A clear conscience

Maybe disengagement wasn't all bad.

gaza pullout protest 88 (photo credit: )
gaza pullout protest 88
(photo credit: )
Ever since the Hamas attack on the Israeli army post at Kerem Shalom in late June, the zeitgeist in Israel has been that the unilateral "disengagement" from Gaza was apparently a strategic mistake. When Hizbullah poured gasoline onto the fire by attacking soldiers on the country's northern border with Lebanon, the sentiment became absolute: Unilateral withdrawals have only weakened the country's deterrence and undermined the security of the state. Yet, the last week in particular has demonstrated that these unilateral withdrawals have not been all bad. By withdrawing to an internationally recognized border in both instances, Israel has basically eliminated any self-doubt about the legitimacy of its right to use force - even overwhelming force - when attacked. No longer does half the country wonder if we could have avoided bloodshed by "ending the occupation." Instead, the country's citizens are as united as ever in their determination to repel and punish those who attack us, even if it means bearing the brunt of hundreds of missile attacks in the process. In short, by unifying the ranks and eliminating self-doubt, withdrawing to recognized borders has in many ways actually bolstered Israel's core security. Indeed, if the history of warfare over the past two centuries has taught us anything, it is that a people's ability to win in wartime is not due primarily to technological prowess, but stems first and foremost from the shared belief that one's cause is just and that there is no choice but to stand and fight. And it is such a belief which animates Israelis right now. It is why people here will withstand all the missiles and rocket fire, why men will leave their families behind without hesitation as they are called up to the reserves to fight. ALL THIS IS not to suggest that the opponents of these withdrawals were entirely mistaken either. As many claimed at the time of the Gaza withdrawal, if one listens to what is being said in the Arab and Muslim world, it is undeniable that the lesson drawn from Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon has been that violence against Israel may yet prove effective. While some, like Fatah's Marwan Barghouti, thought in terms of using violence to force the country to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, others like Hamas and Hizbullah became emboldened in their belief that through the interminable use of brutal violence, they could one day even cause the country to cease to exist. Hassan Nasrallah, the charismatic leader of Hizbullah, in particular has often argued that Israel's citizens are fatigued, and that the country's unwillingness to suffer casualties makes its technologically superior military just a paper tiger. It was this mistaken understanding on the part of Hizbullah and Hamas about why Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza that underlay their strategic miscalculations and led them to kidnap IDF soldiers. In other words, the Right is correct when it says these withdrawals created the atmosphere which led to the current fighting. THE IRONY IS that the country's Left - whom one might assume would be motivated by their empathy for the claims of their adversaries - was in fact largely deaf to this Arab discourse. Instead, it was primarily concerned with ridding itself of the guilt of being an "occupier," and only secondarily about the fate of the occupied. Though often labeled as traitors by the Right, the fact is that the Left was actually principally concerned about making sure the country's conscience was clear. Given the way in which Israelis are responding to this war, it seems that we underestimated exactly how important it is to have a clear conscience. The writer is deputy director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at the Interdisciplinary Center university in Herzliya, Israel.