“We are tired of fighting. We are tired of being heroes. Tired of winning. Tired of beating our enemies,” stated Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last year in an address in the US. This fatigue appears to have reverberated throughout Israeli society. This was no more apparent to me than at a photographic exhibition of the recent Lebanese War I visited at the Dizengoff Centre a couple of weeks ago.
Reflected in the photographs of bleeding, bedraggled soldiers is not the image of victory. The images are images of loss and relinquishment. An army frustrated and de-motivated by constantly changing orders, restraint in the face of attack, poor leadership and lack of basics such as food and water. The photographs are not the inspirational kind of the sleek IDF fighting forces that we have been brought up on. Indeed, how could they be when our Prime Minister is tired of winning and has himself given up?
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister and the country that he “leads” this is not a region where one can fatigue of winning. This is, and always has been, a zone of war. This sad reality was reinforced last weekend on a day trip to the ancient city of Caeseria. While reading the history of the numerous conquests, the many battles and the different empires that have ruled the region, and placing this history in the context of the painfully beautiful ancient ruins, which have been almost totally destroyed and rebuilt time and time again, it struck me that there has never been a time of peace. A time where no threat was imminent; where people could enjoy the magnificent view of the Mediterranean from the steps of the Roman Theatre, could stroll carefree along the cobbled streets, support chariot races at the recently discovered track or bathe in the magnificent bath houses. A time where people could lead a ‘normal life’ without the threat of its being shattered by a battle cry.
In such a region, it seems to me that different rules apply. This was stated by Professor Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in an interview on targeted killings in the Jerusalem Report of January 8, 2007. Walzer, with whose political views I am unacquainted, and who I therefore quote tentatively, stated in response to a question as to when targeted killing is justified, that: “Lets take a look at an American example. In November 2002, the United States used a missile fired from an aerial drone to assassinate six al-Qaeda members in Yemen. Now, had this attack taken place in Afghanistan, it would have been seen as an acceptable military operation. Had it happened in Philadelphia, people would have been horrified…The difference between the two cases is the difference between a zone of war and a zone of peace.”
The Middle East, for me, is at present a zone of war, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise, and no matter how many painful sacrifices we may be willing to make. With a ceasefire that has not been honoured from its very first day, kassams raining down on the south, weapons no longer being smuggled from Egypt to the Palestinians but shipped openly and with our consent, Iran finally declaring its intent to develop nuclear weapons in the face of UN sanctions (as if that was at any point in doubt) and a peace broker (Egypt), with whom we are meant to be at peace, refusing to conduct negotiations in Israeli territory, this does not seem to me in any way to be a zone of peace.
Indeed, the only thing that should horrify people in this region is the failure of our government to realise this and act accordingly. Instead of heeding military intelligence and advice, Olmert has brashly removed roadblocks in the West Bank and given many more chances than deserved to a cease fire with no beginning. Our policy of restraint does not make us more moral or more humane in the eyes of the world, for whom we will always be the unjust aggressor. It only serves to strengthen our enemies and offer them time to build up an array of weaponry against us and our civilian populations; and to make life unbearable for the residents of Sderot and other southern towns who fall within the field of the kassam barrage.
With all of the criticism of French forces in Lebanon (who as of November 2006 were given the okay to fire at Israeli Air Force fighter jets flying over Lebanese air space should they feel “threatened”), the question is when will our troops be given similar orders? When will rockets being fired at us and our civilian centres, and nukes being prepared for use against us be a sufficient threat to wake the government from its fatigued slumber? If nothing will do so, then it is time for Olmert and his weak sidekicks to step aside and let a competent and vibrant government, take his place. One who can recognise the threats and act to eliminate them. One that realises that zones of war, as this is, exist under different rules. Rules that we desperately need to apply.