Israel's Doves Come Around on Lebanon
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When the current Israeli war in Lebanon began, some leading Israeli doves quickly declared their support for it: Novelist Amos Oz, one of the founders of Peace Now and a tireless advocate of a two-state solution, wrote a bellicose op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times on July 19. "The Israeli peace movement should support Israel's attempt at self-defense, pure and simple," Oz declared.
Yossi Beilin went even further. He's another prominent peace activist, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians and justice minister at the time of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. He was also one of the architects of the 2003 Geneva Accord, a joint Israeli-Palestian nongovernmental two-state solution to the conflict that was comprehensive, detailed and followed closely the principles outlined in the 2000 paramaters laid out by President Clinton. In a July 25 Washington Post article headlined "Israeli 'Doves' Say Response Is Legitimate," Beilin was quoted saying that instead of invading Lebanon, Israel should have attacked Syria for arming Hezbollah.
But recently some Israeli doves have begun to speak out in the Israeli media against the war. Tom Segev is one of Israel's best historians and writers, and a man of the left. "Israel has adopted the moral values of Hezbollah," he wrote in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz August 3 after Israel bombed civilians in Qana. "Whatever they are doing to the residents of northern Israel, we can also do to the citizens of Lebanon, and even more. Many Israelis tended to look at the Qana incident primarily as a media disaster and not as something that imposed on them any ethical responsibility."
Gideon Levy is the former spokesman for Shimon Peres, now a writer for Ha'aretz who often criticizes the moral blindness of Israeli society toward Palestinians. "Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalistic atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything," he wrote July 30. He denounced "the insensitivity and blindness" of Israelis, the "tones of jingoism, ruthlessness and vengeance" that dominate public discourse. He reminded Israelis that Lebanon "has never fought Israel and has 40 daily newspapers, 42 colleges and universities," and that it "is being destroyed by our planes and cannon and nobody is taking into account the amount of hatred we are sowing."
Ze'ev Sternhell is Leon Blum Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Hebrew University. Israel today, he wrote in Ha'aretz July 28, "is dominated by thinking even more primitive than the thinking that led Ariel Sharon to Beirut about a quarter of a century ago." He explained that "it is impossible to uproot Hezbollah from among the Shiites without destroying the population itself... well-organized armies equipped with modern technology have always failed in attempts to defeat irregular forces. The latter know how to adapt themselves to their surroundings, they are an inseparable part of the population and they serve its material, religious and emotional needs."
Sternhell went further than other critics in linking Israel's war to the White House. George Bush, he wrote, "wants Israel both to destroy Lebanon and to sustain painful losses. That way, Israel provides him with an excellent alibi for the war in Iraq: The fight against terror is global, the blood price is the same, the methods of operation and the means are identical, and the time needed for victory is long." His conclusion: "The Israeli vassal is serving its master no less than the master is providing for its needs."
The last time Israel invaded Lebanon, in 1982, hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against the war. Today, opponents of the war are few -- although 5,000 marched in Tel Aviv on August 5, calling for an end to the conflict and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, according to Ha'aretz.
As the death toll mounts and the impossibility of achieving the war's goals becomes clearer, the way will be open for more Israelis to join these brave voices -- maybe even Yossi Beilin and Amos Oz.
Update on August 8: Yossi Beilin today in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz denounced "the revelry of war" and declared that he and the Zionist left would refuse to join in "pathetic slogans such as 'We will win.'"
It's wrong, he wrote, for Israel to "violate ethical norms" by killing hundreds of Lebanese civilians. It's especially wrong because this entire war could have been avoided: "If it were up to us, we would have reached a peace agreement with the Palestinians in May 1991, as was promised in the interim agreement with them. If it were up to us, the Shepherdstown peace talks involving Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Farouk Shara would have ended in December 1999 with an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement that would have led to an Israeli-Lebanon deal." Today, he continued, "our national interest is in completing the moves toward peace with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon, and there is no alternative to an agreement."
But what should Israel have done in mid-July when Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers? Beilin argues that only a "brief" military response was justified. It was "not right" for Israel "to get drawn into the trap set by Hezbollah -- into an extended war of attrition, continued exposure of the Israeli home front to rocket fire and a ground operation involving tens of thousands of soldiers." Beilin's current position: "warning against acts that contradict the values of Israeli society, while demanding that we reach the negotiation table as soon as possible to discuss a cease-fire."