Friday, July 28, 2006
I've felt many emotions about the Israelis before. I've admired them for their accomplishments -- building a flourishing state out of almost nothing. I've hated them for their systematic dispossession of the Palestinians -- even as they smugly congratulated themselves for being the Middle East's only "democracy." I've pitied them for the cruel fate history inflicted on the Jewish diaspora, respected them for their boldness and daring, honored them for their cultural and intellectual achievements. But the one thing I've never felt, at least up until now, is contempt.
But that is what I'm feeling now. The military and political leaders of the Jewish state are doing and saying things that go way beyond the blustering arrogance of a powerful nation at war. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are behaving like a gang of miltaristic thugs -- whose reply to any criticism or reproach is an expletive deleted and the smash of an iron fist.
The most brutal public example would probably be the suggestion by the Israeli Justice Minister (!) that the IDF now has the world's blessing to simply line up the artillery and turn every village in southern Lebanon into a rubble pile -- lest too much Jewish blood be spilled in the vicious door-to-door fighting required to "make something happen" on the ground.
. . .
I've been watching events in the Middle East off and on for the past 25 years, and I've seen the Israelis get ugly before. But I can't remember a time when I've seen them this ugly . . . Massively disproportionate use of force (as defined in the Geneva Conventions, not the fevered war porn fantasies of Right Blogistan) reprisal terror bombings, an if-it-moves-shoot-it mentality on the ground:
"Over here, everybody is the army," one soldier said. "Everybody is Hezbollah. There's no kids, women, nothing." Another soldier put it plainly: "We're going to shoot anything we see."
And now a proposal to turn all of southern Lebanon into a free fire zone.
This all might be considered normal military behavior for, oh say, a Bosnian Serb militia captain, circa 1991, but when the political and military leaders of an allegedly civilized state start talking this way, something big is going on, and going wrong. The dehumanization of the enemy (much of the Israeli press routinely uses the word "terrorist" to refer to any Hizbullah fighter or Palestinian militant), combined with the rage and humiliation at not being able to stop the rain of rockets falling on northern Israel, are knocking the props out from under whatever remains of Israel's claim to be different from, and morally superior to, its enemies.
The Israeli national persona has always had a macho swagger to it (it's part of the rationale for the state -- that Jews should be able to act like "normal" masculine hyperpatriots everywhere) but what we're seeing now is something different. It has a nasty edge of hysteria to it, a compulsive need to prove to the Arabs, and the world, that Israel still can and will stomp on anyone who gets in its way. The fact that Hizbullah is now demonstrating the limits of Israeli power -- or rather, the limits on how much Jewish blood the Israeli government is willing to spend to exercise that power -- is only making matters worse. The Israeli leadership elite is starting to sound like the semen-crusted violence addicts at Little Green Footballs. Given how much real violence the generals and politicians can inflict, that's a sobering thought, to say the least.
Combine this with an enormous sense of historic grievance ("Serbs will never be beaten again!" "The Versailles Treaty has shamed the Fatherland!") and a gnawing fear of encirclement, and you've got all the ingredients for a catastrophe, of the kind that could leave the Israelis, and their American patrons, up to their necks in blood -- of the innocent and the guilty alike.
. . .
If there's one thing that should be obvious from this God awful tragedy in the making, it's that history has a savage sense of irony -- cruel and pitiless almost beyond belief. That Israel, haven to Holocaust survivors, should find itself in this situation, and respond to it in this way, is enough to make the very walls of Jerusalem weep. As I weep now.
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