Friday, August 04, 2006

Israel: Athens or Sparta or Masada

Here's an astounding article (via Belmont Club) about three of the four founders of the Israeli peace movement (called "Four Mothers") that was largely responsible for the shift in Israeli attitudes leading to the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

Revisiting the views of these women now, six years later, provides a sort of "where are they now?" of the mind.

In the 1990's, they had lost children fighting the war in Lebanon. They felt that the war was being waged to little or no good, and became devoted to a withdrawal of forces from the country and to the cause of peace. These women not only gave peace a chance, they believed in it with a fervent zeal, they lived it and fought for it (metaphorically speaking), and thought they won it.

But read what they have to say now. It's not only a story about the process of how minds and opinions change (one of the themes of this blog), it's one of the best examples I've found of the fact that Israelis see the current war as a fight for their very survival--a grim necessity offering no alternatives.

One of the women, the eloquent Zohara Antebi, says of her previous commitment:

So if you are saying now that I was wrong when I believed that it would be possible to ensure far fewer casualties and far more quiet after leaving Lebanon, you're right. I was wrong. I'm afraid of those who are incapable of saying 'I was wrong' in the first person. I lived on the border, in Malkiya, and I saw the small tobacco plots of the farmers in southern Lebanon, and I believed that prosperity on both sides of the border would ensure quiet. That Nasrallah would aspire for his people to have a good life. In that I was wrong. I was definitely wrong.

And she says of the present war, and how it followed that previous withdrawal she helped engineer:

And leaving Lebanon then was not a military move. It was a civilian move. It was meant to enable us to be Athens, not Sparta. And precisely because of that there is now no choice. Now we have to change the diskette. This time we are fighting for our home. This time we are fighting so that we will have lives here.

Not all the women regret that initial withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, nor connect it inexorably to the present war. But all are united in believing that the present war is absolutely necessary. As one of them, Orna Shimoni, says, it's an "existential war," fought for their very lives. The enemy has made it clear that the goal is to eliminate Israel. And Shimoni, who has always been affiliated with the left, and who abhors killing with all her being, is now angry at her former comrades in the left in Israel. Since she sees this war as a fight for Israel's very life, and the consequence of losing would be the slaughter of the Israelis, she sees the left as aiding and abetting that slaughter.

The article is eloquent about the intensity of the suffering the deaths of Israeli soldiers cause the Israeli people. Israel is a small country with universal conscription, and Jews are famously known--as many Arab commenters so succinctly put it--to "love life." The Jewish mother is legendary in her protective maternal instincts, so much so that in the US she's always good for a laugh in that regard--but just imagine those instincts coupled with the constant threat of losing so many young adult children in war.

The earliest wars in Israel, however, were very clearly for survival, and the mothers of the soldiers who fought in those wars were--if not actually Spartan--part of the tough and pioneering group who founded that country. The mothers of today's soldiers and the soldiers of the previous decade came of age in a different Israeli climate-- one that, if not exactly secure, was at least more secure, or perceived as such. As Antebi puts it, it was more Athenian and less Spartan.

The Lebanese occupation was ultimately perceived by that generation as unnecessary and even counterproductive and wrong, and the deaths as simply not worth it--much like the Vietnamese War came to be perceived here in the late 60s and early 70s, and much as the Afghan-Soviet War came to be perceived by the Russians. Thus, the 2000 pullout from Lebanon was widely supported throughout Israel.

But the events of recent years have taken away the dream of Oslo and the Camp David era. It's no longer about the Palestinians, either; not this war. This war is about Iran and its plan to dominate the Arab world, a plan that does not include the existence of Israel. And this is true whatever Israel does or does not do, whatever steps it takes or does not take--short of the entire country reenacting the legend of Masada and committing mass suicide.

[ADDENDUM: Listen to this podcast, an interview with Caroline Glick, available through Politics Central at Pajamas Media. Her contention is that Israel must win this war not only for its own sake, but to save the country of Lebanon from becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iran.]

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