Shaken awake by war

Israeli novelist DAVID GROSSMAN is the author of "Death as a Way of Life: Israel Ten Years After Oslo." This article was translated by Haim Watzman.

There is no justification for the large-scale violence that Hezbollah has unleashed from Lebanese territory on dozens of peaceful Israeli villages, town and cities. Israel has counterattacked, and it has every right to do so. No country in the world would remain silent and abandon its citizens when its neighbor strikes without any provocation.

Six years ago, Israel withdrew from all the Lebanese territory

occupied in 1982 and redeployed behind the international border. Immediately, Hezbollah began violating the relevant United Nations resolutions. It established armed positions along the border and began building up its military strength, with the aid of Syria and Iran.


For years, the government of Lebanon has avoided direct confrontation with Hezbollah. Israel, seeking not to heat up the border, also abstained from taking any real action against Hezbollah. Israel is now acting against Lebanon because Lebanon is officially responsible for Hezbollah. It is also the address from which missiles and Katyusha rockets are being fired at Israeli cities. Hezbollah’s leaders are members of the Lebanese Cabinet and participate in setting the country’s policies.

At this writing, millions of innocent civilians -- Israelis and Lebanese -- are under heavy fire. In Beirut and in Haifa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and in the Israeli Galilee, children and adults face the horrors of war. Israel and Lebanon must do all they can to not harm innocent people. But even those who hope for an immediate end to violence and the opening of negotiations must acknowledge that Hezbollah cynically and deliberately created the crisis. Israel had no choice but to respond to the severe attack on its territory.

This latest eruption of hostilities underlines the problematic similarities between the governments of Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority.

Both have two heads, whose behavior contradicts one another. One Lebanese and one Palestinian head act as statesmen, using diplomatic channels, conducting themselves with relative moderation. The two other heads declare that they are free to do whatever they wish -- to use racist rhetoric and terror against civilians and to call openly for the destruction of Israel.

This dual phantasm is the main reason that a great majority of Israelis, including many in the peace camp, have in recent years lost all confidence in the good intentions of the more moderate elements in the Arab world. (Another complication is that a similar double phantasm -- if less extreme and without aspirations of destroying its enemy -- is also evident in Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians.)

The scenarios for the future do not look good. Of course, Israel does not intend merely to respond to the Hezbollah attacks. It is also acting to reshape the realities on its border with Lebanon and to force the Lebanese government to move Hezbollah out of the country’s south. Israel’s goal is logical and just, but the aggressive conduct of the operation is dangerous. The Lebanese government is weak, and Lebanon itself could again slip into general collapse and civil war.

Such a local conflict could easily develop into a regional one, with unpredictable consequences.

In recent decades, Israel has gotten tangled in military operations in Lebanon again and again. It never succeeded in achieving its goals. Previous attempts to shape the Arab world in accordance with Israel’s needs have failed. (Today, President Bush can also testify to the doubtful efficacy of such attempts.)

Another goal declared by many of Israel’s military and political leaders is to break Hezbollah’s power and influence. This is doomed from the start. It recalls the shortsightedness of Israeli leaders in 1982, when they declared that they would destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization. Even though Israel has vastly superior forces, Hezbollah has very strong backing in Iran, Syria and the Arab world. Anyone who thinks Israel can achieve a knockout victory lives an illusion.

And there is also a fundamental difference between Hezbollah and the Palestinian front.

Hezbollah is, openly, an Iranian agent in the Middle East, a bridgehead for its murderous plans against Israel. Iran is doubtless committed to the Palestinian cause, but its aspirations do not include an equitable peace between Israel and Palestine. Its ideology and actions demonstrate that, even if Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement, Hezbollah will oppose compromises. It will continue to fight Israel and will thus threaten the fragile stability that such an agreement achieves.

Israel’s relations with the Palestinians are utterly different. These two peoples must achieve peace if they wish to live. Their fates are intertwined and cannot be separated. Both have a clear interest in reaching a compromise in which each will give up some of its most central demands. Both sides know that ultimately their conflict cannot be resolved by force.

Hezbollah’s deadly attack this week impels the great majority of Israelis to view the two fronts as one, both constituting threats to Israel’s existence. While this instinct may not reflect the military balance, it could lead not only to a disproportionate attack on Lebanon but to an indefinite postponement of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many citizens of Israel, like those of prosperous, Westernized Beirut, wanted to believe that they were no longer really part of the Middle East conflict. Despairing of its bloody, fundamentalist, hopeless nature, they built themselves bubbles of comfort, escapism and luxury. In Israel, many even managed to sublimate the current war with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the rockets that the Palestinians have been firing on southern Israel and the suffering the Palestinians are enduring from Israel’s counterattacks.

The events of the last few days have shaken everyone awake. The war has reached their doorsteps, reminding them what materials make up life here. Diplomatic acumen will no longer suffice to turn those materials into a stable peace. It looks as if only an alchemist’s lore can do that now.