Taking Sides

The Roths at ThisOngoingWar:
“If our side needs to be bleeding at least as much as the people on the other side before we win your support and understanding, then we will forego that privilege. And we express our utter contempt for your relativistic, statistics-driven morality.”

Commenter “JJ” sent me a link to an article in Haaretz back on July 22nd. It’s mostly concerned with an emerging spat in the coalition government between Sharon people and Olmert’s clan, the latter dropping hints (and more) that Sharon allowed the Hezbollah sore to fester for 5 years and that the seeds for the current conflict were sown on his watch; the former arguing that any pre-emptive action taken by Sharon would have met with universal condemnation inside and outside Israel. The Sharonites are paraphrased thus:

For five years, …there wasn’t a single diplomatic meeting that Arik [Sharon] held – be it with the president of the United States of the prime minister of Sweden – in which he did not talk about Hezbollah and the rockets. We would laugh because he had a regular line that he would say: For God’s sake – he’d say in English, of course – they have 13,000 rockets. Yes, 13,000! Every president, every prime minister, every foreign minister, heard this from him.

The backdrop to these conversations being UN Resolutions 1391 and 1496 calling on the Lebanese government to enforce its will in the south of the country and repeated representations by Israel to the UNSC regarding the failure of the Lebanese government to do just that. Not to mention a response from the international community that gave the distinct impression it could care less.

Any assessment of the ongoing conflict that fails to consider this context, is not worthy of the name. Any evaluation of the Israeli response to the Hezbollah raid into northern Israel three weeks ago, when 3 IDF soldiers were killed and 2 abducted in a de facto act of war, that fails to factor in 2000 days of Israeli efforts to get the international community to take seriously the unwillingness/inability of Beirut to confront Hezbollah is – at best – incomplete, but more likely – disingenuous.

Those bunkers in hundreds of northern Israeli towns and villages weren’t built in the last 3 weeks. Many date from the late 70s early 80s during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon (another context-free conflict from which every self-respecting blogger can cite Sabra and Shatila, but mention in conversation Avivim, Ma’alot or the Coastal Road Massacre, and you should expect nothing but blank stares…unless you’re in Israel, of course). Today, those bunkers are there because of what it means to be living within striking distance of 13,000 missiles accrued by a guerilla organisation sworn to the destruction of Israel and operating with unbridled freedom in the neighbouring state. As I type this, there are 1 million Israelis either displaced or spending most nights crowded into bomb shelters with their families. That’s 15% of the population of Israel indirectly cleansed from the north or forced to spend hours a day living like animals underground.

Twenty-four years ago, Britain went to war with another country 8,500 miles away because of the threat that country posed to something in the order of 0.00005% of all British subjects who, whatever difficulties they might have faced living under Argentinean rule, were guaranteed to fare better than the residents of Kiryat Shmona were Hezbollah ever entrusted with their care.

My heart bleeds for the innocents of Qana and whilst I don’t doubt that only a political settlement will deliver enduring peace, I refuse to join the chorus for an immediate cease-fire that will deliver nothing proximate to this. Those who prematurely gloat at what they perceive to be the relative failure of the IDF to arrest the daily deluge of Katyushas, despite heavy aerial bombardment and a ground incursion, are invariably the same crowd who suggest limited, surgical strikes against known Hezbollah positions would have been the “proportionate” response to what in any other circumstances would be viewed as a declaration of war. My suspicion is that we are talking about people for whom any Israeli response greater than token would be viewed as excessive. And they claim to want peace?

I want to see the Lebanese democratic experiment succeed, but not if it comes at the cost of an autonomous, Iranian proxy massed on Israel’s northern border. I want the tourists to return to Beirut, but not before Israeli families can sleep safe in their beds.

Finally, I want to say that there is nothing respectable or honourable about a refusal to ‘take sides’ in this conflict. ‘A plague on both their houses’ won’t wash. Much is made of Israel’s military might, yet a quick look at a map and consideration of relative populations reveals why Israel can’t afford to lose a single war. So I will continue to proclaim my solidarity with the pluralist democracy that even now fights with one hand behind her back in the clearest possible demonstration of an unshakeable commitment to ideals and principles that are anathema to the other side with whom she is regularly – and incredulously – unfavourably compared.

None of this signals a preparedness to ignore or excuse those occasions when Israel errs, but it means I can tell the difference between the freedom-loving cornucopia of nationalities that comprise modern Israel, and the hateful zealots on the other side who celebrate death over life.

It’s “L’chayim” for a reason, you know?