The Lebanon War: Shalom Achshav Leader Speaks Out

The Shalom Center is posting this essay by a leading Israeli thinker and activist as a stimulus to our thought as we wrestle with the issues posed by the Lebanon War.  

In times like these, it is hard but crucial to give ethical leadership not only to the Jewish people but also to the world – which, so long as we assert  "God is One, the Breath of Life/ YHWH Echad,"  is also part of our congregation.

With blessings of shalom, Arthur

(Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

Peace Now NEWSFLASH: Peace Now Op-Ed in Yediot Aharonot, "No Blank Check"

 Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, today published an op-ed by Peace Now founder Tzaly Reshef, who argues, "It is our right to fight to eliminate the threat to our civilians. It is our right to chase out Hezbollah and to demand Lebanese and international responsibility for quiet on our northern border. But this right is not a blank check for unlimited military action."

No Blank Check
Yediot Aharonot    July 18, 2006

War is death. It's bereavement. It's mothers lamenting their children. It's devastation. It's destruction. It's an ugly human phenomenon. War encompasses feelings of hate, revenge, nationalism. It brings out the worst in mankind. War is the opposite of the desire to live, to love, to raise children, to create.

Since Israel was founded we've lived this. It is already difficult to count all the wars, military interventions, and military operations of different sorts. For almost sixty years already we have been living by the sword.

Even so, the Israeli public believes that our nation seeks peace, that our hand is always outstretched for peace, and that only our bloodthirsty enemies force wars on us.

Theoretically, it's true: there is not a single Israeli who won't swear that he seeks peace. In practice, our self examination reveals blood.

Too many times we have entered war because of a lack of will to talk to the other side, because of a lack of readiness to speak at all, because of our faith that we could coerce solutions with force.

Too many strategists already planned wars which involve a speculative political plan. This is how we tried to create a new order in Lebanon. And this is how we're attempting to topple the Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority. Israeli politicians improved upon the saying of Von Clausewitz that war is the continuation of politics by other means.

 Too many times we've turned to war because we were scared to talk, to compromise. We turned to war out of political weakness, out of a fixation on our relationship with the other side.

Olmert's government is also guilty of committing this ancient sin. Olmert entered the prime minister's office and announced far-reaching political programs based on the desire to end to the occupation.

Before he managed to warm his seat, he found an elected government in the Palestinian Authority headed by Hamas.

 Instead of seeing an opportunity to check out the possibility of negotiations with the Palestinian hard liners, Olmert chose first to boycott the PA.

 Second, Olmert put together an international coalition to shove the PA into the corner, from which the path to the use of force is short: force by Palestinians, Kassam fire, a strong response by us, assassinations, the killing of many dozens of civilians, and from here – the Hamas attack, the killing of our soldiers and the abduction of Gilad Shalit.

Again we were short-sighted. Again we believed that we could coerce solutions by using force. The military operation in Gaza will bring more death, more destruction, more bereavement, but it won't stop the actions of hate and it won't return Gilad.

In Lebanon, after countless mistakes and the loss of over one thousand soldiers, we made the correct decision six years ago. We ended the occupation in the south, we withdrew to the last centimeter and received international legitimacy.

Despite this, a fundamentalist terrorist group, motivated by Iranian forces of destruction, killing, and devastation and with Syrian backing continued preparing for war against us, continued to arouse us, to challenge our very existence as a state. Military action against Hezbollah became unavoidable. The question was only when and how.

I'm not a pacifist. At certain times, in certain conditions, and without other options, in order to protect your life, your security, your future, your right to live in peace, there is no alternative but to fight. In Lebanon this situation came to be. But will the war, which as I said is justified, continue to be justified without thought to the amount of force used?

Is the destruction of an entire neighborhood in Beirut justified?

When lacking clear military targets, is it justified to choose targets without distinction?

The answer is no. Even when war is necessary, it justifies only the violence needed. It requires caution with the lives of civilians and the avoidance of unnecessary destruction.

The pictures that are broadcast nightly from Beirut raise doubts: Is proportionality being maintained? Are we taking only the necessary, justified steps that with minimum impact eliminate the threat of Hezbollah? Or at the same opportunity, because of a desire to increase our deterrence, are we acting like the mad neighbor to be feared?

As time passes and we escalate our activities in Lebanon, more and more people in Israel and the world will express reservations, and the original justification for force will lose its validity. It is our right to fight to eliminate the threat to our civilians. It is our right to chase out Hezbollah and to demand Lebanese and international responsibility for quiet on our northern border.

 But this right is not a blank check for unlimited military action.
Attorney Tzaly Reshef, a founder of Peace Now, served in the 15th Knesset, representing the Labor Party

Editor's Note:

One more thought, which may make the ethical calculations even harder:

 Tzaly Reshef seems to assume that Hezbollah is merely a terrorist band. But some reports suggest it has struck deep roots in parts of Lebanese society, which may mean that "chasing it out" would require wrecking Lebanon.

 Is it possible to end Hezbollah's threat to Israel without destroying the organization and its social base? Might this be similar to the question Reshef raises in regard to possible negotiations with Hamas after it won the election? 


Shalom, Arthur