Thursday, August 03, 2006

Israel and Hez b'Allah

I haven't written about the current war raging in northern Israel and southern Lebanon (except a brief comment about certain American ideologues who would like to frame it in a context of religious inevitability). This is because it is a topic and an event about which I am profoundly ambivalent. Howie, who hates ambivalence of any sort -- and profound ambivalence in particular -- would call this "waffling." Anyone who knows better would call it "thinking."

On the one hand, I am a fervent supporter of Israel. I have a fundamental belief in Israel's right to exist in peace and to maintain its security. Israel has been the focus of Arab -- and Islamic --hatred virtually since its inception, for reasons far too complex to go into in the confines of this space.

I abhor terrorism, for whatever supposed justification. The killing of innocent civilians is a sin against both God and humanity. I don't care if the perpetrators are Islamic fundamentalists or Irish Republicans. Terrorists are criminals and must be stopped. If need be, they must be killed.
But on the other hand, I've been studying terrorism long enough (both Republican Irish, Loyalist British, and state-sponsored British terrorism; Latin American military and paramilitary death squads -- and their US sponsors and trainers; and fundamentalist Islamic terrorists) to know that terrorism isn't a game and terrorists do not take their actions lightly. Right or wrong, justified or unjustified, the terrorist is motivated by one (or both) of two things: a perception of profound grievance and desperation.

Terror campaigns and terrorist "armies" may be organized and led by extremists, fundamentalists, sociopaths, or even psychopaths, but the "footsoldiers" of terrorism -- the people actually doing the killing and dying -- are people for whom there is no choice, people for whom there is no hope, people for whom there is no future. Violence is, as I have said, the voice of the voiceless. You must acknowledge this. The alternative is to accept the extreme right-wing view that "all Arabs are terrorists" or that "Islam is a religion of hatred."

So I remain profoundly ambivalent. I want to see Israel survice -- and thrive -- in peace and freedom. But I also think Palestinian aspirations for statehood are legitimate and righteous. I think Hez b'Allah as a terrorist organization is Israel's Frankenstein monster, in the same way that al Qa'ida is the United States's monster. We created them.

I also think the current war is wrongheaded on both sides -- a double-dipped miscalculation. I think it will prove to further injure the chances for peace in the middle east, to increase hostility in the developing world to all things "Western," and to make the world far less safe. Whatever the reality, Israel is seen in this episode as the agressor, the use of disproportionate force is condemned all over the world, and a growing pan-Arabic unity is emerging. One Sunni member of the Lebanese Parliament said:

"The Lebanese feel that they are under attack and this has created a bipartisan feeling that we should all unite," says Misbah Ahdab, an independent Sunni MP and a long-standing opponent of foreign involvement in Lebanon.

"Israel wants to separate Hezbollah from the Lebanese people," he says. "But instead the Lebanese feel that the Israeli aggression is not just targeting Hezbollah but all of Lebanon."

Dan Murphy and Sameh NaGuib, reporting in the Christian Science Monitor, note:

Islamists who are hostile to Israel and the US - and to their Arab allies who have criticized Hizbullah - are shoring up support, increasing the chances they will seize power if the elections President Bush has urged for the region take place.

Iran is making new friends, as is Syria. And if history is a guide, a new wave of outrage could bring new recruits to terrorist groups, much as Israel's occupation of parts of Lebanon in 1982 fueled the rise of Hizbullah.

The whole situation bears an eery resemblance to Dublin, Easter Week 1916.

A poorly armed group of extremists launched a poorly planned and executed insurrection against their British rulers, without a hint of support from the Irish people. Crowds of Irish men and women cheered the British soldiers who fought them, and jeered and spat at the rebels who were captured. But the ferocity of the British response turned the tide of public opinion. As the British Army bombed Dublin's center into smithereens day after day, and summarily executed -- without trial -- the leaders of the uprising, the Irish people began to recognize that, even though they were not consulted, and even though they would not initially have supported an uprising, the rebels were fighting on their behalf. It is only after the 1916 Easter Uprising that the Irish Republican Army, their ranks swelled by an influx of new recruits, became a serious fighting force, one that would eventually bring the British government to the negotiating table and win some small measure of independence for the Irish nation.

This is not, of course, what Israel expects to happen as a result of their much-anticipated response to Hez b'Allah's provocations.

There's got to be a better way.

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