Following the end of the 1967 Yom Kippur War, 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 U.S. 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 of funding annually, which went mainly to subsidize the American weapons 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 U.S. 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 U.S. and USSR were deep in the cold war, and the cooperation between the USSR, Egypt, and Syria encouraged the U.S. to support and boost Israel’s military power.
The Israelis, who felt threatened and surrounded by enemies until then, and who still had not overcome the Holocaust’s trauma, were thrilled with the backing of the mighty U.S., 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 U.S.: 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 U.S. could not save the 2,700 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 U.S. and cannot object. After Sharon received full backing for canceling the Oslo agreements, disbanding the Palestinian Authority, reconquering the Gaza strip, delegitimizing Arafat, and turning the Palestinian cities into 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 almost certainly the only ones expected to be hurt by this war. Ariel Sharon proudly declared that “Israel is the best prepared nation in the world for a chemical or biological attack” (Yediot Aharonot, September 6, 2002). 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 U.S., the majority of Arab nations will largely view using unconventional warfare on Israel as legitimate. There is also no doubt that if Israel were to 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 at when he defined the Palestinians as a “cancer,” offering “amputation” as a possible solution (Haaretz, August 31, 2002). 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, spelling 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 U.S., 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 U.S. 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 U.S. is not doing us any favors–it is endangering us for its own aggressive interests as a financial and military superpower.
We have to say: No Thank You, Mr. President!