Israel-Hezbollah War

A view of the July-August 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war from an Israeli living in Haifa (under Katyusha rocket attack)- send personal comments to

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

On the use of force and violence

Israeli society is probably by Western standards , and definitely by Middle Eastern standards, a fairly peaceful one. I am almost certain that the number of murders or wife/child-beating per thousand of population in Israel is less than in Russia or the USA, and definitely less than in Egypt or Lebanon (in peaceful times). I'll be happy to bring you precise statistics.

That being said, violence in Israel (within families, by schoolchildren) is said to be on the increase. Liberal psychologists have ascribed this to the force used and lack of respect by Israeli soldiers towards the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

If you would ask 100 Israelis in the street whether they believe that the use of force and violence is an acceptable way to solve problems, I believe the vast majority would give a resounding no. However, if you would ask those same Israelis whether the use of overhelming force is acceptable against the civilian Palestinian or Lebanese population, far more would approve, some even enthusiastically.

I wouldn't call this racism but I would admit that Jewish Israelis are culturally conditioned to fear and distrust Arabs. Almost 100 years of violent Arab opposition to Jewish settlement and independence in the historic Land of Israel/Palestine doesn't help. There is also an old trusim in Israeli society that "the Arabs only understand power". Certainly we in Israeli society believe that power, force and violence and much more respected, accepted and used in Arab than in Western society. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 (in which 2 million people ! were killed) and the current interethnic carnage in Iraq seem to support this thesis.

Right now many Israelis are very angry and very frustrated at the lack of success in curbing the incredible power and arsenals that Hezbollah has accumulated in southern Lebanon. We are very afraid of the threats being made against our existence. Like any other species (human or animal) we value more highly the lives of our species than that of competitive ones. In existential crises, we get into the mindset "It's either us or them". So, amazingly and terribly, talking to otherwise liberal and pleasant Israelis these days , you will find not a few who propose razing Lebanese villages (including their remaining residents) to the ground if Hezbollah fighters are shooting from there.

Israelis are,by and large, a peaceable and fairly tolerant people. Our fear and frustration is driving us to contemplate terrible things. Nobody will risk extinction in order to remain humane - survival is the ultimate primal instinct. A lot has to be done to calm Israeli fears - unfortunately Jewish history and the behaviour of our Arab neighbours reinforce our fears.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! My name is Sam. I found your blog through Israel21c. I am a 20 year old American student. With this current war between Israel and Hezbollah, the crisis for a free Palestine that will never end, and personal connections, I have become deeply torn. Many of my closest friends are devoted Jews who have no shame in proclaiming their support for Israel. On the flip side, two very close friends of mine are Muslim refugees from Bosnia, who went through their own holocaust as you well know. I realize these interminable conflicts don't stem from religious differences, but rather use religion to justify wars of honor and in turn, acts of defense.

As you mentioned in this post, many Israelis would be wholly supportive of raising Lebanese villages and killing Lebanese civilians. Would this not be comitting the same crimes the Nazis committed against places like Warsaw? Even factoring the presence of a terrorist organization like Hezbollah, this possiblity you site among the general Israeli population and the refusal of Israel to simultaneously airlift relief supplies into Lebanon causes me great concern.

12:24 AM  
Anonymous Yael said...

Dear David,

I agree that by Western standards the internal society of Israel is a ‘fairly peaceful one’, but then so too was Lebanon. And if you concede that violence by Israeli soldiers causes Israeli children to be more violent then how much more effect must this have on Palestinian children?

This, and the ‘culturally conditioned to fear and distrust Arabs’, is not an Israeli characteristic, all this is universal. It is not for Israelis, or outsiders, to wonder at Israeli acceptance of force against those perceived as their enemies, this is in every society in the world. It is a human response found in even the most peaceful situations. At home in Dublin there are minorities treated with appalling disrespect. But just because it is human does not mean it should be tolerated.

I do not believe that Arabs only understand power. If this were true how can the hundreds of peaceful demonstrations that occur on an almost daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza be explained? How can a hero like Dr. Husrain Shahristani, a nuclear physicist, who during the Iran Iraq war, even after 8 years of torture and imprisonment refused to transfer from civilian projects to military ones be explained? Every week in Bi’lin there are hundreds of Israelis, Palestinians, and outsiders in a demonstration against the –illegal under Israeli law- taking of Palestinian land, that continues even as we write. It is wrong to put all Arabs in one basket, as it is wrong to put all Hindus in a basket, or all Jews. And if you are to point at past military actions, such as a war in a completely different country, as proof of an entire peoples aggression, surely that only condemns your own country to harsh judgment?

What you are describing is a form of innocence that we develop to protect ourselves. Last year I went to a Unionist parade and had conversations with men carrying signs calling for death rather than living with people like me. I found out, over tea, that they had been freshly painted that year. But they said, when I pointed this out, I was different, they had no problem with me, and they spilled out stories of neighbours and friends from ‘my’ side who they had helped. They had carefully preserved their innocence as to their actions, their words on people in the south, as surely as people from my home had preserved theirs. It is this innocence that has to be shattered. When someone from my home says all Unionists are bigots, I must protest, even as they fly their flags against me. I once met a Unionist who did the same, during the worst bombings in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He stood in meetings and stated again and again that not all nationalists were violent; that they too had reason to distrust. The courage to say that to friends and family who lived in such fear is astounding, as is that fact that today such stories are almost disbelieved.

Israel’s response is a human one, and peace is in many ways a superhuman task. It is human to look to our own, it is human to fight, it is human to look at your daily acts of kindness and know that you are a good person, and forget that in our unsaid words, and unperformed deeds we can hurt others.
It is superhuman to remember that those that hate us are people, that they too perform small acts of goodness. It is a task for heroes to see those that proclaim our deaths a victory as our path to peace. I was lucky enough to have others fight against themselves so I would never have to. You are not. You are the real front line. But I have read far too many stories of people, Palestinian and Israeli, who have shown such strength in even worse times to believe that changing this mindset is impossible. The fight to believe the enemy is human is one of the only fights in Israel and Palestine that has never, at any point, died.


1:44 PM  
Anonymous Gray said...

“Israeli society is probably by Western standards , and definitely by Middle Eastern standards, a fairly peaceful one. I am almost certain that the number of murders or wife/child-beating per thousand of population in Israel is less than in Russia or the USA, and definitely less than in Egypt or Lebanon (in peaceful times). I’ll be happy to bring you precise statistics.”

Hmm, Middle Eastern Standards? I don’t think there is one, the situation is different from country to country. But you’re right, definitely more peaceful than Russia and the US. Check this statistic:
Now, Israel isn’t in it, but Wikipedia says there were 174 homicides in 2004. computed with a population of 6.35 million, the rate is 0.0274/1000. This puts Israel between Finland and Slowakia. There aren’t many Middle East States in the table, but Yemen is more violent and certainly Lebanon, too (in other tables, it’s always near the top). However, Saudi Arabia has far less murders and Quatar is the least violent state of all, so it’s a mixed result. After all, every murder is one too many.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

My name is Jennifer. I am American, and I teach Preschool in Beirut, Lebanon. I am also a graduate student at the American University of Beirut.

I find that your blog, while attempting to be "liberal" or perhaps "balanced," does nothing to solve the problems of the Israel-Hizbollah War that, unfortunately, has not really ended almost 3 years later. As a teacher of young children, and of Sephardic Jewish descent myself, your assertion that many Israeli citizens supported the razing of South Lebanese villages in 2006 makes me sick. Israel says that the rockets that fly into the country are killing innocent civillians, so your people would support, or did support, killing innocent civillians in return?

Furthermore, your liberal use of the word "Arab" to describe the Lebanese, at least anthropologically speaking, is inaccurate and demeaning. That is, Lebanese citizens hail from the Phonecian civilization, a non-Arab people who lived 5,000 years ago. Furthermore, there are a number of Christian Lebanese who do not identify themselves as "Arab."

Be careful with your words, David. A poor choice of words, that connotes blatant racism and prejudice, will only serve to make Israel, the land of both our ancestors, look worse. Although I am not Lebanese, Lebanon is a beautiful country with an oppressed citizenry. My heart goes out to both sides of the border where civilians were hurt, but my mind sides with those who are marginalized- the Christians of Lebanon.

What do you have to say about that?

3:05 PM  

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