War Fever and a Fable: The Swiss in the Middle of Bangladesh
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hit the nail on the head when he asked, in response to the European Union's criticism of the Israeli response in Gaza (and now Lebanon): "When was the last time that the EU condemned this shooting [of missiles into Israel] and suggested measures effective to stop it"
And so why does the EU show such -- at least apparent -- imbalance? But this has nothing to do, nonetheless, I think, with anti-Semitism or self-hatred or any related pathology, but instead with Europeans' and many other people's (including my) hard-to-shake sense that Zionism was a British-sponsored (through the Balfour Resolution and the British Mandate) colonial project, which, after the refusal of return of the indigenous people, consolidated further into a (what was largely premeditated in the first place) apartheid project.
But at least a good many intellectually honest people who have trouble shaking this sense (just as I do) nonetheless realize that any state and people, even a "gated community" like Israel, has a right to prevent rockets from hurtling down on its children and families.
And now it has spread from Hamas in Gaza to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
It all adds up, needless to say, to a touchstone moral dilemma. And it has furthermore also become an issue of wealth and poverty, which all semi-modern and modern cases of colonialism and apartheid have become.
And this brings to my mind a fable: What would it be like if Switzerland were located smack-dab in the middle of Bangladesh?
Imagine further that the people of Switzerland had said (and were right) that they had originated 2000 years ago in Bangladesh. And then recently -- largely due to persecutions -- they went back. And that this encountered fierce resistance in Bangladesh from its people who wanted their own sovereign nationhood after colonial rule, and that, in the violence and war that followed, a large percentage of Bagladeshis were displaced from their towns and homes, and that this led the Swiss to occupy even more land than originally of Bangladesh.
So that now tiny rich Switzerland sat on a piece of destitute Bangladesh with its displaced and enraged and destitute and despairing population. And that then Bangladesh lobbed Qassam and Katyusha rockets into Switzerland.
Perhaps never in history has a so tiny and persecuted and rich people with so very much to lose, settled and displaced and occupied and been surrounded and attacked by a people so despairing and destitute and with so very little to lose.
This is why those of us who see this fact do not see ourselves as fantasists or idealists, but, just the opposite, as realists looking unflinchingly at "bad news." And this is also why we say: Revisit the Geneva Accords, or put back on the table Prime Minister Ehud Barak's so-called "generous offer," or take up the Arab League's peace proposal, and while it still remains on the table.
Israel never had or will ever again have a more conciliatory "President" of the indigenous territory it still occupies than Mahmoud Abbas. And yet when Abbas had much more power than he had now to help bring compromise and peace, Israel did nothing substantial to support him, such as answer his pleas for the generous release of prisoners that he could take home to his people as a sign that cooperation worked, and instead released hundreds of prisoners to Hezbollah, which now lobs Katyushas into Haifa and Tiberias.
Also Israel will never have more conciliatory neighbors that Abdullah's Jordan or, however cold a peace it may be, with Mubarak's Egypt.
Israel is missing countless opportunities for peace, and they are slipping further and further away.
Time is against Israel. The future will bring Islamist Ahmadinejads to surrounding Jordan and Egypt, Hamas win more in the West Bank and Gaza, Hezbollah take over Lebanon, the whole Arab and Persian-speaking world -- the streets of Israel's future increasingly infuriated and surrounding and Ahmadinejadenized neighbors -- will explode in bigger and bigger uproars, and begin to take action against these Israeli retaliations -- the Arab League's reaction may not be so split as it is as I'm writing this -- and Palestinian and Arab birthrates will continue to skyrocket, and Israel's nuclear arsenal will continue to be irrelevant, and the security fence will be (as foreseen) useful against terrorism but useless in an "escalating arms race" that would upgrade to ballistics to overshoot it, and, back to our fable, for Switzerland to retaliate against surrounding Bangladesh will become eventually increasingly hopeless.
Hopeless not because Israel isn't in the moral right to retaliate against Hamas Qassam and Hezbollah Katyusha rockets-- and even to build a security fence against suicide bombers against innocent civilians (although better along its own 1967 border). And hopeless not because Israel isn't in the certainly complex but -- perhaps -- ultimately moral wrong to have gone back into the middle of "Bangladesh" to displace its people in the first place.
So not because of morals -- pro or con anything -- but only in terms of the sheerest and starkest realism. For it is simply almost impossible to see how Switzerland, in the middle of Bangladesh, with everything to lose, with surrounding destitute Bangladesh launching rockets into them and feeling it has nothing to lose, and with other various "Bangladeshi" governments such as surrounding Egypt, and Jordan getting more Ahmadinejadized, will survive as a "gated community" apartheid project in the very long, long, long, run.
Again, it is tough realism (not liberal "idealistic fantasies") that is why so many of us call for the Geneva Accords or the Arab League Peace Plan, or for re-offering Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's onto the table.
And about Barak's offer, it is telling that though for years Israeli and its uncritical supporters have made propaganda out of Mr. Arafat having not immediately endorsed it, one would like to see any evidence that complex and ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist Israeli society could ever have accepted its eventual full and elaborate implementation, including the handover back of Arab East Jerusalem, since, after all, even the removal of 7,500 settlers from infinitesimal Gaza almost plunged Israeli society into civil war. And Israel has a whopping 450,000 illegal settlers in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. This is probably why Israel did not keep its plan on the table and will not ever re-offer it-- that it hated its own peace offer in the first place.
Israel's instant withdrawal and never-renewal of the Barak offer, its steady subversion of Abbas, its almost-plunge into all-out civil war over the withdrawal of a mere 7,500 settlers out of its whopping 450,000-- how much does Israeli society really want peace? (One is reminded of Moshe Dayan's famous admission that that he would have rather Israel had Egyptian town "Sharm el-Sheikh without peace, than [had] peace without Sharm el-Sheikh.") And as for the notoriously reputed Palestinian violence, let us ask how many people in the world have had 80% of their land taken, for 39 years the 20% last remnant occupied and key portions (East Jerusalem) permanently claimed and even so, the first uprising (or Intifada) did not use suicide bombings but only disorganized youthful throwers of mere stones, for which liberal Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed "to break their bones," and that it took at last 54 long years after the partition and displacement, and 35 long more years after the occupation of the remnant, that the second uprising, first provoked by Ariel Sharon at the Temple Mount and instantly met with furious Israeli military overreaction (similar to today's in Gaza and Lebanon?) eventually fell into improvising this hideous suicide bombing form of resistance.
And yet for all these painfully realistic assessments, we are often denounced as Defeatists and Munich Appeasers and Neville Chamberlains and Israel bashers, or even either Anti-Semites or Self-Hating Jews.
But which does in fact make one wonder in this light how much bad news some of the "accusers" are able to psychologically absorb, without just unbearable cognitive dissonance-- standing as they do -- as we do -- in the long and stark shadow of persecution and Holocaust.
Consider that if Americans feel terrible abandoning their projects, after all, with the sacrifices of those who have gone before or died, such as in Vietnam and Iraq, how hard or impossible it may be for most Jewish Israelis to contemplate that their project cannot win -- their actual country.
As much as one more 20th century project of Utopian social engineering hubris gone awry -- this time into takeover and displacement and semi-apartheid -- it most certainly is.
Unfortunately, unless there is total victory one way or another, it takes both sides to call off a war, such as the Israeli-Palestinian war of 1948. One side alone cannot call off a war on its own, as much as it wants to. It seems fair to the temporary-victor to say the war is over, and to consider it somehow "cheating" when the other side chooses to fight on. But unfortunately in warfare it is not cheating, but rather the strategy of the other side through continuation of the war to continue to seek victory.
But what could ever have been expected but the large possibility of an eventual multinational state-- with a large minority Jewish population? Even Theodor Herzl dreamed only of a state with a Jewish president and Arab prime minister. The slogan was "A people without land for a land without people." But what could have been the likelihood of that? It had been an Arab neighborhood for centuries. In our fable, it is Bangladesh. The Zionists made the choice to move into someone else's neighborhood, making all sorts of excuses including the gripe that the neighbors have undemocratic states, as if it was democratic to choose to go in and displace, do it both uninvited and popularly opposed.
What is tiny Switzerland going to do, as Bangladesh lobs rockets into it? Go in and invade and take over Bangladesh, destitute and displaced and with nothing to lose, when Switzerland has everything to lose?
This is why those with foresight say to accept the Arab League offer, or re-offer Barak, or consider the Geneva Accords, before it is too late. But unless they plan on impossibly continuing indefinitely to retaliate against and throttle Bangladesh -- the Gazans, West Bankers, and all too soon the Jordanians, Egyptians, and Iranians -- it may already be too late, because time, long-run time, appears not to be on their side.
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