Sunday, July 16, 2006

Max on the Middle East

I find it difficult to write about Israel. I find it difficult to talk about Israel. People often want my views on the subject because I am fairly knowledgeable about it (and because I am Jewish). I have lived in Israel, I have studied Israeli history (from ancient to modern) and politics, and I have even taught modern Israeli history and politics. I know the people and the culture fairly well.

I am always frustrated when people exhibit ignorance of the history and politics of the region, yet also express strong views. People tend to take sides in a discussion, and refuse to acknowledge that there is another side, or even other sides. The situation in the Middle East is far from black and white.

I have always been frustrated when people introduce the idea that either (i) Israel shouldn’t be where it is, or (ii) the Palestinians are not a real nation of people. I have simple answers to those arguments. First, Israel is there and you are wasting time in a pointless discussion instead of focusing on the real and current issues. Second, no matter what history you have been taught, you cannot deny that the Palestinians exist as a nation in today’s world. No matter what you say, you are not going to make Israel or the Palestinians disappear. The problem is not going to go away.

Since 1987-1988, when I lived in Israel, I have been certain of the following:

  1. The Palestinian Arabs would eventually achieve some degree of autonomy.
  2. Israel would eventually withdraw from at least some of the territory that lies outside of the Green Line (pre-1967 borders).
  3. The Palestinian Arabs would fuck up through some form of aggression.
  4. Israel would use the Palestinian aggression as an excuse to go back in.

And it has happened exactly like that.

Then throw Lebanon into the mix, and we have a two-front “conflict”.

People have accused Israel of over-reacting and called their response disproportionate. Look at history. Israel’s response is always “disproportionate”. Look at a map. Israel is a little tiny country surrounded by large and mostly unfriendly Arab countries. What do you expect them to do?

People have said that it is not the Palestinians or Lebanese who are waging war on Israel, it is Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestinians elected Hamas. You could just as easily say that the US is not occupying Iraq, it’s just the neo-cons. Sorry, the argument does not work. Hezbollah do not control the Lebanese government, but Lebanon tolerates their presence and activities, which makes Lebanon responsible under international law. It is a fair argument that Lebanon does not have the power to control Hezbollah, but that is not Israel’s problem.

Many people are justifiably upset that Israel has attacked infrastructure in Gaza and that it is the innocent people that are suffering. I won’t defend Israel for destroying the power plant, but, again, look at history. “Disproportionate” – perhaps; completely predictable – absolutely, and Hamas knew it.

Hezbollah from the north and Hamas from the south have been firing rockets into Israel. Just this morning, rockets came very close to hitting an oil refinery and gas storage tanks in the port of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. People have been killed. Israel has to defend itself, and they are within their rights to do so.

It is a tragedy that innocent people are losing their lives and their homes on both sides. I have heard people argue that Israel is somehow more guilty because more Palestinians and Lebanese have been killed than Israelis. But this is not a game and it’s not about keeping score.

Where is all of this going? I don’t know. I hope that international intervention and diplomacy can bring an end to this latest conflict before it widens. But it is very scary that there is that potential for escalation.

I found a very good article this morning in the Baltimore Sun. It was written by Shibley Telhami, who is the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. It is titled “The limits of escalation” and it analyzes whether Israel’s strategy of demonstrating strength can work.

1 comment:

Cookie said...

Max - I read your entire web page today
and loved your articles
they were not kafkaesque so you need not worry about cockroaches overtaking anything. I think it is nice
that we - meaning You and Sara and myself share a love of the written word and all express this so well ...

I will come to Prague because I must
and feel so awful that it is taking me so long to get there.

Oh and as usual my comments have nothing to do with anything.