The Morning After
By Marcia Freedman
The Second Lebanon War has only just ended and the Israeli
public is already asking hard questions, starting with the
reservists (young fathers, husbands) called up in the thousands
to defend their country. Now a protest campaign is making its
home in the Rose Garden, a small park not far from the Prime
Minister's residence in Jerusalem.
Anyone who was in Israel in 1973 can see the parallels. Then,
the protest movement was started by a single man, Motti
Ashkenazi. Eventually, Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense
Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff David Elazar were
Ashkenazi was recently given an honored place at the Rose
Garden, and the similarity of scene is eerie -- two generations
have gone by, but the issues have not changed much. Once again
the military and the politicians are being challenged by the
citizenry for a costly failure of vision.
When the dust of the 1973 Yom Kippur War settled, two things
became clear: The army had grown arrogantly complacent after the
swift victory in 1967's Six Day War, and the failure of Golda
Meir's government to respond to peace feelers (the Rogers Plan)
led directly to Egypt's attempt to reclaim the Sinai by
Now a similar arrogance and complacency, together with the
military burden of the occupation, left the IDF ill-prepared to
fight a well-equipped, well-trained guerilla army. Worse, the
military left the home front exposed -- the Israeli civilian
death toll was the highest in the nation's history of wars.
The start of the more recent war is also traceable to Israel's
refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians. The power vacuum
created by Ariel Sharon's refusal to coordinate the Gaza
disengagement with the Palestinian Authority led to political
and economic chaos in Gaza, fertile soil for extremism.
Moreover, Israel's unilateralism left Palestinian moderates,
such as President Mahmoud Abbas, with nothing to show for years
of willingness to negotiate, allowing Hamas to claim the
withdrawal as a victory for their tactics. The poor showing of
moderates in the recent Palestinian elections is another
consequence of unilateralism.
Had Sharon agreed to negotiate the terms of the Gaza withdrawal
with the Palestinians, the current violence in Gaza could have
been avoided, and, by extension would not have provided
political cover for Hezbollah to provoke Israel into a
Both left and right agree that the Second Lebanon War, together
with the military's re-occupation of Gaza, demonstrate the
failure of unilateralism. The right, however, would fight to the
death to maintain the country's hold on the territories, but the
Second Lebanon War should refute this thinking. Israel's enemies
can afford to lose many wars; Israel cannot afford to lose even
one. Not only the odds, but every force of history stands
against the idea that Israel can survive by relying solely on
its military. Even a stalemate, such as the outcome of the war
with Hezbollah, is an enormous loss in military deterrent power,
as well as home front morale.
Sheer common sense tells us that if military means alone cannot
secure Israel's survival, and unilateral policies quickly prove
themselves bankrupt, there is only one option left: Negotiations
and compromise -- land for peace.
Why, one has to ask, does this practical wisdom elude Israel's
policy makers, generation after generation?
One answer is that each generation of Israelis is guided by the
founding myths of Zionism. Israel has long been enthused by the
image of newly incarnate Hebrew warriors defending their
homeland. The lessons of the pogroms and Holocaust left a
lasting impression: We must be able to defend ourselves. This
understanding guides Israeli thinking so centrally that it has
more than once blinded Israel's people to the inherent
limitations of all military solutions.
Clearly, the notion of a never-defeated military machine is a
phantasm, and it is foundering now, just as it did in 1973. It
will recover once again, but each blow to the military reveals
more clearly that underneath the idea's heroic shell, the social
core grows ever more hollow, from generation to generation.
The more wars Israel takes on, the greater the chances it will
lose one. Those who care about Israel's survival should heed and
support whatever voices of international peacemaking there are,
whether or not they are yet heard by Israel's leaders.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and
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