A response to an Israel-basher
I am impelled to respond to a comment from blog reader Tony Flaig, who severely criticizes Israel's defense against Hezbollah [see last post, "A message from an Israeli cousin"]. Mr. Flaig, who lives in Great Britain, charges that Israel is a "keen abuser of innocents" in Lebanon.
He appears to see a moral equivalency between Israel's attacks on Hezbollah, which uses civilians as human shields while deliberately firing rockets at Israeli civilians, with Israel's effort to specifically attack Hezbollah military targets. Because of Hezbollah's tactics, innocent Lebanese civilians sadly die. But while Israelis agonize and weep in grief over the tragic loss of Lebanese children and other civilians, Hezbollah and its supporters celebrate the loss of Israeli lives.
As Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz writes: "When it comes to Israel, a lot of usually smart people stop thinking with their heads and start thinking with their guts. Most smart people know that when an armed criminal takes a hostage and fires from behind him, it is the criminal, not the policeman, who is guilty of murder, if the policeman, in a reasonable effort to stop the criminal from firing, accidentally kills the innocent hostage. The same should be true during wartime. But you wouldn't know it if you listened only to the singular condemnations of Israel by so many in the international community."
Mr. Flaig complains that Israel "bullies and controls its neighbors." That is an extraordinary claim for a tiny country like Israel with a population less than half the city of Cairo's, outnumbered and surrounded by more than a billion Muslims in 22 Arab countries and other Islamic states--most of whom would like to see Israel destroyed. In a perverse role reversal, Israel has become Goliath to the Islamic world's David.
I don't mean to bestow such prominence to Mr. Flaig's personal views. But his criticism reflects the increasing level of Israel-bashing in the world at large. It has been aggravated by Israel's fierce defense--regarded as "disproportionate" by Israel's kneejerk critics--against terrorism from both Hezbollah, supported by Syria and Iran, and the Palestinian Hamas militia.
On the surface, it's puzzling that Hezbollah and Iran are so obsessed with wiping out Israel. Until the current war began, Israel did not occupy any territory in Lebanon, and Iran has no territorial claims against distant Israel. At the risk of sounding jocular about a very serious matter, perhaps the Iranians resent the fact that Israel's president and its former defense minister and armed forces chief of staff, who is now the transportation minister, are both Jewish natives of Iran.
The major focus of Israel-bashing is Israel's so-called occupation of Arab territory. Mr. Flaig makes a peculiar reference to "Israel farming land that does not belong to them." Actually, virtually all the land that constituted the state of Israel when it gained independence in 1948 had been purchased from Arab feudal landowners or had belonged to the former Ottoman Turkish empire. (I remember as a boy in New York during the 1930s soliciting pennies, dimes and quarters for the Jewish National Fund to buy land for Jews in Palestine; I was proud to be awarded the Ussishkin medal--named for a Zionist pioneer leader--for collecting the most money in my Sunday school class.)
Israel acquired additional territory after becoming an independent nation only by successfully defending itself against invasion by neighboring Arab states intent on its destruction. And unlike other countries which acquired and absorbed territory in defensive wars (Russia, e.g., retaining East Prussia and converting it into a Russianized Kaliningrad), Israel has unsuccessfully offered to negotiate the return of land to the Palestinians.
In Gaza, from which Israel unilaterally withdrew last year, the Palestinians demonstrated how meaningless it could be to return land in the hopeful belief that the result might be peace. Instead of devoting themselves to job creation by bolstering their economy and rebuilding their infrastructure, the Palestinians quickly destroyed state-of-the art greenhouses, vandalized synagogues and other structures, and started launching rockets at neighboring Israeli communities.
I often think that the Arab world's primary grievance against Israel derives from sheer envy of Israeli economic achievements during its brief existence as a Jewish state. It introduced modernity in a region where much of the local society was still living in the dark ages. The Israelis drained malarial swamps, tamed the desert with advanced agricultural methods, and created a high-tech, Westernized democracy that was alien to the culture of its neighbors.
These accomplishments may have been hard for the Arabs to tolerate because traces of the philosophy of "dhimmitude" still persist in parts of the Islamic world. Until very recently, Jews--and in some cases Christians--in many Arab lands were treated as "dhimmis." They were identified as infidels who, while called "protected people," were actually treated as second-class citizens. They were subject to special taxes, barred from certain occupations, often required to wear special clothing, and exposed to other humiliating social restrictions. In Yemen, e.g., Jews were not allowed to sit on donkeys so that they would not tower over walking Arabs.
The Israel/Palestine conflict, which is at the heart of the prolonged Middle East crisis, boils down to this: If the Palestinians and their activist allies would abandon their goal of destroying Israel and would lay down their arms, there would be peace. If the Israelis, however, laid down their arms, an independent and secure Jewish state would be wiped out.