Reading a couple of articles in this morning's paper, challenged by Mark 'Ashamedly silent' and with my thinking coloured by N.T. Wright on evil I felt inspired to try to form my opinion about the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. (See references below.)
The formation of nation states has caused us problems. Standing back for a moment, considering the question of why humanity is divided into tribes and nations. Why does each have a claim on a fixed piece of the land surface so that all stretches of land are assigned to only one nation state. The nation state seems too simplistic a construction to meet the real needs and reflect reality on the ground. See Northern Ireland, the Balkans and Kurdistan as examples of areas where enforcement of a simplistic nation state has caused long term conflicts.
So, maybe the establishment of Israel was a mistake. But as de Winter says: "At that time it was quite normal to draw a line on a map and accept that as the border of a country. No one saw it as a problem. And for millions of Jews it was the only place they had to go."
So Israel exists. It has grown and developed since its establishment. But it is surrounded by peoples and countries whose goal is to destroy it and drive its people into the sea. As Kaniuk says, the Arab world did not accept the establishment of a Jewish state and a half century later still has not accepted it. What other nation state in the world is in that position - surrounded by neighbours whose purpose is its destruction?
Why does mankind so quickly and easily resort to violence to resolve conflicts? I grew up with the idea that armed conflict was something which happened far away and long ago. Which is strange really, since I was born just after the Second World War, a baby boomer. I can see now that during my childhood years my parents were still coming out of the trauma of that war. My father had been in the British army from the very beginning. But it was not talked about much and for a young child anything which happened before its birth is ancient history. I grew up in Scotland. History, as taught in a Scottish primary school is all about the wars between the Scots and the English and the great Scottish heroes fighting a war of liberation against the evil oppressor. But all that happened long ago, we had had the 'union of the crowns' and the 'union of the parliaments' and now we were civilised citizens of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
But, whereas if you look at history it is mostly a story of violent, armed conflicts, as N.T. Wright points out, from the enlightenment onwards we have been lulled into a naive, optimistic hope of progress and civilisation and a serious underestimation of evil.
Nevertheless, I have that hopeful, naive world-view that we can fix this and make progress and all be civilised together without using war and violence to resolve our conflicts. Pretty stupid really considering the arms industry is in the top three sectors in global trade (before or after drugs?).
Clash of cultures
Kaniuk puts the war in Lebanon in the context of the 'clash of cultures'. His world view was changed by the attack on the Twin Towers. Those were not poor Muslims from the slums who carried out that attack. They were educated, well off Muslims who cannot accept that the Muslim world has stood still for seven centuries and lags that far behind the West. So the only way to express your frustration is to blow yourself up in the London underground, in the Twin Towers, in a bus in Tel Aviv. This is a way of making war which is unknown to the West.
He sees it a result of frustration at what the young state of Israel already achieved - exemplified by five Nobel prize winners, all scientists, whereas the whole Arabic world only has one, the writer Mahfouz. He warns naive Europe against allowing enclaves of millions of Muslims who refuse to integrate into European society.
This is why the Israeli army is having such difficulty dealing with Hezbollah. The West does not have an answer to these new forms of warfare, the suicide bomber and the Hezbollah army using the tactics of the jungle installing its rocket launchers among the women and children in flats, shops and schools. Negotiations do not provide an alternative. What can you negotiate about with Hezbollah? In their eyes Israel has no right to exist.
We have grossly underestimated the force of evil, so we react in an immature fashion when it comes up an hits us in the face, as at 9/11. There are no goodies and baddies - the line between good and evil goes right through all of us.
Opinions and conclusions
So here is a list of opinions and conclusions:
- War and violence is wrong - it diminishes humanity, it is evil.
- War and violence is a normal way of resolving conflicts between human groups.
- Usually the strongest or the most cunning wins the conflict.
- Israel is faced with implacable enemies and needs to remain strong and cunning in order to survive.
This seems to lead to the conclusion that the current war is wrong but inevitable.
I guess the perspective in international law is that Israel was established by UN decision and is a member of the UN. So it has a right to exist as a nation state and defend itself.
"Israël heeft een Mandela nodig, een echte Messias", interview with Harry de Winter, Lidy Nicolasen, de Volkskrant, 5 August 2006
Harry de Winter is one of the founders of Een Ander Joods Geluid (A Different Jewish Voice)
"De Palestijnen worden gedreven door afgunst", interview with Yoram Kaniuk, Theo Koelé, de Volkskrant, 5 August 2006
"Evil and the Justice of God", N.T. Wright