July 15th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

2006, meet 1936

Lebanon's ambassador to the US was on Hardball with Chris Matthews last night, and the main thing I noticed about him was that he seemed honestly puzzled by this whole Israeli campaign. The question he kept asking, in a tone of voice as much incredulous as it was petulant, was, "Why now?" As far as he was concerned, the events leading up to this war were not only nothing spectacular, they were nothing new. Ever since the 1978 Camp David Accords, life on the Israeli border has had what he called a "rhythm" to it. Israel captures and jails those who murder Jewish civilians. When they can, the murderers' gangs capture Israeli soldiers. After much bluster, there's a prisoner exchange. Then the murderers go back to killing civilians, and the Israeli soldiers go back to capturing them. There have even been two such exchanges, he said, just in the time since Israel withdrew from Lebanon. So what's the big deal now?

And to be fair to him, Israel isn't doing a great job of explaining what the big deal is now. So let me take a crack at it. One element of it is, as most commentators are pointing out, "enough is enough." That bucket has been to the well one too many times, and now it's worn out. But there's more to it than that. Something important has changed lately. And whether or not anybody in Israel's leadership has consciously thought this through, they're right to feel as if this time is different and merits a much deadlier and more prolonged response. What changed? Elections in both Lebanon and Gaza. Elections in which both Hamas and Hezbollah validated their long-time claim to being political parties by actually running candidates for office. Elections in which both of them won, at least in part. Hezbollah won enough votes to earn two seats in the Lebanese cabinet. Hamas did even better than that, winning a majority in the Palestinian legislature and, by law, the (so far thwarted) right to form the Palestinian government in Gaza.

Both parties' participation in the political process was very controversial, a sticking point for Israel and the US for a very long time. It seemed to us that it was a reasonable minimum pre-requisite to calling yourself a political party, post 1945, that you renounce genocide. And yet Hezbollah insists, mostly based on their party's revolutionary government in nearby Iran, on their right to be called a political party despite a platform that openly calls for the extermination of every Jew in the middle east. And by comparison, they're the moderates. Hamas's leadership routinely and openly calls for the extermination of every Jew in the world. And these, people, are the people that the world is asking Israel to negotiate with. What grounds are there for negotiation? What's the reasonable middle ground? Shall Israel split the difference and agree to let them kill half of the Jews in the world?

But going into the recent elections, advocates for these groups' participation in the political process were saying that this was just war-time rhetoric, not meant literally. Except that that's what people advocating calm, rational peace talks were saying about Hitler in 1936. After all, Hitler had "only" called for exterminating every Jew in the world when he was campaigning for office, and even then he only said it while campaigning in the most viciously anti-Semitic neighborhoods in Germany. People said of Hitler in 1936 what they said of Hammas and Hezbollah as recently as a couple of weeks ago in 2006 -- that being part of the government, part of the process, would inevitably moderate, water down, and eventually wither away the more monstrous rhetoric, that a Hitler in power in 1936 would (as they say of Hamas and Hezbollah in 2006) find out, once he was in government, that such things really aren't reasonable or even possible. Except that they were.

So when Hamas and Hezbollah reached the corridors of power in Gaza and Lebanon, Israel (despite history that told them not to expect this) waited patiently to see if Hamas would settle for ruling their own "country" and make real peace with Israel, and if Hezbollah would dissolve its terrorist wing, merge its militias into the Lebanese army, and admit that now that they're part of a government they're subject to the laws of war. And, only a few weeks apart, they did exactly no such thing. On the contrary. When they were out of power, when they were just criminal gangs (with deniable ties to and funding from Israel's neighbors who are famously willing to battle Israel to the last Lebanese and to the last Palestinian) Israel's hands were tied. But now that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, when Hezbollah attacks across the border from Lebanon into Israel it is one government making war on another. And when Hamas, having won their election, attacks from Gaza into Israel, it is one government making war on another. And that's a different thing altogether.

Right now, Israel has governments on two of her borders (at least) that openly call for a global war of genocide against people of Jewish ancestry. Those asking Israel to "show moderation" in the face of obvious, inescapable acts of war are not only asking Israel to set aside the right that nobody disputed when the US exercised it against a government in Afghanistan, when part of that government waged open war on us on our own soil and were then tolerated, funded, and openly protected by that government. Nobody but a handful of suicidal pacifists denied that the US had reasonable grounds to wage war on Afghanistan, to defeat on the battlefield the government that included al Qaeda as a member. Does Israel not have the same right, now that Lebanon and "Palestine" are providing the same legitimacy and shelter to Hamas and Hezbollah?

But it's worse than that. By asking that Israel "show moderation" we're legitimizing genocide as a political opinion. We're being asked to treat two political parties whose genocidal agenda is indistinguishable from that of the Nazis as if they were ordinary political parties, as partners for negotiation. And this must not happen. When nations like Lebanon or "Palestine" accept genocide as anything other than monstrous, then that political agenda must be confronted in the only way that it can be -- on the battlefield. And it must be defeated.