Peace Now: “We believe that wallowing in the Lebanese mud is not in Israel’s interest.”
Gush Shalom: “Let’s stop endangering the lives of our soldiers for no purpose.”
To be honest, I have never really considered the Israeli mainstream left and peace movements to be genuinely what they claim to be and represent. I have, for the longest time, and to the dislike of a number of “peace enthusiasts”, some of whom happen to be close friends, maintained that there is no left in Israel, save for a few individual voices here and there, who are genuinely interested in or actively working on shattering the boundaries and myths drawn by individuals and entities seeking to divide and conquer.
It had never occured to me that, despite my ruthless criticism of the so-called Israeli left, I was at the same time unconsciously (naive as I was) hopeful that I was wrong. Throghout the latest round of Israeli aggression (yes, that is what it was) I kept reading Israeli media, hoping to find a hint, however faint, of genuine disgust at the killing being done in the name of Israeli sovereignty, security, and deterrance. Alas, no such thing was to be found. The few who ventured to criticize pointed to the losses in the ranks of the Israeli army, the failure to stop the Katyushas from raining down on the north, the terrible suffering of the northerners who were holed up in shelters or were living in “refugee” tents on the Tel Aviv beach, the horror of it all… To make it worse, to the utter discomfort of these open-minded, freedom and democracy-loving people whom Western media never fails to hail as heroes (at the same time portraying the “enemies” as bloodthirsty war-mongers who do not value life, freedom, or peace), the war “against HezbAllah” was not going as planned. Not because there were too many civilian deaths on the other side of the border, but because there were too many Israeli soldiers wounded and killed, and apparently too lenient a policy on behalf of the Israeli Air Force.
Gush Shalom, the “champion” of Israeli peace movements, conveys the necessity of halting the war in terms of losses in the ranks of the Israeli forces, the impossibility of any military solution, and the Lebanese quagmire, which must be avoided at all costs. Here I must point out that Gush Shalom’s emphasis on the lack of a military solution (pointing to the failures of the past) means that had there really been the possibility (or perception thereof) of a military victory, the group would have advocated it regardless of all other issues (i.e. civilian deaths, etc.). In other words, had it been possible to entirely eliminate HezbAllah, Gush Shalom would have accepted the military solution, for the simple reason that it would’ve been successful. Thus, success (and the welfare of Israeli society), and not genuine desire for justice, human rights, and peace, is what determines the position of the group. A mere reference to the founding date of the group, 1993, is enough. It was in the aftermath of the First Intifada that the group was founded. Prior to that, and for decades, occupation and subjugation remained the norm in both right-wing and left-wing circles in Israel.
Peace Now, another peace-advocating group, has a history that dates back to 1978. Like its younger sibling, the year of its founding is rather indicative of the state of mind of Israeli society and the reasons the movement sprang up, as well as the real intentions and agendas of the group. The group points out that “[t]he basic principles of the movement from the outset were the right of Israel to live within secure borders”. Yet the term “secure borders” is quite tricky (for many, the concept of a secure border for Israel meant and continues to mean that expansionism beyond the green [pre-1967] line was a strategic and existential necessity), as indeed the sentence that follows it indicates: “In time the movement became convinced the only viable solution to the conflict was the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories adjacent to Israel, which were occupied as a result of the 1967 war.” (emphasis mine) The key phrase here is “in time”, which refers to 1988, the year Peace Now urged the government to negotiate with the PLO. A year after the eruption of the First Intifada. This again shows the rationale of Peace Now. Like Gush Shalom, Peace Now sold (and continues to sell) an image of itself as a peace movement. When all their arguments fail, pro-Israelis and Zionists in the West refer to these groups as proof of the good-will of the Israelis (they argued, look, it’s not the Israelis who don’t want peace, it’s the Arabs!), in contrast to the “monstrosity” of the Palestinians who, it is argued, teach their children to hate Israeli soldiers (note that it is “OK” for Israelis to teach their children to say that the murder of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, including children, was a necessity; or to take them to artillery positions to write messages on artillery shells – that is dismissed as “standard practice” or “habit”, and the core issue is deliberately skirted), encourage them to skip school and instead throw stones, or wear suicide bomb belts and blow themselves up.
At first I wanted to only talk about a certain statement released by Peace Now, but it evolved into a rather lengthy rant on the Israeli left (perhaps I should not really accord so much importance to a fake and irrelevant concept as the Israeli left). The statement – it is more of a “reflection” piece, but quite indicative of the group’s policy orientation and support base – sets out to tackle the question “what did we learn from the war?” I will not debunk the piece point-by-point (I will leave that to the comments section for debate), but I will try to address some of the things that stuck out when I read it. First and foremost is the assumption that the war was against HezbAllah. This idea is universally accepted in Israel (and anyone who dares question it would be branded a heretic, a traitor, a parasite, to name just a few labels), and almost universally adopted in the West (and by extension by Arab puppet totalitarian regimes) and the media. Was the war really against HezbAllah? What is HezbAllah? Is the HezbAllah constituency (civilian support base) considered by Israel to be part and parcel of HezbAllah? And how do Israel’s disregard for the presence of a Lebanese government (however invisible the latter might have been to begin with) and its offensive campaign against the Lebanese Army fit into this equation?
Second, Peace Now argues that “with force alone we cannot defeat the dangers that face us even by a small guerrilla organization.” (emphasis mine) Alone is the key word here. Force by itself cannot solve anything, Peace Now claims. Force coupled with some diplomacy (note that diplomacy is considered merely the missing piece to the puzzle, and not the real solution), however, can get one a long way.
Third, Peace Now seems to be overly concerned with Islamic “fundamentalism”, but is mum on Jewish (I will refrain from using the term Israeli here, since there are also Arab citizens of Israel, though the Jews by no means consider them to be Israelis; they are “Israeli-Arabs”) fundamentalism (and terror/ism). In fact, not only is Peace Now silent (both in this statement and in general) on the issue of settler-inflicted violence, it is critical of the state terrorism (which Peace Now refuses to refer to in such wording) practiced by Israel against the Palestinians only in so far as violence has failed to achieve Israel’s objectives, whatever these may be.
Fourth, Peace Now claims that “[t]ime is not working in Israel’s favor”. What is it with time that unsettles the Israelis so much? I’d be damned if it isn’t the “demographic threat”. Speaking of which, for the past few days, Israeli papers across the political spectrum (if there is any such thing in Israel, that is) have been enthusiastically circulating reports of declining Arab fertility rates in Israel. Peace Now not only does not condemn, it, I have no doubt (my doubts were alleviated by the above-mentioned reference to demographics), actively endorses the racist, discriminatory mentality and agenda that pervades Israeli society.
Fifth, Peace Now claims that its position on the fighting “against HezbAllah” is “complex”. On the contrary, I would argue that Peace Now’s position is very simple, and departs from that of the government only in so far as it is more realistic and as a result less stupid. The group conveys support for “Israel’s right to react to Hezbollah assaults”, but conveniently ignores the reason these assaults have taken place, if they indeed were assaults, which in most cases, they were not (but rather were retaliations for violations by Israel – including the events that triggered the launching of Katyushas on northern Israel during the war). The group also fails to address – deliberately so – the question of Lebanese civilian deaths. Its failure to do so can only be interpreted as tacit support for these crimes, justified by a vague reference to strategic necessity. Peace Now continues to elaborate its highly complex position by pointing out that “wallowing in the Lebanese mud is not in Israel’s interest”. In other words, had there been no Lebanese mud (i.e. no HezbAllah) it would’ve been in Israel’s interest to do what Israel has been doing all along. This in effect renders human rights violations, injustice, occupation, oppression, acceptable (if not actively sought) in cases where Israel faces no Lebanese mud. In cases where Israel gets a light-dosed taste of its own medicine and cannot live with its losses, it becomes necessary to pursue the diplomatic tract (though not completely abandoning the military option – and indeed continuing routine human rights violations), which would in effect (perhaps to the discomfort of many) put an end to these violations. Peace Now also makes paranoid (or otherwise deliberately attempts to create perceptions of threat among Israeli public) references to existential threat. In the wake of Israel’s loss against HezbAllah (but definite victory against Lebanese civilians), this is a very crucial point to target public opinion on, and Peace Now is very much aware of that. I would not even call its position “moderate”, let alone peace-seeking or peace-loving.
There seems to be a mass-scale misunderstanding. Liberalism is not leftism. Moreover, peace and justice movements that seek to define themselves within the domestic framework are always bound to fail. There is no place for the quest for justice, liberation, and equality where feelings of nationalism and the duty to the state are the accepted and glorified norm.