" and certainly not in America as "leader" of it. And so Putin took his wretched passivity at face value, and figured there was no need to stop his ghouls from mugging the dead.
In Ukraine as in the Holy Land, civilization sits precariously on a field sodden in blood. Israel understands this. Obama and Kerry never will.