Like most of the world, the situation in Israel has weighed heavily on my mind in the last few weeks. But because I’m currently in the middle of a one-year working hiatus in the Holy Land, I felt the anxiety much more intensely than ever before. Though the ancient city of Tsfat in northern Israel where we are living is far removed from Gaza and the rocket bombardments in the south, the tension of being a mere 10 miles from the Lebanese border was felt with sudden urgency last month when the Gaza War began. When rockets landed in nearby Naharia and Kiryat Shmona, people here in Tsfat started getting nervous, stocking up on supplies and preparing the bomb shelters. The city is still scarred from the dozens of rockets that fell here during the Lebanon war two years ago; those rockets also came as a response to an Israeli operation in Gaza.
So, like everyone else in the world, I became pretty obsessed with the Gaza War. And like most of the world, I also blame Israel for the most recent round of bloodletting – not because Israel is unjustified in defending itself, as the world would like to assert, but because the very fact that a defensive measure – and the loss of life on both sides that comes with it – is necessary at this time, is Israel’s own making. More specifically, it is America’s making, but Israel chose to go along with it. America and the west have a serious fantasy complex: They believe that it is always possible to achieve peace. This belief has become so ingrained in the minds and hearts of well-intentioned leaders and people from around the world that it has become a de facto universal rule. But is the assumption that peace is attainable a reasonable approach when there is no rational indication that peace is at all likely? What happens when this noble vision flies against the assessments of historians, political scientists and intelligence expert, as well as the current socio-political climate and the reality on the ground?
The obsessive fantasy persists because we want to believe it. And why wouldn’t we? On the surface, it is the noblest of pursuits and can cause no harm. But, as in any area of life, living in fantasyland hampers one’s ability to function in the real world and deal with real problems. It allows societies of hate that espouse genocidal ideologies to flourish while the rest of us dream about peace. The same problem allows greedy bankers to risk sinking the global economy while the rest of us are buoyed into complacency with homes and cars – even clothes – that are not ours. It also allows decent people a myriad excuses to throw their principles out the window when their own interests are at stake, and causes us to ignore the manifest reality in favor of the imagined ideal. Worst of all, it plays into the Arab strategy of wearing down Israel through the illusion of peace, leading to the type of weakness and inaction typified by Prime Minister Olmert’s statement on the eve of the expulsion from Gaza in June 2005 (which lead to the four-year barrage of rockets that made the current war inevitable): “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.”
This statement represents the ultimate capitulation to Israel’s enemies. What the Arabs heard was, “You win. We’re giving up. We’re not fighting back any more.” It is the ultimate vindication of the success of their “slow death by fantasy” strategy. They know that they cannot defeat Israel quickly through war. So they believe they can kill Israel slowly through false peace.
It is painful to say that – barring supernatural intervention – there won’t be peace in Israel anytime soon. But it is by far more painful to succumb to an attractive fantasy out of desperation and a lack of will to fight for truth and justice. The truth on the ground – in the actions and words of the Palestinian leaders and populace – proclaims that despite the best intentions (arguably, I admit) of everyone else involved, the Palestinian Arabs do not want peace. They were give the opportunity to create a decent society for themselves. Instead they used their democratic rights to elect Hamas, an internationally recognized genocidal, suicidal terrorist organization, chosen on the platform of waging a war against the existence of Israel and the Jewish people, and everything they represent. It would be nice if things were different, if the Palestinians actually yearned for the grandiose aspirations – peace, prosperity, compromise, statehood – that the west imposes upon them. But that’s just another component of the fantasy.
It’s ironic that while this fantasy persists when it comes to Israel and its sworn, mortal enemies, no one would suggest that the allies should have made peace with the Nazis (who, by the way, were also democratically elected) rather than bombing them into submission – even though tens of thousands of German civilians were killed in the process. No one would suggest that the US make peace with the Taliban or Osama bin Ladin rather than fight them, even though thousands of innocent Afghani civilians are dying in the process. No one would expect Russia or Malaysia or Somalia or Rowanda or anywhere else to make peace with fascist Islamist enemies that seek their destruction. For some reason, only Israel is asked to take the fantasy of peace to such suicidal lengths.
The responsible and mature way of conducting affairs of state, especially in security matters, is to assess the possibilities and probabilities, and act accordingly – regardless of popular perception or persisting fantasies. It is not popular or attractive to say that peace is not an option. But the fantasy of peace has not born anything but a harsher, more prolonged war for both peoples, and the hijacking of an entire population that has been brainwashed to hate. The refusal to confront the harsh reality that there is no possibility of peace right now is causing all the frustration and suffering and hate and death to fester for both sides. Fantasy has cast down the lot of both people. Israel may not have created this fantasy, but by buying into it, allows it to persist and trades the short-term instant gratification of photo-ops and favorable headlines for the sanity and long term security of both people.