August 29th, 2006
The second Lebanon war lasted 33 days and took its toll in the form of some 160 Israeli fatalities — civilians and soldiers — and some 1,000 Lebanese civilian casualties [i.e., deaths]. The tranquility and blossoming that have characterized the Galilee for the past six years were suddenly disrupted. Approximately one-quarter of Israel’s citizens found themselves in bomb shelters (that is, those who had access to them) and travel from Tel Aviv to Haifa practically became an act of bravery. It was truly surrealistic.
Back in the ’90s we led the call for a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon after 18 pointless years in which we lost close to 1,500 people, many of them civilians. When we were asked what Israel would do if, despite its withdrawal from every last centimeter up to the international boundary, it were to come under attack from Lebanon, our unequivocal answer was that, in such a situation, we would support a military response — and we kept our word.
When the moment came and Hizbullah crossed into sovereign Israeli territory, kidnapped two soldiers and killed eight others who were trying to secure their release, there was almost complete consensus within Israel and among the international community regarding Israel’s right to react. We felt that suitable objectives had been defined: the release of the kidnapped soldiers, an end to Hizbullah rocket attacks on Israel, and the deployment of the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon in order to put an end to the armed, autonomous state Hizbullah was operating within Lebanon.
Had it been a short military campaign that made do with precision aerial attacks on Hizbullah targets, Israel’s situation today would have been different. The government, however, chose to wage a progressive [i.e., escalating] war in which more and more means were brought into play, believing at each stage that the next stage would bring Israel the hoped for “victory” and failing to comprehend that in a war against a militia, there can be no victory.
Meretz-Yachad was the only party that abstained in the Knesset votes on no-confidence motions and the government’s weekly announcements regarding the war. In the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, we were the only ones who opposed the call-up of the reserves and the ground operation in south Lebanon. We did not participate in the demonstrations against the war organized by the non-Zionist left, and we held our own demonstration when the government decided, after some time, to expand the ground operation up to the Litani River.
The stand we adopted, which defended Israel’s right to react but criticized the harm done to innocent civilians and opposed the ground operation, lent credence to the positions we voiced the day after the war and readied the Knesset, the public, and the media to listen to what we have to say. We demand the establishment of a state commission of inquiry to investigate the way the war was conducted and what preceded it, and we call for exploiting the new diplomatic situation to convene a second Madrid conference with the participation of the Syrians, the Lebanese, and the Palestinians in order to try to achieve peace agreements with our neighbors.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for the deployment of the Lebanese Army and a large international force in southern Lebanon, is an important achievement for Israel, but it involved a very heavy — in fact, too heavy — price. I am also aware of the consequences for the Jewish communities around the world, as illustrated by the clash in front of the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires between Jewish protestors and an Argentine group which violently disrupted their demonstration.
The outcome of the war has left Israel gripped by a sense of despondency. All the coalition parties suffered a political blow, the right-wing parties emerged stronger, and the political and diplomatic confusion is tangible. Meretz-Yachad was not hurt politically, and it is our belief that a time of uncertainty can provide an opportunity for those who know their way and who have concrete proposals to make their voices heard and to lead.
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