The writer, David McReynolds, was on the staff of the War Resisters League for many years and has been active in the democratic socialist movement, twice running as the Socialist Party candidate for president. This is an occasional column that the author calls “Left Edge.” He writes, in part, of the same APN forum that I attended and wrote about; I had guessed wrong that he was hostile toward this gathering, but he expresses an ideological antipathy toward Zionism and a distaste for Israel. Among his comrades, most (but not quite all) of whom are anti-Israel, he’s considered moderate, because unlike most anti-Zionists, he tries to humanize Israelis; some of his colleagues criticize him for this “sin.”
He exaggerates the extent to which the IDF was “defeated” in Lebanon and clearly his anti-Zionist perspective is at odds with Meretz USA principles. I make some bracketed comments where I could not restrain myself. Maybe I was wrong to include this in our blog, but I found it of interest. – R. Seliger
The tragic events of recent weeks, which saw the killing of three [eight] Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two of them by Hezbollah, on the border between Israel and Lebanon, and then saw the Israeli attack on Lebanon, with the loss of over a thousand lives, brings a number of things to mind.
First, I’ve realized … that there is something unique about Israel which applies to no other country I can think of: it is referred to not as Israel, but as the State of Israel. France is France, Germany is Germany, Italy is Italy, but Israel is the State of Israel. The more I’ve heard this phrase, the more I realize it indicates a basic insecurity in the Israeli psyche….
There are times when, in the heat of the discussion on listserves, that I find the “stateness” of Israel, and all that goes with it – the armies, the lies, the politicians, so that Israel can be a state like all other states – like a chill knife that separates me from the historic culture of Judaism, from the comfort I’ve always felt among Jews, so different from the cold silence of WASP culture…. [Better “stateness,” than stateless – editor.]
Last week, I went to a forum organized by American for Peace Now, with Jo-Ann Mort and Mark Rosenblum as speakers. It was a good meeting. What a relief to escape, for an evening, from the endless yelling of listserves, to listen, and to think.
Where does Israel go now? First let’s begin with something we need to understand, just as we need to understand Sheik Hassan Nasrallah – not to agree with something, but to understand it. Israel calls itself The State of Israel because it is deeply uneasy. It has fought several wars – some of which were launched against it, some of which it started – but it remains without secure borders. I don’t mean “insecure” borders, as the US has “permeable” (and demilitarized) borders with Mexico and Canada, but angry, hostile, insecure borders. Only with Jordan and Egypt has Israel been able to establish “secure internationally recognized borders.” But the border with Syria and with the Palestinians is in dispute.
The Israelis had thought the border with Lebanon was “secure and internationally recognized.” It was for this reason that almost the entire Israeli Left, with the exception of some marginal saints, who are to Israel as the Catholic Worker is to the US, supported the war when it began. We now know that Israel (and Washington, DC) had been waiting to strike. [Which I suppose is why Israel’s conduct of the war was so “flawless” – editor.] The US idea was that if Hezbollah could be neutralized it might be a good trial run for an air attack on Iran. (A recent New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh documents this.)
But what was in the minds of the Israeli government and of Bush’s war cabinet was not in the minds of the Israeli public. They saw the Hezbollah attack across the border as a violation of what they had come to believe was “secure and internationally” recognized, that following the Israeli withdrawal (under the steady pressure of Hezbollah attacks), after the ill-advised Israeli invasion of 1982, the border was secure. The feeling among the majority of Israelis was “what good does withdrawal do – we withdrew from Gaza and we are attacked, we withdrew from Lebanon and we are attacked.” Let’s leave to one side how unjustly the Israelis make this arguement – my point is that they believe this. For a moment suspend judgement – just try to understand….
But then two things happened for which nothing had prepared the Israeli public (or the hawks in Washington). First, Hezbollah beat the pants off the invading Israeli army, one of the best trained armies in the world. Instead of sweeping forward like a knife through warm butter to the Litani river, Israeli tanks were blown up, troops killed, and the invasion ground to a virtual halt. For the first time in any of the wars Israel had waged, it was beaten on the ground by what it had assumed was a “mere guerrilla force”.
Second, the Israeli military launched a most extraordinary series of air strikes across Lebanon, aiming at civilian targets in violation of the laws of war, destroying bridges, blockading harbors, taking out apartment complexes, and in the process killing a thousand civilians. One must assume the Israeli government had thought such massive strikes would break the back of Lebanon, causing it to turn on Hezbollah. (I can’t think of any other reason for air strikes which so precisely struck non-military targets). Every day, on American TV news, where we are used to seeing pro-Israeli material, we were seeing instead the horrific devastation of an entire people. And we saw Hezbollah supported by the population, which, far from rejecting it, rallied to it. The world cried out for an immediate cease fire but Tony Blair, that contemptible British politician, and George Bush, who is almost too dense to be worthy of contempt, urged a wait, so that Israel could finish its job (though they didn’t say that in so many words).
Except that Israel, the designated hitter in the game, blew it. They couldn’t finish the job. And the world had had enough of seeing children’s bodies pulled from the rubble in Beirut. The ceasefire marked a sharp Israeli military defeat. What is most remarkable is what I think has been largely missed – Israel (and the US) suddenly turned to the United Nations, so recently the object of their contempt (and in the case of Israel, the object of a deliberate and lethal attack early in the war), and called for it to come in. The Europeans, who had been locked out of the Middle East, have now been brought in. The Israelis are hoping that, having failed on their own to secure their border with Lebanon, the United Nations can do it for them.
It is not likely that the UN can disarm Hezbollah, or will even try. And it is not likely that the flow of arms from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah can be blocked – anymore than the flow of US arms to Israel can be blocked. But for the time being the border may be secured. Not by Israeli military power, but by an international force of the United Nations.
What next? The view of Jo-Ann Mort at the forum I attended was that all three of the leading figures in the Israeli government will be forced to resign. There had been hopes, particularly among left-Zionists, for the role Amir Peretz might play but in the end, Peretz, of the Labor Party, was trapped by his entering this government, and he will go down with it. Olmert is discredited, with Israeli troops calling for his resignation. And General Halutz who sold his stock? He is history. The problem is what waits in the wings. One of the figure most likely to emerge is Netanyahu, an Israeli politician who gives opportunism a bad name, and makes Tony Blair look like a statesman.
But most interesting, out of that evening, came the suggestion by Mark Rosenblum that all roads now lead to Syria. Syria had put forward some suggestions in 1999 about getting back the Golan Heights in return for a secure border. Israel dismissed those suggestions out of hand, as it dismissed the earlier Arab League proposals of 2002 for recognition of Israel within its 1967 borders in return for a genuine Palestinian state. But it seems that the US has opened some very unofficial doors to Syria, and that Israel has also opened a quiet probe. Would Assad settle?
The chance of stopping the flow of arms to Hezbollah may well depend on Syria’s role. And Syria might play that role in exchange for the return of the Golan Heights. If such a settlement occurs, it would mean a secure, internationally recognized border for Israel.
What does seem certain (or relatively certain) is that Israel now realizes it cannot achieve “peace and security” with Lebanon or Syria by military means. The fallback on the UN is one step toward securing the border with Lebanon. A deal with Syria would be a second step. Both would require diplomacy, not a military solution. US plans to launch air strikes on Iran seem to be on hold – in large part because Hezbollah showed how ineffective such air strikes are.
However hostile one may be to the Israeli State, and I’m fed up with it and want the US to end all economic and military aid to Israel, it is necessary to understand both Hezbollah and Israel. The hatred Hezbollah feels toward Israel is rooted in its long and bloody struggle to drive Israel out. That hatred is genuine and deep.
So too the statements from Iran reflect in the Israeli minds a fear that not only Hezbollah but also Iran holds an “annihilatory” view of Israel. We know that some of the statements of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are deeply troubling (even though in fairness, some of Ahmadinejad’s statements have been carelessly or deliberately mistranslated) and if I lived in Israel I would certainly find them troubling. What is necessary, both for us, and for at least some people in Israel and in Iran, is to see things in more than one dimension. We must try to understand better the basis for some of the Iranian statements, even as we reject the fundamental Islamic religious positions from which they flow. We must try to understand the Israeli fears, even if they flow from equally flawed positions.
One final possibility, raised in several quarters, is for a new international conference – in Spain, it Italy, in Finland – which would bring together all the parties which might be willing at least to speak to each other. This is an idea that has been raised by Yossi Beilin, chairman of Meretz. An international conference, in Beilin’s view, that brought together Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian authority might open the door. The problem, of course, is that Bush has sided so openly with the Israeli hawks that the Arab world has good reason to distrust him. [This is precisely why Beilin suggests an international conference – editor.] But the irony is that Nasrallah has now said he would not have ordered the capture of the Israeli soldiers if he had known the Israeli intention to launch the devastating attack on Lebanon, and Israel knows that it lost the war. Out of this defeat one may hope to find the seeds of peace. – David McReynolds