The men's room of the gate A63 lounge in Frankfurt International Airport has Fuck [something] soldiers scribbled on the wall. The [something] has been scratched out and replaced with Al Qaeda. I didn't have a pen on me at the time, but otherwise I was sorely tempted to commit this article's headline to the sideboard.
I suppose it is appropriate for me to express my position regarding the current war and the entire Middle East muddle; some may find it enlightening or at least useful.
The parties can be broadly considered as Israel on one side, with heavy backing from the US and occasional reluctant acknowledgement by Europe; and the Arab nations on the other. There is a crucial difference between the sides, lying in their long-term strategic goals, that is to say, why the war is being fought in the first place.
Israelis have no fundamental desire for expansion, other than the strategically useful pushing back of borders from major population centers (in case of Haifa, apparently not far back enough) and maybe a better hold on Jerusalem. Our guide in the city told us of Jewish attitude towards sanctity, and that it does not necessarily tie down to geographical locations. It was no big thing for Israel to return Sinai to Egypt in the negotiations following the Six Day War; the significance of the act of Moses receiving the commandments far outweighs the significance of the place where it happened. Besides, they don't really have a very good idea of where Mount Sinai actually is. There are two or three educated guesses, which seems curious, considering that otherwise Jerusalem is pretty well mapped to sites of biblical importance.
Naturally, I went up to the Western Wall when I had the chance. So did The Boss. When we came back, our guide asked him what he thought of it, and The Boss answered truthfully that it was just a bunch of really old rocks. This was exactly the answer our guide was looking for. The Wailing Wall is holy not because the temple of Solomon was housed beyond it, but because millions come there to contemplate the fate of a people.
Israelis claim and defend the country because this is the land of their forefathers, not because this is where religious events took place.
Israel's only objective in the conflict is to ensure its safety. I will admit freely that Israel does not respond proportionately. First, this is not in their nature (even more true for sabra than for other Jews). Second, Israel cannot possibly afford to go blow for blow with its neighbours. It is a nation of some 7 million, in a territory smaller than Estonia's. The tactical doctrine of one dead Jew resulting in a hundred dead Arabs, not to mention an air-to-ground missile up the arse of the leadership, is the only one available in such a situation. But Israel's main objective is simply to secure the continued existence of the state of Israel, acceptably within existing borders, and protect its citizens from attack.
On the other hand, the main objective of the Arab nations is the complete destruction of the state of Israel, acceptably accompanied by the destruction of the nation of Israel. This alone defines right and wrong clearly enough for any reasonable human being who takes a second to consider matters objectively. And yet the First World harbours a lot of sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden Palestinians in occupied territories.
People don't seem to recall how the lands got occupied in the first place. In 1967 the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon declared war on Israel and began a full military assault. Within six days, all the Arab nations were comprehensively fucked up by the vastly outnumbered IDF. Israel's counteroffensive netted it vast territories, many of which it conceded in subsequent negotiations. Only outside diplomatic pressure prevented Israeli tanks from rolling triumphantly into Cairo and Damascus. Gaza and the West Bank* remained under the control of Israel as spoils of a war which it did not start. The Arabs waged war, were defeated, and lost territory. Yeah, life sucks like that.
At this point, the argument of "whose land is it anyway?" usually diverts to the 1940s, the morality of Britain and the newly-formed UN establishing the country, and Jewish terrorism prior to it. All points that deserve consideration, but you know what? In 1909, sixty families got tired of Jews being discriminated against in Jaffa. They put their money together and bought a bunch of sand dunes north of the ancient city. They went out there, took a picture of all the families on the Mediterranean beach, then drew numbered shells to assign themselves plots of land along the newly formed Rothschild Boulevard. In less than a century the village grew into a mini-metropolis, a center of industry and finance, and the country around it into the world's biggest importer/exporter of diamonds. Tel Aviv's only real rival in the region is Dubai, built up with oil money. Israel has obviously done better with its land than any of the neighbours, and once you discount the desire for religious landmarks, this gives modern Israelis a claim to the territory superior to that of the Arabs who were here before them.
*The Hebrew Union College is a foundation of modern, progressive Judaism. When the land for it was ceded by the Jerusalem municipality, it was faced with a tough choice: on one hand there was no reason to deny the request, but on the other, the influential conservatives would not be happy with it. So the land was given in the worst slum of the city, overlooking the ravine between modern Jerusalem and the old town - at the time, part of Jordan. The neighbourhood was under constant threat from Jordanian snipers picking off the population. Then the Six Day War happened, Israeli special forces took old Jerusalem (today you can see all the pockmarks from the ammunition fired at the Lion's Gate to suppress enemy fire and enable a breach), and the plot was suddenly prime real estate. The terms of the lease were such that the land would revert to the municipality if it is not built up within 25 years. Short of time and money, the progressives initiated massive fundraising in the US and elsewhere. Today the HUC is a massively impressive campus, dotted with memorial plaques with names of individual contributors.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
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