Monday, July 17, 2006

Wrongful Perceptions of Israel

If you start agreeing with someone too much, be afraid, be very afraid. This is what I reassured myself today as I read popular Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas's pronouncements on the recent Hezbollah attacks on Israel and Israel's reaction. Moulitsas foolishly embraced a Clash of Civilizations mentality in explaining the current and quite brutal impasse between Israel and Lebanon:
It's clear that in the Middle East, no one is sick of the fighting. They have centuries of grudges to resolve, and will continue fighting until they can get over them.

Such a "centuries of grudges" framing, which sets up the conflict as if it is inevitable and as if groups like Hezbollah aren't themselves independent actors is part of what keeps this conflict going. It implies that there is some inherent animosity that must occur between Jews and Muslims (without noting that the Muslim population is internally very diverse, in terms of economic status, ethnicity, etc.).

A perception that is held by some is that Israel is an aggressor because it is a formidable military power. This cause and effect is a bit sloppy: considering Israel is in the center of one of the most volatile regions in the world, and yes, it has the economic resources, and furthermore, is the main target of its neighboring countries, it would follow that Israel would want to build up a sizable military arsenal.

Some believe Israel is the aggressor. I don't believe in wars of aggression, but in my mind, that fully squares with my feelings towards Israel, which is that it has a right and in fact a duty to defend itself against such wars. Those of us who are against wars of aggression must also be for strong defense against such wars.

Israel further gets perceived as an economic behemoth that oppresses the more destitute citizens of the neighboring Palestinian territories. However, people ignore the internal problems of those territories such as that the Palestinians have been led by a corrupt authority in the past in which its leader, the late Yasser Arafat, used foreign aid money on his own personal expenses and discreetly encouraged terrorist acts against Israelis rather than peace. He walked out of sweeping negotiations with Israel, therefore denying his citizens sizable gains and hopes for a life of peace. Israel does have a thriving economy compared to those of its neighboring states--something that is also held against the it, but this is not due to any pillaging of neighboring nations but to a strong democracy which inherently values the contribution of its citizens to its economic life. It would be nice if the House of Saud or the regime in Syria would focus more on reforming their country's problems and less on finding a scapegoat.

This brings me to the final incorrect perception about Israel: those who believe Israel is an oppressor of Muslims ignore the more complex rivalries among the Muslim nations, such as Syria's occupation of Lebanon. These Muslim countries are hardly brothers-in-arms, as Clash of Civilizations folks might believe, and if Israel were to dissolve, more internecine warfare would erupt, this time over the land. It is somewhat oblivious to think as some seem to, that it would all be easier in the Middle East if Israel just didn't exist, if the Balfour Declaration hadn't been written, if the Ottoman Empire hadn't dissolved, if the Israelites hadn't conquered Canaan (we can go back forever on this), but that is simply oblivious of geopolitical tendencies.


Chris said...

One also tends to ignore the Sunni/Shiite "rivalry" which is an understatement. One can see this in the lack of support and flat out denouncing of the Shiite Hezbollah's actions by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (Sunni Muslim countries). Lebanon itself is Shiite Muslim, but about 40% is Christian, too (most Middle Eastern Christians have fled the region altogether). Unfortunately, Israel is stuck in a position where it has to strike at a terrorist group that has taken over much of a country whose government is too weak to do anything (because the country was recently run by Syria until last year). The result of this is anger at Israel instead of Hezbollah. But the international reaction has been interesting to say the least -most international leaders, I think, realize that there's a lot more going on here than it seems.

Elaine said...

Yeah exactly, I was hearing that countries in the region are worried not as much about Israel's reaction to Hezbollah but about this whole crisis aempowering Iran (even more).