Israel/Palestine,  Your View


This is a guest post by Alex Stein of

From the soft brown fields surrounding Moshav Moledet, Operation Cast Lead seems far away. A nearby Bedouin village sits quietly in the mild winter haze; a hot air balloon drifts past, submerged behind the trees like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The silence is broken only by three boys racing past on their Quad bikes. This is the far-east of Israel, less than fifteen miles from the Jordanian border, the encapsulation of all that Zionist talk about quiet.

I am staying with an elderly relative. She came to Moledet in 1936 from Germany, and has stayed ever since. Every year, she sends out a round-robin letter to friends and relatives around the world. This is what she is writing about the current situation: “Since I kept some of my formal letters I am able to compare them with the distressing conclusion that in real substantial matters nothing has changed for the better. I mainly refer to our political situation that remains critical and without satisfying both people in our conflict…In any case, we are always in a great dilemma concerning our reaction to the continued firing of the Qassam rockets to our settlements and towns in the south. In spite of our retreat from the Gaza Strip and the late agrement for a mutual ceasefire, the bombardment goes on. As usual, our military response is colossal, with catastrophic results for the attackers, including innocent civilians…But what can be done? Both possibilities are bad and futile. To restrain from reaction as we did for a long time, and leave our population in an unbearable state of danger from casualties and death. Or to move over to a more aggressive action in Gaza, as we did before, like in Lebanon, where we got stuck in the mud of two useless wars.” 


On BBC World it is simple. There are four members of the panel, but three of them are monopolising the conversation. There is an angry Arab, a London-based journalist, yawningly extolling the virtues of the resistance. There are two women – both analysts – who sit upright and tell us how simple it all is: that concession will lead to moderation and violence will lead to another generation hating Israel and why can’t the EU present a united front and they  why on earth is Israel is behaving so awfully. There is no dissent. The conversation is so absurdly one-sided that the chair has to try his hand at hasbara.

One blogger writes as follows: “The massive worldwide protests are relatively meaningless. The hypocrisy of these demonstrations need not be overstated, and in general, such demonstrations are basically just massive gatherings of people who do not matter.” His tone is, of course, less than conciliatory, but the point he makes is a valid one. The protests against Israel are a zero-sum game – people hit the streets to vent against our ultimate evil, we shrug our shoulders (“they never liked us anyway”) and seek refuge in Tzahal and its “purity of arms”. Those on the fringes fantasise that the world (the one that counts) is on the verge of turning against us, while we find refuge in our tanks and bombs and guns. Not a pretty picture.

The anti-Israel Left may, however, have one achievement to its name, and a rather significant one at that. It has stopped Israel from winning wars. By responding hysterically to every Israeli military operation, the pro-violence left (that is, pro-violence if it is conducted by Hamas or Hizbollah) has ensured that Israel’s first fight is a PR one, one which it cannot possibly win. The soothing, anguished words of an IDF spokesperson are useless in the face of pictures of dead Palestinian children, especially when the dead Palestinian children are, indeed, our handiwork. In the dense glob of Gaza, there is nothing to be done. The IDF is not free to do what the Sri Lankan Army is doing – defeating the Tamil Tigers, while displacing 200,000 civilians in the process. For white people will not march for the Tamils, and nor will they paint swastikas on the Sri Lankan flag.

This hypocrisy, though, should not blind us to Israel’s failings, failings which are becoming all too predictable. The carelessness and incompetence of our shelling and bombing are followed by all-too-predictable lies. The UN school, we were told, was housing militants. A few days later, the truth came out: human error caused the death of scores of civilians. Too much effort is made in attempting to win over Israeli public opinion when the more fateful battle is taking place elsewhere. The best form of hasbara, surely, is to tell the truth. When we fuck up, we should humbly admit it. 

Then there is the eerie ability to lose control of the situation, for politicians to place their own futures above the country’s, for the extraordinary discrepancy between the occasionally reasoned reflection we see from our leaders in the newspapers and what they order to be implemented in the field. Where is all this heading? In the relentlessly flowing sewer of analysis, I try to pay attention only to those who will not emotionalise their arguments. These words, from defence analyst Anthony Coredesman, are damning: “To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys. If Israel has a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel has a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it is not apparent…If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved. The question is not whether the IDF learned the tactical lessons of the fighting of 2006. It is whether Israel’s top political leadership has even minimal competence to lead them.”

His analysis is spot-on. Thus far, the IDF has shown – for the most part – that the lessons of 2006 have been learnt. But the government has learnt nothing. Olmert and Livni were both in charge in 2006. Livni performed admirably at the time. She understood the limits of force, with only political inexperience preventing her from turning on the Prime Minister when the time was right. Olmert is a lame duck waddling like a lemming. All those lofty words spoken in the requisite Haaretz interview have evaporated: he just wants to carry on, and carry on, without giving any sense as to what the aims – as in real, substantial, achievable aims – of the operation actually are. And then there’s Barak, shifting his position as regularly as the slogans on his campaign posters. These three are the players in an awful spectacle.

But the Israeli tragedy would go on without them. We are unable to defeat those who would destroy us if they had the chance, and nor are we capable of engaging in the type of politics that might – in the long-term – secure peace. All we have to look forward to is intermittent conflict, one in which we will fulminate and they will die. In the meantime, the left will get more outlandish in its pacifism, and the right will get more delusional in its warmongering. The rock and the hard place beckon. In real substantial matters nothing has changed for the better. Is this Israel’s tragic fate? Or can we find the imagination to save us from the awful monotony of a violent and inconclusive future?