Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lebanese proportions

Unusually, I found myself agreeing with Simon Jenkins in the narrow sense that I identify with his doubts as to whether it is even possible to write anything about the Middle East that can do anything but stir emotion and prejudice. Specifically regarding the left, or rather the strange form it has reconstituted itself into since the collapse of the Soviet Union, only Latin America can compete in terms of international issues that will inflame passions beyond reason and even here, and especially today, it comes a poor second.

And despite the fact that some of us think he's got a bit of a cheek, I also found myself agreeing with Putin in his description of the Israeli response to Hizbollah in Lebanon as 'disproportionate'. This has nothing to do with the view of Fisk and his ilk that Israel's enemies are but phantoms, or at best irritants. But rejecting this view does not oblige us to take the other side of the apocalyptic coin at face value. I could not agree, for example, with Harry's comparison of the present situation with Appeasement. It's not that there's any doubt over the true aims of Hizbollah and their sponsors; it's that there is no question of them being able to achieve their goal. A sober assessment of the military situation in the Middle East could not lead one, I believe, to sensibly claim that Israel is to Hizbollah what Czechoslovakia was to Nazi Germany.

Moreover, while the alternatives to the history of Appeasement are clear in narrow military terms, it is by no means so obvious in this case. The destruction of the Nazi airforce, built in violation of the Versailles Treaty, would have been a fairly straightforward matter; most historians, I think, would agree what was was absent was the willingness rather than the ability. Not so with the military infrastructure of Hizbollah, as recent events have shown. Despite the ferocious bombardment of Lebanon, Hizbollah retains the capacity to launch rockets into Israel's territory. This is a function of bad intelligence but more importantly of the fact that the industrial capacity behind Hizbollah's armoury lies outwith Lebanon's borders. This is why I think the Israeli destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure is unjustified. The harm goes beyond the immediacy of the civilian casualties; the ruination of Lebanon's fragile economy that this implies is likely to spread suffering far wider and seriously undermine the capacity of democratic forces within Lebanon to make their voices heard. It isn't only Hizbollah that avail themselves of luxuries such as roads, bridges, airports and milk factories.

This is why I decline Eric Lee's invitation to 'cheer this on'. He invites us to imagine two alternative futures - one where Israel defeats Hizbollah and by extension secularism triumphs over clerical fascism, and one where Israel is overrun by her enemies. But a future I think it's worth imagining is one where neither side wins and the problem is merely reconstituted in a different form. That, after all, is surely the most likely outcome of this? Which leaves the question: what did all these civilians in Beruit and Haifa have to die for?

But this is about as far as I am willing to travel with those currently denouncing the Israeli response in Lebanon as disproportionate because for so many this argument has nothing to do with 'proportion' at all. David Clark wrote that, "No one quibbles with Israel's right to defend itself..." I find it difficult to believe that when he typed these words he didn't know within himself that this is patently untrue. Is he really unaware that there are not a few that deny Israel's right to defend herself on the grounds that they believe she has no right to exist? To them questions of proportion are irrelevant: any response would be 'disproportionate' simply because it exists at all. And any attack would be justified because of the original offence. No, no - not the Israeli occupation of Lebanon; the foundation of the state of Israel itself.

Do you doubt this? Here's Richard Gott reflecting on the disasters that British imperialism has bequeathed the world:
"Top of the list is Palestine, a settler colony that Britain abandoned in 1947 after barely 30 years, having imposed a population of mostly European settlers on the indigenous people - one of the typical characteristics of imperial rule."
Top of the list. Of course. Where else would you expect to find it? According to Gott, during the Mandate years, the British 'imposed' an essentially European population of Jewry on the Middle East whilst simultaneously restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine from 1939. An impressively contradictory and evil imperialistic feat, I think you'll agree. Perhaps one shouldn't mock Richard Gott for being apparently ignorant of the White Paper of 1939; after all, it's not something we like to talk about.

Gott's parody of history is indicative of a wider trend. The psuedo-left has almost completely abandoned any materialistic explanation of this present situation, preferring instead explanations that rest on ideology and psychology. Take this, for example - found linked at a well-known (selectively) antiwar blog, which argues that Zionism from Herzl's day "internalized" European anti-Semitism. That anyone could seriously argue that evidence of this can be more readily found in modern Israel over and above the straightforward cut and paste affair militant jihadis throughout the world have done, down to the details of cartoons from Der Sturmer and the adoption of the Protocols of the Wise Elders of Zion as a genuine historical document, beggars belief. In any event, whereas Zionism was an ideology, Israel is a historical reality - a distinction of no little importance to those of us that try to occupy the real world.

In this context, surely now no-one can doubt the disingenuity of those who made so much of the absence of a UN Security Council Resolution for the invasion of Iraq? Israel's right to exist was recognised by the UN shortly after its inception, with obviously the most significant players of the time being the United States and the Soviet Union. But the UN does not recognise the right of Hizbollah to exist. This should not be understood as championing the role of the UN as some kind of one-world government, as it exists in some people's fevered imaginations; merely a plea for a little consistency.

International law is but another straw that anti-Zionists clutch at in an attempt to demonstrate the essential pathology of the Israeli state. Forget any notions you might have of understanding Israeli actions based on a consideration of their perceived interests; to be a bona fide leftie these days you are required to believe the Israeli state is essentially psychopathic. The rhetoric of Israel as a genocidal state has, as Norman Geras points out, creeped - and I use this term advisedly - steadily towards the mainstream of liberal-left discourse. I suppose it would be too much to expect an answer to the question as to why, given her supposed homicidal nature plus the impressive weaponry it has at its disposal, Israel seems to be so spectacularly inefficient at the 'genocide' it is routinely accused of carrying out? Wouldn't any aspiring 'genocidal state' be embarrassed at what was achieved in Rwanda in a similar time-scale using the humble machete?

The search for the pathology of Israel can be demonstrated in the way the photograph below was used on various 'leftist' sites:


Involving children in the bitterness of conflict is, I would agree, a disgraceful thing.



You'll have noticed the way that photographs are used in the blogosphere. As if words are supposed to fall silent to the superior eloquence of the image. Invariably you are being asked to emote, rather than to think.

But enough of this because those who think one side in all this has a monopoly over bitterness and hatred are but children themselves and are scarcely worth talking to.

Drawing from the Romantic notion of the 'noble savage' uncorrupted by modernity, German volkisch thought idealised the simple peasant farmer who in some mystical sense shaped the landscape and was in turn shaped by it. This married easily with traditional anti-Semitism, for who else could serve as the very incarnation of this ideal's antithesis as the eternal wandering Jew - cosmopolitan, secular, and - perhaps above all - landless? Yet today we are being told that the only problem anyone has with the Jews is that they now have land - because it was taken from another. So different, yet the same. For many, but by no means all, there is an underlying theme that echoes down millennia and not merely centuries: the common denominator is the question of existence itself.

This is what Israel believes itself to be fighting for. I've argued that in this present situation they are mistaken. But if something even vaguely similar happened in a different context? Wouldn't we be invited to understand, my brothers and sisters, now wouldn't we?

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