Israel At War: 586 BCE-1982-2010
by Phyllis Chesler
Imperfect, tiny Israel is truly a "light unto the nations." If only "the nations" would see it this way!
Israel is attacked by Turkey — and Israel, not Turkey, launches an investigation into the role its military played in defending their country. Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu took "overall responsibility" for what happened. He said that although professional mistakes were made at intelligence and operational levels, the killings were justified.
Turkey has yet to admit its genocidal massacre of the Armenians; we are still waiting for Turkey to launch its own internal investigation—and for the United Nations to demand that they do.
The Taliban slay ten altruists, saints: two Afghans and eight western medical human rights workers, all of whom gave up lucrative careers and safe lives in order to minister to the same Afghan people whom the Taliban neglects and torments. I am waiting for President Karzai to take "full responsibility" and to disband, not negotiate with, the Taliban.
And, by the way, the Taliban also just publicly executed Bibi Sanubar, a pregnant widow whom they first kept in captivity for three days and then publicly flogged 200 times. Her crime? Alleged adultery.
Where is the United Nations condemnation of this and other crimes against women being carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, not to mention all over the Islamic world?
We, who for now safely occupy front-row seats on the sidelines of war which we may view on television or in the theater, would do well to see the following films. There are certain films which capture what war is like for soldiers, such as The Hurt Locker (2008), which won Kathryn Bigelow an Oscar for Best Director. The film is not "political" but is, rather, about the "high" or addictive nature of war. Really, it is about the kind of warrior who is not fit for domestic life or even for civilization but who comes alive, shines, is at his best when he faces death like a gladiator to defuse a bomb. Jeremy Renner plays Staff Sgt. William James brilliantly. I want him just where he is—but I would not like to meet him in a locker room or in a bar, not to mention in a marriage.
Israeli filmmakers keep going back to the first war in Lebanon, at least for film material. Joseph Cedar revisited 1982 in his film Beaufort, as did Ari Folman in Waltz with Bashir. This latest and new Israeli film, Lebanon, shows us a very different kind of warrior. Like Cedar and Folman, Lebanon's director, Samuel Maoz, is still haunted by Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon.
Folman focused on the "bystander" phenomenon; he morally wrestled with Israel's having stepped aside and done nothing to stop the Christian Phalangists from pursuing the Palestinian terrorists who were terrorizing and attempting to take over their country. The Christian Phalangist massacre at refugee camps Sabra and Shatila is rarely remembered as an act of Christian revenge; the Phalangists are rarely blamed for the massacre that they themselves committed. The world still blames Israel for having allowed it, for having refused to risk its own soldiers in order to stop it. Israelis (at least leftists and filmmakers) can't let it go either.
Allow me to suggest that one reason might be that Jews have long suffered from such a bystander phenomenon. Throughout our history, so many people — Christians and Muslims, both in the West and in the East — have functioned as "bystanders" in the incessant massacres and genocidal slaughter of the Jews. Jewish Israelis are supremely tuned to this phenomenon. We all know that evil people commit evil deeds. But where are the good people? Why don't they stop them? If the bystanders don't stop the evil-doers, are they really good people after all?
Please recall: From 1975-1991, Lebanon was engaged in a nasty civil war. Actually, it is one that continues. Just the other day, Lebanese fired on Israeli soldiers who were on Israeli land; Michael Young, in today's Wall Street Journal, suggests that "the incident might be best understood as a power play between Syria on one side and Hezbollah and Iran on the other.
Long ago, in addition to Palestinian terrorists and their civilian hostages, both Syria and Iran had colonized — yes, colonized – large parts of Lebanon. In 1982, Iran's Hezbollah moved in, Syria assassinated the Christian Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel, and the PLO shelled Israeli communities along the border. More recently, in 2005, Syria also assassinated Lebanon's ex-Prime Minister, a Sunni Muslim, Rafik Hariri. That matter is far from over and now his son, Saad Harari, might be forced by Saudi Arabia to make an anti-Hezbollah alliance with the very Syrians who murdered his father.
Yes, this is Israel's backyard, these are her neighbors. In the latest Israeli film Lebanon, a Christian Phalangist, or possibly an Iranian member of Hezbollah, specifically, graphically, enjoys telling a shackled Syrian captive exactly how he plans to torture him: first he will gouge out one eye, not two, so that the Syrian can still see what else they will do to him—and after a day he will be tied to two cars and dismembered. Yes, these are the kinds of barbarians, sadistic torturers, whom Israel faces on the front lines.
Still, Israeli soldiers are nothing like this. As shown, they are primarily civilians, not hardened gladiators or torturers. They are very young, untested, rather sweet, humane. The tank gunner hesitates to shoot the suicide car speeding towards them—and his hesitation gets an Israeli soldier killed. Two soldiers want to be sure that their commander radios to their mothers (!) that they are still alive and, when they fear they are doomed, some soldiers cry out for their mothers.
I am not saying that Israeli soldiers are "sissies," not battle-ready, failures at soldiering. On the contrary. The Israeli Defense Force has won enough wars of self-defense to be beyond such criticism. I am saying that despite having to fight, Israeli soldiers are still human, humane, capable of saving civilians (they do so in the film and in real life), and they try to rescue hostages held by Palestinians, Iranians, Syrians, and Arab Christians. They are, quite possibly, the most ethical army in the world, which is why their demonization is so diabolical.
In the film Lebanon, we are with the soldiers in their claustrophobic tank as they navigate through Hell. The tank gunner and one on-the-ground soldier are killed, the tank commander has some kind of breakdown; eleven ground troops and three tank soldiers survive. The action is taut, painful, slightly funny, but we are with them all the way; we share their limited view. Neither we nor the soldiers understand what this battle means in terms of the larger war. Along their route, the soldiers pass a bombed-out travel agency with large, improbable photos of Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower—and of our own Twin Towers of the World Trade Center which, at the time, were still standing.
As Americans, as Westerners, we are with these four soldiers in their tank in every sense. Now, we are all Israelis.
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--Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Author of Infidel and Nomad
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