By Yossi Klein Halevi | 10/09/2009
The conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas is in reality two fronts of a war against genocidal Islamism that must eventually bring us into direct dispute with Iran. At the same time, the responsibility of the people of Israel is not only to be on the front line against terror but to be on the front line for dialogue. Not only to help stop evil, but to help empower good
Three times in the last century, the Jewish people have found themselves on the front line against totalitarian ideologies with aspirations to rule the world, and which defined the Jewish people as its primary obstacle in fulfilling that goal. Those ideologies were Nazism, Soviet communism and now fundamentalist Islam. Whether by destiny or fate, the people of Israel act as a brake against evil.
Though the government insists on calling the conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas an "operation," it is in fact a war against a genocidal Islamism that preaches the satanic nature of the Jewish people, and the divine imperative to destroy the Jewish state. This war will have periods of greater intensity and lesser intensity. There will be ceasefires, and probably prisoner exchanges. But those will be mere respites. The war will go on for many months, perhaps years. It may well define this generation.
Though the war is now being fought against Hezbollah and Hamas, it will transcend those Iranian proxies and eventually engage one way or another, Iran itself. One crucial result of this war must be the destruction of Iran's nuclear capability, which, if completed, would provide the religious genocidalists with the ability to turn theology into practice. From Israel's point of view, it is obviously preferable for NATO or the United States to do the job. But if NATO hesitates and if President Bush is too weakened by Iraq and a divided America to act, then that leaves, by default, us.
Though far from optimal, allowing Iran's nuclear facilities to turn lethal would be even worse than an Israeli attack. Imagine confronting a Hezbollah backed by a nuclear Iran. Would we be able to defend our northern border knowing that an attack on Hezbollah could provoke an Iranian nuclear attack against Tel Aviv? That prospect is not inconceivable: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes that the Muslim messianic age is about to be inaugurated by the destruction of Israel. Certainly Israel has the capacity to deliver an overwhelming second strike. But the deterrence worked during the Cold War against the Soviet Union may fail against an enemy that welcomes death as a prelude to eternal life. In essence, a nuclear Iran could be the ultimate suicide bomber.
The missile war in Lebanon and in Gaza is, in fact, the second stage of the war that began six years ago, in September 2000. Erroneously, and ultimately self-defeating, we accepted Palestinian terminology of Islamist suicide bombings as "the second intifada". Unlike the intifada of the late 1980s, which united Palestinian Christians and Muslims against the occupation, the war that began in 2000 has only been fought by Islamists and only after Israel tried to end the occupation. Not coincidentally, there have been no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers. The Palestinian cause had shifted from national struggle to jihad.
Nevertheless, some among us insist on distinguishing between Hezbollah and Hamas. While Hezbollah is an operational extension of the Shi'ite Iranian revolution, Hamas, they claim, represents the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. In fact, Hamas represents the undoing of Palestinian national aspirations. For Hamas, a Palestinian state is merely a means to an end: the resurrection of the medieval caliphate and the transformation of the Middle East into a single Islamist state. The rise of Hamas, then, has completed the process that began with the suicide bombings, of Islamizing the conflict. The so-called second intifada has destroyed the achievement of the first intifada, which convinced a majority of Israelis that former prime minister Golda Meir had been wrong to insist there was no such thing as the Palestinian people and, moreover, that a distinct Palestinian identity had indeed emerged. In rejecting mere nationalism, Hamas is returning the Palestinians to their pre-national consciousness, when Palestinians were part of an amorphous Arab or Muslim identity. The first casualty of the jihad, then, has been a viable Palestinian national identity, and with it, the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
|The rise of Hamas has completed the process that began with the suicide bombings, of Islamizing the conflict. The so-called second intifada has destroyed the achievement of the first intifada, which convinced a majority of Israelis that former prime minister Golda Meir had been wrong to insist there was no such thing as the Palestinian people and, moreover, that a distinct Palestinian identity had indeed emerged. In rejecting mere nationalism, Hamas is returning the Palestinians to their pre-national consciousness, when Palestinians were part of an amorphous Arab or Muslim identity|
What unites Shi'ite Hezbollah and Sunni Hamas is the theology of genocide. Both organizations preach that the Holocaust never happened, even as they actively plan the next one. According to the Hamas Covenant, every ill in the world, from the French Revolution to the two world wars, was provoked by the Jews. For its part, Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV station spread the story that the Mossad was behind the attack of September 11, and warned 4,000 Jews who worked in the World Trade Center to stay home that day -- a calumny that is now accepted, according to polls, by majorities throughout the Muslim world.
The Islamists' grievance isn't only that they were conquered and occupied but that they have failed, so far, to conquer and occupy. Like Hezbollah, Hamas won't "moderate" with the responsibility of power. To believe otherwise is to underestimate the power of religion. For Hamas is not a political movement but a faith. And for Hamas to abandon its goal of Israel's destruction is to commit heresy against the core of that faith. Religious change, even among fundamentalists, is surely possible; but it is a process measured not in months, but in decades or centuries.
In targeting Gaza and Lebanon, Israel is sending a simultaneous message: It is time for the Arab world to take responsibility for its actions. What Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora share is a self-willed helplessness to act against the terrorists in their midst. In large measure, the Oslo process failed because the international community allowed Palestinians to continue to act as victims, rather than as responsible peace partners prepared to exploit the extraordinary circumstances they enjoyed for creating a state. Those circumstances included virtually unlimited international political and financial support, and the willingness of a majority of Israelis - induced, in part, by a justifiably guilty conscience - to consider previously unthinkable scenarios, like ceding part of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat. Imagine what the Tibetans, or the Kurds, could have done with that level of political goodwill and foreign aid. Indeed, more international aid went to the Palestinian Authority than to any other entity in the world. Perhaps the greatest defeat the Palestinians inflicted upon themselves was to lose the patience of the international community and Israel's guilty conscience.
In conversations I've had over the years with Palestinians, invariably my interlocutor would offer a version of the following: "You and I, we are little people. The 'big ones' are only interested in their political seats. They don't care if we suffer." I used to find that sentiment moving, an attempt by Palestinians to create a common humanity with Israelis. But now I see that as an expression of self-induced helplessness, precisely why the Palestinians and the Lebanese have allowed our common tragedy to reach this point.
The war in the north is not a violation of Lebanese sovereignty but an affirmation of it. And in targeting the democratically elected Hamas government, Israel is telling the Palestinians that there is a price to pay for empowering the theology of genocide. If the only alternative to a corrupt Fatah that Palestinian society can generate is a non-corrupt Hamas, then Palestine deserves to be a pariah. Israel's policy, then, is to stop patronizing the Lebanese and the Palestinians and relate to them as adults responsible for their fates.
Some are beginning to understand this. In an article published in the Kuwaiti English-language newspaper Arab Times, the editor-in-chief, Ahmed Al-Jarallah, wrote, "This war was inevitable as the Lebanese government could bring Hezbollah within its authority and make it work for the interests of Lebanon. Similarly leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has been unable to rein in the Hamas movement. Unfortunately we must admit that in such a war the only way to get rid of these 'irregular phenomena' is what Israel is doing. The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of the people of Arab countries and the international community."
The war, then, is not only inciting Islamists, but may, potentially, embolden moderates. And just as we need to be resolute against the pathologies of the Middle East, so we need to be open to its changes. The responsibility of the people of Israel is not only to be on the front line against terror but to be on the front line for dialogue. Not only to help stop evil, but to help empower good.
Our war is against Islamism, not Islam. And while Islamism may be immutable, Islam, like any great faith, is capable of growth. Religions evolve, in part, by selective quoting from their scriptures. After the Holocaust, when the Catholic Church rejected its 2,000-year entrenched anti-Jewish theology, it did so by emphasizing those verses in the New Testament affirming God's love for the Jewish people and downplaying other verses vilifying it. Likewise, there are sources in the Koran and other Islamic texts to justify not only jihad and repression of Jews and Christians under Islamic rule but to justify a modern Islamic theology of religious pluralism, perhaps even of accepting a Jewish state.
Indeed, now is, potentially, an historic turning point for Islam. Through the traumatic pressures of civilizational conflict, Islam is being given the opportunity to grow. And like large parts of the Christian world during the Reformation and large parts of the Jewish world during the Enlightenment, at least a part of the Islamic world is capable of responding to the challenge of reexamining outmoded religious ideas. We see the first courageous signs of Muslim dissent; those voices need to be appreciated and nurtured as potential harbingers, rather than dismissed as lone eccentrics.
As the war intensifies, and as we complete the security barrier, it becomes increasingly difficult for Israel to find Muslim dialogue partners. But 1.2 million Arabs, most of them Muslims, will remain on the Israeli side of the barrier. And for now, they are practically our only hope, however slender, of maintaining any sort of dialogue with the Muslim world. For Jews, the presence of Arabs among us should be seen not just as a problem but as an opportunity.
With Hezbollah missiles falling on Arab towns and villages in the north, this war has emphasized the untenability of being an Arab citizen of Israel. On the one hand, there is a coerced commonality of shared citizenship between Arabs and Jews: when pro-Hezbollah demonstrators in Amman chanted "Burn Haifa", their apocalyptic longings doomed the city's Arabs too. Yet this war has also produced widespread expressions among Arab Israelis of support for Hezbollah, or at the very least, of blame for Israel for the conflict.
That disparity makes it all the more urgent, for both Arabs and Jews, to begin a serious national dialogue. The dialogue needs to deal with the full complexity of our relationship, including the shameful discrimination against Arab citizens and the shameful expressions of treason repeatedly voiced by Arab parliamentarians. As the majority in this country, the Jews need to reach out and reassure the Arab minority that they are prepared to accommodate it in the consciousness of the Jewish state. And as part of the majority in the region, Arab citizens of Israel need to reassure the Jews that they won't conspire with the region's attempts to deny them a place in it.
The Jewish return home will continue to be incomplete without a return of the Jewish state to the Middle East. Unlike the dreams of the 1990s, that return won't happen merely through negotiations and territorial concessions. Perhaps in restoring our national will to fight evil and in diminishing the power of genocidal Islamism, we will finally empower those of our neighbors who are prepared to accept our return home.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a foreign correspondent for The New Republic and a senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.