This Israel War May Not Be As Short As the Administration Hoped


Diamond Member
Nov 22, 2003

Praying for Hummus, Getting Hamas

By Zeev Avrahami

In the 1990s, Israelis sincerely thought that peace was just around the corner. Now, the Middle East is torn apart by war. A former Israeli peace activist explains why he has laid down his olive branch and is prepared to grab for his rifle.

Every time war footage from Lebanon flickers across the flat screen television in my apartment on the 30th floor of a high-rise in mid-town Manhattan, I am overwhelmed by a deep feeling of sadness. When I scan through the news on the Internet each morning, I'm overtaken by anger. The result is confusion: I go to sleep at night thinking I am a dove and wake up in the morning to find out I am a hawk.

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It's gotten so bad that I have even started missing Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel who has been lying in a coma for the past six months. I find myself writing screenplays in my mind: Sharon wakes up, stares at the TV screen, and sees Israel invading Lebanon. Sharon, I think, would presume he has landed in hell where he is damned to relive the most dreadful moments of his political career.

The very fact that I am reminiscing about Sharon is shocking -- many people of my generation can't stand him. The man led Israel into its traumatic "optional war" of 1982 when we invaded Lebanon -- an experience that left behind numerous scars on the Israeli population, both physical and psychological. The soldiers who fought in southern Lebanon then did not understand why they where there; why they lost their friends, their youth and their innocence; why they had to fight against an unknown enemy and patrol the streets of Lebanese cities -- passing by civilians who were drinking coffee and playing backgammon in the cafes.

Israel's Vietnam

The war in Lebanon 24 years ago turned Israel upside down: A high-ranking officer refused his orders to invade Beirut and thousands of Israelis protested against the war while soldiers were still fighting and dying. After years of being the world's darlings, international public opinion suddenly turned against us. And then there were the horrors of Sabra and Shatila. There were no glorious photo albums after this war, no heroes. It was Israel's Vietnam.

I didn't fight in the Lebanon war, though I spent some of my army service guarding the border and operating inside it. But when I joined the Israeli army in November 1987, I had to deal with one of its side effects: Even as Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was expelled to Algeria, Israel faced resistance from within the occupied Palestinian Territories. The first Intifada began a month after I was drafted. At that point, when I had just joined the army, I was filled with a sense of mission to continue the heritage of Israeli civilians who join the army for three years at the age of 18 to protect the country from its enemies.

But when I got deployed to Gaza and Nablus, fighting an unknown enemy, patrolling streets where, again, civilians drank their tea and played backgammon in cafés, my conviction was shaken. I became confused about who the good guys were and who were the bad. When I finished my mandatory service, I decided never again to be a soldier. When I was called up from the reserves and ordered back to Gaza, I refused and became an outspoken and active opponent of the Israeli occupation. I spent a total of 45 days in military prison for my refusal to serve.

Fighting against our parents' generation

The growing opposition of my generation was our first major contribution to shaping Israeli society and to adding the next layer to our young nation. The first generation of Israelis built the country, fought its war of independence and developed the infrastructure of a nation-state. The second generation fought glorious wars helping establish a Jewish post-Holocaust identity. We, who were born in the mid-1960s and the beginning of the 70s, called for the normalization of Israel. We wanted Israel to become a country like any other; we wanted borders, both geographical and ethical. The war we fought was the one against the convictions of our parents' generation.

As my generation matured -- and began taking its place in the Israeli economic, cultural and political establishment -- we triggered a great change in Israeli public opinion. Ours was the generation that pushed -- both with votes and with lifestyle -- for talks with the Palestinians and for peace agreements with Arafat and Jordan. The young generation that came after us instigated the pull-out from Lebanon in 2000, and pushed for a final agreement with the Palestinians. In the last election, for the first time in Israeli history, three politicians who did not rise up through the ranks of the Israeli army were elected to our government's highest posts: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been the mayor of Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Zipi Livni is a lawyer and Defense Minister Amir Peretz was a union leader. We wanted our government to focus on welfare issues, invest in education and civil rights.

Deep down, of course, we knew that was wishful thinking. My generation, after all -- which had largely missed the last heroic war in 1967 and which was born into the reality of Israel as an occupier -- also helped make Ariel Sharon prime minister in 2001. Sharon's reputation then was not only stained by the Lebanon war, but he was also the living symbol for the settlement project; it was Sharon, as minister of infrastructure and agriculture, who devoted huge amounts of money to the expansion of the settlements. His election signalled a change: There was a waning belief that peace with the Palestinians was possible and a desire for a strong leader as Israel braced for the next war.

A betrayal and a huge defeat

Like an experienced shepherd, Sharon sensed exactly which way the herd wanted to go. After his election, he led Israel into confrontation with the Palestinians -- the Second Intifada. He also forced Israelis to take the next step, that of turning their backs on their Palestinian neighbors. For my generation, this represented a huge defeat, and we felt betrayed when the younger generation agreed to Sharon's policy. It is this betrayal -- and this complete rejection of the idea of peace with the Palestinians -- which fills me with sadness when I follow the news today.

The anger, though, is not far behind. When the rockets from Gaza began falling on southern Israel, my former peace activism became but a distant memory. The recent killings and kidnappings of soldiers on the Gaza and Lebanese borders sent us back to our past and into our closets: Once again, we Israelis are looking for our uniforms.

Today, I am convinced that Israel is fighting a justified war. Far from being an "optional war," this conflict was forced upon us. There is a feeling that every positive step taken in recent years has been answered by punishment. Now we are prepared to do whatever it takes to turn Israel into a safe place, even if this means invading Lebanon once again. We also want to sip coffee and play backgammon. We've had enough of rockets from the north and south and suicide bombers from everywhere. We also want to lead a normal life, just like the people in New York, Berlin or Rome who don't have to look up every time a stranger enters their favorite cafe.

Praying for hummus, getting Hamas

We pulled out of Gaza and we have no desire to be pulled back in. We want to go to work, study, raise a family, enjoy the beach, and eat hummus as we watch with delight how the Palestinians use the money they get from around the world to build their own infrastructure, to create jobs allowing them to go to the beach, raise families, and eat hummus. We prayed for hummus and instead we got Hamas.

A woman surveys the damage to her home, which was hit by a rocket fired by Hezbollah guerrillas.
A woman surveys the damage to her home, which was hit by a rocket fired by Hezbollah guerrillas.
As the threats come from all fronts and with the backing of Syria and Iran, we are once again faced with our unique reality: We have no place to go. Ask my mother. She was expelled from Iran in 1957 for being Jewish. Now, the Iranians want to force her to migrate again.

I am bothered by the high Lebanese death toll as are most Israelis, but we must also remember that Hezbollah set the tone for this conflict when it asked for hundreds of people in exchange for one Israeli soldier. This war was declared against us and against the Western world. With oil prices rising daily, it's an economic war. With anger still lingering after the Muhammad cartoons, it is a cultural war. Most of all, though, it is a war against a progressive world, and Israel has turned back the clock 24 years to fight it.

I too am turning back the clock. Eighteen years after finishing my military service -- almost two decades after swearing that I would never again wear a uniform -- I called the Israeli consulate in New York and gave them my phone number. If the army needed me, I told them, I would be the first on a plane back to Israel. And Sharon, of course, has still not woken from his coma. But I miss him.

Zeev Avrahami is a 37-year-old freelance journalist who lives in New York City and writes for the Israeli daily Haaretz. Of Iranian descent, he was born on the Sinai Peninsula before his family was expelled.

Then there's this:

650 French Jews 'Return Home' to Israel

July 25, 2006 10:26 p.m. EST

Ryan R. Jones - All Headline News Correspondent

Lod, Israel (AHN) - Several charter flights carrying 650 French Jewish immigrants touched down at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel Tuesday. It was the largest single-day immigration of French Jews ever.

Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski, who was on hand for the event, stated, "This is the Jewish answer to Hezbollah and to Hamas."

Bielski praised the immigrants for being willing to "come home" during a time of such regional turmoil, and noted that not one person canceled, despite ongoing attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also greeted the newcomers, stating, "The basic weapon that we have is the Jewish people, people who love Israel, who want to live here, who want to defend Israel."

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