Middle East Crises - Putting the Middle East Crises in Perspective:
Fundamentally Simple, But Complicated Beyond Belief.
By Bernard Levy
With research assistance from Professor Arthur Finkle
I grieve and weep daily for the innocent civilian casualties in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. Wherever the country and whatever the setting, most people simply want to live their lives in peace and harmony, enjoy their families and their possessions and have sufficient food for today and hope for tomorrow. The innocent victims of war are usually the citizens who pay taxes and rely upon their governments to protect them.
Sometimes, as currently is the case, their governments cannot protect them. Lebanon, if it had an effective government and not one influenced and significantly controlled by Syria and Iran, should have never allowed Hezbollah to openly and actively arm within Lebanon’s borders and build a military infrastructure, including weapons storage, tunnels and reinforced bunkers for six years.
It is The Full-Court Press’ viewpoint that readers should know a writer’s proclivity. I am neither a “war hawk.” Nor a "pacifist". I believe that the State of Israel should exist. I believe that the Palestinians currently living within the once-established borders of Israel should be recognized as an autonomous nation and own those lands accorded to them by agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, mostly brokered by the United States. And, there is evidence that Muslims, Christians and Jews can coexist in peace on the lands in which these three great religions have their beginnings.
There are two keys to sustainable peace within the conflicted areas of the Middle East. First, Israel’s Arab neighbors must recognize by words and deeds that Israel has the right to exist. Secondly, within the Arab Muslim world, the Shiite and Sunni branches of Islam must recognize each other’s validity and find a way to defuse the inflammatory rhetoric and actions by fundamentalist Muslims.
Although Israel has signed a peace accord with both Jordan and Egypt, most Arab Middle East nations are being influenced by Islamic fundamentalists focused on controlling governments. These fundamentalists believe that a government should substantially exclude secular law and follow Islamic structure and law.
The Bush Administration has made significant mistakes – words and actions – that have inflamed the passions of Islamic fundamentalists. Americans hold dear the principles of a democratic form of government where “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are fundamental. President Bush’s early use of the term “crusade,” his “bring it on” statement and his continuing use of the phrase “establishing a democracy” (in all nations) haven’t been well received in Arab Muslim nations.
As scholars are prone to argue how many angels can “sit” on the head of a pin, the long-running argument of who has rightful ownership to lands mandated to Israel has been hashed, rehashed and hashed some more. The arguments go back thousands of years.
The world community found it fit to implement the 1917 Balfour Declaration by recognizing the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 after Adolph Hitler and his henchmen killed approximately 6 million Jews. Prior to that time, under British rule, Jews, Arabs and Christians often coexisted in peace in the land of beginnings.
Israel's War of 1948 has a special meaning to me. I lived in Trenton, New Jersey, where my dad owned Levy’s Hardware & Sporting Goods Store which sold rifles, shotguns and ammunition. When it became evident that the Arab nations were gathering on Israel’s borders to wage total war to wipe Israel out, my Uncle Ben, a WWI Medal of Honor recipient and the Executive Commander of the Jewish War Veterans, my dad and I stuffed bullets in boxes of candies for shipment to Israel. Bullets and other armament had to be smuggled into the to-be-formed State of Israel.
Israel is again confronted with threats of annihilation from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Since the path to a peaceful solution requires understanding of the current causes for the conflict, I offer the following.
1. Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated, in words and deeds, to the welfare of Muslim communities. Yassar Arafat and his administration’s corrupt ways allowed those extremists to gain a foothold in the Palestinian territories. Arafat received hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, but much of the funds were not spent to assist the Palestinians in education, health care, economic development and infrastructure. Hamas’ actions allowed it to gain a strong foothold by providing the assistance that should have been given by Arafat’s regime, and Hamas won the battle of hearts, souls and allegiances. Although Arafat portrayed himself as a “savior of the Palestinians,” he actually worked against the real interests of his people to further his own.
2. President Bush, in waging war in Iraq, effectively destabilized the entire Middle East region and created an opportunity for insurgents and fundamentalist Arab Muslims to wage sectarian war in Iraq. He fanned the fires of Jihad and created an animosity and acrimony towards all things Western under the guise of bringing democracy to Iraq. His administrative actions have produced a mushroom cloud of war over the entire Middle East. True, Saddam Hussein was a dictator of immense cruelty, but he wasn’t a terrorist threat to the United States. In fact, Saddam was not an ally of Al-Quaida; he opposed Al-Quaida in Iraq because they would have destabilized his leadership, although there is evidence that Iraq did provide some sanctuary for dissident groups.
3. Israel, contrary to what may people feel or believe, is not a homogeneous country. Israelis and Jews throughout the world range from the Ultraorthodox to the secular. The film “The Chosen,” covering the birth of modern-day Israel in 1948, clearly shows that many orthodox Jews opposed the Statehood of Israel because the Messiah had not yet appeared. Throughout history, there have been philosophical and religious conflicts between orthodox and more moderate Jews, as well as difficulties between Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Oriental Jews. The three latter groups draw their differences from geography. The Ashkenazis and Sephardics are part of the Disaspora, the first group settling in Europe, primarily Germany, and the second in Spain, North Africa, Turkey, Greece and Italy. The Oriental Jews are those indigenous to the Middle East.
And so, Israel’s growing pains and internal issues have caused it to change direction several times regarding peace accord compliance and Palestinian nation recognition.
Israel’s delay in withdrawing from portions of its land, although necessary in most cases because of continuing Palestinian attacks, raids and shellings, has had the effect of harming the peace process.
4. Lebanon and the current conflict is more volatile than visible on the surface. Hezbollah, although it has a minority of seats in Lebanon’s government, has much influence in the government. Financed by Iran with the support of Syria, it has provided funds and services to the Lebanese people - food, health care and education - that the government has not been able to give. And, most importantly, the Lebanese government has been powerless to prevent the 10,000-12,000 rockets deployed by Hezbollah within Lebanon. Syria had controlled Lebanon for years, until Lebanon’s democratic elections were held two years ago, and still exerts influence.
5. Those reported friends of the United States and the Western World - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan - in the war against terrorism, are under great pressure to walk a very precarious and narrow line with Al-Quaida. Saudi Arabia, in reaching a well-documented accord with Al-Quaida, funds and supports the fundamentalist Islamic Schools – Wahabis – that teach and preach extremist Muslim viewpoints. Thus, one of our ostensibly strongest Middle East allies is a breeding ground for future fundamentalist Jihadists , also known to the Western World as terrorists.
So, what’s the future of the Middle East? It’s clear that the United States government has to recognize that there are other forms of government that, although not to our liking, exist, will exist in the future and are relevant to non-Christian-dominated nations. Our original mission – seeking retribution for “9/11” and other subsequent terrorist attacks throughout the Western World - should be our focus. The United States, Britain and other allies must pursue a path that can lead to ultimate peace and one without our Western agenda of imposing our ways on other peoples.
Yes, we should support those nations that practice democracy, including Israel, especially when Israel is again fighting for it's survival.
No, I am not advocating that we lessen our fight against terrorism. I am suggesting that we more effectively wage war against terrorists. Cooler heads must prevail, and our current administration’s methodologies and destructive policies must be replaced by those that can and will work to establish the beginnings for a lasting, peaceful relationship between Arab, Christian and Jewish nations and peoples everywhere.