July 26, 2006
By Meron Benvenisti (former deputy mayor of Jerusalem)
No one can predict when the reversal will come, when all the experts will begin competing for first place in revealing the failures of the war: mistaken strategy, political dilettantism and shooting from the hip; the weakness disguised as courageous determination; the illusions, arrogance and boasting; the addiction to an impulse of revenge; the cruelty and the lack of moral inhibitions.
But the manipulators and the self-declared heroes should not delude themselves, nor should the naive, or those who are drunk with patriotism or those who consider themselves experts: the moment will arrive more quickly than they imagine and within a short while everyone will be hiding behind the pose of “we told you so” when they know which way the wind is blowing.
That is when all the declarations, the assessments and the excuses – that could be uttered and written only in an atmosphere of lack of critical skepticism that prevails when a “state of war” is declared – will be revealed.
It is only in an atmosphere of this kind that serious people can justify the destruction of a country on the grounds that they “are helping its government in this way” to gain the upper hand over Hezbollah – a kind of variation on the theme of “the raped woman actually enjoyed herself.” It is only in an atmosphere of this kind that a well-bred person can be glad that the lack of American pressure to stop the bombings makes it possible to continue the killing and destruction.
Only reliance on patriotic emotions, which cloud any rational thinking, makes it possible to state without shame – after many days of multi-casualty pounding and the inexplicable destruction of an airport, highway interchanges, power stations and entire neighborhoods – that actually this activity was in vain, since it was known in advance that the bombs could not achieve their objectives and that a massive ground invasion was unavoidable.
Only people who unabashedly exploit primitive urges allow themselves to personalize the war and focus it on the annihilation of their enemy, Hassan Nasrallah. Only those who are convinced the war will bring down a smoke screen over any cynical or hypocritical act can brag that they are assisting in an international humanitarian activity after they themselves brought about the catastrophe.
No one is able to predict the minute when the opposition to the war and the bloodshed turns from an act of betrayal into a legitimate and even correct stance; when a moral condemnation of the war’s evil effects becomes acceptable from a patriotic point of view and when slogans like “uprooting terror,” “a war for our homes,” “an existential struggle” and their like, turn from resonant war-cries into empty rhetoric.
No one can predict this, but experience teaches us that the turnabout from patriotic criticism to rational behavior based on moral norms occurs sooner or later, sometimes within weeks or months and sometimes after a generation. It seems that in the current outbreak of violence, the change will come very quickly; its conduct, objectives and results do not encourage too much enthusiasm and it has not even been granted the title of “war” since those who waged it are not sure if they want to commemorate it among the state’s official wars or if they believe it would perhaps be better to forget it.
They cannot allow themselves to think that all should know their assessments were incorrect, and therefore they will seek a “victory” that will justify all the loss of life and destruction, and the very need for such a victory will merely prolong the suffering and bereavement. The public that supports them will have difficulty demanding soul-searching of them since the tribal solidarity will protect the political and military leaders.
Very soon everything will return to what it was before – apart from those who sacrificed their lives and those who were killed in the shellings and bombings. And the major loser will be the people of Israel who, by an unmeasured reaction to a provocation, established their position as a foreign element in the region, as the neighborhood bully, the object of impotent hatred.