July 21, 2006
Rational Citizens, Warmongering Governments

Ira Chernus, Professor of Religious Studies at UC Boulder, had an interesting piece at Common Dreams the other day.

His sister can see Lebanon from her back yard, so he has a particular interest in rockets fired into northern Israel. But, he says, the real threat to his sister and her neighbors doesn’t come from Lebanon. “The real threat comes from the Israelis themselves — and the rest of the world — forgetting how and why this war started.”

Israel has in the past been ready to ransom kidnapped soldiers by returning some of the captives it holds, so he doesn’t think it started over that provocation. For an explanation that makes sense, he quotes columns and letters in Ha’aretz.

For the Israeli government, another Ha’aretz columnist wrote, “it is best that the Palestinians remain extremists because then no one will ask the government of Israel to negotiate with them. How do we ensure that the Palestinians remain radical? We simply strike at them, over and over.” So Israel responded to the Palestinian offer of negotiated peace with an allout assault on Gaza. That’s how and why it all began.

Of course it’s not news that Ha’aretz has rational columnists. What’s more encouraging, and in a way more discouraging too, is that regular citizens have equally rational views. It’s encouraging because it shows once again that Israelis are not bloodthirsty thieves. It’s discouraging because it shows that rational views among Israelis don’t seem to affect their government, a situation familiar to Americans. Chernus quotes from some letters by these rational citizens to Ha’aretz.

“The Israel Defense Forces once again looks like the neighborhood bully. … One and only one language is spoken by Israel, the language of force. The IDF absorbed two painful blows, which were particularly humiliating, and in their wake went into a war that is all about restoring its lost dignity.”


“While we’re in no hurry to get to the negotiating table, we’re eager to get to the battlefield and the killing without delay, without taking any time to think. That deepens suspicions that we need a war every few years, with terrifying repetition, even if afterward we end up back in exactly the same position.”

Why need a war every few years? Turn for a moment from Ha’aretz, often called the Hebrew equivalent of the New York Times, to the real New York Times, where Israeli novelist Etgar Keret pulled back the curtain. Among Israeli Jews, Keret wrote, after the attack on Lebanon began, “there was a small gleam in almost everyone’s eyes, a kind of unconscious breath of relief. … We long for a real war to take the place of all those exhausting years of intifada when there was no black or white, only gray … Once again, we’re a small country surrounded by enemies, fighting for our lives, not a strong, occupying country forced to fight daily against a civilian population. So is it any wonder that we’re all secretly just a tiny bit relieved?”


“Israel has no option in the long run other than withdrawing from the territories and from the occupation. … Israel’s interest is for the Palestinians to live a life of plenty and well-being.” But if this Israeli government “sinks into the destructive, meaningless routines that characterized its predecessors, the rest of the decade will turn into a disaster zone.”

If only we in the US had a press willing to take on the real issues, like Israel does! But even a free press doesn’t affect a warmongering government, there or here. As Chernus says:

The best writers in Ha’aretz know that some day Israel must give up its bullying, and that means giving up its illusions: the fiction that Israel is an innocent victim, merely responding to unprovoked aggression, and the vain hope that brutal force can restore an insecure bully’s wounded pride. As long as that lethal brew of illusion dominates Israel’s public mind and mood, Israeli bombs will keep on killing in Lebanon and Gaza, and the victims will fight back, endangering Israeli lives too.
Posted by Chuck Dupree at July 21, 2006 11:05 AM
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I would amend the above analysis/description so to identify not the citizenry in general as opposed to their government policies; but rather ....a minority of rational citizens of the USA and a minority of the citizens of Israel are opposed to their government policies of predatory bloody theft and conquest. It clearly appears the majority in both countries are more than content to reap the benefits of bloody conquest for thievery of lives, lands and resources, both international and domestic, just so long as the conquest is pronounced in appropriate doubletalk justification to salve the conscience of the majority, usually along the lines of pursuing Christian or Judaic or democratic values to help civilize the murdered or otherwise dispossessed victim populations.
One might respond--Oh, but G. Bush now has a very low popularity rating; the question really should be--is his low popularity due mainly to "wrong" Neocon/religious policy goals, or (more likely, in my opinion) is it due to blatantly incompetent leadership and administration towards those [otherwise acceptable to the majority] goals?

Posted by: Hoffmann on July 21, 2006 4:46 PM

The U.S. silence and tacit encouragement of the continuation of these actions by Israel, will ensure that the few remaining people in the Arab world who did not despise us, now despise us. I cannot believe that this war is in Israel's or the interests of the United States. The U.S. has completely given up any pretense that it could play the role of peace keeper as Condi takes her sweet time in visiting the region. Why bother, Condi? Stay home and refresh your wardrobe for something worthwhile.

I refuse to take sides, as it were, simply because I have not been able to sort through this mess that has lasted decades. But this war is madness. Someone please explain the end game here for me.

Trying to crush hezbollah seems like trying to crush the gorgon.

Posted by: t on July 21, 2006 11:52 PM
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