“All hell broke loose on Wednesday in the Mideast,” Juan Cole says, “with a Hizbullah attack on the Israeli army and Israeli reprisals, and the Israeli dropping of a 500 pound bomb on Gaza.”

In short, among other actions, yesterday Israel bombed the Beirut airport; Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel.

Professor Cole denounces Hezbollah’s attack as “criminal and stupid,” but he also criticizes Israel’s “disproportionate use of force.” In the long run Israel isn’t helping itself by causing chaos in Lebanon. He also writes,

I continue to worry that this outbreak of war in the Levant will exacerbate tensions in Iraq and get more US troops killed. Iraqi Sunnis generally sympathize with the Palestinians. And hard line Shiites like the Sadr Movement and the Mahdi Army are close to Hizbullah. Israel’s wars could tip Iraq over into an unstoppable downward spiral.

Bad news all around.

I scanned news stories yesterday, trying to catch up to the past several days’ events. I don’t pay as much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian situation as I should; after all these years, it’s become background noise to me, I’m sorry to say. For once, the blogosphere wasn’t much help. Commentary from lefties was sparse. Righties, on the other hand, declared war and eagerly cheered the Israeli team. For example, Kim at Wizbang writes,

Israel is proving to its enemies, who probably expected more capitulation, that it is prepared to engage in a two front war. … Now that Israeli government is finally responding to its enemies as it should have a long time ago, Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists would be advised, if they love their families that is, to hold their war planning meetings away from home.

Flopping Aces writes,

Oh, by the way…..where are all the lefty bloggers on this? Has anyone heard a peep out of them? Too busy defending Hezbollah and Hamas I guess.

It’s a legitimate question, even though the conclusion is the usual inflammatory and childish tripe righties are known for. I can’t speak for everyone, but for my part, I don’t want this to be happening. And yesterday I wasn’t sure how big a deal this military action really is — the beginning of a war, or just another episode in the Israel-Palestine epoch?

The more I read, the more disturbing these new developments become. Matt Yglesias quotes Yossi Klein Halevi:

The next Middle East war–Israel against genocidal Islamism–has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah’s latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel’s antagonists won’t be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites. …

… According to a very senior military source with whom I’ve spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.

As Matt says,

This is sort of mind-boggling. Let me just go on the record as saying that as bad an idea as bombing Iran may be, doing so as part of a wildly impractical scheme for Israel to launch a general Middle Eastern war is significantly less appealing.

From an editorial in the Boston Globe:

The timing of the Hezbollah action could not be more revealing. Hezbollah commandos crossed into Israel on the same day that Iran was supposed to give its answer to the package of incentives that the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany offered to Iran if it will suspend uranium enrichment and enter negotiations to bring it into compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Because no answer was forthcoming from Tehran, yesterday was also the day that the five permanent Security Council members expressed “profound disappointment” at Iran’s refusal to respond, and said they “have no choice but to return to the United Nations Security Council” to consider possible sanctions against Iran.

Hezbollah’s attack on Israel serves not only to distract from Iran’s defiance of the international community. It also plays into a propaganda campaign that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has conducted in recent months, conflating the issue of Iran’s nuclear program with what he has condemned as the intolerable existence of Israel. Also, by having Hezbollah strike now at Israel, the Iranian regime clearly means to neutralize Arab regimes that are fearful of Iran’s spreading influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had just disclosed publicly that he had worked out a prisoner swap with Israel and Hamas, but that “other parties” he would not name forced Hamas to sabotage the deal. It can be assumed that Syria and Iran are the other parties, the two countries having signed a military cooperation agreement last month that Syria’s defense minister described as establishing “a joint front against Israel.”

Knowing that Iran is behind Hezbollah’s act of war, Israeli leaders — who are openly warning of devastating strikes on Lebanon’s infrastructure — would be well advised to avoid a reflexive military response that lands Israel in an Iranian trap. If the regime in Tehran wants to provoke Israel to bomb Lebanese power plants, roads, and bridges, maybe this kind of military retaliation is not such a good idea.

Maybe not.

Steve Gilliard gets to the heart of the matter (emphasis added):

Why are the Israelis being yanked around by their enemies? A kidnapping has created this insane risk of regional war. Every bomb dropped makes Hamas stronger. Every soldier kidnapped makes Israel react more violently.

Fools mistake weakness for strength and strength for weakness. And, unfortunately, since the United States government is being run by a pack of fools, we are weaker now than we’ve been in many generations. Sidney Blumenthal writes,

On Israel’s reoccupation of Gaza in response to Hamas’ terrorism, Bush has regressed to embracing no policy, just as he did when he first entered office. In the light of Bush’s failure to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas any tangible gains to show his electorate, Hamas’ victory was foretold. Now the withdrawal of the United States from any peace process is yielding a predictable downward spiral of mutual recrimination in the region.

This might be the time to stop and reflect on how the Bush Administration’s chuckleheaded “foreign policy” may have enabled a Hamas victory in last January’s elections. The Bushies, so enamored of the simple-minded notion that elections equal liberty, can’t see that where people want an Islamic government, elections might not equal liberty. From the February New Yorker:

But look around, Harari said: “In Jordan, too, wherever there are free elections––trade unions, student unions, professional guilds––the Islamists have the upper hand. If the Hashemite kings”––Hussein and Abdullah––“had not played all kinds of tricks, the Islamists would have had a large representation in parliament as well. And when Egypt held its American-inspired parliamentary elections recently, the number of seats won by the Muslim Brotherhood rose fivefold. Throughout the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood is the main power with grassroots support. The Islamists are less corrupt. They are the ones with integrity and compassion. They are of the people and they speak for the people. Today in the Arab world, the choice is clear between democratically elected Islamists and Western-leaning dictators.”

Here in the West we see the Islamists as totalitarians, but if (for whatever reason) it’s the will of the people to be ruled by Islamists, then standing in the way of that, attempting to impose secular government because we think it is better, does not equal freedom. That’s the conundrum righties cannot wrap their heads around.

Likewise, the Bush White House and its rightie admirers enabled Hezbollah to gain power in Syria, according to some observers. Robert Perry wrote last year,

George W. Bush’s grab to take credit for a few democratic openings in the Middle East has endangered the region’s reformers while his two-year-old military adventure in Iraq continues to founder, a disaster sinking in the blood of Iraqi citizens and U.S. soldiers.

That grim assessment is, of course, not the imagery favored by the U.S. news media as it resumes its role of courtier press, lavishing praise on Bush and his neoconservative advisers as heroic visionaries leading the Middle East to freedom. …

… In the latest conventional wisdom about winds of freedom sweeping the Middle East, both mainstream and conservative commentators bought into the notion that Arabs were rallying to Bush’s orations about liberty and finally appreciating his conquest of Iraq. But the reality is that Bush remains one of the region’s most despised figures.

So when Bush rushed to center stage ostensibly to urge on thousands of Lebanese demonstrators demanding Syrian military withdrawal – and implicitly to take credit for the developments – the U.S. news media missed the other story: that Bush’s grandstanding was putting those protesters and their cause in danger.

One of the results was a backlash that saw pro-Syrian Hezbollah stage a counter rally of a half million people in Beirut on March 8, denouncing U.S. intervention in Lebanese politics and accusing Washington of regional “terrorism.” This massive outpouring emboldened Lebanon’s parliament to re-elect pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami, who had resigned just nine days earlier in face of the anti-Syrian protests.

The twin developments were a stunning reversal for U.S. policy in Lebanon, putting the country’s political position back almost where it was when the anti-Syrian protests began following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14. The heightened tensions also have complicated the United Nations’ strategy for pressuring Syria to withdraw its remaining 14,000 troops from Lebanon.

Hezbollah, a radical Shiite Muslim party long denounced by the United States as a terrorist organization, was given a chance to demonstrate that Syria’s military presence, which began in the 1970s during Lebanon’s civil war, has the backing of a significant part of the Lebanese population.

Hezbollah’s muscle-flexing also forced another retreat by Washington. “The United States has basically accepted the French view, echoed by others in Europe, that with Hezbollah emerging as such a force in very fractured Lebanon, it is dangerous to antagonize it right now,” according to a New York Times article by Steven R. Weisman. [NYT, March 10, 2005]

An alert U.S. press corps might have pounced on the Bush administration for overplaying its hand, but virtually across the board the U.S. news media had hailed the pre-March 8 developments as vindication of Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the neoconservative strategy of using force to smash the Arab political structure. [See’s “Neocon Amorality” and “Bush’s Neocons Unbridled.”]

Last year righties cheered the Lebanese who protested Syrian occupation, and they adopted the simple-minded but mistaken notion that the Lebanese were inspired by U.S. actions in Iraq to call for freedom. Today, some of the same bloggers who cheered for the people of Lebanon in 2005 (and complained that news media weren’t giving Bush enough credit) today condemn the New York Times for reporting that Israeli bombs killed Lebanese women and children. Sometimes their binary sorting system (good/bad, black/white, us/them) does create some discrepancies.

A statement issued by the White House yesterday condemns Hezbollah, as well as Syria and Iran, for the escalating violence but does not ask Israel to show restraint.

Hizballah’s terrorist operations threaten Lebanon’s security and are an affront to the sovereignty of the Lebanese Government.

Bombing the the Beirut airport is not an affront to the sovereignty of the Lebanese government, however.

Hizballah’s actions are not in the interest of the Lebanese people, whose welfare should not be held hostage to the interests of the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

That sentence is true, of course. It’s absolutely true. I can’t argue with it. However, Israel’s actions could complicate the work of the U.S. military in Iraq and get more U.S. soldiers killed. Yet the White House does not call for Israel to show restraint. I assume they’re treading carefully so as not to disappoint their base. Politics first, you know.

From Left I on the News:

… both the U.S. and the E.U. have condemned Hizballah’s seizure of two Israeli soldiers, with the U.S. escalating its attack on governments it doesn’t like by blaming Iran and Syria, while at the same time no one–no one in the U.S. government, no prominent politician, no U.N. official–as far as I can tell, has said a word about Israel’s murder of nine civilians by intentionally dropping a bomb on their house, nor any other action taken by the Israeli government.


And as a representative example of the liberal response in the United States, the Huffington Post has more than 20 posts/essays on its front page as I write this, covering such important subjects as Bill O’Reilly, Karl Rove, Superman, and other topics (why there’s even one or two about Iraq). Not one even mentions Palestine.

I don’t write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict much for several reasons. One, I have no unique insight into the conflict; there are plenty of other people who do, and I defer to them. Two, what insight I do have tells me everybody involved is wrong a large part of the time. I mean everybody. I don’t take sides; there’s wrong all over. Like most westerners my sympathies want to be with Israel. Like most westerners, I sincerely rejoice that centuries of diaspora ended with the establishment of Israel. But that doesn’t mean the Israeli government is always right (or, conservsely, that the Palestinians are always wrong), or that Israeli actions are always wise and justified. I can’t render the situation into a good guys v. bad guys melodrama, the way righties do.

For years, my basic opinion was that I wished the hostilities would stop, but if not, I hoped the fools didn’t start World War III.

But the righties, and Left I, have a point — we liberals do seem to be avoiding the subject. We shouldn’t be leaving this discussion entirely to the righties.

Via Taylor Marsh — You must read this piece by Michael Hirsch at

29 thoughts on “Attention

  1. I can hear the Middle East democ(k)racy dominoes falling.

    The only intelligent thing I have ever heard Tom Friedman say, and the only intelligent thing I have ever heard said about Palestine-Israel happened a few years ago. When asked whether the “Road Map” would lead to peace in the Middle East, Friedman responded, “Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo,” to the theme from Twilight Zone.

  2. Where are the liberal blogs on this issue?

    Israel presents an issue for which liberals have no answer. On the one hand Israel is running an apartheid state. No one should be surprised by the violence against the Palestinians–a quick reading of Jabotinsky and other early Zionists shows they clearly expected to have to use violence in order to arrogate Palestinian lands to create a Jewish state. Where is the justice in that? Where is the justice in building a wall to keep out an angry population which you displaced in order to build a state based on religious identity?

    You can’t be liberal and not be concerned about social justice. And the actions of Israel, it’s very creation, smacks of social injustice.

    On the other hand, Jewish Americans comprise a vibrant part of American liberalism. We don’t want to alienate them.

    Where are the liberal blogs on this issue? Looking the other way as desperately as possible.

  3. I was gonna comment on this and Juan Cole stole my thunder. I’ve posted a couple times (search “overkill” on my site). Its getting completely out of control in the Middle East and the blame can be laid at Bushco’s feet.

  4. I’m with you, Maha, on the third to the last paragraph of the post. Because this situation desperately needs diplomacy, the US is of no help because the Bush administration can’t even spell diplomacy let alone know the definition and how to act diplomatically. And, wanting both sides to sit down and talk and stop shooting does not mean support for Hezbollah or Hamas.

    Still, I think it takes some very serious experts such as Prof. Cole to lead the discussions with other serious experts. The rightwing echo chamber is far from being serious experts. Their solutions seem to be killing every one they determine to be the bad guys.

  5. I somehow think that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is strongly influenced by Israel. That makes sense since Israel has much more human intelligence on the ground in the Middle East.
    However Israel suffers from the same error of analysis that the Bushies suffer from – that is they see things as they would like them to be, rather than as they are.
    This is pointed out quite well by Peter Galbraith in his new book.
    The Boston Globe has a good review of this book – It’s worth reading especially regarding our mistakes in the Middle East.

  6. Are we really surprised with the escalation of violence in the Middle East, especially now with Israel taking the Bushco lead of using military might as an excuse to right perceived wrongs?

    When Shrub declared war on Iraq, I was certain that things would break down to civil wars because of the history in that area. And now with Israel-Palastine-Lebanon-Syria-Iran intesifying schism, they are going down the proverbial tubes rapidly, taking us with them.

    Frankly, I’m at a point to let them blow each other up until they all learn to play nice. Bushco is much too interested in controlling the oil in the region, however, and will continue to endanger American troops to achieve their goals.

    ‘Those who ignore history will be condemned to repeat it.’

  7. This situation is so tragic and sad. I remember when all the neo-cons were hailing the march of democracy in the middle east. When the Lebanese held the massive march to get rid of the Syrian military presence, I actually had hope that things might get better in that part of the world. But, things have turned so badly, so quickly. And our government is so completely paralyzed by its own rhetoric, that the U.S. can’t possibly do anything constructive to ease the tensions. All of Bush’s hardline talk has painted us into a corner. He can’t possibly go out and try to mend fences, his hawkish base wouldn’t stand for it. The only diplomacy they understand is forceful posturing. He has made the United States impotent in the world stage.

  8. Yes, Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists kidnapping soldiers: bad, should be condemned, something should be done.
    The rightie blogs are being filled by comments of “no innocent Palestinians!” and “back to the stone age!” They seem to be matching the Israeli reaction.

    If, say, anti-abortion activists in the US kidnapped Russian soldiers..would Russia be right in bombing us?

  9. Silly Hirsch, whatever-Israel’s-doing has been Bush’s default policy on the conflict. The blogs aren’t silent though. I didn’t have to look hard to find Tapped and TPM and MaxSpeak and Drum going on about it.

  10. Yeah, I think today the liberal bloggers are writing about this, but yesterday there were about 10 rightie blogs to every 1 leftie blog writing about it.

  11. Today I feel like I’ve gone back in time to the year 1982. It is not a pleasant sensation. The infernal triangle of Hezbollah-Israel-Hamas is just the kind of insane crap on all sides that could give the Millennialist Armageddon freaks what they want.

  12. Pingback: A Newer World » Blog Archive » Risking a Wider War

  13. I don’t have much to add beyond my bewilderment that there are righties who are all, “Woo, more violence! Rock on!”

    I don’t know what to think about the situation, but I do know: a) it’s not really fair to place blame entirely with the Bush administration, as it’s a complicated situation that’s been brewing since before Bush even dreamed of running for office (although Bush’s bad policy undid any progress made by Clinton and also further antagonized the region) and b) I have a friend who returned just this week after living in Israel for a year, so if the situation gets as bad as it looks like it will, I’m glad she’s back in New York.

  14. First: about half of the diaries over at Kos right now are about this. So this is hardly being ignored.
    Second: the failed policies of the Bush administration are squarely responsible for this entire mess. Bush’s calling out of Iran, his reckless and bloody adventurism in Iraq, his cold-shoulder to Hamas as the elected representatives of the Palestinians have all caused this mess. He could not have done more damage if he tried. I will leave it to conspiracy theorists to discuss whether or not this was intentional.
    Third: it’s time for someone else in the international community to step in. Say all you want about supporting Israel and its right to exist…I say “enough is enough”. America cannot and should not be expected to be the arbiter of every dispute of every group with a centuries old enmity. And at this point, I could not care one whit about the fate of either side.

  15. I think I’ll just sit back and watch events unfold…One thing I’m certain of is that the Bush administration isn’t up to the game in bringing any stabilization to the region. Maybe in 2 years prospects might look different.

    Michael Hirsch’s article was good, but I couldn’t figure out if he was taking a jab at Bush or offering encouragement by his closing statement. Personally, I think Bush is ill advised and out of his league when it comes to matters of foreign affairs. Everything he does or says turns to shit, so if Bush does nothing, the world will be ahead.

  16. I had a solution to this problem when Clinton was in office. It would have pissed of EVERYONE, but I think it might have worked… however now it is no longer possible.

    IMHO, watching the situation grow (before bush), I got the feeling both sides were acting like a couple of children fighting over a toy…They couldn’t come together and agree to share like good children SO… I was of the school of thought since the two groups refused to get a long and stop fighting over the toy(land) that the rest of the world needed to be the mommy and daddy and simply take the toy away until the two sides could figure out how to play nice ….all of the land that was disputed should have been cleared of all people from both sides and NEITHER should have been allowed to set foot on it until they worked out an agreement.
    You would be suprised how fast two groups would have gone from being mad at each other to being mad at US together(us being the world community)… they would have shared a common bond instantly of hating the parents.
    Would the plan have worked then? I don’t know but it damn sure would have been worth a shot. Perhaps they would still be fighting over the land that was then in dispute …but what I do believe is that the world should have taken the roll of responsible parent because both sides have acted like foolish children.. rather then put an end to the situation it seems like the “parents” are fueling the fire by enabling either side.(We enable Israel).
    Which begs the question: Does Israel have photos of lady liberty with a goat or something?Allies are great but we kiss too much Israeli ass…I still say our foreign policy is based on Israels will. I feel like this country is their trained Dog and we attack other nations on their command. I also resent the fact that the American taxpayer has bought ever Israeli citizen a gas mask and yet we do not have gas masks of our own… but that is another story….
    If Israel starts shit with Iran it will be because they see no other way to get the USA involved. If bush cannot attack Iran because his crying wolf has left him neutered here at home .. no worry… let Israel attack them first then “we have to fight with our friends”.. “we MUST defend them!”…
    Israel doesn’t give a shit what attacking Iran would mean for our 130 k troops in Iraq,, and neither do the blood thirsty righties…. they just want the killing to keep on going. War is a fun game for righties who sit at home behind a keyboard and those who don’t want complete chaos in the entire mid east are ruining all the fun.It was a perfectly good world war starting up and damn “thinking crowd” is trying to pee on their post toasties.
    The righties seem hell bent on making sure that the entire mid east is as big of a mess as they can muster, even though it is in their interest to have mid east stability… they will vote against their own economic interests in favor of more bloodshed anyday.A few cents more for gas is a small price to pay for their entertainment. The thinking must be that the more people in the mid east we can see dead the more oil we can TAKE for ourselves?(that cheap gas the righties boasted about prior to the Iraq invasion never happened did it?)… like every rightie “plan” .. not very well thought out….ooops… oh well the war has been entertaining for the right….

  17. You’ve got it Kmiddle – it’s time for someone else in the international community to step in. In the real world when people screw up they get fired. In today’s international scene they’re given more responsibility. Expecting Bushco to be able to fix what they broke is like expecting my 6 month old to change his own diapers.

  18. There is much to love about Israel and its people. AND, there is much to fight against about the decades long deprivation of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli policy makers and military who enjoy the ability to play bully and steal territory again and again only because of American support.

    But, to say that this is a century-long conflict is an error. A century ago, the Jews who lived in the mid-east did so in harmony with their Arab neighbors, and much of that harmony was because the mid-east Jews of that time paid their Arab neighbors for the land they wanted. The founding of the country of Israel in 1948 was done by Western powers unilaterally deciding what was to be the boundaries of Israel, and this without consultation with or fair reparations to the Arabs being displaced. That is when this unending conflict began. All of the wars since have not changed by one iota the original wrong-headedness of the unilateralist way that Israel was established.

    The whole civilized world continues to feel deep scarring angst and guilt about the Holocaust and the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. But, listen up, for far too many decades now, the whole civilized world has been watching Israel itself blatantly use Nazi tactics, treating the Palestinians and other neighbors in deplorable ways: bulldozing their homes, herding them into refugee camps, starving them of any opportunity to feed themselves or educate their kids or get even basic medical care, bombing them at will with American-made-and-paid-for vastly superior and deadly firepower, even engaging in genocide [read Sharon’s history].

    Israel is the beloved daughter whose birth was so welcomed as an antidote to the Holocaust, but who has now been so repeatedly spoiled by doting parents that she has turned into a tantrum-throwing vengeful shrew. Israel has learned to use the labels of ‘terrorism’ and ‘anti-semitism’ to manipulate all who love her into overlooking, time after time both her own terror-generating destructiveness and her apparently bottomless greed for the land and water resources of others.

    George Bush is not to blame for the 1948-today Israeli-Arab festering sore. But George Bush surely did choose to model his Iraq war upon the pre-emptive ‘defense’ logic and the ‘anything goes’ against ‘suspected terrorists’ logic first perfected by Israeli politicians..

  19. Thanks, useful and informative as always. I have one complaint, however. Your use of the word chuckle-headed just is too benign and light an adjective to describe the incompetence of the Bush foreign policy. Gilligan’s incompetence is chuckle-headed. Bush’s incompetence is malign, oblivious, stubborn and worse, but chuckle-headed?

    By the way, interesting research here about the incompetent being incompetent to recognize their own incompetence.

  20. Donna,

    Much as it pains me, I have to generally agree with your thoughtful post.

    The Jews in Israel (pre-1948) did indeed buy the land they lived on from wealthy Arab and Turkish land owners. There was some tension but people more or less lived side by side. The state of Israel, as defined and created by the (very guilty) West, though, was founded and continues to live in absolute strife. It was perhaps the last time a colonialist state was created, with all that that implies in terms of non-respect for those already living in the land.

    Of course, the Arab world had its very own nasty role to play by encouraging a mass exodus of the Palestinians, promising that the Jews would be driven into the sea and that the Palestinians would be back home within a few weeks. There were massacres on both sides.

    A good friend of mine (who’s Jewish) recently spent several months in Israel as a visiting professor. Although she identifies deeply with her Jewish culture and history, she was very disturbed by the inequalities she saw in how Arabs and Jews are treated in Israel. However, neither she (nor I) advocate the destruction of Israel. The question is, what to do?

    Bush’s knee-jerk support for everything Israel does is no more intelligent than his invasion of Iraq. Israel’s incursion into Lebanon after Hezbollah’s attack is a monumental mistake but many people seem to forget that there was an attack. Israel didn’t just wake up yesterday morning and decide to bomb Beirut Airport. When the international community condemns Israel without any mention of Hezbollah’s recent actions, one still has to wonder.

    The issue seems so totally insoluble because at the heart of it, no one’s completely right or wrong.

    Totally condemning Israel or totally condemning the Palestinians means that justice for the one inevitably denies justice for the other. And every one deserves justice and the right to live in peace–the right to get up in the morning and go to work without worrying about your kid being blown up by a suicide bomber on his or her way home from school or your kid being blown up by a rocket aimed at a fundamentalist leader who stirs up violence against innocent civilians.

    The Middle East is still living according to the biblical precept of an eye for an eye. Except now, humankind is able to totally exterminate itself in its quest to prove one side right over the other.

    I condemn Israel for its massive retaliation and its fundamentally unfair treatment of the Palestinians, but I also condemn the Arab world for its wholesale demonization of Jews (not just Israelis), which leads to the visceral hatred expressed by suicide bombers and the majority of the Palestinian population that supports them.

    Is there a solution? Yes, but no one’s going to be happy with it, especially (sorry to have to say this) all those people whose testosterone-fueled hatred keeps them busy blowing each other up.

  21. Off topic; but found this and thought it was very funny. Needed to share it with others.

    Republicans used to accuse Democrats of “throwing money at problems.” The Bush administration not only throws money at problems; it misses them.

    Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop

  22. (Sorry for the lengthy comment Maha … it’s a difficult subject, one that I’ve done a lot of looking into…)

    Heh … the basic problem is that NOBODY agrees on what the ACTUAL history of Israel/Palestine is. In most cases, there are no records, or what records there are have been altered or destroyed. Nearly every event of any significance whatsoever has 2, 3, even 4 or more competing explanations, depending on what source you use.

    So, using history and facts as best they can be determined, you can conclude Israel is completely at fault.

    Or, using history and facts as best they can be determined, you can conclude Palestine is completely at fault.

    Or any shade in between. All based on what sources you read/trust.

    It’s all very confusing, and the lack of clarity is what allows both sides to claim moral authority … and can also be used to show neither side has moral authority.

    As best as my poor brain can determine it, tho, everything goes back to the 1890s. Palestine, at that time, was a province of the Ottoman Empire. Jews and Christians and Muslims all lived together there, in as much harmony as you would expect anywhere. The Muslims were the undoubted majority, but the other religions were not particularly mistreated.

    In Europe and Russia, the Zionist movement was in its beginning stages. That movement called for a final homeland for the Jews of the world. They considered many locations, but they finally decided that nothing less than their original home soil would do. And, in 1917, the embattled British government issued the Balfour Declaration, a document declaring Britain’s support for a Zionist national home in Palestine, “with the condition that nothing should be done which might prejudice the rights of existing communities there”. Remember that WWI was going on at the time, and the Ottoman Empire was Britain’s enemy. So, basically, Britain promised the world’s Jews land that Britain did not, at the time, actually own.

    And so, when the allies won WWI, and the Ottoman Empire was carved up into more managable chunks, Britain managed to secure control of the chunk formerly known as Palestine, and they invited Jews to come and settle.

    THAT right THERE is when the trouble began.

    Britain, and the rest of the world really, tried in pretty good faith to make the whole thing work … but Jews were killing Arabs, Arabs were killing Jews, and both were killing Brits. After multiple attempts to broker peace between the two groups, Britain eventually metaphorically threw its hands up and said to hell with all of you, and started pulling out. As soon as the last Brit soldier was gone, the Zionists declared themselves to be a nation, called Israel, and were very careful NOT to specify where the actual borders were.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab countries surrounding, had also been chunkified, and turned over to France and the US, both of which countries did their best to set up a working government and get the hell out. By the time Britain left Palestine, all the other Arab countries had been independant for some time, and they viewed the situation in Palestine with mounting alarm. The basic problem was that all the Jews of the world, in addition to many of the biggest countries of the world, were pouring money into Zionist coffers, which meant that the Jews were gradually beating the Palestinians soundly. The Arab countries surrounding, all of which, remember, had been part of one Empire not that long ago, didn’t understand why a bunch of immigrants were being allowed to kill their brothers in Palestine. It was much less about Jewishness at the time, and much more about Non-Arabness, if you see what I mean.

    When the Brits left and the upstart immigrants unilaterally declared themselves to be a country, the surrounding powers viewed that as the final collapse of diplomacy, and they saw it as their duty to wade in and Sort Shit Out once and for all. Of course, what they didn’t count on was the fact that the Zionists had used big chunks of that money to arm themselves to the teeth, and the Arabs got their asses handed to them in short order.

    And here again is one of those points of history … according to some accounts, the surrounding powers, when they came in to Sort Shit Out, directed the Palestinians to get out of the way … which is what caused a huge part of the Palestinian refugee problem. According to other accounts, no such thing ever happened. The refugee problem was caused solely by Jewish terrorists and militias running Arabs off their lands.

    There is some support for both theories. Difficult to say now which is true, other than the probability that BOTH are, to some degree or another.

    The Jews certainly did resort to terrorism, armed militias, intimidation, and fear to run Palestinians out of desirable land, from 1918 on. That is a matter of historical record. The degree to which it happened, that’s highly debatable.

    The Palestinians responded with force of their own, terrorism and armed militias and all the rest. That is also a matter of historical record. They were always less organized and less well funded than the Jews, tho, which is part of why the Jews usually got the upper hand.

    One of the tactics I’ve read about involved Jews going out to plow farmland in no-man’s-land set up by the British. The Palestinians would see this, interpret it as Jewish encroachment (which it was, of course), and attack the ‘farm’. The Jews would then respond with overwhelming force, drive the Palestinians out, and then fortify the place, explaining to the Brits that said fortification was necessary because the Palestinians attacked first. (which they did, of course). And thus the no-man’s-land moved incrementally farther out.

    The first time an offer to Partition the land into two countries was formally laid on the table, Jews owned something like 2% of the land, and the Partition would give them something like 50%. The Palestinians, understandably, did not see the wisdom of giving away 48% of their country, particularly when it was for the most part the BEST 48% … the most arable land, the most resources, etc.

    That was the best offer they ever got tho. If they’d accepted it, the history of the middle east would have been very different.

    All that to say …

    Impossible to assign original sin. It started out with Jews wanting to end their millinea long wanderings and just have a place of their own, where they wouldn’t get slaughtered every few decades for once … it continued with immigrants and existing residents not getting along very well, for a variety of reasons … it escalated with acts of violence, counter-acts, revenge for the counter-acts, vengeance on the revenge … and it continued on in that way, all the way from then to now.

    And America has been intimately involved, every step of the way. We were one of the first countries to recognized self-proclaimed Israel AS Israel, our money and our weapons are what allowed Israel to fight off the first few Arab attacks, and our money and weapons and continued international support are what allows Israel to continue doing whatever it wants to do with relative impugnity.

    Without the support of the USA, it’s doubtful Israel would even exist right now … but if it DID exist, it would be a much humbled Israel, that would have to actually attempt to get along with its neighbors rather than dominate them.

    I think it’s about time we cut ties and make them stand on their own. At this point in history, we can guarantee that anybody that tries to invade or destroy Israel will in turn be destroyed, WITHOUT giving Israel the unconditional support we always have.


  23. the funny thing, maha, is that when i encountered your blog a year or so ago, i initially assumed that you were an arab. “maha” is a fairly common female name in the arab world.

  24. Another benefit of reading your blog- I have been remiss and have not read the always excellent Juan Cole for a long time. He is the go to source for analysis and the truth as to what is happening in the Middle East.

  25. Ian,

    Thanks for the more detailed history. You laid out the basic facts and themes of the story in a calm, and fair and helpful way.

    Your concluding two paragraphs make a lot of sense, too, except I can see a big problem about deciding to guarantee that ‘anybody invading Israel will in turn be destroyed’. What are the rightful borders that are not to be crossed? That’s the thorny issue that keeps this conflict unresolved, especially since the 1967 war. In the first forty years and seven wars, Israel has claimed for itself a land increase of 40% over the the 1948 bordered territory.

    I am not interested in ‘who’s to blame’ or ”who started it’ or ‘who is the worst offender’. I am interested in the soul-wrenching harm that continues to plague the Israelis and their neighbors and the rest of our world because this situation never heals. I am, in short, interested in the etiology of ‘terrorism’.
    I do want to know what would make someone chose to strap on a bomb and kill innocent people. I think about it along these lines: the wanna-be-terrorists are incubated in an Arab/Muslim community-wide unrelieved deep sense of loss [of land, livelihood, and cultural identity] and, facing continuing powerlessness against for instance the giant USA and the USA-powered Israel and the encroaching westernization of their homelands, they turn to radicalized religion to feel some power over the last thing left that they can control, which is to choose to let their own deaths make a statement of defiance. Sort of like, ‘you can beat me on everything else, because you are so much bigger, but you can’t have my soul’. Twisted logic, you bet. But such twists are not uncommon defense mechanisms in those who suffer extended battering, as our FBI profilers could attest.

  26. 2 perhaps unorthodox and provocative questions:

    1. On what basis can people call the kidnapping of soldiers “terrorism”? Seems to me that Hamas and Hezbollah made a command decision to attack military rather than civilian targets. This is a repudiation of terrorism. But if the “international community” is so pro-Israel that they condemn instead of praising this change in tactics, what incentive do Palestinians have not to go back to blowing themselves up in Tel Aviv cafes?

    2. Wouldn’t these conflicts be LESS likely to escalate so quickly if some Arab country (or perhaps Iran) had just enough nukes to counter Israel’s total military dominance? Wouldn’t a more equal balance of power and a mutual nuclear deterrent likely lead both sides to be more circumspect? That’s what the history of the Cold War teaches us, anyway….

  27. In my opinion, anti-Arab ethnic hatred bubbles below the surface of a lot of righties, especially because most reasonable conservatives have jumped ship: a large public who voted for Bush but now think it was a mistake and many prominent conservatives and politicians have criticized Bush’s foreign policy decisions, or at least have sought to distance themselves from his Rambo imperialism. So, it seems to me that the small crowd who think we should pound our chests, flex our military might in The Arab World, and kill all The Terrorists (or let Israel do the same through our inaction) have “ethnic intolerance issues” (to put it lightly) that override a clear sense of what’s going on in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, etc.

    And, I think this provides a partial answer to exile’s question “On what basis can people call the kidnappings ‘terrorism?'” In the dualistic worldview of many (and, frighteningly, many of our decision-makers): The Terrorist = The Arabs and The Arabs = The Terrorists. Rightwing bloodlust can be explained by a lot of political factors, but I think race, ethnicity, and religion take center stage.

  28. Pingback: The Mahablog » In Contempt

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