by Daniel Bar-Tal
The latest war in Lebanon further divided the peace camp in Israel after it had been considerably damaged in the autumn of 2000 by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak who blamed the total failure of the Camp David peace talks on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. This set into motion the official Israeli refrain “there is no partner for negotiations.”
At the beginning of this war, some in the peace camp expressed their approval of it, differentiating between “radical” doves and “sane” doves, and calling for a thorough examination of the fundamental assumptions of the camp. And so, as a member of the peace camp, I take up the challenge of examining my principle views, which I’ll first outline and then examine in the light of recent events.
Conflict Must Be Solved by Negotiations
1. The Israel-Palestine conflict must be solved by means of negotiations. The solution should be carried out according to conditions set out in the not too distant past: i.e., according to the Clinton Parameters, the Taba agreements, the Geneva agreement and/or the Arab League proposal – these proposals, or combinations of them, could be the basis for the final agreement.
2. The Israel-Syria conflict must be solved by means of negotiations that would lead to the signing of a peace agreement, at least according to the parameters of the peace agreement with Egypt.
3. The State of Israel, as a major regional power that holds most of the cards for solving the Palestinian and Syrian conflicts, can carry out confidence-building measures to facilitate a successful conclusion of the negotiations.
4. There is an existential danger to the State of Israel from extremist forces that openly speak about the need to destroy it. Peace agreements with its neighbors are the best guarantee for the existence and security of the state. Moreover, these agreements are of supreme importance for the development and prosperity of Israeli society.
5. Terrorist acts, including Palestinian terror which strike at innocent civilians, are crimes. This must stop.
6. The State of Israel must cease imposing all kinds of collective punishment on the Palestinian population, as well as cease various types of violence, including assassinations that are illegal according to international law.
7. The State of Israel must cease the building and expansion of settlements, which contravene international laws.
8. The Israel-Arab conflict is exacerbated, on both sides, by political-social-cultural-educational mechanisms and institutions that serve to perpetuate it. It is therefore imperative to halt conflict-promoting education and begin educating toward peace.
9. Moral considerations must dominate the action of the sides to the conflict. This is especially relevant for the State of Israel, which sees itself as one of the enlightened states and, therefore, international law and moral values ought to be central to its decision-making process.
I take seriously the Iranian threats to destroy Israel, and believe that a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian and Syrian problems will strengthen us internally, boost our international standing, and enable us to withstand the dangers. I am more determined than ever to oppose the use of force as a means of settling conflicts.
Lebanon War — The Consensus Collapses
Regarding the recent war, I don’t believe that anyone doubts that the kidnapping of soldiers by Hizbullah was an act of unjustified violence, which overstepped the bounds of the laws and the norms of the international community. However, at this point the consensus collapses. I belong to those who believe that the hasty decision to go for war, massive bombing raids, the extensive damage to the civilian population, the reluctance to negotiate and accept a cease-fire at the first phases of the war, and then the large-scale ground attack that began after the UN Security Council resolution, were symptoms of Israel’s adherence to solutions of force, of its simplistic, ethnocentric attitude to the conflict, and of the overwhelming influence of the army on the political echelon.
It is true that when one hears of Katyusha rocket attacks killing civilians in Acre, Haifa or Tarshiha, one becomes enraged and the need for revenge, to kill and to harm Hizbullah predominates. There is no doubt that this is a natural reaction common to most human beings. However, it is precisely here that another voice should be heard – the voice that cautions for the need to assess the event in a broad historical perspective, to think about a wide range of possible consequences, and to consider alternative ways to achieve similar goals, while assessing the implications of impulsive, instinctive action. I would assume that the leaders of the nation would make this dispassionate assessment, and if not them, at least members of the peace camp.
Another Voice Should Be Heard
Here are some of my “second voice” reflections:
1. Hizbullah is a political movement with a military arm (that also engages in terror), with terrifying intentions and acts towards us. However, it should be remembered that it was set up as an authentic expression of the resistance to the occupation of parts of Lebanon by Israel. It represents most of the residents of South Lebanon and currently plays a role in formal internal politics of Lebanon. Israel indeed withdrew to the international border, but held onto the Shib’a Farms enclave. The war boosted Hizbullah’s raison d’être.
2. The massive bombardment by Hizbullah on the north of Israel followed the massive IDF’s strikes on South Lebanon and Beirut, causing civilian casualties as well. Hizbullah’s violence and ours increased and became a vicious cycle of violence.
3. There is no doubt that firing missiles at Israeli towns and villages is a terrorist act, however, the bombing of Beirut and other Lebanese population centers, which was meant, inter alia, to put pressure on the Lebanese leadership and Hizbullah, was also an act of terror.
4. I do not believe the repeated IDF apologies when it causes civilian casualties. A mistake can happen once or twice, but these incidents recur too often and seem to indicate a system unacceptable to normative moral behavior.
5. Hizbullah rocketing of civilian residential areas in the north is a crime according to international law and moral values. This is the first time that the Israeli home front has been so extensively damaged in a war. However, it should be noted that Israel intentionally and extensively targeted population centers in the past. This was the case when Israel bombarded Suez Canal towns during the War of Attrition, and likewise during the first Lebanese war.
6. The Hizbullah action came in the context of a violent flare-up in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It followed the deadly attack on an IDF post outside the Gaza border and the kidnapping of a soldier, which brought about an Israeli incursion into the Strip. We should see the connection between the two actions, while remembering that in recent years Israel has refused to negotiate with the Palestinians, claiming that there is no Palestinian partner for negotiations. Israel had withdrawn unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, but, in effect, it continued to control many aspects of life there, and had transformed the area into a large closed camp. The Palestinian use of Qassam rockets, which is a crime, in the current cycle of violence, is a reminder that the Israel-Palestine conflict remains unresolved.
7. It should also be remembered that during the war in Lebanon the violence in the Gaza Strip continued, with innocent civilians, including women and children, continually being killed. The Israeli public ignored this violence, paying attention only to the north.
8. Israel declines to negotiate with Syria knowing that a peace agreement would necessitate a descent from the Golan Heights. There is a clear preference for the Heights without peace rather than peace without the Heights. The actions of Hizbullah, supported by Syria, are a reminder that the Golan problem has not been solved.
9. The Israeli government’s decision-making process, as reported in the media, was characterized by hasty assessments and lack of long-term strategic planning. The crucial influence of the army on our lives became evident once again.
10. It was extremely difficult to assess what was happening by only following the Israeli media: the leadership and officers mostly proffered propaganda information. The pages of the newspapers as well as most of the electronic media were mobilized to support the war efforts of the government and the army.
Iran’s Intentions Ought to Worry the Citizens of Israel
11.Hizbullah is the operational arm of Iran, whose intentions ought to worry the citizens of Israel. It is therefore imperative to reach peace agreements with Syria and Lebanon so as to weaken the justification for the existence of Hizbullah in the area.
12.Israel also served in this war as a sub-contractor for the policies of the U.S., which has chosen a violent path to target the “axis of evil.” I am not certain that it is in Israel’s interest to isolate Syria and align it with the axis of evil.
13.The contention that the destruction of Lebanon benefited Lebanon since it created a split between it and Hezbollah is an Orwellian misconception.
14.It is true that Lebanon and Hizbullah did not comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and this caused the deterioration that led to the recent fighting, but neither has Israel complied with UN resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Lack of compliance with these resolutions prolongs the conflict and the bloodshed.
15.There are legitimate complaints against Iran for supplying Hizbullah with the weapons that rained down on civilian areas in the north of Israel. However, what about the supply to Israel of illegitimate cluster bombs said to have been used against Lebanese targets?
16.Let us assume that Israel’s reaction against Lebanon was reasonable following Hizbullah’s cross-border kidnapping and killing of soldiers and massive bombardment of northern Israel. If so, what would be a reasonable response to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and the destruction of their economic, social and political infrastructure? What should be the response of Palestinians to the illegitimate actions of settlers backed by the Israeli government and all its formal institutions, including the courts and the army?
Israel Would Be Strengthened by Peace Treaties Rather Than Wars
17.The results of the war (which should have been anticipated in advance) are apparently as follows: Hizbullah and Iran have boosted their image among the Arab and Muslim public worldwide. Israel’s standing in the Western world has been weakened and it distanced itself even further from a peaceful solution to the Israel-Arab conflict. It can also be assumed that Hizbullah’s success in standing up to one of the world’s strongest armies will have an adverse effect on Israel’s deterrent capability. This point supports the contention that Israel would be strengthened by peace treaties rather than by more wars.
The Lebanese war began with an immoral act of aggression and deteriorated into acts of violence reminiscent of the law of the jungle or the Wild West where each side lost moral constraints and rained bloody blows on the other. Each side is concerned with its own victims, glorifies its own forces and demonizes the other. An optimist might say that from this evil jungle a positive plant might grow and lead to peace talks – if only this would happen!
Here I would like to return to the difference between the radical left and the left that believes itself to be “sane.” If the term “radical left” refers to a post-Zionist left that rejects the existence of the State of Israel, then it refers to a very small group of people with negligible influence. I hope that the tag “radical left” is not being attached to those critics in the peace camp who decline to accept the government’s version of events, or that of public opinion, or the dominant view presented by the media. These dissenters take a broad view of the situation, and come forward with various assessments.
Continuous Cycle of Hostility – Impossible to Determine Who Initiated and Who Reacted
I would like to propose an alternative distinction, between ethnocentrically focused doves and doves driven also by moral values. The first are driven to support the peace process solely because of pragmatic-ethnocentric considerations for the good of the Jewish People – such as the demographic fear, safeguarding the security of the state and ensuring economic prosperity. This group is an important part of the peace camp and without it, it would not be possible to advance the peace process. The other group of doves supports a peace agreement because of its benefits for the Jewish people, but also places an importance to universal ethical considerations. They recognize that the Palestinian people – just as the Jewish people – have a right to this land, the right to self-determination and to establish their own state. They also are able to feel empathy with the suffering of the Palestinian people, or the Lebanese. These doves note that the State of Israel has on occasion infringed ethical norms. They acknowledge that violence on one side feeds the violence on the other side and creates a continuous vicious cycle of hostility so that it becomes impossible to determine who initiated and who reacted. They also understand that the violence has a broad historical context. They do not rally blindly and automatically to the flag, but analyze each new development.
I am certain that there are not a few in the peace camp that are driven also by ethical-moral considerations. Israeli society regards them with disdain and attempts to delegitimize them. They are often accused of being anti-Israel, Arab lovers and even traitors. Israeli society prefers admiring moral foreigners, especially those who helped Jews. Moral doves should not abandon their principles because of the latest war. Moral values are not only the basis for human existence and for the hope of a better tomorrow, but also serve as a base for Jewish struggle against ugly anti-Semitism and for the establishment and defense of the State of Israel.
The Test of a Man of Peace
The test of a man of peace is the use of the same criteria for judging other nations and his own. I believe that Jewish society’s lack of moral principles in dealing with the Israel-Arab conflict (and particularly with the Palestinians – leading to a cruel and oppressive occupation) has lead to a breakdown of moral values regarding domestic issues. Since the 1970s, Israeli society has been deteriorating (corrosion of the educational and health systems, and of social welfare, a record growth in the socio-economic gap between rich and poor, a dramatic increase of poverty, a breakdown in the rule of law and a growing deviant political culture). The last war provided unequivocal evidence to the above- noted maladies of the Israeli-Jewish society. Therefore, it is imperative even to one who focuses solely on the survival and security of the state to seek a just and moral solution to the Israel-Arab conflict, in order to change the course of internal affairs in Israel.
The last war was terrible. Its extent and nature went beyond all moral values. This was a war in which both sides killed innocents. A war, ruled by passions, fear, anxiety, vengeance – not judgment and values. A war whose objectives were not achieved, with severe results for Israel and Lebanon. A war without victors – only the vanquished. The graves, the refugees and the destruction bear witness to this – and not the boasts of the politicians and officers claiming victory.
The hope is that, in the wake of the war, Israel will choose the path of peace, the only path which can strengthen the state. Peace with the Palestinians and Syria, and the establishment of a new political, social and economic order can direct our society toward a better future. It is primarily up to us to decide which path we take!