One hundred years of conflict, 6.5 years of war, billions of wasted dollars, tens of thousands of people killed, not including the boy lying next to me on a rocky beach at Lake Karon in ’82, with his guts spilling out of his body. Both of us staring the wound until he was evacuated by helicopter. Until this day I do not know if he is alive or dead. All this, and it is still impossible to understand.
It’s not only what has happened. It is also what did not occur – the hospitals that were never built, the universities that never opened, the roads that were never paved, three years stolen from the lives of millions of young people in uniform. Despite everything, we are still clueless as to the core of the riddle.
Why do they hate us so much?
I am not talking about the Palestinians this time. The conflict with them is intimate, focused, and has a direct impact on their day to day living. Without getting into who is right or wrong, it is clear their reasons for not wanting us here are very personal. We all know that in the end it will be resolved: Between us, in blood, sweat and tears that will soak the pages of the agreement that is signed. Until then, this is a war we can understand, even if no sane person can understand the way in which it is being waged.
But the others. They are impossible to understand. Why does Hassan Nasrallah - together with his tens of thousands of minions - dedicate his life and his considerable talent as well as the fate of his country in order to wage a war against a country that he has never seen, people he has never met and an army he has no reason to fight?
Why do children in Iran who cannot even point to Israel on a map (mostly because it is so small) burn its flag in the city square and volunteer to commit suicide in order to destroy it? Why do Egyptian and Jordanian intellectuals incite the naive and helpless against the peace treaties, knowing full well that revoking them will set their countries back 20 years.
'So many ways to love your brother'
Why are the Syrians willing to stay a pathetic and oppressive third world country in exchange for the questionable privilege of serving as patron to terror organizations that in the end will threaten them too? Why do they hate us in Saudi Arabia? In Iraq? In the Sudan? What have we done to them? How are we even relevant to their lives? What do they even know about us? And why do they hate us so much in Afghanistan where they are starving. Where do they even have the strength to hate?
So many answers to this question and yet it is an enigma. There’s the religious issue but religious people make their own choices. The Koran (together with the ‘Shariya’ – like the Halacha or Jewish code of laws) has thousands of laws. Why do we preoccupy them so much?
There are after all a number of other countries that have given them more of a reason to be angry. We didn’t start the Crusades, and we didn’t rule over them during the Colonial era, and we never forced them to convert. The Mongols, the Seliceans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans and the English, all occupied them, destroying and pillaging the entire region. We did not even try so how is it that we are the enemy?
Is it about solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters? If so then where are the tractors from Saudi Arabia for rebuilding Gush Katif? Where is the Indonesian team that is supposed to come and build a school in Gaza? Where are the doctors from Kuwait with the latest in surgical equipment? There are so many ways to love your brother, why do they prefer to help him to hate?
Is it something that we have done? 1,500 years of anti-Semitism have taught us an excruciatingly painful lesson – there is something about us that annoys the world. So we did the thing that everyone wanted – we left. We established our own tiny country where we could annoy each other without bothering anyone else. We did not ask for much to do this. Israel sits on an area comparable to maybe one percent of the total area of Saudi Arabia. We have no oil, no natural resources. We did not occupy the territory of another sovereign country.
'The Iranians are responsible'
Most of the towns and cities bombed this week were not stolen from anyone. Nahariya, Afula and Carmiel never existed until we founded them. Other Katyushas fell in places that no one ever doubted our rightful ownership on them. Haifa has history of Jewish presence since the third century before the Common Era. Tiberias played host to the last Sanhedria so no one can claim we stole these places from someone else.
Nevertheless the hatred continues as if we do not share a common fate. The hate is operative, toxic, and insatiable. Last week the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad called for the State of Israel ‘to be eliminated’ as if we were some kind of bacteria. We’ve become so accustomed to his declarations that we don’t even argue.
Israel never wanted to see Iran disappear. There were even diplomatic relations for as long as Iran wanted them. We don’t have a common border or even bad memories. But they are still ready and willing to confront the entire western work, to face international sanctions, put their standard of living at risk, destroy what is left of their economy all for the privilege of rabidly hating us.
I am trying but cannot remember: What did we do to them? When? How? Why is the Iranian president saying that ‘The Moslem world’s main problem is Israel.’?
There are more than a billion Moslems in the world. Most live in substandard conditions. They suffer from hunger, poverty, ignorance; blood soaked conflicts that extend from Kashmir to Kurdistan and from Darfur to Bangladesh. And we are their main problem? How exactly are we bothering them?
I refuse to accept the argument that ‘that is the way they are’. ‘They’ used to say that about us and we’ve grown to suspect the statement. There has to be another reason, a dark secret that convinced residents of southern Lebanon to escalate things along a quiet border, to kidnap soldiers of an army that had withdrawn from their territory, and to turn their country into islands of rubble precisely at a time that they had finally extricated themselves from 20 years of rack and ruin.
We have become accustomed to telling ourselves things like: ‘The Iranians are responsible,’ or ‘Syria is stirring things up behind the scenes.’ But that is really too simplistic.
What about the people? What do they think? What about their hopes, their loves, their aspirations and dreams? What about their children? Do they really believe that hating us is enough of a reason to send their children off to die?