Israel's Wars against Anyone
Observations on the outbreak of the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006
In my view, Israelis are shooting themselves in the feet, as yet another war breaks out. They haven't thought this through sufficiently. Palestinians are shooting themselves in the feet too. And this is the tragedy of the Holy Land.
The Palestinians aren't fault-free. But they have less choice available than Israelis and, penned up in what in effect are enormous prison camps, it's easy to see how elements amongst them blow up and wreck everything for everyone else - it would take a supreme effort of patience and forbearance to do otherwise.
Yet the Israelis are penned up too - inside a growing wall they have constructed. Inside a national isolation. They are penned up in a nation which was supposed to be a safe haven for Jews. They're caught in a poison embrace with their subject neighbours.
Palestine and its borders are Israeli controlled. All imported supplies come through Israeli monopoly suppliers, traded through Palestinian monopoly wholesalers. Palestine is thus subject to any supply, price, tax or legal control Israelis choose to assert. All this favours corruption, placing enormous power and wealth in the hands of approved Palestinian importers.
The media are careful not to mention that endemic Palestinian corruption is to a large extent caused by this - there is no free market. Palestinians' currency is Israeli - shekels - and their customs duties are collected and currently withheld by Israelis. If the same were to happen to Israelis, they'd feel humiliated, and they would fight like hell to end such a situation.
However, it's easy to blame Israelis for everything. Their actions and insensitivities tend to reinforce the idea that they are the cause of most problems. This loses them a lot of friends. They seem unaware that they need to cultivate friends right now.
What alienates many reasonable-thinking people worldwide is Israel's visible over-reaction to its circumstances, and its tendency to punish civilian bystanders. In Lebanon their rationale is that massive retaliation and punishment will teach the Lebanese a lesson, causing them to pressurise militias such as Hezbollah to stop what they are doing - Hezbollah is bombing northern Israel.
But most innocent by-standing Lebanese are as much in fear of Hezbollah as they are of Israel, and they don't see things the way Israelis want. Trouble is, Hezbollah has a mixture of sincere motivations - to improve the lot of ordinary people - and shady motivations involving the power-agendas of influential lobbies in Iran and elsewhere, including even secret Western interests who want to perpetuate mayhem and collective disempowerment in the Middle East.
A problem has also arisen in Gaza, with renegade activists lobbing rockets over nearby Israeli settlements. This is deliberate provocation. Most Palestinians favour peace and know from experience that conflict has brought them no advantage, only pain and loss. But when Israel brings out its tanks and F16s to root out terrorists, while killing ordinary people and children, giving flimsy explanations, denying responsibility and giving only the occasional apology, many Palestinians naturally feel support for anyone who gives the Israelis a bit of trouble. Because, in Palestinians' experience, Israelis only take things - land, resources and liberties - giving back little of actual value. So there is a feeling of need for some get-back, to join in the teaching business too.
Now, many Israelis, reading this, will think "he's anti-Semitic", but this is incorrect. I support the best longterm interests of Jews, resident and international. I support the best longterm interests of Arabs too - and this isn't a contradiction. These two are the same thing.
The most disturbing thing for many international onlookers is that Israel seems now to have gone quite mad, firing wildly at weak and helpless people, none of whom have any defence against Israeli might. Isn't there a danger this will be seen as an ill-judged punishment of the weak in order to get at the strong?
My own country, Britain, lays its iron hand on people like Iraqis and Afghans, telling them it is for their own benefit, and I don't support that either. Yes, Britain's poor management of the Palestinian situation in the 1920s-40s, when Jews themselves were terrorists, left a large shadow on the future, and we're seeing the results today. But British faults do not permit others to commit crimes.
Israel needs to make friends. Not fairweather friends like the Americans, who have a geopolitical agenda which, in the end, cares more about oil prices, geostrategic control and weird biblical interpretations than about Israelis and their welfare. Israelis are proxies in a declining superpower's game. A proud, independent, lively people, reduced to this.
If Israelis wish to guarantee their future, which they have every need and right to do, the last thing they should do is alienate others. To gain true friends, you give, listen, exchange and stand by friends and neighbours through good times and bad - you understand their situation and, if there's something difficult to point out, you do it in a supportive way. Friends are never gained by telling people they ought to be friends.
If anyone disagrees with Israeli policy, they are seen to be wrong and must be taught a lesson. In response, people either go quiet and turn away, or they reinforce Israelis' insecurities by fighting back - formerly, with suicide bombers, now with kidnapping of soldiers, plus rockets. This is tragic, this silencing, and the international sitting on hands that accompanies it. "For the triumph of evil, it is necessary only that good people do nothing" (Edmund Burke, 18th Century).
What's worse is that Israel is heaping upon itself a debt - a debt to those who suffer at their hands - just as Germans did toward Jews in the 1930s-40s, for which they still pay a price of guilt. This time, it's Palestinians and at times Arabic neighbours. Yes, Palestinians and Arabs screw up too, but every time an Israeli dies, ten Palestinians die, and this is disproportionate and no recipe for future security.
Jews were once victims, and Israelis have now become rather cruel masters. It didn't have to be this way. It isn't good for Jews themselves.
I have a Druze friend from the Golan Heights. His family are sheep-farmers. His younger brother is in an Israeli jail for terrorism, for 17 years. A teenage shepherd, this brother had tired of seeing the family's sheep blown up by Israeli landmines on their farm. So he read the books, learned how to defuse landmines and went about doing so. He harmed no one, and risked his life for his sheep. He was caught. Naively, his family trusted in the capacity of the court to see sense - they thought he would just have a rap over the knuckles. And they couldn't choose their own Israeli lawyer. He got seventeen years.
My friend went into a deep, angry depression, tempted to resort to troublemaking. But, walking on the hills, he had a revelation: he had to choose for good, for forgiveness, because violence would achieve nothing. Now, I've met many amazing people, and he comes out high on the list. For the choice he has made. He has dedicated his life to peacemaking. The Druze are longstanding dissenting Muslims, and they serve in the Israeli army, so they are in a strong position to bridge gulfs, and my friend does so with great gusto.
Peacemaking is an assertive act. Not violent or against people, but against a destructive logic and momentum which is repeatedly reinforced by warmongers. This is what we see today in the Middle East. It's not a case of 'bad Israelis against poor Palestinians and Lebanese'. It's a case of a powerful, small minority on both sides who desperately want to keep an old agenda running.
It's not just about armies, militias and violence. It's an agenda of polarisation and demonisation on both sides. "You're either with us or against us" - and there is no room for further discussion. Discussion - a key ingredient in the much-hyped notion of 'democracy' - doesn't therefore happen. It means "obey, or jail/death for you or your family". It means the dominance of small factions who are more feared than loved. It means outright lies, covering up of deep-seated domestic issues that need sorting out. It means manufacturing an enemy 'out there' in order to give us the feeling we're good and right, and there's nothing left for us to learn. We cannot change. It is they who are the problem.
Here comes the bit where many anti-Israelis need to do some thinking. Because what is at stake in Israel is an enormous social change. It's a necessary change in the post-Holocaust 21st Century. It's about recognising we're all in the same boat - not just us, but them too - and working together with planetary issues. This is a painful, shocking and fundamental change for Israelis, and they need support.
This change involves three difficult things for Israelis:
genuinely declaring peace and ratcheting down Israel's military and the extent the military pervades Israeli society,
looking at Israel's internal problems and realising that they are not fundamentally caused by outsiders, and
choosing to trust goyim or non-Jews - including Arabs. This needs to be matched by goyim, but in the case of transgressions by Palestinians and other perceived threats, Israelis need to be very patient, to hold back on retaliation - if, that is, they truly want to build peace.
This involves a deep change of heart and mindset that goes back specifically to the formative decades before the founding of Israel, and it possibly goes back even as far as Joshua.
In the current war, Israelis are shooting themselves in the foot like this:
ordinary Israelis permit military-nationalist lobbies to dominate their society
since Israel is in changing times, its electors are unsure where to head, so they voted in a weak government
this government seeks to prove its worth, in the wake of grand master Arik Sharon
so it buckles under pressure from the military-nationalist wing, which pushes an aggressive agenda stronger than ever it could have done under Sharon
'disproportionate response' on the part of the Israel Defence Force, and loss of friends, business, support and trust internationally
an increased and justified feeling of embattlement and real suffering on the part of ordinary Israelis
who then support or acquiesce to the military-nationalist lobbies, to fight back on their behalf.
Consequently, Israel loses democracy, creativity, security and initiative. It damages its future, reinforcing the idea that its future is militarily-guaranteed and the nation is surrounded by enemies. What Israelis fail to understand is that Arabs generally tend not to hold onto their memories and hurts as long as Jews, so a little saving grace would bring a new atmosphere in the Middle East, bringing with it the security Israelis so deeply crave. But to achieve this, Israelis will have to yield on many issues, to enable Palestinians to become viable as a people and to right some of the crazy wrongs that have happened. This is difficult, but the payoffs are far larger.
This isn't one-sided. Palestinian militarists are guilty of perpetuating their own hegemony too - and here they interlock psychologically with Israeli generals and are on their side. Palestinian society is also on the edge of enormous change: they have had so much knocked out of them that reconstruction in Palestine will start from a very basic starting point. This could be exciting, if only people could get on with it.
This highlights the current appropriateness of Hamas - a social reforming party with a plan and a method and, while they're not perfect, they're the best chance Palestinians have to improve their lot. What matters is schools, hospitals, public services and getting the economy going. (In British history, the accession of Hamas to government is parallel to the first Labour government in the 1920s - a new movement with teething troubles, but representing an historic shift.)
But Hamas is a former militia organisation, with militant terms built into its constitution worded in the 1980s - the elimination of Israel. It's too simple for foreign governments to insist that this constitutional clause be removed forthwith and that Israel be instantly recognised because, to carry the change with their grass-roots, Hamas must be given time. Israel too needs to prove itself to be a sound negotiating partner with which Hamas might make a sustainable agreement. What Israel should Palestinians recognise - the pre-1967 'Green Line' Israel or the enlarged Israel enclosed by today's security wall?
This pressure to recognise Israel puts Hamas at the mercy of renegade elements, because Hamas cannot do it quickly, and this gives restless renegades persuasion power. Renegades offer answers now, while Hamas must hack through years of party-political process with no promise of success. Just like Abu Mazen did - and look where it got him.
This suits some international interests - American, European, Middle Eastern, even Chinese. It is important to them that a reforming party such as Hamas doesn't succeed because, if it succeeds, it sets an example and model for the people of other Middle Eastern countries. Naturally, many regimes don't want that. So it suits them to lock quietly into step with USA and the West, uttering perhaps the odd message of concern, to keep appearances going.
Palestinians' problem is that, to convince Israelis they mean peace, they need to give Israelis a prolonged period of peace.
But Palestinians' living conditions and lack of freedom mean that the required patience is difficult. It works only if conditions are experienced to be improving, if the future looks brighter. Some Israeli and Palestinian elements exploit this hypersensitivity. How do you restrain 17 year-olds with a promise that, if they wait a decade or more, something might perhaps improve - but then it might not?
All the Israelis need to do is bomb Gaza, capture some Palestinian public figures or close the roadblocks, and a squad of angry young men comes out on the streets of Gaza - like English soccer-hooligans spoiling for some trouble, to vent their frustrations. Along comes a former 'Tunisian' (an old PLO fighter who spent the 1980s exiled in Tunisia) with a few cheap rockets for sale - some fixed even through Israeli sources - and bingo, we have terrorism.
Then we have reprisals and assassinations by Israelis, in which innocents get killed, then we have rising anger and frustration, and then we have intifada - uprising or 'casting off'. Then we have a full justification for Israeli generals to let rip. Blair and Bush call for restraint while turning a blind eye, muttering about Iran and Syria - and they quietly fulfill all military replenishment contracts without question. After all, that's business in a free market.
The cycle goes on. It's nice and safe - no one has to think. Nothing changes. The twentieth century is perpetuated. And the Palestinians' big weakness is that they fall into the trap of reinforcing this cycle. They do what's expected of them - geting fired up, lobbing some rockets and falling into the trap laid for them.
This continues until a Big One comes. A catastrophe, whether or not directly caused by the conflict. It's already happening chronically - social and domestic trauma and violence, environmental damage, toxicity and pollution, trans-generational pain, loss of opportunity - on both sides. But something much worse, something acute could happen - at best drought, at worst, nuclear disaster. Pessimistically, it could even be that someone finds an excuse to fight over that too. No, someone please press STOP and change the program! There is another way. There is choice.
Historically, the big question in the 'Holy' Land is this: will conflict go on to the bitter end, or will wisdom prevail before a Big One happens? For peace activists, this is a moot point, and for us mainly a question of perseverance and maintaining our own sanity and clarity of action. How much and how long are we prepared to keep on working for peace, and how far are we willing to go? This is a personal and a collective question. Since the default pattern is the tendency to re-create conflict, overcoming the default pattern implies an effort, an epiphany, a turn-around which often looks impossible. Or it requires a twist of fate, skill or mercy which cuts the spiral - worth praying for but not expecting. Many are the peacemakers' hopes that have been dashed on the rocks of the Holy Land.
We just gotta make friends, in all possible ways. There's no choice in the matter - except when and how, and whether we're going to make the process easier or more difficult. That's the only choice. This needs to come from people themselves, because peace established over people's heads doesn't really bring healing.
Jeff Goldstein, a healer and peacemaker I know in Jerusalem, says "Israel is already at peace - it's just that a lot of people don't get it yet".