(Excerpted from "Editorial: Israel Must Win the War of Ideas," The Australian, July 21, 2006.)
Israel, despite being a tiny country surrounded by Arab states who would happily – and on more than one occasion have tried – to push it into the sea, has historically sought peace with its neighbours and only fought to defend itself. The present conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon was not a fight of Israel's choosing; in fact, Israel had pulled out from Lebanon in 2000 only to see the Iranian and Syrian-backed terrorist group regroup on its northern border.
Certainly anyone with a heart will have compassion for the civilians killed in the current conflict with Hezbollah on both sides. Yet the outrage about the accidental wartime deaths of Lebanese children seems to far outweigh that felt for Israeli youth deliberately targeted by suicide bombers in calculated acts of murder. Likewise in the occupied territories, Israel has repeatedly sought to arrive at some sort of accomodation with the Palestinians. Yet it was Israel's reputation that was sullied during the first Intifada of 1987 to 1993 when images of Arab youths hurling stones at tanks were beamed around the world. But when the collapse of the Soviet Union cut off aid from Moscow the Palestinian leadership was finally forced to the peace table. This led to the signing of the Oslo Accords and the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.
The tragedy is that this promise of peace was false. Since its founding in 1948 Israel has repeatedly faced down hostile enemies who still view its founding as a naqba, or catastrophe. This was shown most dramatically during 1967's Six Day War. Having been subjected to weeks of threats and surrounded by the mobilised armies of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Jordan, Israel took the initiative and decimated its enemies' military capabilities. And even though every honest accounting of the war acknowledges Israel was facing overwhelming odds, many in the West see it as an act of Jewish aggression. Israel only occupied land to the east of the cease fire line of 1949 because it was in the process of fighting a defensive war. But the obligation to seek peace is not an obligation to commit national suicide.
Who could reasonably expect Israel, a country that is at places just nine miles wide, to withdraw from such defensive buffers in the face of states that have already proven their desire to do it harm? In any case, Arab countries have proved more than happy to delay solutions to the problem of the occupied territories to provide them with a continuing source of propaganda. Soon after Oslo the murder of Israel's peacemaking prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish fanatic in 1995 removed one of the strongest advocates for compromise with the Palestinians, as did repeated violations of the Oslo understanding by the Palestinians. By the mid- to late-1990s suicide bomb belts had replaced rocks as the Palestinian weapon of choice. And Yasser Arafat would prove to be nothing but a disaster.
Through all of this the Israelis explicitly voted to give land back to the Palestinians in a quest to acheive peace – a very rare act in the history of the world. Events would come to a head with the start of the second Intifada in late 2000, triggered, some say incited, by a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to a mosque within the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem. [Note: for the complete context of this event see Sharon and the Intifada.] Arab Israelis rioted, and in the West Bank town of Ramallah two Israeli reservists were arrested and lynched in a local Palestinian police station. In the years that followed suicide bombings would take hundreds of lives in Israel. Yet in 2004 Mr Sharon, the most hawkish of Israeli hawks, finally saw a way to make peace by evacuating the Gaza Strip and withdrawing from parts of the West Bank and leaving the Palestinians to run both areas.
But once again the hope of peace was betrayed when the Hamas terrorist militia kidnapped an Israeli soldier last month. The terrorists acted in an attempt to derail the possibility of a Palestinian vote on peace with Israel that could have gone against them. This fits a long pattern. For decades, first under a secular leadership and now under a more Islamicised one, every chance for peace has been scotched by a new atrocity committed by a Palestinian or Arab group determined to instead make war. And now Hezbollah has followed them into the fray, with attacks on Israel from the north. This is the long and complex story Israel's enemies do not want told, instead preferring the narrative of displacement and victimisation that is so commonly heard in the West.
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