An Eye for an Eye Leaves the World Blind

By Roger Simon

August 6, 2014 6 min read

Rafi Horowitz pulled the car to the side of the road, reached across me, opened the glove compartment and pulled out a black semi-automatic pistol in a well-worn leather holster. He clipped it to his belt.

"We should stop," he said, pointing with his chin to an Israeli couple and small child standing next to their broken-down car in Gaza. A group of Palestinian teenagers — not threatening, just bored-looking — had gathered some yards away.

In those days, you just drove into Gaza from Israel. It was not difficult. Israelis flooded into Gaza to buy cheap produce and to get their cars fixed at endless stretches of auto repair shops.

This was 1981. Israel had been occupying Gaza since the 1967 Six-Day War. Things were generally quiet. Israel had other borders it was more worried about. But Gaza was still Gaza, densely populated, poor, restive.

Horowitz, whose mother's family had lived in Jerusalem for eight generations, had fought in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence when he was 17. He was a colonel in the army reserve but now worked in the government press office, guiding foreign journalists around.

He believed that many Americans could not understand Israelis, because many Americans had never sacrificed anything for their country. "I tell my children, 'I live with possibility that you might die,'" Horowitz had told me. "Our life in this country is a continuous war. If you have nothing to die for, you have nothing to live for."

Not all Israelis believed this. There was an active peace movement made up of Israelis who felt endless war was not what they wanted for their children. And they believed the only solution was for an Israeli state to live side by side with a Palestinian state.

Uri Avnery, a leader in the peace movement, once told me facetiously: "You know, I wish we were at war with the Dutch. That way, we could sit down with the Dutch; they are such nicer people. Unfortunately, we are at war with the Palestinians. And that is who we must talk to. Someday there will be a Palestinian state. Nothing can stop it."

A few days ago, Avnery wrote a column that ended with a sequence from some future movie: "One scene: Israeli soldiers discover a tunnel and enter it in order to clear it of enemies. At the same time, Hamas fighters enter the tunnel at the other end, on their way to attack a kibbutz.

"The fighters meet in the middle, beneath the fence. They see each other in the dim light. And then, instead of shooting, they shake hands."

Avnery called it a "crazy fantasy" but one that he hopes will become real.

Horowitz, the pistol riding high on his hip, exited the car and stood with the stranded family next to the broken-down car in Gaza. We waited with them until a tow truck arrived. The Palestinian teenagers did not stir.

We drove on to our destination a few miles south of Gaza in the Sinai Desert. Rising out of the sand like a Disney stage set was the Israeli settlement of Yamit. Israel had conquered all of Sinai in the Six-Day War and had built settlements in the belief that once you build a settlement, it is permanent. And the Arabs had to live with that fact.

Yamit blossomed. There were green spaces, modern buildings, walkways, schools, a bubbling fountain and hothouses where thousands of red and purple flowers were grown for export to Europe. Almond trees blew in the desert winds.

The settlers at Yamit believed they had found a permanent home.

And then peace broke out. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sat down and signed a treaty. In it, Begin traded land for peace. He traded away Yamit and almost all the other Sinai settlements to Egypt.

Some settlers left Yamit, but others refused, waiting for the Israeli soldiers to come and evict their fellow Israelis. Never in history had an Israeli settlement been evacuated in a time of peace.

Eliazur Schmoeli, who had once worked at Grossinger's in the Borscht Belt of the Catskill Mountains of New York, was still working behind the counter of his restaurant when I got to Yamit.

"My neighbor says he will die here in Yamit rather than leave," Schmoeli told me. "I will not. I will not die for a place to live. I am a realist. If leaving the Sinai means peace for Israel, then we must leave."

A year later, on April 23, 1982, the Israeli army showed up after issuing repeated warnings. Some of the residents of Yamit took to the rooftops of their homes and refused to leave. Others armed themselves with sticks. The soldiers dragged them down and into buses. Nobody was seriously hurt.

The Egyptian government offered $80 million to Israel for Yamit, but the Israeli government blew up the homes and businesses and other buildings instead. In a few hours, they had converted the settlement to a wasteland. Today the desert claims Yamit.

Still, it is a powerful symbol. Israel had traded land for peace, and the peace treaty with Egypt still holds. Can Israel do the same on the West Bank and in Gaza? Or must the Palestinians and Israelis keep exchanging blow for blow?

Some read the Bible and say it justifies an "eye for an eye."

Maybe it does. But Mohandas Gandhi had a different view. "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," he said.

Roger Simon is Politico's chief political columnist. His new e-book, "Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America," can be found on, and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

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