July 25, 2006


Praying for Hummus, Getting Hamas: 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. (Zeev Avrahami, July 25, 2006, Der Spiegel)

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. [...]

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.

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.

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.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 25, 2006 11:49 AM

So when the sheep lies down with the lion, somehow the lion doesn't turn itself into another sheep---imagine that.

These folks really need to ponder on the phrase "provocative weakness."

Posted by: fred at July 25, 2006 2:55 PM

fred: So do we.

Posted by: Bartman at July 26, 2006 12:46 PM