Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In defense of a compassionate Israel

Neta Levanon '08 is a Wilson School major who is spending the summer in Israel studying Islam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She writes from Tel Aviv.

It constantly amazes me to hear stories of the so-called lack of compassion that Israelis show towards the Palestinians. The various convoluted analyses of the Middle East “situation” unfailingly baffle me, because to me the situation seems so simple: the Palestinians deserve their own state. You would be hard-pressed to find an Israeli who wouldn’t agree with the concept of a two-state solution. And thus, I’m surprised that more people have not asked why, in the 58 years since Israel became a nation, the Palestinians have been unable to create one of their own.

Those who argue that this failure is a result of the inaction of the Arab nations and the Palestinian leadership itself are quite right. The Palestinians would have had a country long ago had it not been for the advice of this group of leaders. It is a lack of compassion from these leaders that has thwarted the Palestinians’ goals. The current clash between Israel and Hezbollah is one more example in a long list of misrepresentations of the Palestinian cause. Hezbollah claims to be fighting to further the goals of the Palestinians, yet even Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two countries who have historically shown solidarity with the Palestinians and supported organizations like Hezbollah, have condemned their actions. This censure is a result of the fact that Hezbollah’s attacks have completely removed the Palestinian cause from the limelight; the focus is no longer on Palestinian groups like Hamas and Fatah. Additionally, Hezbollah once again forces Israel to defend itself instead of seeking to engage Israel through diplomatic channels, thus pushing the Palestinians even further away from attaining their own nation.

Hezbollah has consistently detracted from the Palestinian cause throughout its history. In 2000, Israel withdrew the last of its troops from Lebanon to internationally recognized borders. For the next four years, Hezbollah launched frequent rocket attacks against Israeli cities in the north, in the name of resistance for the Palestinians. In 2004, UN Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, but instead of complying with the resolution, Hezbollah continued to strengthen its ranks and launch attacks against Israel. Finally, Hezbollah violated Israeli sovereignty by coming across the border, attacking a border patrol, and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, while simultaneously launching heavy rocket attacks against northern Israeli cities.

Thus, while it is true that Israel is now bombing Lebanon, the important distinction between the actions of Israel and those of Hezbollah is that Israel is responding to an attack, doing what it has so rarely done throughout its history: going on the offensive to lessen a threat to the lives of its people. No country would stand by in the face of such an attack without retaliation for the sake of self-defense. While the displacement of so many Lebanese citizens is regrettable, it should be noted that, just as civilians from southern Lebanon are fleeing north, Israeli civilians from the north are fleeing south. The displacement of all of these civilians, both Israeli and Lebanese, results directly from Hezbollah’s initiation of the conflict, purportedly to further the Palestinian cause.

Such distortions of the Palestinian cause have been the main obstacle in a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Various Israeli administrations have offered a number of solutions that would result in a Palestinian homeland, and they have all been turned down by the surrounding Arab governments and the Palestinian leadership. Israel has used diplomacy while its neighbors have used violence. Thus Israel, since its conception, has shown more compassion towards the Arab population, in particular the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, than it has ever been shown in return.

The discrepancy caused by such a lack of reciprocity is repeatedly illustrated throughout the history of the region. When an Israeli missile falls in Beirut or Gaza City, Israelis do not celebrate the increased Arab death toll, as the Arabs do when a missile kills Israeli civilians or a bus explodes. When the Israeli Defense Forces plan to bomb a civilian area, they inform the populace that they plan to bomb at a certain time, so that the civilians can evacuate the area. When Arab missiles fall on civilian locations in Israel, there is no similar warning that seeks to avoid civilian casualties. Israel targets terrorist cells and the hideouts of militants, while groups like Hamas and Hezbollah deliberately target civilians to add to the Israeli death toll. Israelis mourn the death of every soldier and every civilian. The Arab population celebrates the death of every “martyr” who adds another number to the Israeli death toll; in fact, Hamas and Hezbollah agents often fire missiles and conduct operations out of civilian areas, including hospitals, mosques, and schools, to take advantage of Israel’s humanity and morality. In short, they take advantage of Israel’s compassion while showing none of their own.

Yet in spite of this, some people still condemn Israelis as unmerciful, criticizing their manner of living life as usual while their country remains so “uncompassionate.” The pairing between 'life as usual' and a lack of mercy is faulty logic: Israel has been merciful since 1948. It has attempted to live life as usual only to be interrupted by wars almost entirely initiated by surrounding Arab nations, intifadas initiated by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and recurring missile attacks from its northern border. Throughout all of this, Israel has sought only to defend itself. It has rarely gone on the offensive, seeking rather to strengthen its own protections within its own borders. This is far more compassion than has ever been shown to Israel from the Arab and Palestinian communities, and it is a mark of the humanity of the Israeli population that they have remained compassionate for so long. So how do Israelis live life as usual, you ask? Perhaps it is because, unlike their Arab counterparts, they have the luxury of a cleaner conscience. They know that, for the past sixty years, if not more, they are the only ones in the region who have consistently shown compassion.


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