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.