Exodus From Kosovo
Jerusalem Post, April 2, 1999
Gerald M. Steinberg


When the 600,000 strong Israelite army left Egypt, they departed with "their fists raised", (chamushim, in Hebrew) ready for battle. Even with divine intervention, in form of the ten plagues, the parting of the sea and the drowning of Pharaoh's army, the former slaves understood that in order to survive, they had to be able to defend themselves. During their forty years in the desert, our ancestors did not precipitate wars, (although the diplomats of the day would have condemned Moses for aggression against Egypt), but they were attacked on a number of occasions.

Despite all of the talk of a "New World Order", and the agonizing in the United Nations and European Union, the ways of the world have not changed much since then. Whether in the Balkans, Kuwait, Cyprus, or Jerusalem, nations and peoples that are unable to defend themselves become the victims of brutality and destruction.

While much of the world may condemn Slobodan Milosovic and the Serbs as aggressors and war criminals, in their own eyes, they are ensuring their survival as a nation. They seem convinced that if they did not terrorize the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians into leaving Kosovo, the Serbian nation would eventually lose control of the center of their heritage, and become the victims of conflict. Hundreds of years of ethnic and religious hatred and warfare, and the fact that for five centuries, Kosovo, as well as much of Serbia, was under Ottoman control, provide the evidence to support this conclusion.

The rest of the world (except in Russia) looks on in horror, as thousands of powerless civilians are being killed or exiled, and their homes are torched in a scorched-earth policy. NATO's belated and limited high-altitude bombing campaign has predictably failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Despite the hand wringing over the "humanitarian catastrophe", the stakes are not high enough to send in large armies and risk the lives of soldiers in order to save the Kosovars. >From an Israeli perspective, the images of the refugees, the families that were separated, and the reports of killings and torture recall the plight of Jews during the Holocaust. (However, the Germans and their henchmen slaughtered six million Jews out of simple hatred, and not because of any threat, real of imagined.) Despite the fact that during World War II, the Serbs showed great courage in resisting the Nazis, our sympathies today lie with the people of Kosovo.

At the same time, the events in the Balkans continue to provide an important reminder about the central importance of military force and warfare, even in the post-Cold War era. If Israel is reduced further in size and power, as the result of overly optimistic agreements with the Palestinians and Syria, and we are confronted again by an Arab coalition intent on retrieving "Palestine" for the Arabs, our fate would be far worse than that of the Kosovars.

In such circumstances, the international community might meet in solemn assembly, and perhaps even wag its collective diplomatic fingers at Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians and others. It is possible that the Americans would provide weapons and assistance to Israel, as in 1973. No such assistance should be expected from the Europeans, who have apparently deliberately forgotten the laws of realpolitik that codified by Castlereagh, Metternich, and Bismark. Western Europe, and Germany, in particular, is responsible for the botching the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The German government started the Balkans on the road to hell, encouraging Croatia to become an independent state while many other governments were attempting to avoid war by keeping the federal Republic of Yugoslavia together.

Today, the European Union, under German leadership, finds the time to preach to Israel, while its diplomats bumble along in Serbia. Hiding behind simplistic slogans of humanitarianism, the Europeans lack any realistic vision of the future. It is easy and cost-free to talk theoretically about Palestine rights, support a Palestinian state, and to advocate the redivision of Jerusalem. The Europeans may press Israel for concession after concession, but they will not be anywhere to be seen when the consequences must be faced. The evidence sadly seems to indicate that a Palestinian state could be the source of more "humanitarian catastrophes". The war in Kosovo should give us all pause. The popular cliches and politically correct views about war and peace have again been exposed as hollow false prophecies. For Europe, these events provide a sober reminder that in the absence of a balance of power, whether in the Balkans or the Middle East, there is no stability.

Just as Serbia attacked Kosovo, (and, under different circumstances, the Kosovars might well have joined other forces in attacking Serbia), if given a chance, the hatred and revanchism among Palestinians and in much of the Arab world would again be a threat to Israel. For the Jewish people, the raised fists of self defense, characterizing the exodus from Egypt and the delivery from slavery to freedom, are not merely relics of an earlier era.