Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. — Khalil Gibran A conflict begins and ends in the hearts and minds of people, not in the hilltops. — Amos Oz
After a brutal six-week war, the Lebanese are trudging back to their burned-out cities to begin sifting through the rubble. South of the border, Israelis are emerging from bomb shelters, looking forward to welcoming those who left their homes for safer areas. Both sides are recovering from a situation that needn’t have happened. How many times must we witness this scenario?
In February of this year, I wrote an article for my site (www.awakenthesenses.com) called “Dictating Democracy to the Arab World.” In the final paragraph, I wrote, “Fidel Castro once said, ‘A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.’” This struggle [between Arabs and Israelis] does not have to be literal. It can be a struggle for awareness. Awareness influences action, and only positive action will help others embrace human rights and democracy. Negative action – e.g., a good military drubbing – has never produced permanent and positive results in the Middle East. Why should we expect it to work this time?
Apparently, the world’s leaders must be continually reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The Bush Administration could certainly use the reminder. It delayed diplomatic action, hoping that maybe this battle would give the U.S. the upper hand in the “War on Terror.” Instead, this latest action has provided Hezbollah with more support and legitimacy than it ever could have expected under a lasting, multilateral peace treaty.
I can hear the “giant sucking sound” of angry young boys (and some girls), who are now more willing than ever to join any terrorist group that will have them. Regardless of how many parties claim victory in the days ahead, the civilians caught in the crossfire have already lost. Eventually, an “eye for an eye” will leave us all blind.
Hezbollah was born during the Israeli military occupation of Southern Lebanon in 1982. The Israelis invaded to stop Palestinian incursions from Lebanon, and were rewarded with Hezbollah. Popular support for Hezbollah grew in response to Israeli control of Lebanese territory, as did public support for Hamas in the Palestinian Territories. Each has tried its hand at entering the mainstream, but Israel and the United States have preferred isolation over engagement.
There is no doubt that the Middle East is a complicated place. The region is ancient. It’s the birthplace of three major religions that, in combination, espouse enough conflicting dogma to confuse anyone. The place has been colonized, occupied, brutalized (by the Crusaders and others), and divided into artificial states and kingdoms. The land has produced vicious dictators such as Saddam Hussein, as well as poets like Khalil Gibran, who express humanity’s deepest hopes. There is much to love and much to loathe.
Regrettably, too many people focus on what is loathsome.
In more than 15 years of studying the Middle East, I’ve heard it all – again and again. The Arabs did this; the Israelis did that. Don’t get me wrong: there are legitimate grievances on both sides that need to be processed, but we must set aside the past, at least for awhile, and concentrate on the “now” in order to create a better tomorrow – or there will be no tomorrow for anyone.
It’s high time that we in the West start helping the region focus on the “now.”
First and foremost, we must stop supplying weapons. Over the past decade, the United States has transferred more than $17 billion in military aid to Israel, a country of just over six million people. In 2005, Israel received $2.25 billion in Foreign Military Financing, and President George W. Bush’s budget request for 2007 includes an additional $2.24 billion in Foreign Military Financing aid for Israel.1
Hezbollah possesses a few hundred Iranian Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 missiles, which have a range of 30 to 45 miles and carry large explosive payloads. Some sources assert that Hezbollah has thousands of missiles, most from Iran.2 The armies of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria also have their share of weapons imported from the U.S. and others. Combined, these arsenals are smaller than Israel’s and cannot compete technologically,3 but even minimal numbers coupled with random acts of terrorism are unquestionably threatening.
Part of any deal with Iran must involve stopping weapons transfers and withdrawing support for terrorist organizations. The U.S. also needs to put its money where its mouth is. Sorry Congress, there goes that excess lobbying money, but it is for the greater good. Besides, I believe it’s high time that all those military contractors like Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Bechtel put their highly skilled employees to work on alternative energy technologies or something that will actually help people. Maybe nuclear fission can be employed as the next energy source instead being used in the next warhead.
Here is another obstacle that must be overcome – one that I gleaned from reading Madeleine Albright’s book, Madame Secretary. The problem is this: every time the parties get close to an agreement, someone is permitted to sneak through the back door and mess it up. In her book, she explains how Ariel Sharon entered the peace talks near the end of the process, and negated everything that had been achieved, forcing everyone to start over. It would be very helpful if those involved in future talks agreed on ways to prevent this sort of sabotage.
On August 4, 2005, Dr. Aharon Klieman gave a talk at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. entitled, An Israeli Perspective on Gaza Disengagement. Dr. Klieman argued that real separation of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples is not viable “in any sense.” I would argue that Israel’s separation from any part of the
1 Berrigan, Frida and Hartung, William, US Military Assistance and Arms Transfers to Israel: US Aid, Companies Fuel Israeli Military, A World Policy Institute Issue Brief, The New School, July 20, 2006. 2 New York Times, Monday, July 17, 2006 3 Middle East Military Balance at a Glance, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, May 16, 2004 region is detrimental to its safety. It is not only time for the U.S. to help Israel move away from constant confrontation, it is time for the Israeli government to reach out to its neighbors – putting away some, not all, of its fear and suspicion. Only then can it shed its status as a “pariah state” and become part of the equation needed to make the Middle East a more democratic and peaceful place.
The caveat here is that Israel must come to an agreement with the Palestinians. If not, any engagement will be in vain. If Israel is serious about its safety, it must first negotiate peace with its closest neighbors, and worry about the rest later. There is peace with the Jordanians, Egyptians, Moroccans and others, but the Palestinian “problem” is a match waiting to be thrown into a huge barrel of gunpowder.
Finally, let’s recognize that lasting peace is not made unilaterally, but requires a multilateral decision-making process. No one is alone in this world, and to make it through the next millennium, we’re going to have to do it together. Shall we choose justice for all, or bombs for all?