Friday, November 28, 2008

An interim report - RESEARCH on "why"

The tediousness of research sometimes yields ideas and explanations that simply must be shared. Such a find is a recent article by Dr. Ian S. Lustick, who is the Chair of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. The article is "ABANDONING THE IRON WALL: ISRAEL AND 'THE MIDDLE EASTERN MUCK'." It is in the current issue of MIDDLE EAST POLICY XV.3 (FALL 2008).

This article provides a way of thinking about the background of the Holy Land Foundation trial as part of a broad, desperate and irrational means for Israel to defend itself in a situation which more and more Israelis are coming to understand is untenable. Israel's reaction, however, is not to adopt a rational approach, but to "hunker down" and live in a world of constant violence in order to put off the inevitable. The tragedy for all Americans, especially Muslim Americans and Arab Americans, and most particularly for the leaders of the HLF, is that our government aids and abets the Israeli government in this irrationality rather than insisting that reason prevail. And we have seen this irrationality, and the absolute wrong-headed conviction that it is what it isn't (that is, reasonable) played out in first Judge Fish's court, and then in Judge Solis's court.

Professor Lustick explains the earliest thinking of the Zionist leaders regarding the use of force in the beginning of the takeover of Palestine in the 1940s:

From page 30:
"But day-to-day experience and their own nationalist ideology gave Zionist leaders no reason to expect Muslim Middle Easterners, and especially the inhabitants of Palestine, to greet the building of the Jewish National Home with anything but intransigent and violent opposition. The solution to this predicament was the Iron Wall — the systematic but calibrated use of force to teach Arabs that Israel, the Jewish 'state-on-the-way,' was ineradicable, regardless of whether it was perceived by them to be just. Once force had established Israel’s permanence in Arab and Muslim eyes,negotiations could proceed to achieve a compromise peace based on acceptance of realities rather than rights."

Dr. Lustick goes on to explain that the Zionists never expected the Palestinians to accept the justness of the Jewish state, but their goal was simply to force the Arab world to accept the existence of Israel as a "fact."

From page 32:
"Thus a corollary of the Iron Wall strategy was that Zionism would not demand Arab recognition of the justice of the Zionist project. It would demand only that eventually Arabs would accept the reality and permanence of a Middle East that included Jewish immigration and a Jewish polity. With characteristic eloquence, Foreign Minister Abba Eban put this point very clearly in a speech in1970, identifying the root cause of the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict as:

'....the refusal or the inability of Arab intellectual and political leadership so far, to grasp the depth, the passion, the authenticity of Israel’s roots in the region….The crux of the problem is whether, however reluctantly, Arab leadership, intellectual and political, comes to understand the existential character of the Middle East as an area which cannot be exhausted by Arab nationalism alone. There are some governments which in a benevolent spirit, offer to secure the consent of the Arab states to the recognition of our right to exist. It is sometimes my duty to say that we do not ask any recognition of our right to exist, because our right to exist is independent of any recognition of it' (Abba Eban, Speech to Commonwealth Club of California, November 14, 1970).

That is, according to Dr. Lustick, the Israeli position is that the entire problem in the Middle East is the refusal of the "Arab intellectual and political leadership" to understand Israel's right to exist, quite apart from any just or peaceful explanation of it. And so, because the Palestinians will not accept the fact that Israel has the right to exist, the only alternative for the Israelis is to consider the Palestinians as violent, less than civilized people.

From page 34:
A natural feature of this overall outlook is an image of the Arab/Muslim world, and the Palestinians in particular, as irrational, brutal and violent, imbued with intractably anti-Semitic hatreds fortified by deeply anti-Western, Muslim- fundamentalist fanaticism. Against such an enemy deterrence is only barely possible, and only by suppressing the natural human instincts of Israelis. Consider, for example, the work of Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Inbar is a much published scholar and commentator on military, political and security affairs who identifies with and has long reflected the thinking of right-of-center politicians, including the once and perhaps future prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Referring to the Palestinians’ “psychotic hatred of Jews,” Inbar has urged an end to Israeli apologies for accidentally killing Palestinian civilians:

'We are confronted by a society that is mesmerized by bloody attacks, relishes the sickening sights of Palestinian militias playing with the severed limbs of dead Israeli soldiers, and savors gory images of maimed Israeli bodies, victims of a bus explosion. Tragically, Palestinian society seems to enjoy even the sight of its own dead. Rather than break away from the psychological mold the Palestinian national movement has propagated so successfully for years it seems to prefer the role of victim. Israel’s apologies only reinforce such a dysfunctional preference….The Palestinians do not deserve any apologies — just condemnation for their outrageous behavior. These repeated apologies are also counterproductive in a strategic sense. Expressing sorrow and extending sympathy projects softness, when what is required is an image of determination to kill our enemies. Only such an image can help Israel acquire a modicum of deterrence against the bestiality on the other side" (Efraim Inbar, “Stop Saying Sorry,” Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2004).

Professor Lustick asserts that this hardening attitude toward the Palestinians has even become standard in the thinking of the "new historians" in Israel who had begun in the 1990s to study and write openly about the realities of the history of Israel rather than the myths. Professor Lustick offers a lengthy quotation from a newspaper interview with Benny Morris.

From page 35:
Benny Morris is the dean of Israel’s“new historians.” He laid the groundwork for widespread recognition of Israeli policies of Arab expulsion in 1948. During the first Intifada, he went to prison for refusing to serve in the army in the occupied territories. More recently, Morris has joined in the despair and fury that marks so much of Israeli public commentary across much of the political spectrum. In a lengthy interview with Ari Shavit, Morris portrayed the Palestinian people as a whole as a “serial killer” and called for them to be treated accordingly:

Morris: The barbarians who want to take our lives. The people the Palestinian society sends to carry out the terrorist attacks, and in some way the Palestinian society itself as well. At the moment, that society is in the state of being a serial killer. It is a very sick society. It should be treated the way we treat individuals who are serial killers…. Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another. . .
Morris: I think there is a clash between civilizations here [as Huntington argues]. I think the West today resembles the Roman Empire of the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries: The barbarians are attacking it, and they may also destroy it.
Shavit: The Muslims are barbarians, then?
Morris: I think the values I mentioned earlier are values of barbarians — the attitude toward democracy, freedom, openness; the attitude toward human life. In that sense they are barbarians. The Arab world as it is today is barbarian….
Shavit: Is it really all that dramatic? Is the West truly in danger?
Morris: Yes. I think that the war between the civilizations is the main characteristic of the twenty-first century. I think President Bush is wrong when he denies the very existence of that war. It’s not only a matter of Bin Laden. This is a struggle against a whole world that espouses different values. And we are on the front line. Exactly like the Crusaders, we are the vulnerable branch of Europe in this place (Ari Shavit, “Survival of the Fittest? An Interview with Benny Morris,” Haaretz, January 16, 2004).

Professor Lustick argues that the movement from a Zionist rationale for violence as a method of "teaching a lesson" that Israel exists and will not be moved has become virtually violence for its own sake as a means of punishing the "barbarians." He says that Israel's use of violence since the First Intifada has been a desperate escalation of fear and isolation.

As I have stressed, Zionism’s use of violence against Arabs was traditionally conceived as a pedagogical device to convince Arabs of the Jewish National Home’s indestructibility, and then to persuade some among them to negotiate mutually acceptable deals based on the alternative of suffering painful defeats. It is natural, then, that, as images of a future in which Arabs and Muslims can come to accept the Jewish state fade from Israeli consciousness, the rationale for violence also changes. Instead of being conceived as a persuasive instrument in service of political or diplomatic aims, force against Arabs and Muslims is increasingly treated as a kind of rattonade. This was the term used to characterize the French practice in Algeria [in the 1950s when the Algerians fought for their independence] of entering casbahs and other Muslim quarters, killing inhabitants, and then quickly returning to European areas or bases. Its literal meaning is “rat hunt.” More generally, it refers to a violent strike against the enemy “on the other side of the wall” for purposes of punishment, destruction and psychological release. While Sharon and other Israeli military leaders in the 1970s and 1980s made the slogan sbang vegomarnu (“smash and we’re done”) popular, and while . . . many Israeli military operations can be understood as at least in part motivated by the desire to satisfy psychological or domestic political requirements, Israel’s long-term strategy for moving Arab-Israeli relations closer to peace by the use of force has never been more conspicuous by its absence than in the years since 2000. . . . Of course, the most regular expressions of this (strategically) nonrational use of Israel’s coercive capacity are Israeli policies: targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders, entry into Palestinian zones by Israeli intelligence agents and reconnaissance units to capture or kill particular individuals, missile attacks, bombing raids and temporary, but devastating search-and destroy ground incursions. Even during the Oslo period, the irrationality of conducting strikes that destroyed the credibility and efficacy of Palestinian leaders while demanding more effective governance by the Palestinian Authority never became important, let alone decisive, in Israeli political discourse. Today, moral or strictly“professional” military criticism of particularly cruel or “disproportionate” raids in Gaza, the West Bank, or Lebanon can still be heard. However, specific evaluation of these measures based on their political rationality — i.e., the likelihood that they might enhance or undermine chances for progress toward a peace settlement — is almost entirely absent.