Understanding Israel

Oprindeligt postet på TV2-blog 6/8-09


Jeg læste dette blogindlæg, som jeg egentlig syntes var interessant, så vil dele det med jer:o)..

Det er på engelsk, men de fleste herinde har vel styr på det engelske går jeg ud fra:o)..

Sov godt når I kommer dertil..

Almost every responsible political leader today expresses a desire to contribute to peace in the Middle East.

Easier said than done. A real effort to promote peace requires an understanding of what motivates the parties to the conflict.

I can’t say I quite get what makes the Palestinians tick. Like the late statesman Abba Eban, I haven’t grasped why Palestinian leaders never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

But I do believe that anyone who genuinely seeks peace, or who aspires to be a friend of the Israeli people, should consider four key factors that inform the Israeli worldview.

First, geography.

The throwaway line these days is that geography no longer matters in an era of long-range missiles. Not so fast.

As the late Sir Isaiah Berlin famously quipped, “The Jews have enjoyed rather too much history and too little geography.”

Israel is a small country, about the size of New Jersey or Wales, and barely two-thirds the size of Belgium. To put it into context, Egypt is approximately fifty times larger than Israel, Saudi Arabia a hundred times.

And there’s more. Until its 1967 war for survival, Israel’s borders, which were nothing more than the armistice lines from the 1948 War of Independence, were nine miles at their narrowest point, near the country’s midsection and most populous area.

When President George W. Bush first saw that narrow width from the vantage point of a helicopter, he was reported to have said, “There are some driveways in Texas longer than Israel is wide.”

Topography matters too.

When the towering Golan Heights were in the hands of Syria before the Six-Day War, for example, Jewish villages and farms below were regularly targeted by Syrian shelling. Ask my wife. She was a volunteer in a kibbutz there. With the Golan Heights in Israel’s hands, those villages and farms no longer have to rush their children into underground shelters.

Second, history.

Notwithstanding Arab claims to the contrary, the Jewish people have been linked to this region for over three thousand years. The bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is central to the historical narrative. The Jewish people were born here, their sacred texts emerged here, their temples were built here, and, even when forcibly exiled, they never stopped dreaming of their return. It is a story, quite frankly, unlike any other in the annals of mankind.

To read the Hebrew Bible, especially the Psalms, is to come across Jerusalem and Zion literally hundreds of times.

The metaphysical and physical link between the Jewish people and its wellsprings of history and holiness must be acknowledged – in the same way as the tie between Islam and Mecca and Medina.

Third, psychology.

Some dismiss Israel’s preoccupation with security as obsessive. How can it be, they ask, that the country with the strongest armed forces in the region feels so beleaguered, so under the gun?

For example, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote, “Closure (on a past that holds the insistent specter of annihilation) is the overcoming of horror. It is the achievement of normality through responsibility. It cannot be attained through the inflation of threats, the perpetuation of fears, or retreat into the victim-hood that sees every act, however violent, as defensive.”

The “inflation of threats”? The “perpetuation of fears”? Is that all there is to Israel’s current situation? Hardly.

While Cohen has sought to recast Iran as a misunderstood country, Israelis hardly share his optimism about Teheran’s intentions.

What is any nation to make of calls for its destruction from another nation that is hell-bent on acquiring the tools to achieve its goal?

And when the threatened nation is Israel, surely, the alarm bells go off – and with good reason.

After all, Israel has a history. So do the Jewish people. And it teaches that there are those who wish to do harm and mean what they say. They are not to be neglected or minimized.

That history also teaches that, all too often, Israel and the Jewish people have stood largely alone in facing the danger. Promises and pledges of help are more often made than kept. Relying on the good will of others has proved a risky proposition.

So yes, Israel has every right, indeed obligation, to take Iran’s nuclear ambitions seriously – just as it has every right, indeed, obligation, to take seriously the 40,000 missiles in Hizbullah’s arsenal in Lebanon and the desire of Hamas in Gaza to emulate Hizbullah’s example.

Are the words of Hamas and Hizbullah, which cry out for Israel’s annihilation, simply to be ignored? Filed away in the drawer of rhetorical excess?

Are those who have themselves been targeted for destruction more than once simply to assume it cannot be tried again and instead get a good night’s sleep?

Moreover, is Syria such a gentle neighbor, with such a sterling record of respect for human rights and the rule of law, that Israel can afford to let its guard down?

Is the Palestinian Authority on Israel’s side simply because it is at odds with Hamas – even as this week’s Fatah congress again revealed that this group, seen as Israel’s best negotiating bet, is unwilling to recognize Israel’s rightful place in the region?

And fourth, yearning.

The survivors of the exiles, the pogroms, the inquisitions, the blood libels, the ghettos and the death camps don’t need lectures about why they should seek “normality”. After all, wasn’t Israel established in such large part precisely to create, at long last, that new condition for the Jews? Normality – nothing more, nothing less.

And yet, it hasn’t entirely come to be, at least not yet.

The fears are there not because they can’t be forgotten, but because the threats endure. And the threats can’t be ignored because the Jewish people’s genetic code includes an early warning system, which tells them that the Iranian regime and its friends just might mean what they say. And that the spinning centrifuges and those liquid-fuel and solid-fuel rockets just might be meant for seven million Israelis.

Israel doesn’t need newspaper columns about the imperatives of peace. It needs credible, committed partners in the search for peace. When it has such partners, as history has amply shown, Israel will go to great territorial lengths, even at risk to its own security, to achieve a solution.

At the end of the day, Israel’s partners don’t have to buy its narrative any more than Israel has to buy theirs.

Yet Israel is asked to recognize their needs – the needs of dignity, justice and respect. And that is indeed a legitimate request for the process of conflict resolution.

So they, in turn, need to take into account the place of geography, history, psychology and yearning in the Israeli worldview, as Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, peacemakers both, did to their everlasting credit.

Then, perhaps, in the words of the Jewish prophet Isaiah, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”



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