A Lebanese Abroad

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

What Israelis Don't Understand About Lebanon

What Israel and the Israelis have grossly miscalculated is how Lebanon and the Lebanese would react to the aggression on Hezbollah and Lebanon. Israel thought that Lebanon would revolt against Hezbollah at the same time as Hezbollah would be pounded militarily by Israel.

Reading several blogs and online comments from the Israeli press point one to believe that Israel was really counting on the fact that the majority of the Lebanese population would align against Hezbollah in a way that would help precipitate their fall, after adding to the military pressure that Israel would inflict them.

Paraphrasing these comments sounds like this:
- while you were partying, Hezbollah was arming itself and infesting the South; it’s time that you pay for it, you deserve it
- why don’t you wake-up and get rid of this terrorist organization who is dragging you down?
- why don’t you get a better, stronger government, why are you so passive about it, we thought you were a democracy?
- Tel-Aviv is like Beirut, we have more in common than you think

The dilemma is that the above questions are correct in framing the issues, and they are the right ones to ask. But what differs between Israelis and Lebanese is the approach taken to solve them. Whereas Israel believes that military brute force action can shake things overnight, the Lebanese people are more in favor of a diplomatic, slow-paced, consensus driven solution. And the Lebanese people are a lot more tolerant than Israelis about co-existence even if one doesn’t approve of another party who is living next to you.

For many Lebanese, both Christians and Muslims, Hezbollah’s military and political rise was a big issue that they were trying to deal with. They knew that this hot potato had to be dealt with eventually, and they were buying time to try to resolve it while containing it, as much as possible. Take the analogy of the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel doesn’t like them, so it starts to attack them. The Lebanese didn’t like Hezbollah, but they weren’t attacking them, rather they were trying to work with them towards a longer term solution, starting by strengthening the Lebanese government itself to assert its authority over the entire territory. For many Lebanese, the Hezbollah issue was as grave as the Palestinian issue is for Israelis: people whose behavior you don’t like are living in your backyard.

Now, Israel has a bigger problem on their hand. Before the war, at least 40% of the Lebanese population was openly against Hezbollah. Now, polls show the majority of Lebanese (~80%) have sided with Hezbollah, not because they love Hezbollah,-- but because, of the 2 evils, Hezbollah is suddenly the lesser one. Many Lebanese Christians had warm feelings for Israel, but not warm enough to form bonds with Israel, especially after Israel started bombing Lebanese infrastructure and turning everyone’s life into chaos. In a nutshell, this war has affected every Lebanese person this time: by uprooting them, disrupting their businesses, personal lives, dreams, aspirations and plans one way or the other. Israel has in fact united the Lebanese far more than the Lebanese have ever been united in the recent past.

Going forward, we still have a “Hezbollah problem”, and we still have an “Israeli attitude problem”. Compound to this, we have a “Lebanese passivity problem”, a sort of laissez-faire attitude that allowed the country to thrive, despite of Hezbollah’s thorn in its side, but has prevented the country from being perfect at the same time.

What Israel did not understand is that the Lebanese people were more tolerant of the shortcomings of others, and that they worked around it, instead of facing it, i.e. if you ignore a problem long enough, it often goes away or becomes irrelevant.

If Hezbollah was the fly in the ointment, the Israelis approach has been to bring a magnifying glass into that small fly to make it look much bigger, then get the big sledge hammer and slam it, regardless of the collateral damage around it. The Lebanese people would have solved the same problem by filtering the oil slowly and allowing the fly to get trapped, and then deciding the fly’s fate after the oil was clean.

Of course, one can argue that Israel wanted to stop the firing of rockets into its territory, but the military approach is not the solution to a safer Israel. Rather, Israel must start to better understand their neighbors if it wants to live in peace with them in the future. This isn’t 1967, nor 1973. Israel may have military superiority, but crushing neighbors doesn’t solve its problems, but rather compounds them.

At the end of the day, we all want to live in peace, not war. Sure, Israel could win the war, but can they win the peace? It is time to seize this moment and revert to a “peaceful solution” that addresses all roots of the problem from all sides.

13 Comments:

Blogger Solomon2 said...

Of course, one can argue that Israel wanted to stop the firing of rockets into its territory, but the military approach is not the solution to a safer Israel. Rather, Israel must start to better understand their neighbors if it wants to live in peace with them in the future.

Perhaps the Israelis understand their neighbors quite well but they choose, if necessary to live and be at war rather than to die and be at peace.

I note that Hezbollah claims that once they stop firing at Israel they will start firing at their Lebanese oppostion. That is the price Lebanon may pay for not allying with Israel early in the conflict and being "a lot more tolerant than Israelis about co-existence even if one doesn’t approve of another party who is living next to you."

Like living next to a violent criminal who you know should be in prison but you won't do anything about it because that you mean "ratting" on him. When he runs out of other prey, he turns on you.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Rimstalker said...

What Lebanese Don't understand about Israel

There seems to be enough misunderstanding to go around, and HA and its leader sure proved this in both action and word. Initiating the latest conflict, Nasrallah estimated Israel’s response based on how he views Israel: an Hedonistic society, with no "stomach" for war or absorbing casualties (see his “cobwebs” speech). He assumed Israel will be deterred by his missile arsenal and that will be his “insurance” against a major Israeli assault.

The truth is quite the opposite: It was the presence of the rocket arsenal that drew Israel into a major conflict, since Israel believed that it was only a matter of time (and Iranian interest) before the rockets rain on Israel. In this sense, HA’s “defense” actually made Lebanon more exposed to Israeli attack, not less.

As for Israeli expectations from Lebanon, I don’t think anyone in Israel seriously thought Bombing Lebanese infrastructure will make them “Like us” or want to “side with us”. Rather, the idea was to push the Lebanese government into a position where it would be forced to tackle HA and its control over south Lebanon. The UNSC decision actually proves this worked – HA agreeing to this kind of decision would be science fiction five weeks ago.

Rimstalker

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan, Tel Aviv said...

Many Israelis, including me, believe that the result of the war could be better for us if we really destoryed Lebanese infrastructure like power plants and seaports.

If the people of lebanon had lit their homes with candles for one or two years, they would have had second thoughts about their Hizbulla friends.

The hesitation and cowardice of Olmert who refused to take those necessary steps prevented us from achieving victory.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Maya said...

Jonathan,
Obviously, you know nothing about Lebanon and the Lebanese people. We have lived many years by candle light. In fact, every other year or so, Israel unprokokedly bombards our electric plants, so we are used to your bullying. This has not made us hate Hezbollah, but has us hate YOU more and more. I don't know if Olmert is a coward, but you gotta admit the IDF was not doing too well. You weren't able to achieve "victory" in a month, nor would you have been able to do so in a year. Victory is a state of mind. Today, the Lebanese have suffered many losses: lives, infrastructure, and more. But Israel is the biggest loser. These are the results of your genius war:
- a stronger Hezbollah
- a more popular Hezbollah
- a more united Lebanese population than ever
- a population and a government who is now more hesitant to disarm Hezbollah (who will defend us against Israeli agression? not the Lebanese army).
Here's a little lesson for you:
If you want "victory" this is what you need to do.
- Treat your neighbors in a humane way, stop buying a bully.
- Withdraw from all occupied territories.
- Release the prisoners that you have illegaly captured during the illegal occupation of Lebanon.
Then, maybe, the people of Lebanon will want to disarm Hezbollah and put pressure.
In the meantime, good luck with your terroristic ways, they lead to nothing.

In fact, your stupid comment makes me support HA even more.

1:18 PM  
Blogger mcreider said...

Compound to this, we have a “Lebanese passivity problem”, a sort of laissez-faire attitude that allowed the country to thrive, despite of Hezbollah’s thorn in its side, but has prevented the country from being perfect at the same time.

Are you kidding? Are you an American with this idiotic 'politically correct' approach? For them, a mentally retarded is mentally challenged. Are you trying to say that some Hizballah members suffer from a minor hyperactivity problem, which would have been solved by itself 'shvuye-shvuye'? They are murderers and everybody knows it. This is the Levantine laziness, this is a nonchallant "It will me OK", which we hear in Israel every day. Yes our Gvt and the miltary have miscalculated, their effort to urge Lebanon to act against HA was stupid, to put it mildly, and this trio Olmert-Peretz-Halutz is already openly critisized by the Israely public (mostly for our losses, but not only), the call to Olmert to resign has been voiced. I do not believe they killed civilians on purpose, but were just quite trigger happy.
Anyway, I think in many ways you are right. Looks like Israel tends to solve problems by applying force, and as a local saying goes, 'what cannot be solved by force, can be solved by more force.' May be because we are more Westerners and we have come from the outside. But again, Lebanon is not just another Arab country either.
As for this war - I am afraid Israel did not have much choice. The Hizballah aim is to fight Israel and no political treaty will stop it from it. Granted, our Gvt should not fight Lebanon for the first place.
As a journalist, I met - a few years ago - Mr. Ihab al-Sherif, then serving as the Egypt's ambassador to Israel (later he was sent to Iraq and was murdered there). This charming, talented and well educated man too, sID THt Israel should try and find its place in this region, to find friends here and not overseas. But Israel has been attacked so many times (at least, according to our narrative, which differs from yours), that it does not look realistic.
But what is for sure - people here do not want war, people hate war, people are tired of war.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan, Tel Aviv said...

Maya,
the hatred of the arabs toward us has nothing to do with what we do.
They hate us because we are here, and they will hate us until we obey Mahmoud Darwish demand:"Dig up your dead, take their bones with you and leave from our land", "our land" means Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beer Sheva.

Since 1993 Israel made some huge concessions, inculding unilateral withdrawel from south Lebanon to a borderline drawn by the UN.
The result was much more Israeli blood.

Many dovish writers in Israel speak today about "disillusion", Painful understanding that Israel has no option but ever lasting battle against the Islamic ocean of hatred.

2:00 PM  
Blogger fritz said...

It's amazing to me that the Lebanese people are too stupid to see all the strings attached to the so called "social services" provided by the terrorist organization.

It emphasizes the paraphrase of the old saw "If you sleep with terrorists, eat with them and play with them, you will DIE with them!"

3:57 AM  
Anonymous Maya said...

Oh Jonathan PLEASE! Give me a break! What "huge concessions" are you talking about???? Your occupation of South Lebanon was ILLEGAL!!! You should've NEVER come in and you shouldv'e left long before you actually did. (You expect us to abide by 1559 in a record 2 year - and we WERE working on it - and you bomb the hell out of us when we don't, but when you don't abide by UN resolutions for 10+ years it is OK!)

Maybe Arabs do hate you for the mere fact of your presence, but any intelligent government would change this by helping and educating their enemy (think of what the Americans did in Germany and Japan after the war). Your whole philosophy is wrong and is creating a growth in extremism and islamism. If instead of bombing the sh*%# out of the Palestinians, you provided them with safety, homes, schools, hospitals, and a state of their own, do you really think you would be in this situation today? You have the means to do it, you just choose not to - that is your biggest mistake. If you had done things differently, those voices calling for the destruction of Israel would be very small and very minority.

Personally, I consider myself a moderate, I live in the US and interact with Jews on a daily basis (including my boss!). I was one to rally for peace with Israel (you can find evidence of this in old entries in my blog). But Israel's actions in the past month has only convinved me that there is no way to make peace with Isarael. Not now. Maybe not for a while... "NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE".

You have just delayed your hopes for peace, yet another generation... maybe my children, or my children's children?

7:34 AM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

ya maya- i can understand your frustration, but we should be equally as mad about hezbollah. their agenda is clearly an iranian agenda, not a lebanese one. this has become very obvious now.

the israelis did go too far, but look- they ended-up uniting lebanon instead of dividing it. now, we have to pick up the pieces without hezbollah in it.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Solomon2 said...

Maya, at the beginning you felt a bit differently. It's interesting to see how your view has evolved.

"Blame ourselves":

What gets to me is that both the Israelis and hezbollah are delighted at this opportunity to fire at each other, with no consideration for the impact it can have on civilian life, civilian infrastructure, the political stability of the country, and the country's economy...At the end of the day, all of this is our fault. We had the opportunity to unite, following the March 14th movement, but we ruined our chances and bitterly divided - thus creating a gap between Hezbollah and the rest of the government.

To "It's also Israel's fault":

It's easy for Israel to point the finger to the Lebanese government and blame them for not disarming Hezbollah. But, then again, Israel never managed to disarm Hezbollah eiter, and they are supposedly one of the strongest armies in the world! In 2000, they fled the South and never finished with Hezbollah.

To this:

I have never heard, seen, or otherwise suspect that Hezbollah hides arms among civilians.

Then:

Bombing for peace is like raping for love.

Finally:

...Israel's actions in the past month has only convinved me that there is no way to make peace with Isarael. Not now.

Clearly Nasrallah understands his people quite well: over time, Lebanese will rearrange their emotions to hide their own failures and put the blame exclusively on others.

Maya, do you still respect yourself for feeling the way you do? Do you think G-d will forgive you for this?

10:05 AM  
Anonymous katia said...

It has been such an eye opener to read your blog and the comments posted.... One thing is obvious to me though is that when incidents are taken outside their historical, political and social context, we can easily interpret them in many ways as we want to. One thing is certain is that all our goverments are making sure to write history the way they want it and to conceal from the forthcoming generations all what is actually happening.
I am a believer that every hidden thing shall come to light, and my hope is that it will come soon enough for the lebanese to sense that they belong to one country that is only being torn by self promotion. And also I will support every lebanese man, woman and child who will put his country, all of it, before anything else.

11:19 PM  
Blogger IMBch said...

Maya, you deserve everything that is happenning now. Continue with your resilience and your appeasement policy. Refuse to see and or face the truth. Lebanon will soon become AL JOUMHOURIYYA AL ISLAMIYYA AL LOUBNANIYYA Iran Style (if not Branch). Then I would like to see how you will behave and who you will blame. Let me guess... Israel right?

9:48 AM  
Blogger lior haifa said...

Hi,
I am Lior from Haifa.
My comment is aimed at all what was said and especially for Maya.

First of all I want to share with you and everyone else who reads my comment my sympathy and regret of all human life lost and suffering from both sides in the past month: Israelis and Lebanese altogether. It is difficult for me to say that of the Hezbollah people, since I know them just as cold blooded murderers who say that Israel should be wiped of the map of the Middle East calling us dogs and pigs thus giving the righteousness to kill us (Even though I think dogs and pigs have also the right to live).

Regarding our attack on Lebanon: actually, I was probably one of the people who thought that the attack on your infrastructure was maybe a good thing. Why? Since it seemed to me like the people of Lebanon have grown into the situation where there is a terror organization in their midst, and as long as it just kill us, the Israelis, then there is no real incentive to come across that organization and defy it.
Tell me, Maya, really, if we had once again (like we have done in numerous occasions for the last six years after we had left Lebanon), bitten our tongue, while our soldiers killed and kidnapped and the whole settlements at the north bombarded (you probably know that prior to the attack Hezbollah had bombarded all the villages in the north), would it have done anything to stop the violence in the region, make your government more powerful against the Hezbollah, made the chance for peace bigger?

I understand that people of Lebanon want to solve their problems by their own, and I respect that. It is the whole idea of democracy. I was hoping that as time elapses, more and more of the population who doesn’t agree with Hezbollah militant behavior and constant provoking and killing will stand up and eventually make what’s good for Lebanon. To state it more clearly – that Lebanon will act on the needs and desires of the whole population. If that means to go to war with Israel – fine, but as long as it’s the decision of all the population. I have a feeling that the majority wants to live in peace, even at the cost at having Israel’s presence at their side.

But there are several issues that made me (like a lot of Israelis) believe that waiting some more (more than the six years that have past) will accomplish nothing and that Lebanon will not take responsibility for itself and do what’s good for Lebanon. These are some of them:
1. Waiting patiently costs us the lives of our soldiers, the lives of people living on the villages at the north of Israel – suffering bombardment every once in a while.
2. No real change seems to be happening , ob the contrary – by the six years Hezbollah has gotten stronger as time passed, getting more and more ammunition from Iran and Syria, actually controlling the south of Lebanon as if it was not Lebanon but the country of Hezbollah. Nothing seemed to have shifted against the Hezbollah, but on the contrary. This is the main issue – if some sign was there to give any indication for a change, for a small direction towards that, then I tell you almost for sure, we would have waited even 20 years.
3. On the last year, Israel was making some major steps towards the Palestinians. We feel that we have made a great deal of a sacrifice taking our settlements and leaving territories without getting anything back. Even if you think it is clear and it is the right thing to do, for us it isn’t!!! If it was so obvious than there wouldn’t have been any conflict now would there? But none the less, we decided to do so as a step towards peace, as a sign that we are willing to take our demand of those areas if only it would bring peace. It was painful and it was heart breaking for the Israelis torn from their land. We don’t even a glimpse of something close from the other side. There is not even pretence that those steps are good and will be answered someday by peace. On the contrary, in the same way as our withdrawal from Lebanon seemed like weakness and urged the other side to continue the aggression, so did the withdrawal from Gaza was answered by “Qasam” rockets daily from the Palestinians. No one stood and said – if you continue, we will be in peace, and to build the trust we will answer your step by a certain step of our own. No, nothing came, at least not that I know of…
4. Look at the past – Egypt got so much more by making peace – it got 70% (70%!!!) of Israel territory, It also came after a bloody war, 3000 Israeli soldiers and some tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian soldiers killed. Now Egypt is by far in better condition that where it was before the peace process. Don’t you ask yourself why the same can’t be done with you also? Is that such a bad arrangement? Why doesn’t it happen, obviously it’s for the better of Lebanon, it’s for the better of Israel. I tell you why, because other forces are influencing the area towards war and constant collisions to satisfy their own ends. I wish we stopped playing into their hands (both you and us)

I think that we both our countries are in a very delicate crossroads. We can use it to make things calm, ending the constant fighting and killing, letting the other one live it’s life; Or we can lose our faith at ever having peace “on our times”, look at the other one in righteous eyes, finding the reasons why the other one is the fault (“Lebanon hasn’t taken responsibility over the territory and let a terrorist organization take control and start murdering Israelis” or “Israelis are bullies who think that they can force people to do what they want because things are not going their way”…).

Let’s for once not look for the blames, but see if there is a way to stop the bloodshed.
I hope that someone feels like I do.
I hope to hear your comments, especially you Maya, especially since I don’t want to leave it at that “that there is no chance for peace in our time”

10:57 AM  

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