October 7, 2006
Something happened in Lebanon, something startling, and it may be too early to understand all the ramifications.
The military force of Israel backed by the U.S. was for the first time stopped-- not simply bogged down as in Iraq, but brought to an absolute halt-- by an Arab army.
For example, one conclusion being drawn from the recent war is that Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from Lebanon were bad ideas, since withdrawal did nothing to stop attacks on Israel. As relatively moderate, conservative columnist David Brooks put it in his column in The New York Times: "They [Israelis] imagined that they could build a security barrier and unilaterally withdraw from their historical reality. It took the war in south Lebanon to make them see there is no way to unilaterally withdraw. There is no way to become a normal society. Even if they pulled out of Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, they would still have to confront an existential foe, so long as the forces of political Islam continued to wage their competition for anti-Semitic glory all around" (28 September 2006: A23).
Besides the over-blown prose ("anti-Semitic glory"), Brooks has touched a sensitive Israeli-- and by extension American-- button. Israelis are motivated by fear, as well as arrogance. Their leaders say they have no choice but to be brutal. "We live in a dangerous neighborhood," they like to say, not realizing that they have done much to create that neighborhood. Brooks-- and others appearing to be "realists"-- do not address the unilateral character of the Israeli military withdrawal. Withdrawing without a peace agreement does not settle anything, particularly when, as in Gaza, the entire area is strangled as a huge prison. Fear mixed with arrogance produces an outlook that the Israelis did a favor for the Palestinians in Gaza and the Lebanese by withdrawing. Their continued resistance is just the actions of ungrateful ingrates. Brooks goes on to quote an unnamed Israeli veteran of the 1948 war who explains the real truth: that the war with the Arabs and Muslims will go on "forever."
But fear is also one of the basic existential attitudes of the colonizer, whether Jewish or French (as in Algeria), although it is fear of the rage of the natives. If the Palestinians get their state-- and it's a real state with contiguous borders and the possibility of economic viability-- then perhaps they can imagine they can take back Tel Aviv. So, a type of Israeli logic goes, the only thing to do is to keep all centers of Arab national and Muslim power off balance, weakened, split up into religious and ethnic factions. The mix of these attitudes - the "forever" of anti-Semitism (or we can substitute anti-Americanism) and the resistance of the colonized - creates a world of constant war in which peace is impossible. The colonizer, like the imperial occupier, will always be afraid of the natives.
Progressive Israelis and Palestinians have said there can be another way than constant war, that the settler society Israelis have established can exist in conjunction and even in collaboration with the Palestinians. It may be hard to believe now, but striving for "multilateral" peace is possible and certainly no more absurd than resigning oneself to a "forever" of constant violence. One day this may become the lesson of Lebanon.