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Following end of the ’67 battles, the Israeli government decided to knock down the barriers separating Eastern Jerusalem and annex the eastern Palestinian neighborhoods. Expecting immediate American pressure to withdraw from the conquered territories, the government rushed in and took control. The pressure never came. That expectation was based on past experience: In 1956 the US forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Desert back to the international border, in three months. In 1967, though, surprisingly, no such demand was made. On the contrary the Americans allowed Israel to start a construction lunge, building neighborhoods in Eastern Jerusalem, settlements in the West Bank, in Sinai, and in the Golan Heights. Not only was there no pressure to withdraw, but Israel received a generous three billion dollars funding yearly, which went mainly to subsidize the American weapon industry.
The difference between 1956 and 1967 is in the political context. In 1956 Israel attacked Egypt in cooperation with the UK and France, who were grabbing to get the Suez Canal back under their control, after being nationalized two years earlier by Gamal Abd el-Nasser. The US and the USSR, WWII victors, were interested in blocking the declining empires of Great Britain and France, while encouraging the independence of the post-colonial world. And so Israel was punished on the attack in 1956, and made to retreat. In 1967, on the other hand, the US and USSR were deep in the Cold War, and the cooperation between the USSR, Egypt and Syria encouraged the US to support and boost the military power of Israel.
The Israelis, who felt threatened and surrounded by enemies till then, and who still had not overcome the Holocaust’s trauma, were thrilled by the backing of the mighty US, and blinded by the power. Some took it as divine influence and turned to messianic beliefs, and yet others saw it in terms of pure military force and developed a shallow, pervasively militaristic outlook. However, in effect, Israel became trapped by the US: it has become the spearhead of American presence in the Middle East, which carries with it a dear price of aggression, arrogance, and continuing conflict. Already in 1973 it became clear that the “aerial arms train” sent by the US could not save the 2700 Israeli soldiers, victims of a moronic policy relying solely on military force. In other words, the American support was a historical disaster to Israel. The occupation and settlement regime that followed, for 35 years now, corrupted Israel morally and politically. The messianic-religious and military elites shape the discourse of Israeli politics, and no policy holds against their interests.
President Bush’s current policy brings Israel even closer to danger, greater than ever before, in leaps and bounds, without any public debate, since the Israeli government depends on the US and cannot object. After Sharon received full backing for canceling the Oslo agreements, disbanding the Palestinian Authority, re-conquering the Gaza strip, de-legitimizing Arafat and turning the Palestinian cities to no more than large prisons, how can he object to attacking Iraq? The Israeli government is the only government in the world that unconditionally stands by the Bush administration in attacking Iraq, though her citizens are the only ones expected to be hurt by this war, almost certainly. Ariel Sharon proudly declared that “Israel is the best prepared nation in the world for a chemical or biological attack” (Yediot Aharonot, 6.9.02). What he did not add is that its civilians are the only ones in the world under real threat of being hit by chemical and biological weapons.
There is no doubt that if the Iraqi people suffer serious damage from the US, the majority of Arab nations will largely view using unconventional warfare on Israel as legitimate. There is also no doubt that if Israel will be attacked by chemical or biological missiles, the majority of the Israeli public will support a nuclear strike on Iraq. Sharon will certainly take the chance to mass-deport Palestinians into Jordan, a move that the current IDF chief of staff recently hinted upon when he defined the Palestinians as a “cancer,” offering “amputation” as a possible solution (Haaretz, 31.8.02). The consequences of an American strike on Iraq would undoubtedly be a disaster to the entire Middle East, at the very least.
Any reasonable Israeli must object to a war endangering him and his family, that can spell a disaster to the future of his country. But we are stuck in the same 35-year-old problem: our government is run by messianic-nationalists and a war-craving military elite, who get support and encouragement from the extremist conservatives of the Bush administration. We are captives of the US, unable to say No. There is no political force able to defend the vital interests of the state of Israel and its citizens, because the US has invested large funds and prestige in Israel, and now it wants to get some profit back. We must stand against this war, as independent Israeli citizens. The US is not doing us any favor – it is endangering us for it’s own aggressive interests as a financial and military superpower.
We have to say: No Thank You, Mr. President!
Lev Grinberg is a political sociologist, and the Director of the Humphrey Institute for Social Research at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.
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