HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

April 30, 2005
Lebanon and Beyond: Back to the Future in the Cycle of Hell

James Adler


Today Israel's daily Ha'aretz has an unusual giant banner headline, indicating very important news; the appearance of long-awaited Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War of the Summer of 2006.

The Ha'aretz headline declares: "War probe report accuses Olmert of 'severe failure'; PM [Prime Minister Olmert] to [the ruling] Kadima [Party]: I have no intention of resigning."  

This, as Israel has just marked its 59th year of independence on April 29th.

Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, for all his faults, knew that Israel's independence would come with normalcy, peace, and integration in the region, or its independence would not last.

Golda Meir said to her Knesset on May 26, 1970: "To attain peace, I am ready to go at any hour to any place, to meet any authorized leader of any Arab State-to conduct negotiations with mutual respect, in parity and without pre-conditions, and with a clear recognition that the problems under controversy can be solved."

Where is even the Israel of Golda Meir today?

Israel rejects talks with Syria. It rejects the Saudi-Arab League Peace offer though the Arabs still keep it on the table. Unlike the Arabs, Israel could keep its former Prime Minister Edhud Barak offer on the table (or re-offer it) but doesn't. It rejects the Geneva Accords. It annexes Arab East Jerusalem for no security reason making peace far more difficult. It puts half a million settlers in the West Bank making also peace far more difficult.

The long and short of it is that  Israel is, in sum, not a "peace angel" -- though it is certainly not a devil either -- or it would not have put half of a million settlers on the West Bank. 

Why, Israeli right-wingers demand, if, when most countries win five wars that they determine the peace terms for their enemies, does Israel win five wars and its enemies still help to determine the terms?

The reason is Israel hasn't won a war, only a few battles or skirmishes. Many observers noted the Second Lebanon war was only another battle or skirmish in the continuing war of 1948.

From the Arab viewpoint, Israel has had many opportunities for peace, and Israel could reconsider and accept Geneva, or re-submit or resume its Barak offer, or negotiate on the basis of the Arab League offer, or withdraw most of its half a million settlers.

If Israel doesn't soon it may be lamentably too late, and whatever -- abnormal and sketchy-- independence Israel has had up to now could be tragically lost forever if the War of 1948 continued for a few more -- for Israel, catastrophic -- battles. 

May Israel please resume Golda's declaration and reach for the wisdom, normalcy and peace of an independence that it would be able to sustain. 

[These remarks were excerpted on Ha'aretz's English site last week.]

***

Meanwhile, Abraham Foxman, President of the ADL, has written in a letter to the editor of Ha'aretz that its courageous progressive columnist Amira Hass is "not far off from the charge that the people murdered by the Nazi are now acting like Nazis toward the Palestinians."  Next he retreats, saying that "She never makes the comparison outright," but goes on to imply that she intends it anyway.

But it is an invalid charge, which could be shown in many ways, such as in a Hass column of July 30, 2003. Her column is trenchantly entitled "Making Stupid  Comparisons."

In the column, Hass condemns Jewish-British parliamentarian Oona King for writing, as Hass cites her, that "the original founders of the Jewish state could surely not have imagined the irony facing Israel today. In escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature - though not its extent - to the Warsaw Ghetto."  In  another "stupid comparison" that she cites, Hass notes that Spanish Nobel Laureate in Literature José  Saramago " visited Ramallah under siege and compared it to Auschwitz."

Amira Hass's response to both King and Saramago is relentless:  "But the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz were not just places enclosed by wire fences and watchtowers and abusive soldiers; they were stations on a deliberate, calculated and industrialized road to the genocide of the Jewish people. This was within the context of dividing all humanity into superior and inferior races and in which the inferior races were sentenced to extermination. The Warsaw Ghetto is different from the 'Gaza Ghetto' not merely in 'extent,' but in essence."

"Different not merely in 'extent,' but in essence."

How much more clearly can this be stated? 

Amira Hass could not more clearly reject and absolutely condemn any such
charge and comparison.

And since Foxman did not find her saying anything different, instead he has framed against her a reckless conclusion and a grave and utterly false  accusation.

This sets the record absolutely straight once and for all., and ADL President Foxman owes Amira Hass a profound apology.

***

Back to Lebanon, currently back in the headline news. 

I wrote an over-courteous piece on last summer's Ha'aretz site to the cycle of violence as expressed in Israel's Summer 2006 bombing of Lebanon:

You have every right to do this. I suspect that the 'exaggerated' forms of opposition to it are based on deep-seated doubt about Israel's legitimacy, since no one doubts legitimate countries' right to do this. Horrifying photos of burned or dead children are horrifying, but there are equally horrifying photos of burned or dead Israeli children who were actually deliberately targeted by suicide bombers or rockets. This does not mitigate the horror of the Lebanese children. This conflict is hell. Hezbollah brought it on the Lebanese children. But that doesn't mitigate the horror either. Conflict is hell, and finding the culprit does not mitigate suffering's horror.

[Some of the photos, exceptionally graphic and not for the faint-of-heart -- caveat emptor -- can be found by skipping the text and scrolling down to the photos at http://www.uruknet.info/?p=24885 -- special note to Harvard Square Commentary readers.]

When Israel is in a crisis like this (as America was in 9/11) I experience contradictory emotions. More than ever do I feel badly for you and your innocent victims and defend your right to defend yourself. Just as I did toward my own country after 9/11. But more than ever I also get frustrated and even furious with you for pursuit of policies that perpetuate the mess you are in.

[And, I added but Ha'aretz deleted: ]

And your mess,  yes- but the Lebanese hell.

And more perspective: If Lebanon sent 450,000 of its citizens into Israel, or systematically pulverized with bombs, block by block, the neighborhoods, one after another, of northern Tel Aviv .  The world would stare in disbelief and outrage and horror. But these are the precise two things Israel has done to Palestine and Lebanon.

If -- a highly questionable "if" -- you are wiser than they are, then act more wise.  

You know the way to peace. Defend yourselves from the rockets and bombers that started it and bear the main responsibility, but *please* return to your borders while the Arab  League offers you peace and  security and recognition, and your biggest neighbors are still peaceful toward you and before the chance for peace and security slips away.  Not returning  to your borders shows arrogance and greed for your neighbors' land.  But it is you who have to live in your neighborhood and with all the people of your neighborhood forever and ever.

  [And I would add now:}

The neighborhood in which Israel is going to have to live in peace if you want to remain there, is the neighborhood in which Israel "did," as it were, (which speaks the unspeakable for itself)--  www.uruknet.info/?p=24885 .  These photos exemplify what will not be forgotten by the very people, the indigenous peoples of the region, who -- rightly or wrongly, but with at least a modicum of justification -- see Israel as a foreign implant; they will remember, and they will have to accept Israel if it wants to live there in peace.

Later, on August 7, 2006, again in Ha'aretz, I got down to basic reality -- as the complete fullness of the horror had sunk in:

There should [have] be[en] a truce with no conditions. If the US had created one two weeks ago there would be 450-650 innocent dead Lebanese who are now alive such as the children of Qana.

Israel needs to get out of denial and review its basic situation. There are Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as much as the West Bank and Gaza, Israel occupied much of Lebanon 1982-2000 just as it occupied Gaza 1967-2005 and still occupies the West Bank, and the refugees and occupation of Lebanon produced the anger and resistance organizations there just as elsewhere.

Suppose in 1948 it instead had been the Lebanese and Palestinians who partitioned Israel, drove 3/4 of the Israelis out, took over much of Israel, still occupied some of the remnant, and sporadically (in 1982-2000 and 1967-2006) had occupied many of the leftovers. Suppose also it instead had been Lebanon and Palestine which had sent 450,000 settlers into Israel, occupied Israel 1982-2000, and this summer had bombed much of Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem into rubble and left hundreds of innocent Israeli children and other civilians dead.

Most Lebanese and Palestinians believe what Israel has done to Lebanon and Palestine to be one issue and not two.

You need tough love and I need to be less polite than usual. You came into this neighborhood, endangered others, and now you yourselves are in danger. You need a truce without conditions, to get out of denial and then out of the territories, and to accept the Arab League peace plan before Abdullah and Mubarak are replaced by Jordianian and Egyptian Ahmadinejads who lead an integrated invasion and Third Intifida and by then it is long too late.


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