Hillel Schenker: There is still hope

Hillel Schenker: There is still hope

Our long-time khaver, an ISRAEL HORIZONS contributing editor, sent us the following from his home in Tel Aviv: “Following the piece I published in The Nation this week, here are further thoughts about the current crisis [prior to the Qana tragedy] that I published in the Guardian website [July 28]. There obviously is a lot to feel and say, in this very difficult and complex period. I welcome any comments. Incidentally, the title of the piece was provided by the Guardian editors – my title focused more on the crisis.”

The headline in the weekend edition of Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest mass-circulation daily, is that 82% of the public believe that the current military operations in Lebanon are justified. And 81% believe that even more force should be used. When one considers the fact that 20% of the population is composed of Israeli Arab citizens, who are both victims of the Hizbullah missiles and concerned about the fate of their Lebanese cousins, this implies that, at least statistically, almost l00% of the Israeli Jewish population supports the government policy.

This is not surprising. The Katyusha missiles raining down on northern Israel have killed dozens of innocent people, both Jews and Arabs, in Haifa and the Galilee, as well as in Arab villages. They have totally disrupted life in the north, causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee to relatives or hotels in the centre and south, and have severely damaged the economy as well.

Hizbullah, the extreme fundamentalist Lebanese organisation behind the firing of these missiles, is an implacable enemy of Israel whose goal is to “eliminate the Zionist entity” as part of its grand plan for a Lebanese state based upon Islamic religious priniciples, which would eventually become a part of the grand Islamic nation. This in turn would spread throughout the holy Muslim land, known as the wakf, which includes Andalusia and Rome.

So it is no wonder that no voices are to be heard calling for mutual recognition between Israel and Hizbullah. That’s an impossibility, like mixing water and oil. But that does not mean that questions aren’t being raised in the public discourse about Israeli policy. I’m referring to questions being raised in the mainstream of the Israeli discourse – and not only to the expected criticism, from sources such as Dr Ilan Pappe or Gush Shalom’s leader, Uri Avnery.

The first question is the nature of the Israeli decision-making process. Was a massive retaliation following the July 12 Hizbullah attack on an Israeli military outpost within the state of Israel the only, and wisest, option? Was the inexperienced new civilian leadership, personified by the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the defence minister, Amir Peretz, presented with serious alternatives for action?

“The two civilians snapped to attention” was the title of an article by the senior Ha’aretz economic analyst Nehemia Strasler. Dr. Yagil Levy, an expert on military-civilian relations, labelled the situation a “quiet putsch”. And another respected commentator on security affairs, Dr Reuvain Pedhazur, wrote that since the establishment of the state the political leadership had never established a serious alternative to the Israeli defense forces (IDF) policy forums when it comes to decision-making about war and peace.

A related issue is whether the initial declared goal of “destroying Hizbullah” was a realistic one. The government, the IDF spokespeople and most of the military commentators have backed down from this absolute description, and are now saying that the goal is merely seriously to damage Hizbullah’s military potential, to remove its forces from the northern border and to ensure that it is no longer be a direct threat to Israel. A third, related criticism being voiced is about the overall strategic goals and the exit strategy from the current conflict.

At a fascinating seminar held this week by the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies and the Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern Affairs at Tel Aviv, Brigadier General (Retired) Shlomo Brom said Israel’s end goal should be to break up the Hizbullah-Iran-Syria axis. The way to do this is to remove Syria from the equation, based upon mutual Israeli-Syrian interests. The secular, minority Syrian Alowite regime does not want to see a strengthening of fundamentalist Islamic forces in the Middle East and particularly in Syria itself. This is interest is shared with most of the Sunni Arab regimes throughout the Middle East. “And everyone knows what Syria must be offered in this context,” said Brom: “the Golan Heights.”

The problem is that Olmert has ruled this out, apparently at the behest of the Americans, who insist on seeing Syria as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. A more fundamental criticism of Israeli government policy, which preceded the current crisis, is the fact that the IDF has been so bogged down in policing the occupation that it was not free to deal effectively with authentic threats to Israeli sovereignty, such as the Hizbullah attacks. This criticism says that if Israeli governments had done more to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and more could have been done – Israel’s current strategic situation would be much better.

And finally, there is of course the humanitarian dimension. Israelis have naturally tended to withdraw into their own pain, expressing a tremendous amount of social solidarity in this time of crisis. The Lebanese are the faraway other, and also the hosts of the Hizbullah threat, whose attacks on Israel they have done nothing to prevent. However, the scale of the civilian damage on the Lebanese side has begun to filter through to the Israeli public via images on TV, blogs and the print media. Questions have also been raised about the efficacy of causing great damage to Lebanon to force the general population to turn against Hizbullah, a policy that seems to be having the opposite effect.

Israeli protests against the level of damage caused to the Lebanese civilian population and infrastructure produced the first meaningful public demonstration against the war last Saturday evening in Tel Aviv. About 5,000 participants called for a ceasefire and a return to negotiations. In addition, 40 Israeli directors and producers expressed solidarity with their Lebanese colleagues. Israeli Arabs, who have been among the victims of the Hizbullah attacks, have also communicated a sense of solidarity with their Lebanese cousins.

As the former Jerusalem deputy mayor Dr Meron Benvenisti wrote today: “No one can predict the minute opposition to the war turns from an act of betrayal into a legitimate and correct stance … but in the current outbreak of violence, the change will come very quickly.”

One of the most moving expressions of dissent from the consensus politics has come from the parents of the kidnapped soldiers on the Lebanese and Gazan front. One mother said her primary concern was that her son return home safely, and she was sure that Lebanese mothers felt the same. The father of Gilad Shalit, the soldier who was kidnapped from the southern outpost near Kerem Shalom, even made an appearance on the joint Israeli-Palestinian AllForPeace radio station to call for a mutual release of prisoners.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the current crisis is the fact that, despite everything, joint Israeli-Palestinian activity continues. Dr Sufyan Abu-Zaidah, the former Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs was amazed when the Peres Centre for Peace did not postpone a discussion in Tel Aviv devoted to “What Next?” He came, from Gaza, and actively participated in a lively discussion with three members of the Knesset, from the government and from right and left opposition parties. And on Tuesday evening, I participated in two very meaningful events in Jerusalem: a discussion between a group of Israelis and Palestinian Professor Mustafa Abu-Sway on the meaning of the Islamic concept of hudna (ceasefire), and an evening event organised by the Palestine-Israel Journal devoted to “building Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and alliances today” Among the participants were Zohar Shapira and Mohammad Assayad, an Israeli and Palestinian member of the recently formed Combatants for Peace group.

When we get out of the current mess, there is still hope for the future.

By | 2006-07-31T15:39:00-04:00 July 31st, 2006|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Anonymous November 11, 2011 at 5:07 am - Reply

    You could not be more on the level!!!

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