Creating people's geographies
Ha’aretz Thur 10 Aug 2006
Now it is already clear that the goal of the war is – how original – to win! And it actually makes no difference what this victory signifies in real terms, such as stopping the Katyusha fire or security arrangements. The only thing that matters is giving the Israeli public a feeling that “we showed them.”
The feeling of victory is a subjective, internal Israeli matter, just as restoring “deterrence capability” – the description of the war’s goals that most closely approaches rationality – is also an internal Israeli matter that bears no relationship to the enemy’s perceptions. After all, every time we have gone to war with the slogan of creating “deterrence capability” (at least three times), it has actually spurred the enemy to prepare for a more serious confrontation. The last time it was called “searing the Palestinians’ consciousness,” and its results were the victory of Hamas and a bleeding blind alley in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There is no better proof of this subjectivity and unilateralism than the arbitrary description of the enemy: “the Arab world,” which must be “deterred.” What threatening Arab world remains after the peace with Egypt and Jordan and the occupation of Iraq? Qatar? Unless the Israeli operation is a self-fulfilling prophecy that in itself has recreated the threatening “Arab world,” so that now, we can once again wallow in the old familiar demon.
It is true that this demon is somewhat shopworn, and therefore we have to add Iran. But deterring Iran is already another matter, unless we turn this local incident into a kind of “Sarajevo 1914” of “a war of civilizations.” In that case, Israel Defense Forces soldiers are falling on the altar of a global “proxy war” that Israel has volunteered to spearhead.
Since the war’s essence, goals and outcome will be determined only after the fact, we can assume that it will be recalled as a controversial event, which began with patriotic solidarity but ended with profound debates and wider social gaps. The superficial discussion (more appropriate to a Toto betting form) as to who won and who lost – or perhaps we will “make do with a tie” – is only marginally influenced by the real outcome of the war. But the war itself will have a profound influence on what happens in the region, and in Israel in particular – an influence such that, had the war’s perpetrators been aware of it, they would have thought twice before deciding to turn a border incident into a campaign involving millions of people.
With tragic consistency, every time the public discourse has been open to discussions of a new Israeli agenda, security issues have restored the concept of “the existential threat” that has suffocated these efforts. That is what happened on the eve of the 1967 war, before the 1973 war, during the Lebanon War and during the Gulf War. Now, after a commitment to social welfare was central to the election campaign, and the present coalition was taking its first steps on the path of repairing the damage caused by the neo-liberal policy of former finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the war has come along and reinstated the security agenda for many years to come.
How will Israeli society bear the additional economic burden that will be placed on it as a result of the war? The slow and rickety process of improving relations between Israel and the moderate Arab states has been interrupted, and is being replaced by a process of radicalization, which first and foremost frightens the leaders of the countries who signed peace treaties with Israel. One need only listen to the despair of Jordan’s King Abdullah II in order to understand what the destructive operations in Beirut have wrought. And under the aegis of the diversion in Lebanon, the IDF has killed almost 200 Palestinians in Gaza and imprisoned dozens of Palestinian Authority parliament members and ministers. In this situation, can we talk about evacuating outposts, convergence or the other subjects that were on the national agenda?
The war and the atmosphere that has prevailed in its wake have caused Israel to regress by a generation. It is no wonder that people see history as a cyclical process, and that this war (like its predecessors) is also seen as the “last lap of Israel’s War of Independence.” And with what fury we are stoning those who do not rush to fill the heroic role being forced on them, and instead counter it with a desire for normalcy. Those who began this unrestrained war want to inflate its importance, in order to justify the terrible – and steadily increasing – price that is being paid solely in order to achieve a victory for the gambler. But perhaps the fact that they are conducting a 1950s strategy with a 21st-century society and culture is cause for optimism: It will not work.