Doing What Has to be Done
Author: Ehud Lavski
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 10/20/2003
We are not going to beat the Palestinians. We are not going to beat them because you cannot beat people who write songs like this one:
Eye to Eye by: Gihad Al
Oh you can hurt them, of course. And bomb them and leave them battered and bruised and even kill them but you’re not going to beat them. Because they have a passion and a rage burning inside them and they are armed with the absolute knowledge that they are right.
And the reason I know so much about these sorts of people is that I grew up with them. My father’s generation wrote songs like these. They gave the British army hell until they had enough, gave them their independence and left. And then, bigger countries ganged up on us with bigger armies time and time again and Israel won every time because losing would have been the end of it all. Because his generation had no other choice. That generation did everything in its power to make this country a place where Jews would be safe. Some of the things they did were beautiful and mad and grand. Some of them were awful and nasty as hell. But they did what they thought had to be done. And they wrote songs like that. Songs that were meant to get the blood pumping in your veins. Songs of sweat and fire.
And the sad thing, the tragic thing is that my father’s generation cannot recognize themselves in the young Palestinian men and women of today. They cannot see the same passion in them that they had as young men. The ‘we’ll do what needs to be done’ attitude, the refusal to stop fighting no matter what. And they think they are going to beat them.
Former prime minister and army commander Ehud Barak once said in an interview that if he were Palestinian he would probably have joined a terrorist organization. He was attacked from all sides. Despite all of his later mistakes and the opportunities for peace he threw away so irresponsibly, what this quote shows is that he got what ninety-nine percent of the people on both sides don’t. How similar the two people are. How much their arc of progress is the same. The Palestinians of today and the Israelis born before1948 are so much alike.
But the Israelis don’t recognize themselves in the Palestinians so we convince ourselves that with enough tanks, and enough helicopter bombings and with enough pain and humiliation we will beat them and break their spirit and make them take whatever deal we offer.
And the Palestinians don’t recognize themselves in the Israelis so they convince themselves that if enough suicide bombers explode in the busses and the streets of Israel and that if enough blood and fear will flow through the streets that they will beat us and we will give them everything they want.
And both sides won’t break the other. Because these are strong, stubborn people on both sides and they will carry on this war for however long it takes. This tragic dance of death.
And the real tragedy is that there is only one way to end it all. Only one deal to be made. It is outlined in Clinton’s plan from a few years back. It is really the only compromise. The Israelis will not give more and the Palestinians will not take less. So every drop of blood that is spilled till we get there is just an awful waste. But both sides are still unable to let go of their dreams of winning, of having it all.
So until that fact sinks in, the two sides will continue to hit each other. There is always something tempting about trying to apply pressure, trying to get a better deal than the one you are getting. Trying to knock out your opponent instead of waiting for the judges’ decision at the end of fifteen boxing rounds. Hoping against hope to beat them. Maybe if you just hit them one more time…
It is now as I write this, the Israeli New Year. It is a time when the TV and newspaper are doing their best to create a sticky-sweet atmosphere of togetherness. Pictures of families hugging and sweet music playing in commercials shot through soft, hazy lenses. A sort of manufactured nostalgia. A Hebrew Christmas if you will. You can see it every year.
And breaking the togetherness atmosphere this year is a letter written by twenty-seven Israeli air-force pilots stating that they will refuse to carry out air strikes on crowded Palestinian civilian areas. In the letter they call the attacks illegal and immoral. It was a courageous, important thing to do and it caught everyone by surprise.
It was a courageous thing to do because it didn’t come from the usual suspects. That’s also why it is important.
Most of the people who write these sorts of letters and who refuse to serve in the territories belong to a small group in the radical left. They’re usually part of the same few hundred people you’ll see at every peace/’get out of the territories’ rally.
It was courageous because of a basic law of political spin. When attacked by a person, the first thing you do is try to discredit him. Since most of the army refusers are young and belong to fringe groups it is very easy to portray them as delusional pinko-leftist-hippies. As people who have no idea of what’s really going on. This doesn’t work with the air force pilots. And certainly not with this group. They are older. More than half are retired already, after a lifetime of serving their country. Highly decorated, highly regarded. Add to that the raw power that the myth of the pilot holds in Israeli culture and the result is that people are actually listening this time, sometimes despite themselves. You could see how the media, almost always on the side of the army, almost always treating the refusers as weirdoes flipped sides and started immediately attacking the military.
And you could see the military itself scrambling, panicking trying to find answers. It was the first incident in a long time where you could see them being caught unprepared. These pilots are too much a part of the Israeli mainstream, to revered to discredit as disconnected from reality. So the military are going for the other D of spin, Destroy, and they will come down on them as hard as they can. Already there are talks of jailing the nine pilots still on active duty. And these pilots knew it was coming. These are usually wealthy men with nice, comfortable jobs, well regarded in their circles and the easiest thing to do at the position they are in is to just shut up. And they didn’t, which takes guts.
So this could be the start of something big. Only time will tell.
When the letter broke the air force’s commander came on the TV news live to give his statement. He kept repeating the fact that writing the letter was a political act and that political acts have no place in the military. And all I could think about is that I will never get used to living in a world in which refusing to drop a bomb on innocent people is considered a political act while actually dropping the bomb isn’t.
Bio: Ehud Lavski is an Israeli born graphic designer and illustrator.