It turns out that much of the tragic devastation that has so desolated Japan could have been avoided. More importantly, this is not Monday-morning quarterbacking — nor is it future projection on the magic potential of “what if” technology, or wishful 20/20 hindsight.
In fact there is no technology involved; the solution assumes that a tsunami, once triggered, cannot be stopped or averted and the answer was in plain sight for all to see.
I am speaking about the Tsunami Stones — markers set up, across the Japanese coast over the last 400 years that recorded the high-water marks of various tsunamis. The stones’ implicit message was simple: it went this high once, so assume it will again, and maybe even higher.
Some of the stones were explicit: do not build homes or live below this stone. And guess what? The 11 villagers who followed that advice on one stone not only survived but their homes remained dry and intact while so many of their compatriots perished or at best watched their entire life’s work being washed away by the insatiable fury of the wave.
Another message recorded in this early form of social media was that when the ground shakes, run for the high ground. And yet we have all seen the photos and videos of those who put their faith in the false hope of the sea walls and modern know-how.
Google “Tsunami and Israel.” You think I’m kidding? Twenty-four million responses in a twelfth of a second — meaning that the matches were dead on.
Surprising for some might be the study by Haifa University that shows that Israel’s shoreline is susceptible to tsunami destruction and that even the Talmud records tidal waves of some power. For others the surprise might be that the bulk of stories are not about Israel’s rescue teams doing their amazing work in conditions that daunt others.
But the widespread juxtaposition of “Tsunami” and “Israel” is not surprising when you realize that Israeli Defense Minister Barak recently stated that that Israel faces a political and diplomatic tsunami from the Palestinian intention to declare statehood at the United Nations this September.
The word tsunami means “harbor wave” and was coined by Japanese fishermen who, out to sea, had felt or seen nothing unusual in the water, yet returned home to empty shores as their villages had been swept away. The true horror of the tsunami is that you don’t feel it or even see it until it hits. Sure, you can run for your life but if you haven’t heeded the warnings and built and lived appropriately, nothing can stop the inexorable power of the wave as it devours all in its path.
Sadly, I find Barak’s use of the word appropriate. And I’m saddened because we who love and support Israel also ignored the powerful, if not popular, messages of Israel’s version of the “Tsunami Stones.” Soon all we will be able to do is run.
We ignored the sea change in South Africa and righteously distanced ourselves from its apartheid implications. We celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall without paying any attention to what it might mean beyond Germany, and we rejoiced in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as if such a momentous event meant only that Jews were now free to emigrate. And like the ancient Israelites freed from slavery who yearned for the fruits they left behind in Egypt, we are becoming nostalgic for our enemies of the past as the Arab regimes begin to fall.
We wring our hands about our lack of PR and our seeming inability to tell our story and we cry over college students — even those who are Jewish — who support the enemy’s goal: statehood for Palestine.
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We pass around e-mails proving that Jordan is the real Palestinian state; that Israel has given way more to the world than all of the Arab states combined; and that President Obama is the real issue and a hater of Israel.
And all the while the wave grew under us gaining power and momentum as it came closer and closer to shore.
And like many Japanese we are still standing on the sea wall confident that our own hubris will break the surge.
Allow me to preempt the knee-jerk reaction that some will have to this essay. Yes, terrorism is a scourge. It is murder, plain and simple. And we have every right and responsibility to protect ourselves and our families. Further, Israel is not the primary reason that the Mideast is unstable, nor are the settlements the only reason that Jerusalem hasn’t reached any kind of an agreement with the Arab world. And it’s true that Obama is not George W. Bush or even Bill Clinton when it comes to Israel, but somehow we seem to forget that both W. and Clinton have supported a separate state of Palestine and had public and private issues with Israel’s settlements and related policies.
But none of this has anything to do with the tsunami racing towards us. We are still out to sea. Maybe we feel a more vigorous rocking, but that passes as quickly as it comes — the wave is focused on its break, not on its journey.
We have ignored the Stones until now. But we don’t have to wait until it’s too late. Now is the time for Israel to be bold. Take the initiative away from the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations. The country should clean up its own corrupt mess. Israel must invest more in high-tech and less in hilltop caravans. It should become the Light unto the Nations that it was destined to be.
The lesson of the Stones is that you can’t stop the tsunami but you can rob it of its mindless force — a good metaphor, I think, for our current situation.
David Sable, a member of the board of The Jewish Week, is an executive in the marketing and communications field.