Sunday, July 23, 2006

"FIGHTING FOR PEACE” Israel’s Self defeating War in Lebanon and Gaza

Lebanese civilians flee Israel's invasion


On a wooden fence surrounding a construction site at the University of Pennsylvania during the height of the Vietnam War was a piece of graffiti I never forgot: “Fighting for Peace is like F***ing for Virginity.” The metaphor is particularly apt, as recent events have made clear in both Iraq and Israel.

Growing up in a Jewish household with some knowledge of our people’s history, I learned that before the twentieth century our last wars were fought almost two thousand years ago. However, with the birth of a modern State of Israel things changed. European Jews bought land and settled in Palestine in the 1920’s and 1930’s in response to the call of the Zionist movement founded by Viennese Journalist Theodor Herzl. Frequently they had to repel attacks from some (not all) of the local Arabs who resented their presence.

After Israel became a state in 1948, it was instantly attacked by its Arab neighbors, but it prevailed and survived. In 1948 the nascent nation had virtually nothing to fight with- no air force, tanks, or modern weapons of war. The story of the survival of those first settlers and immigrants and survivors of the Holocaust was extraordinary, both for the remarkable odds surmounted to achieve their survival and the fact that in spite of the hostility of their neighbors, most Israelis sincerely sought a just and lasting peace.

Three other major conventional wars were fought by Israel, first in 1956 (after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and cut off Israeli access), then the Six Day War in June of 1967 (when Egypt told United Nations peacekeepers to leave as it prepared to attack and invade Israel), and finally in 1973 (the Yom Kippur War when Syria and Egypt attacked on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar). These wars were provoked by neighboring countries like Egypt and Syria, with active help from Iraq and, early on, Jordan (which stayed neutral after the 1967 war which cost its control of the Jewish Holy places in Jerusalem, from which Jews had been excluded from 1948 through 1967). Their clear and overtly expressed intent was to annihilate Israel as a country and drive the Jews into the sea.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the dynamic changed. New generations of Israelis arose, many lacking the social conscience and sensibilities of their mostly European parents and grandparents. The Arab countries which bordered Israel made peace and two of them, Jordan and Egypt, normalized relations, while Syria, one of the state sponsors of terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, used proxies to wage its battles. Instead of attacks by conventional Arab armies, the conflict became more of a low intensity pressure on Israel’s borders with shelling, guerilla infiltration, and, later on, suicide bombings. By 1982, Israel had achieved a dubious low point with a ground invasion of Lebanon, led by General Ariel Sharon, which resulted in massacres of Muslim Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps by Lebanese Phalangist Christians as Israeli troops stood by.

Not coincidentally, that ill fated invasion occurred under the regime of a right wing Israeli political party, Likud, led at that time by Menahim Begin. In subsequent years, Israel’s greatest efforts at achieving a de-escalation of conflict and workable peace agreements have come when more dovish parties, such as the Labor government under Yitzhak Rabin (tragically assassinated in 1995 by Yigal Amir, a right-wing activist who had strenuously opposed Rabin's signing of the Oslo Accords) and Shimon Peres. Although the greatest peace progress was made when Begin was Prime Minister with the Camp David accords in 1979, later on, when conservative governments were in power- under Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, Israel tended to look for military solutions to essentially political problems.

If it were true that those problems could be solved by the use of air strikes, tank assaults, and uniformed soldiers seizing and holding ground beyond Israel’s borders, then Israel wouldn’t be engaged in the conflagration which has broken out in the last two weeks. The latest fighting was provoked by separate kidnappings of Israeli soldiers by Hamas near Gaza (which killed two and kidnapped one), causing the Gaza invasion and air strikes, and Hezbollah on the Lebanon border (kidnapped two soldiers) causing the present assault on southern Lebanon and air strikes as far as the Bekaa Valley and the Beirut Airport.

Unfortunately for the cause of peace and for Israel, Lebanese civilians who would have rejoiced to see Hezbollah disbanded and taken out of the country’s political equation are now so radicalized by Israel’s air strikes and the deaths of innocents that they are willing to pick up a gun and join the fight against the Jewish invaders.

Albert Einstein once famously said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same act, over and over, and expecting a different outcome. By that definition, both the United States and Israel are insane, and our intertwined foreign policies may as well have an overt objective of creating permanent instability and a violent hostility to our governments and our peoples. Perhaps in another 10,000 years or so we can evolve as a species to the point where we will heed Einstein’s admonition and try something different. Instead of killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians to avenge the deaths of 3,000 on 9-11-01 (the U.S.)- and instead of killing hundreds to respond to the deaths and kidnaping of less than 10 Israeli soldiers, perhaps we ought to try something more creative and non-violent, such as arresting those involved and putting them on trial, and sparing the innocents who had nothing to do with it.

If that sounds Pollyannish and ineffective, then ponder this for a moment: when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 innocent men, women, and children, we didn’t launch air strikes or a ground invasion at the nearest ragtag right-wing militia groups which had spawned McVeigh and Nichols. That would have been considered an insane policy- killing innocent Americans in response to the killing of innocent Americans. When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an extremist Orthodox Jew, Israel didn’t launch air strikes or a ground invasion of the settlement from which he came, which surely contained many others who were like minded and may have even applauded the assassination. Using logic and reason, why should our conduct be any different when the perpetrators speak a different language, wear different clothes, and worship God in a different fashion? Why indeed.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jon Darling said...

I must say, this is a very well-written and very well reasoned piece--and one with which I wholeheartedly agree. Your reference to Einstein was especially well-fitted to the scope and dangers of the present situation. Mousetraps do need to be reinvented. It's just that so few people (not to mention mice) neither realize nor would agree. Big pictures are oh so hard to see by minds ground to a focal point just past one's own nose (and perhaps a few noses close by). While some feel the oceans of Earth are our last undiscovered frontier on our planet, I dare say that is not true. The last undiscovered frontier is the sacred nature of the social space between and among us all. Ignore that space and substitute for it tired and untrue ideologies dealing with how human societies (don't) function, and we do so increasingly at everyone's peril. Such is, and such will be, the ultimate tragedy of humans.

Nice piece, Jim. I liked it a lot. Thanks for posting it to be shared publicly. Shalom.

Jon Darling, Ph.D
Sociologist
Pitt-Johnstown (PA)

8:39 PM  
Blogger Jon Darling said...

I must say, this is a very well-written and very well reasoned piece--and one with which I wholeheartedly agree. Your reference to Einstein was especially well-fitted to the scope and dangers of the present situation. Mousetraps do need to be reinvented. It's just that so few people (not to mention mice) neither realize nor would agree. Big pictures are oh so hard to see by minds ground to a focal point just past one's own nose (and perhaps a few noses close by). While some feel the oceans of Earth are our last undiscovered frontier on our planet, I dare say that is not true. The last undiscovered frontier is the sacred nature of the social space between and among us all. Ignore that space and substitute for it tired and untrue ideologies dealing with how human societies (don't) function, and we do so increasingly at everyone's peril. Such is, and such will be, the ultimate tragedy of humans.

Nice piece, Jim. I liked it a lot. Thanks for posting it to be shared publicly. Shalom.

Jon Darling, Ph.D
Sociologist
Pitt-Johnstown (PA)

8:40 PM  

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