Beyond the straits

Perhaps the trauma of 18 years in occupied south Lebanon left its mark on the national psyche.

War in Lebanon 88 (photo credit: AP)
War in Lebanon 88
(photo credit: AP)
Despite international calls for a cease-fire, a series of public polls indicates the IDF operation against Hizbullah in Lebanon, now in its third week, still enjoys the support of a majority of Israelis. In the latest survey by the Geocartography Institute on Tuesday, a day on which three soldiers were killed in Lebanon, 56 percent of those surveyed said they believed the fighting must go on. And polls published in the local press show that more than 80% of Israelis back the war, which began when Hizbullah abducted two soldiers and killed eight others in a July 12 cross-border raid. This war has seen a rare joining of ranks across the political spectrum. The opposition Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, has become an articulate spokesman for the government from the Right, making the same arguments to the world media as Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who has always been on the Left. Even the Four Mothers movement, which strongly campaigned for an IDF withdrawal from Lebanon before the pullout in 2000, and doves like Yossi Beilin, the leader of the Meretz-Yahad Party, have spoken out in favor of the IDF operation. "People like myself led the movement to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, and when we were asked what would happen if they continued to use violence against us and shoot at us from Lebanon, we said that when we leave Lebanon according to a UN agreement, then we will have a free hand to use against those who act against us," Beilin was quoted by The Washington Post. Why has this war won such backing? Why have anti-war rallies in Israel drawn only a few hundred people, and why haven't we seen a large Peace Now demonstration against the war? The simple answer is that it is a just campaign. The Hizbullah attack was a clear and unprovoked violation of an international border, six years after Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon. Israel was attacked by a terrorist organization from a neighboring country, and it had every justification in fighting back. But perhaps there is a psychological reason too that people pulled together. Perhaps Israelis of all political persuasions were yearning for a common cause to bring them closer. Perhaps the trauma of the 18 years during which the IDF occupied southern Lebanon, dividing the nation politically, left its mark on the national psyche. And perhaps, a year after the disengagement from Gaza, Israelis were sick and tired of fighting one another. What better national glue than a common enemy in the form of a cruel terrorist organization bent on Israel's destruction, sponsored by Iran and aided by Syria, spitting in the face of UN resolutions that called for its disarmament? Yet in spite of the broad support for the war, there are an increasing number of voices beginning to question the way the operation has been conducted. On Channel 1's Popolitika program on Tuesday night, three former generals - Yitzhak Mordechai, Avigdor Kahalani and Yom Tov Tamir - publicly criticized the cabinet for not approving a massive ground operation in Lebanon at the beginning of the war. Mordechai, a former defense minister, even accused the security cabinet of "chaining the hands of the IDF." He said it had been clear that the air operation launched at the beginning of the war would not stop the firing of rockets from southern Lebanon, and the IDF should have occupied the whole area in the first days of the war. Then, Mordechai said, when the time came to hand it over the area to an international force or the Lebanese army, Israel would be ready to transfer an area cleared of Hizbullah fighters. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has dubbed the IDF operation in Lebanon Milhemet Bein Hameitzarim, "the war between the straits" - a name taken from "Lamentations" and replete with religious meaning. "All her persecutors overtook her between the straits," proclaims the prophet Jeremiah. The three-week period between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha Be'av is characterized by some of the worst tragedies in Jewish history. With Tisha Be'av being marked today, that period will soon be over, and Israel will be beyond the straits. Traditionally, it will enter a period of celebration and weddings. Let us pray that it also marks the beginning of a new period, in which we will see the return of the abducted soldiers, a halt to Hizbullah attacks and tranquility with Lebanon.