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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Deterrent: No choice but to fight in Gaza

No choice but to fight
By Yossi Klein Halevi
Sunday, February 8, 2009
In May 1967, as a 14-year-old American Jew, I looked on helplessly as Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser moved his army to the Israeli border and promised the imminent destruction of the "Zionist entity."
I watched TV images of demonstrators in Cairo and Damascus waving banners of skulls and crossbones. The Jews were facing a second genocidal threat within two decades, yet the international community seemed unmoved. I resolved that, if Israel survived, I would someday make it my home.
Now, as an Israeli, I find myself back in the nightmare of May 1967. If anything, Israel's survival seems even more precarious today. The Middle East conflict has been transformed from a nationalist struggle over the creation of a Palestinian state into an Islamist struggle against the existence of a Jewish state.
Terror enclaves aligned with Iran - Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in the south - have formed on our borders. For the first time since the 1948 war, the Israeli home front has become the actual front.
Meanwhile, an Iranian regime whose threats to destroy Israel have become so routine that they are scarcely reported anymore may be about to cross the nuclear threshold. And the notion that Israel's very existence is a moral affront is spreading, not only in Muslim countries but in the West.
I moved to Israel in 1982, shortly after the Israeli Army invaded Lebanon to expel Yasser Arafat's PLO forces. In the bitterly divided nation I had just joined, there was little chance to savor the joy of homecoming. For the first time, many Israelis were questioning the justness of their nation at war. The apocalyptic images of May 1967 no longer seemed adequate to explain the moral and political complexities of the conflict.
That self-doubt intensified during the first intifada of the late 1980s. I served in a reserve unit patrolling Gaza's refugee camps and became convinced we needed to make almost any concession to end this pathological conflict. Concluding that Israel was partly culpable came as a kind of relief: If we shared blame for the conflict, that meant we could help solve it.
I joined the growing number of Israelis reaching out to the other side. In 1999, shortly before the outbreak of the second intifada, I went on a year-long pilgrimage into mosques and monasteries, seeking, as a religious Jew, a common devotional language with my Muslim and Christian neighbors.
I didn't expect Palestinians to reciprocate. It's always easier, after all, for the victor to be more nuanced than the defeated. Still, I discovered that even as many Israelis were trying to understand the Palestinian narrative, Palestinian society was teaching its children that the Jewish narrative was a lie.
There was no ancient Jewish presence in the land of Israel, no Temple on the Temple Mount, no Holocaust. One leading Palestinian moderate told me that the Jews weren't a people, only a religion, and that after the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, the Jews would resume their status as a religious minority.
He was hardly alone: The notion that the Jews aren't a people and have no right to a state is endemic throughout Palestinian society, in fact throughout the Arab world.
The Israeli left won the debate over the need to end the occupation, but lost the debate over the viability of peace.
Most Israelis today want a two-state solution, but few believe it will end the conflict. Even many who oppose settlement-building no longer believe that settlements are the obstacle to peace.
Instead, we've become convinced that the real obstacle remains the existence of a Jewish state in any borders.
Since the collapse of the Oslo peace process, Israel has been caught in one ongoing war. Though the enemy repeatedly shifts, from Hamas to Hezbollah to Iran, the common aim is jihad, and its target is civilian Israel.
The curse of Jewish history - the inability to take mere existence for granted - has returned to a country whose founding was intended to resolve that uncertainty.
We feel the impingement of siege. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, when Tel Aviv was hit by Scud missiles from Iraq, residents fled north to the Galilee. In 2006, when the Galilee was hit by Katyushas from Hezbollah, residents fled south to Tel Aviv. Now, the entire country is within missile range. Next time, there will be nowhere to run.
After Israel's failed war against Hezbollah two years ago, we were haunted by the taunt of Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who claimed that Israel resembled a spider web, seemingly formidable but easily dismantled.
Our ongoing inability to prevent Hamas' missile attacks against Israeli towns bordering Gaza seemed to prove Nasrallah right. For eight years, successive Israeli governments in effect abandoned hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens. The missiles continued to fall after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and before Israel imposed its siege against Gaza's Hamas government in 2007. Their purpose was to terrorize, and they exposed Israeli helplessness.
The fear of losing our ability to defend ourselves explains, in part, the motivation with which Israeli soldiers fought during the recent war in Gaza. It explains too why so many young Israelis, who came of age during the suicide bombings and missile attacks, will be voting for right-wing parties in Tuesday's Israeli election.
Meanwhile, we move from one unresolved conflict to the next, finding ourselves increasingly isolated and condemned. Yet we know we have no choice but to fight this war we tried to avert. We know too that, this time, there will be no easy victory, no Six-Day War to dispel the demons of May 1967.
Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is the author of "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land."

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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