Recently I have been corresponding with a well-known journalist who writes from time to time for a national newspaper on the subject of the Middle East, and particularly Israel. His perspective on this tortuous question, like that of most journalists and columnists, is distinctly unfavorable to the Jewish state.
For example, he regards the Israeli response to the Hamas terror campaign as “disproportionate,” describes Hamas as a “raggedy half-starved guerilla force,” dismisses the thousands of rockets launched by Hamas and its outriders on Sderot and the Gaza-belt communities as “home-made missiles [as] dangerous as fire-crackers,” denounces Israel’s human rights record, recruits young American Jews who have no idea of their people’s history and Israel’s travails as witnesses to buttress the thesis that Israel is only seeking “vengeance,” and all the rest of the media drivel we are daily pummeled with.
Any competent researcher knows that such allegations are a tissue of lies that can be easily refuted. Undernourishment? Every Hamas and Fatah operative I have seen depicted in the newspapers and on TV looks robust and well-fed, and the civilians photographed in the midst of their ululations often seem, well, rotund. Half-page spreads of stricken neighbourhoods reveal quite impressive buildings in the background. The fire-crackers? The Hamas arsenal includes state-of-the-art Iranian-supplied missiles—long-range Grads and 120 mm. mortars that have inflicted considerable havoc and devastation.
The less sophisticated Kassams, landing in Sderot at an average of three a day for years, have produced their results too: more than three quarters of Sderot’s young suffer from acute PTSD and psychological regression and half the businesses there have closed down or relocated. And when it comes to the casualty count, tallied always to highlight the suffering of Gaza, few media sources record that since the turn of this century nearly 1200 Israelis have been killed by the terrorists and many more thousands have been maimed and wounded.
My correspondent apparently has no knowledge of such incontrovertible facts or perhaps has decided to suppress them. The tenor of his articles, like that of the majority of his peers, can be explained only by a thorough ignorance of Middle East complexities or manifest bad faith. All this is standard fare and should no longer surprise us.
But what is perhaps most damaging to the prospect of Israel’s continued existence is the growing conviction that the creation of Israel was an egregious mistake. This is the assumption that underlies every unmediated censure of Israel, from specific accusations to general condemnation. My correspondent suggests that it will be only a matter of time before the Arabs get the bomb. “If this is so,” he asks, “then wasn't creating Israel a mistake?” For in establishing the Jewish state in the Middle East rather than on the moon, the United Nations and the signatories of Recognition only assured the perpetuation of increasingly calamitous wars in the region.
Some mistakes can be rectified, others cannot. But in the case of Israel, the “mistake” of its founding can presumably be undone. The historical error can be corrected by erasing Israel from the map, the solution attempted by the Arab nations in their wars of aggression beginning in 1948. It is currently proposed by the Iranian regime and enshrined in the Covenants of Fatah and Hamas. While many commentators tactfully refrain from drawing this pseudological conclusion, the drift of their thinking leads inexorably in this direction.
But the terms in which the argument is framed are misleading and duplicitous. Whether or not Israel was a “mistake” is entirely immaterial. The fact is that one could apply this way of thinking to practically the whole of Africa, whose countries’ borders, drawn by the departing colonial powers, did not respect tribal loyalties and have consequently led to bloody and endemic conflicts which give no indication of ever being resolved. The same applies to the hotspots of the Middle East, where geometrical protractors and straight-line rulers determined the so-called territorial integrity of nations.
Modern Syria, a dismembered portion of the Ottoman Empire, acquired its present dimensions under the French Mandate. Lebanon was a French experiment in border alignment. Jordan was a British afterthought. Iraq is really three different polities jammed willy-nilly into one. Yemen is a hodgepodge cobbled together from the Aden Protectorate, South Yemen and North Yemen, now being sealed off by a Saudian Arabian wall. Iran and the United Arab Emirates, themselves carved out of Oman, are squabbling over two Gulf islands. It's not only a question of Israel. A wider, potentially binding peace would require the territorial re-drawing of almost the entire region. Since none of these things are going to happen, it is counter-productive and distracting to start wondering about this mistake or that mistake, and certainly prejudicial to focus exclusively on Israel to the exclusion of its artifically constructed, immediate neighbors. We are not dealing any longer with might have been or ought to have been but with current geopolitical facts that are resistant to anterior speculation.
Under existing conditions, the best the Middle East can hope for is a long cold peace and even this is probably an Arcadian notion. We must learn to live with the situation as best we can, just as people who are afflicted with serious illness must take the proper measures in order to survive, stick to their medications, expect relapses and seek treatment no matter how stopgap. There's no point wondering what might have been had they not contracted their infirmity by having acted differently in the past or expecting that somehow the disease will be pacified and magically disappear by some sort of “talking cure.” The Middle East is sick with an incurable disease; all it can strive for is occasional remission and approximate recovery after yet another malign episode. This is what Reality is telling us; pious hopes only make things worse, as the last sixty years should have made clear by this time.
In the real world there are some “problems” for which there are no satisfactory solutions. To believe otherwise, to assume that negotiation, dialogue and diplomacy can eventually resolve even the most intractable predicament or standoff, that it is only a matter of time until belligerents of whatever stamp or provenance can be made to see the light, and that all peoples desperately want nothing more than peace, prosperity and equitable arrangements between them, is a utopian delusion of the first magnitude. Its effect can be catastrophic and frequently is.
The Middle East has been ailing for 3000 years and will not be healed tomorrow, next year, or even next century, if we get that far. One thinks of Irving Kristol’s insightful remark that “Whom the gods would destroy they first tempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Some mistakes have to be abided—and controlled, if necessary, by aggressive countermeans, just as a chronic ailment requires constant supervision and appropriate remedies. As for Israel, it's only hope for survival is to bring about an armed truce from a position of deterrent power. Whether or not Israel is a “mistake,” as long as it continues to exist it will have to remain on a war footing.
I, for one, do not believe that Israel is a mistake—its millennial hereditament alone renders it a legitimate nation. But even if Israel is regarded as a mistake by its critics and revilers, it would be no more of a mistake than some of its most intransigent enemies. As I replied to my correspondent, let us be honest for a change.