Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Weighing victimhood and competing suffering

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/10/2006

At a conference/Forum I attended today on NGOs working on migrant rights, I went to talk to a woman to get more information on an education kit on tolerance she had mentioned in one of her interventions. Upon learning that I was Lebanese and that I had done volunteer work (related to Peace education) during the war on Lebanon this July, she told me that she had family in Israel and that she was in Netanya during the war. And from there she started telling me how much solidarity she found in Israel, and how very little of that she saw in Lebanon. She said that something had to be done with Hezbollah and that Israel didn’t want to start a war but had to defend itself from the shells Hezbollah was sending on it… She then started explaining to me how people had to hide because of the shells that were intended on killing (isn’t that what shells usually do?)… She also told me a Lebanese friend of hers had written her thanking the Israeli government for doing the “cleaning up”…

And she went on talking for twenty minutes uninterrupted on her family’s history in suffering (that actually was very touching) and then tried to convince me how much Israel is tolerant and how much relations between groups are good (between Jews of all origins and even Jews and Arabs…).

I would have interrupted her were it not for her age (74 years old I think she said, but god knows her secret because she looked much younger). I will be seeing her tomorrow and I still wonder if I should answer her,  tell her how arrogant she was, how biased… That there is another side to the story; that her approach is a bit rosy, that Israel isn’t the dream country she thinks it is. That I am a peace seeker and that I do not identify with Arabs, but I do support Israeli Palestinians and non Israeli Palestinians in their struggle, even if I do not condone most of their actions (I actually condemn most of them). I do that as a humanist. Should I tell her that I consider Israel to be democratic but racist and I believe the system it has established nourishes racism within the Israeli community, but that I think racism is also a problem in Lebanon that should be tackled? Should I tell her that I do not see a difference between the logics of the IDF and that of Hezbollah, that I think they share the same language of hate and destruction? Should I tell her that I see no point in going into a competition on who is suffering the most… that this is a futile exercise because it’s not about quantity.

But I started thinking about the whole situation and saw how tragic the whole situation in the Middle East is. Tragic like in the ancient greek plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus. War between the Arab States and Israel was inevitable in 1948. The Arabs could have never accepted the creation of Israel. So to exist, Israel had no other choice but to impose itself through military means. War, destruction, death, displacement were inevitable.

Maybe one way out of this is for all parties to recognise that the 1948 war was a tragic affair, and so were the following wars. The different actors couldn’t have really acted in another manner. They were positioned in a way to make war and violence inevitable. By recognising it, they can maybe start asking the right questions on how to escape from this logic: How to make violence avoidable and irrelevant.

8 Responses to “Weighing victimhood and competing suffering”

  1. taltalk said

    I’ve read several of your blog posts and now feel comfortable enough to comment. I see that you can basically “feel” for both sides, though you are obvoiusly more pro-anything-but-israel, which is understandble.

    About the 1948 war (of independence, according to israelis, nakba, according to palestinians.)

    You said, and I quote, “So to exist, Israel had no other choice but to impose itself through military means.” In that one sentence you already misstated history. Israel did not IMPOSE itself through military means. Israel was ATTACKED by 5 arab nations and had no choice but to defend itself. Same in ’67. Same in ’73.

    I can understand your slant on the events, but at least use correct wording in your posts.

  2. Thank you for your comment taltalk.
    I obviously have my subjective point of view or slant as you put it. But I think you might have misinterpreted what I said or I probably failed to come through correctly. I was trying to escape the blame game or the “who started it first”, because such discussions are endless and fruitless (check the Haaretz talkback column for confirmation).

    Yes, the Arab armies attacked Israel first. But then the Yishuv had been preparing for war for years. It knew that the creation of Israel would eventually be refused by someone: the surrounding States, the non-Jewish majority in Palestine, the English, the United Nations… And it was ready to fight anyone of those actors if they opposed its plans, and that’s just what its militias did throughout the 1940s. Furthermore, it expected the war and started preparing for it (something the Arabs didn’t do, for many reasons that are too long to state) which explains why the Israeli forces were so numerous, well armed and trained.
    Needless to say the war was an occasion for the new Jewish State to expand the territories that were accorded to it by the UN Resolution and establish a Jewish majority within them. Under the partition plan Gaza and the West Bank (which included Beersheva) touched, and so did the West Bank and Galilea (that included Acre and Nazareth). The only isolated Arab territory was the city of Jaffa and all its suburbs except Tel Aviv. And were it not for the war there would have still been an Arab majority in these lands. The war in the Israeli perspective was certainly a battle for existence, but it was also a blessing. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Israeli archives that were published and worked on by the “new historians”. Benny Morris has lately said that not only the war was inevitable but that it was necessary for Israel.
    I didn’t want to get into all these issues, that’s why I used what I thought was a neutral term “impose itself through military means”. I didn’t talk about aggression or provocation… I didn’t talk about flight or expulsion… I tried to remain out of the Israeli and Palestinian narratives as much as I could. “Impose” refers to the result of an action and could apply to an offensive or a defensive action, so I think.

    A war was inevitable, and it was the only way, on one hand, to expand the State’s territories (for many reasons: security and defence, economical, demographical, hydrological, religious… and it’s an expansion that Israel kept on pursuing during the other wars) and to insure a Jewish majority within this State, on the other.

    The Arabs only realised by the end of 1947 (which is pretty daft of them, I agree) that the only way they could stop the creation of Israel was through military means. How could anyone expect another reaction from them than rejection of this new political entity? Look at it from their perspective; just as they were undergoing decolonisation, they saw this European settler society growing in their midst.

    That’s why I consider the 1948 war to be tragic. It was inevitable (just like death in Sophocles). It wasn’t because of lack of understanding or empathy. The creation of Israel was unacceptable to the Arabs (and they had good reasons to refuse it). And it was a necessity for the Yeshuv so as to constitute a larger, stronger and truly independent State with a Jewish majority (and they had very good reasons for that too).

    Thanks again for your comment. I’ve just checked out your blog, it’s neat. Keep up the good work.

  3. taltalk said

    First, I would like you to know that I did not intend to accuse you of being slanted – I was pointing out that it was natural (just like I would be more on the side of Israel, naturally). I accept most of what you say, and it is very nice to see someone educated – I am especially impressed with your knowlege of the new historians (which frankly I wouldn’t’ve known about had I not just completed my masters degree in political science and public communications).

    You’re right in saying that “who hit first” doesn’t matter, but I’d like to remind you that there has been a documented continual Jewish presence in Israel since biblical times. The reason there was an Arab majority to begin with is because the Jews were constantly expelled from the land.

    I’m not sure if you know, but Jerusalem has been conquered 27 (!!!) times, each time by a different people, Brits, Turks, you name it. You’re going back 60 years, and 100 years. But if you look back thousands of years, you can see that were we not kicked out of our land to begin with, there wouldn’t have been an Arab majority in Israel at any time.

  4. I wouldn’t argue about the continual presence of Jews in Israel, but in what way do you think it’s relevant? If you are arguing on religious grounds, then there is no need for continual presence. A divine grant never expires. But religious arguments only hold to the believers of that particular faith…
    If you are arguing on legal grounds, continual presence in a land is not enough to grant anyone statehood, especially if they have been a minority in this land for almost two thousands years. And in legal issues, one cannot go back hundreds of years. Not only there is prescription of rights, but also new legal orders annul older ones…
    But I find arguing on this matter useless. There’s no point to it. Israel exists today, and the question of the legitimacy of its creation is irrelevant.
    I believe there are two ways dealing with this reality, and to a large degree it depends on how Israel perceives itself. If it sees itself as a State that was established by conquest and because of a divine right, then I don’t see how one can criticize Islamic movements on their religious motivations and the violent means in which they want to realise what they consider to be God’s wish.
    On the other hand, the whole matter changes if it sees itself as a State that came into existence according to resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly. I prefer this approach because then one can argue on legal grounds, work on rights, combat violence and policies based on ‘facts on the ground’.
    As for the argument “if we were not kicked out of our land to begin with, there wouldn’t have been an Arab majority in Israel at any time”, that’s too much speculation for my taste. Who knows what would have happened if the second jewish revolt wasn’t crushed. Maybe James’ church would have prevailed and instead of a Pauline church there would have been a Jewish-Christian church… Can you imagine the effect it would have had on judaism. “what if” can take us very far, to uncharted territory, but all remains pure speculation because something did happen, and time isn’t a two way street.

  5. naya06 said

    i totally agree with worried lebanese argumentation. going back to Abraham, Bible,conquests, romans,dominations and persecutions, using God and nostalgie of the lost paradise doesn’t make any sense anymore today to justify anything . the fact is that the creation of israel State is a “colonial fact” because it wouldn’t have been possible without the depossession of the palestinians living on that land and this is its principal crtitic, but the fact is also that Israel is recognized by international community and it has the right to live in peace an security. So palestinians cannot denie it anymore but they also have the right to claim for the recognition of their basic right to have a viable state. So the legal ground is the only usefull ground, i agree. As for the legal arguments, should we go back to the 181 knowing that arabs denied it and Israel never mentioned it even in the declaration of independance. In 1949, it had already enlarge its “legal” part with 78% of the palestinian part. I would consider 1967 as a The legal start point and the respect of the 242, 338 and 1397 to start with, away from speculations that won’t resolve the arab- israelian contentieux.

  6. Dear Naya,
    I didn’t mean to say that the borders fixed by UN resolution should be those of the Israeli State. I think the borders should be negociated between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the two principles that should be taken into account are how can Israel keep on garanteeing its security, and how can the Palestinian State become viable and sovereign. These issues are obviously very difficult ones.
    What I was refering to when I mentioned UN resolution 181 was that before getting to the negociations on the borders, one should go back to principles and the basic principle is that “facts on the ground” are not legally binding and they certainly do not deprive people of their rights. And the conquests of 1948 were facts in the grounds, and should be treated as such. This doesn’t mean that Israel should withdraw to its borders and the property rights of the Israelis there are void. That is absurd, unacheivable and unjust for the Jewish individuals who hold there rights. But that doesn’t mean either that Palestinians should be deprived of their rights because of the conquest. Solutions should and can be found if there is the readiness to do so.

  7. naya06 said

    dear WL, really thanks for your comments. i perfectly understood what you meant and i agree. that is why i mentioned 1967, because we can start by the securty council resolutions 242 and then the 338, and also the 1397 ( of 2002 and the reference to the palestinian state explicitly by the Gereral assembly) But we saw how the ” feuille de route” was completly discarded and things are getting worse since 2002 : what about the wall ? have any of these resolutions been taken into consideration? when israel declared the ” right to return” in 48, why didint they accepted the 194 and in 74 the 3236 concerning the same right the united nations gave to the palestinians?

  8. […] over my positioning, you could check out a debate I had a year ago with a fellow blogger Talk/Talk “Weighing victimhood and competing suffering” Posted in Israel, Palestinian territories, Politics, Prejudice […]

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