Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An American in Haifa

I have a very good friend who works for an Israeli public affairs firm. He's an American Jew from Chicago and was President Clinton's liaison to the Jewish community. I called him yesterday with a new business prospect and found him sitting in a restaurant by the beach in Tel Aviv. He had just relocated to Tel Aviv after an aborted vacation with his in-laws in Haifa. They scrambled out of there after the first missiles fell last Thursday. He spent the weekend cleaning out the in-laws' bomb shelter, which has been used for storage since the Gulf War. It was odd to be chatting with him on the phone with my TV broadcasting scenes of destruction from the region.

He confirms by word and attitude the conclusions drawn by my colleague Jeff Weintraub that this crisis has unified not only Israelis, but all Jews, as no other. For me, I am deeply troubled by their moral clarity. I am not a Jew, but feel a connection to the region through a peace program in which I participated and where I met my friend. I am currently reading a book entitled War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges. He's a former war correspondent for the New York Times. He makes the point that it is this moral clarity that draws human beings to war, with the attendant mayhem and destruction. My view of this situation in Israel right now was captured by Fareed Zacharia on Sunday when he said that it is entirely justified for Israel to hit back hard, but is it smart? There is no way I am competent to second-guess the military decisions that the Israelis are making. But bombing civilian targets does seem to me to make things worse. Maybe it is impossible to distinquish between military and civilian targets and they can't just sit back and take it.

So, I really do not know what to think. I was frankly saddened to stumble across an interview with Chris Hedges on a left-wing radio show yesterday. He was pretty harsh on Israel, blaming them for a disproportionate response and for its oppression of the Palestinians over the years. And he was the moderate on the show. Knowing people like Jeff Weintraub and my friend, who are deeply moral people who have come to the conclusion that Israel must fight makes me very sympathetic to this view. But Hedges has written the most powerful critique of war I have ever read and I wish he had expressed a little more ambiguity about the situation going on right now.

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