Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The In T View: Israeli Bloggers On The Israeli - Hezb'allah/Lebanon Conflict: Chayyei Sarah

cells. seed and thread by Moon Rhythm - Flickr

Millions of words have been written by Bloggers on the conflict between Israel and Hezb'allah/Lebanon. But what do people really know? Those in the United States, protected by the geographical barriers of two vast oceans, lack from the immediacy of this war. To know a conflict is to truly grasp its immediacy and intimacy.

Thus we sought out, through a series of varying questions, the opinions of those affected by this war, the Israeli bloggers, their homeland subjected to uncontrolled missile attacks and barrages, damage and destruction, lives lost, innocents dead, and a Israeli response to the Hezb'allah threat by bombings and incursions into Lebanon to seek out the purveyors of this latest round of Mideast hostilities.

In this In T View we present noted Israeli blogger Sarah from the very fine blog, Chayyei Sarah. This In T View took place on July 24, 2006.

MG: Could you tell us what sustains you during these times of crisis in Israel?

Sarah: Well, I'm dealing with it on different levels.

Perhaps the best question is not what "sustains" me, but how I'm managing not to lose my mind with worry. First, I decided to limit how much news I consume. Rather than check the news online every hour, as I usually do, I now look at it once in the morning and once in the evening. I still check all the same news sources: Ha'aretz, NYTimes, CNN, and various blogs in both Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, but now I do it more seldom. That way, if anything major happens I know within 12 hours, but I'm not stressing all the time.

The other way I cope is by throwing myself into my work. Let's just say I've been extremely productive in the past week!

I spend a lot of time praying, and thinking, and worrying -- worrying about the casualties on both sides, worried that Hezballah might be found to have missiles that could reach Jerusalem, where I live, worried about Israel's image, worried about whether there could have been another way, worried about who went wrong, and when, and worried about . . . well, everything.

MG: What would you as an Israeli like to say to the world about the necessity of this war?

Sarah: The residents of Northern Israel have been living under Katyusha fire for years. In the last 15 years, over 2,200 Katyushas have rained onto the town of Kiryat Shmona alone. So when people say that Israel should have more restraint, I would like to remind them that Israel has been showing restraint for years. The recent kidnapping of soldiers and strikes by Hezballah are not a strange and isolated incident; they were the straw that broke the camels back.

In an ideal world, the Lebanese government would have been strong enough to reign in Hezballah itself, to prevent attacks against Israel and, failing that, to be strong enough to negotiate a peaceful solution through diplomacy. Unfortunately, the government is not currently strong enough to do that. I understand that Lebanon has been through terrible crises of its own lately, and is still trying to get back on its feet. But whatever the reason, and however good the excuse may be, the fact is that Israel has to protect itself, since Lebanon is not strong enough (yet) to maintain control and peaceful relations.

As I recently indicated on my blog, I am not at all happy that we are harming so many Lebanese civilians. Rather, I'm terribly sad that we have to, that we have no choice.

MG: Do you think it's an accurate assessment to say, that while Israel appears to be winning the actual war, they are losing the propaganda battle?

Sarah: Yes. As I recently saw it expressed in Time magazine, Israel may have no choice, but by killing so many civilians, there's no way we can come out looking good.

I cannot speak for the populations of other areas, such as Europe, but I keep a close eye on American media. Americans -- or, at least, American journalists-- have an interesting idiosyncracy of always rooting for the underdog, whether they share the same values or not. It is difficult to tell how much of that attitude reflects the ideas of the masses.

Israel has made some grave errors in its policies in Gaza and the West Bank, but in the minds of many people around the world, the only way for Israel to be a good guy at this point is to become the underdog. I think there is some truth to the Jews' paranoid idea that the only way the world likes us is when we are dying. Give us some power, and they can't stand us -- even if we are right. That may be a paranoid outlook, but that doesn't make it inaccurate.

I'd also like to say that my own particular position is that I don't care whether the rest of the world, especially Europe, thinks we are right or wrong -- the "rest of the world" are the same people who persecuted us for 2,000 years -- but I do care very much whether God thinks we are right or wrong. I pray every day that He guides our decision makers, and that whatever we do is ultimately for the best. I do not know whether Israel's leaders are wise, but I hope that with God's help they are, at the very least, stumbling upon wise actions.

Bahai Gardens Above Haifa by Ark 47 - Flickr

MG: Do you feel that the U.S. shackles Israel? Does it let Israel operate at full capacity against terrorist groups like Hezb'alla and Hamas?

Sarah: That is a very difficult question to answer. Israel has often done things that displeases America. We're not exactly a puppet of the West . . . not exactly. Still, there is no question that Israel would like to stay on America's "good side," and may otherwise act more forcefully.

I realize that it may be very difficult for our neighbors to believe this, but I do believe that one thing that "checks" Israel's aggressiveness is the will of its people. Most Israelis are extremely sensitive about NOT killing innocent people, NOT creating "collateral damage." There is a tremendous population of Israelis who very much see Arabs, including Palestinians, as regular people who just want to live productive lives, and we ourselves are conscious of not wanting to hurt other people. Like I said, Israel has made grave errors, but the overall feeling I get from most Israelis (and I encounter all sorts of Israelis) is that they really just want to be left alone, and would gladly withdraw to the 1967 borders and mind their own business if only they knew with absolute certainty that they, too, would be left alone to live productive lives. Unfortunately, as evidenced by Hezballah, we have no such promise.

MG: If you had the chance to watch any of the international coverage of the conflict like CNN, BBC, or Fox, do you think their coverage has been fair and objective?

Sarah: I get all my news online. However I have many friends in America who watch CNN, and they tell me that it is grossly biased in favor of Lebanon, painting Israel as the bully who is indiscriminately killing people -- without providing enough context to explain why this war is happening. They also do not report, for example, in giving over the casualties statistics, that one of the reasons so few Israelis have died is that Israel long ago invested in early-warning systems, and bomb shelters for all residents. And also, that the North has basically emptied out. The low number of Israeli casualties is not due to a lack of effort on Hezballah's part, but because Israelis were extremely prepared for attack.

Woman by Nimbu - Flickr

MG: Will there ever be peace in the Middle East in our lifetime?

Sarah: Oh, how I wish I could say yes! I dream of someday renting an RV and traveling to Beirut, to Baghdad . . . I have been to the Israel-Lebanon border, and it is so beautiful up there . . . . surely Lebanon must be gorgeous. The mountains and the sea do not end where the border does.

But, no, barring what we call in Judaism a "revealed miracle," I do not believe that there will be peace between Israel and its neighbors in our lifetime. My personal feeling is that it will take approximately 300 years. I hope I am wrong. And maybe I am. Who would have imagined, 50 years ago, that Israel would have working (more or less) peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt? It may be a cold peace, but it's better than nothing.

I cannot give any estimates about when there will be peace BETWEEN the Arab states. That is for you guys to figure out, though unfortunately I don't think Israel will be left alone until the Arabs make peace, real peace, between themselves.

I wonder, also, when you say "peace," what does that mean to you? I have heard it said that one reason there is no peace is that we define it differently, that to the Arab states, peace with Israel means "we won't attack you any more, we'll put up with the fact that you are there," and to Israelis it means "we'll promote tourism between our countries and form mutually beneficial trade agreements." When you say "peace," do you mean "we'll agree to swallow the bitter pill of Israel's existence," or do you mean "I want to see Tel Aviv on my next vacation"?

(Most Israelis would do practically anything to get the former, but in an ideal world it would be the latter.)

Thanks very much for giving me a chance to express my views...

aka Chayyei Sarah

MG Says: Our thanks go out to Sarah.

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