A Short History of the Six Day War, part 1

On June 5, 1967, Israel went to war with its neighbours. By June 10, Israel had more than tripled in size. In a decisive victory in six short days, Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan, who in turn had help from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Tunisia. Soon dubbed “the Six Day War”, this short, regional conflict would go on to have enormous implications for Israel, the Middle East and the peace and security of the world.

This series of posts will summarise, in three parts, the causes, conduct and consequences of the Six Day War. It attempts to give a simple but not simplistic account of the facts, inasmuch as the facts can be ascertained from noteworthy historical accounts of the war.

This account will begin with the consequences, followed by the conduct of the war in its most important events and finally, the war’s causes. We start with the consequences of the Six Day War in order to show the reader the enormous impact this small war has had, and why he or she should continue reading.

Consequences
The Six Day War’s consequences were numerous and far-reaching, and some of them plague the region to this day. The changes of perceptions of threats in the area, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and subsequent Egypt-Israel peace accord, the hostage massacre at the Munich Olympics and the increased importance of the Middle East as a Cold War hotspot are some of the war’s short term outcomes. I will attempt to outline the longer lasting ones here. They are the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the occupation the Palestinian territories and military and nonmilitary conflict.

First, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, or Islamism, or jihadism, or whatever you want to call it, is an indirect consequence of the Six Day War. Before the Six Day War, Pan-Arabism was the motto of the day. Egypt, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, had become the leader of a kind of anti-colonial, anti-Israeli, socialist movement in the Arab world. This movement was a source of unity and the reason why Arab states combined their armed forces on the eve of the Six Day War. In a very unusual act as governments go, Egypt and Syria had even united under one state to form the United Arab Republic, though only for three years. Nasser was very charismatic and popular and, in the lead up to the Six Day War, was assured a win by those around him.

One year before the Six Day War, in 1966, Nasser ordered the execution of Sayyid Qutb, a leading intellectual member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb was not a terrorist (and the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation), but he played a big role in the rise of Islamic terrorism. When he was executed, he was made a martyr. His ideas spread and “jihadist” organisations like al-Qaeda followed them.

The transnational Islamist movement arose in a vacuum. After the Six Day War, the Arab leaders (the losers) bickered and fought. Each heaped culpability on the others and suddenly, unity was no longer a priority. Some leaders, such as Jordan’s King Hussein, wanted a peace accord with Israel, while Nasser engaged Israel in the pointless but deadly War of Attrition. Pan-Arabism thus discredited, Islamic fundamentalism became the new ideology of the Muslim world. While most Muslims do not fall under this banner, Islamism has attracted people from countries as diverse as Indonesia, Morocco, India, Iraq, Britain and Spain. And the main target of anger and terrorism in the name of Islam has been Israel.

In the second lasting consequence of the Six Day War, Israel acquired the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank of the Jordan River, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It occupies the last four of these to this day. The return of the Sinai to Egypt was the major reason that Egypt and Israel were able to sign a peace agreement in 1978. Israel and Jordan signed a peace accord in 1994 but return of the West Bank was not part of the deal. It was believed that the Golan Heights could be returned to Syria and the West Bank to Jordan for peace accords, but they were not. The Heights were not of sufficient importance to Syria and peace with Syria not of sufficient interest to Israel to ever make the exchange. And no one wants the Gaza Strip. What problems these territories have caused.

The acquisition of territory by conquest and the settling of it with the conquering state’s citizens are both strictly prohibited by international law. With the exception of East Jerusalem, which the vast majority of Israelis refuse to give up, the government of Israel once hoped that the occupied territories could be returned for peace treaties (“Land for Peace”). At the same time, however, it was allowing Jewish settlers into all areas of the territories. Settlements began springing up everywhere. Settlements in the Sinai were uprooted to return the land to Egypt, and settlements in Gaza were removed in 2005 for reasons we will not go into here. But there are still half a million Jewish settlers in all the occupied territories. Going into all the trouble they have caused for both Israel and the Palestinians is the subject of the book “Lords of the Land” by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar; suffice it to say, the occupation and settlement are the primary reasons the Palestinians are angry.

Third and most important, and related to Israel’s territorial gains, it may be fair to say that all major violence against Israelis and Palestinians since June 1967 has been due to the consequences of the Six Day War. One consequence of the 1948 war, the first Arab-Israeli war, was the beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem. The Six Day War exacerbated it. The Palestinians were pushed in greater numbers into refugee camps in places like Lebanon and Jordan. Palestinians were a big presence in western Jordan, and around 1970 had almost carved out an autonomous enclave on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The Palestinian organisation Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat, conducted border raids on Israel and fought with Jordanians as well.

In September of 1970 (“Black September”), Palestinians attempted to assassinate King Hussein. They also hijacked airplanes and, after removing the hostages, blew them up on television. The Jordanian army attacked and, after a year of fighting, drove them out of Jordan to Lebanon.

The Six Day War is also known as the third Arab-Israeli war; the fourth one was in 1973; and the fifth one was Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, and after a short time staying out, Arafat’s guerrillas entered the fray. The Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, entered Lebanon in an attempt to shore up a friendly government and take out the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. For some time it occupied Beirut, but was forced to retreat to a small part of southern Lebanon that it held as a buffer. Israel’s invasion is generally held as the progenitor of Hizbullah, which prodded Israel into violence several times since, most evidently in the 2006 Lebanon War. In what many Israelis saw at the time as unprovoked and unnecessary violence, in 1982, the IDF killed several thousand Lebanese, enabled the massacre of more than 800 Palestinian refugees and suffered more than 600 casualties.

The occupation of the territories turned the IDF from a defense force into a police force, setting up checkpoints, defending settlers and bulldozers, arresting and shooting Palestinians for violating curfews. This oppressive policing of Palestine led to the first Intifada. The typical image of the Intifada is the Palestinian boy throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. The first Intifada was an uprising against Israeli control of the Palestinian territories and lasted for six years. The second Intifada, characterised less by stones and more by suicide bombings, also lasted several years (when it ended is disputed) and a third one may be in the works.

Contrary to what many Israelis believe, the Intifadas were spontaneous, not planned. They were not the attempted destruction of the State of Israel by the Palestinians but may be likened more to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis: people were herded into terrible conditions and handled with violence. Only the most sheeplike people would not consider fighting back. Things have not gotten any better in the occupied territories and there is no solution in the works. The Palestinians were the real victims of the Six Day War, a war that, in the minds of too many people, has never been resolved.

Tomorrow, we will look at the conduct of the war itself.

One week of Israeli-Palestine conflict news from the source

Day 2

The Jerusalem Post

Today’s headline reads “Security cabinet directs IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] to respond to any Gaza aggression.” That doesn’t sound good. Next to it is a photo of guys in a quarry wearing ski masks jumping through a hoop of fire with the caption “PRC [don’t know] terrorists train in the central Gaza Strip.” The US wants Israel to ease the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli security cabinet is trying to figure out how to allow more goods to be traded without endangering Israelis.

The Gaza Strip is treated like a kind of rat’s nest: don’t let any of them out or they could bite you. Keep them stuffed in there and if any tries to bite you from inside, throw the poison down. According to the Post, a terrorist attack near the Karni crossing was foiled earlier this week. And the matter of the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit could lead to a prisoner swap. Interesting that they refer to an Israeli prisoner by name but do not hint at the name of any Palestinians. Perhaps the Palestinians do not have names.

“[D]efense officials continue opposing bringing concrete and steel into the Gaza Strip, arguing that it would be used not only to reconstruct buildings, but also to construct arms smuggling tunnels and rebuild Hamas’ rocket building capacity.” So do not expect a lot of reconstruction in the material sense. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak maintains there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We cannot know from this article if he is right because it does not mention food. But the security cabinet, Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu all reaffirmed their commitment to the security of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

A video of “Arafat’s ex-manager” reads “Israel and America killed Yasser Arafat”. Another video shows US Mideast envoy George Mitchell shaking hands with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Related articles are titled “Some Islamic extremists respond positively to Obama’s speech,” “Hillary Clinton’s troubling transformation on Israel” and the one I read yesterday, “Why Obama is wrong on Israel and the Shoah.” It is possible that the Jerusalem Post is trying to systematically take apart the Barack administration’s stance on Israel and Palestine in order to legitimise Netanyahu’s government’s dissent from it.

One article quotes Ehud Barak at length on Arab-Israeli matters such as Barack’s speech in Cairo, the two-state solution and Iran’s nuclear development. It is rare that one sees a Canadian or American newspaper with such full quotes of their leaders. It is perhaps an effort not to take Mr Barak out of context. The same article shows a photo of him shaking hands playfully with a group of smiling seventh graders.

Today’s Must-Reads includes “Taking a stand on Iran”, about Canadian legislation called the Iran Accountability Act, holding Iran and apparently everywhere else accountable for genocide. The article says that, while all signatories to the 1948 Convention of the Prevention of Genocide have a responsibility to stop genocide when it happens, “they have largely ignored…the world’s greatest threat [Iran].” Apparently, Iran is the most likely country in the world to commit genocide.

One Op Ed piece recognises, for the first time as I have read this week, the ideological divisions within Israeli discourse regarding human rights and security concerns. The rest of the articles tend to leave the impression of consensus, and the consensus is of taking a hard line on the enemy. This one, by senior fellows at the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank, says that the US could learn something about counterterrorism from Israel, and that the ideological differences between Dick Cheney’s “no middle ground” on terror attitude and President Barack’s constitutional approach parallels the debate in Israel today. Thank you, gentlemen, for showing there are both soft and hard views in Israel on security and not simply varying degrees of hawk.

The Palestine Chronicle

“Lebanon’s Election Results and the Age of Resistance”: An election observer named Franklin Lamb, who saw it all, describes at length first the peaceful prayer that took place after the election in Lebanon on Monday, and then the peaceful elections. From his description, they sound very much like elections I have worked for in Canada, except with soldiers. The losing coalition is described as “disappointed but civil”. Mr Lamb quotes a member of Michel Aoun (leader of the losing coalition)’s senior political bureau, two members of Hezbollah and no one from the winning group.

On an angrier note, Mr Lamb proceeds to say that the Barack administration is disappointed their side did not perform better in the election, that they violated Lebanese voting laws by campaigning for their favourites and felt contempt for Lebanon’s voters. With regard to the weapons of “the resistance” (Hezbollah), which was such a big issue in this election, Israel insists on decommissioning them, but political will in Lebanon to do anything about it is weak. In other words, don’t expect Hezbollah to give up its arms.

At the end of the article, Mr Lamb puts somewhat confusing rallying calls for the National Lebanese Resistance to “defend a Zionist-terrorised Lebanon, staking their lives on their basic belief in God and the independence and sovereignty for their country and the Liberation of Palestine…. As this era of Resistance to Zionism spreads around the World and intensifies here and abroad, every hour that Lebanon resists brings the region closer to justice and real peace.”

The Chronicle featured two interesting commentaries on the US government: “Obama Spoke to Muslims for Oil, not Humanity” and “Obama’s Outreach to Muslims: Same Old Policies”. They might as well have been the same article. One writer suggests Barack’s campaign slogan should have been “Continuity We Can Believe In”. Without a lot of analysis, he says Barack was using “soft power” (influence through carrots rather than sticks) and peripherally examines his choice of Egypt to give his speech as likely to be popular with Americans. He also disagrees with Barack’s statement that the image of the US as a self-interested empire is a stereotype. The writer finds it “difficult for those with knowledge of American foreign policy history to believe.”

As with yesterday’s Palestine Times (and all newspapers, really), there are some perfunctories attacks on the paper’s enemies. One is about a town of 170 Jewish families in Israel. The town has begun requiring its citizens to take an oath of loyalty to “Zionism, Jewish heritage and settlement of the land”. The article called this “a thinly veiled attempt to block Arab applicants from gaining admission.” Really? It is veiled? I would call it an unveiled attempt to keep Arabs out. It was a move by the town council to put “Zionist values and Jewish heritage…at the heart of [the town’s] way of life. We don’t see this as racism in any way.” While I believe towns should have this right, it is clearly racist and highly reminiscent of the town of Herouxville, Quebec, that did something similar a few years ago. Nonetheless, does blasting a small town’s prejudiced choices really advance the Palestinian people’s cause?

I just realised that the Palestinian Chronicle is written largely by non-Muslims. The names of the contributors are most Anglo-Saxon or German (Jewish?)-sounding. Makes sense: get non-Muslims on your side to show that others agree with you, and even that the world is on your side. Its tagline reads “global voices for a better world”. Considering the nature of the articles, on the sinister US, terrorist Israel, and the plight of the Palestinians, it seems ironic to use a “better world” tagline and photo of olives, friendship and art to represent your cause. The paper is more about how they are making the world worse than how we can make the world better.

Haaretz

Being a newspaper more for English-speaking Jews around the world than Israelis alone, the leader of today’s Haaretz was that an 89-year-old (89!) white supremacist opened fire at a Holocaust museum in the United States. (When I return to the Jerusalem Post, its first article has been updated to the same news.) The second article was the same as the first of the Jerusalem Post, “Cabinet to IDF: Repond to any attack from Gaza”. This is clearly a big issue in Israel and it scares me to think of that “any” aggression from Palestinians in Gaza could mean a repeat of the war at the beginning of this year.

“US envoy: Obama won’t yield on settlement freeze”. This article says that Netanyahu has rejected the US demand, though it is an obligation under the Road Map to Peace. It also makes the first mention I have seen so far that George Mitchell, Barack’s Middle East envoy, was a a senator and the broker of the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. This is the first article mentioning anyone from the US administration that makes an American seem human.

This item references Prime Minister Netanyahu as saying “Israel is acting to advance peace and security with the Palestinians and the Arab world,” and yet gave no details. Is this short statement meant to appease Israelis? To me at least, the lack of any details on this seemingly noteworthy act is suspicious. But perhaps I am in the minority, and Israelis reading it will nod their heads in understanding. The article gives more voice to Mr Mitchell and has him state clearly, “Let me be clear. These are not disagreements among adversaries. The United States and Israel are and will remain close allies and friends.” That’s pretty clear.

Writing on Ehud Barak’s speech to the Council for Peace and Security, comprising IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad veterans, one journalist says it was filled with the “staples: a little peace, an open hand extended to our neighbors, an existential threat or two.” He got a short interview with Mr Barak and protrays him as somewhat pessimistic. On one hand, his government is committed to the Road Map and the two-state solution; on the other, says Barak, “[t]he Road Map should be changed now that Hamas is in power.”

The Defense section had more words from Defense Minister Barak’s speech, tainted with the fear that American weapons to Lebanon’s army would end up in Hezbollah’s hands; and yet another on Barak and his comments foreshadowing more wars like Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in January. I don’t like labeling people I do not know personally, but it could be fair to call Barak a hawk.

A lot more of the headlines are related to Jewish West Bank settlements, though some are about Jewish comedy, a Tel Aviv gay pride parade and Liberian warlord Charles Taylor’s conversion to Judaism. And most interesting to me, both Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have side bars about Jews marrying non-Jews. Scandalous!

One week reading the mouthpieces of Israel and Palestine

Since the media play such a large role in our perceptions of the world, and our perceptions influence our opinions, and our opinions feed conflict, I have decided to read leading Israeli and Palestinian newspapers to try to make sense of the perspectives of the protagonists of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have decided to read four newspapers every day for one week: the Palestine Chronicle, the Palestine Times, the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. (The Palestine Times is not a daily, actually, so I will not read it every day. I may read a different paper to substitute.) I am mostly interested in news related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and learning local perspectives on it, although any more about the newspapers that could be relevant I will try to take note of.

I realise that there is more to the conflict than newspapers report, and that there are (or at least, should be) more opinions than there are writers, but newspaper readers do not always bear this in mind. I also realise that seven days is not long enough to get more than a superficial understanding of the way people think. Nonetheless, it may be enough time to understand how a newspaper thinks. I doubt I will learn any “true” history, but I do expect to understand the purported grievances of the two sides of this endless confrontation. Over this week, I expect to become frustrated and tired, but that is the nature of resolving conflicts.

Day 1

The Palestine Chronicle

The leader is called “How much really separates Obama and Netanyahu?” Jennifer Loewenstein from the University of Wisconsin-Madison writes that the term “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” implies that both sides have equally reasonable grievances, and that this is why finding a fair resolution is so difficult. People who believe this have been, she says, deeply indoctrinated.

Loewenstein uses more charged language throughout her story. She calls the US and Israel’s approaches to Palestinian statehood, with reference to a 1976 UN Security Council resolution recognising national rights for Palestine (which, incidentally, I could not find on this page), “rejectionist”. She calls Barack’s speech in Cairo “patronising” and “obsequious”. She says he supports “a depraved Holocaust industry”. And she all but accuses him of a cynical approach to the two-state solution because he knows Bibi will reject it.

The writer reminds us of the grievances of the Palestinians. She writes of the hypocrisy of condemning violence by Hamas when war in Gaza earlier this year was far deadlier. And she uses pathos to great effect, filling the readers head with images of children in Gaza, “[t]he rocketing, fire-bombing and bulldozing of entire neighbourhoods”, and asking why Obama failed to chastise Israel for attacking “hospitals, schools, ambulances, UN buildings and shelters, food warehouses, businesses, factories and family homes”. In the end, she says, Barack has told Bibi exactly what he wanted to hear.

Other articles are lighter on Barack. Several articles that claimed to be about Barack’s speech were really just historical analyses of the inherently hawkish Israeli state and its actions against Palestine. One said that the speech was encouraging, but it showed the president was not willing to go far enough. It was, he wrote, more of the same. Another article even praised him for bringing his country into the 21st century and well away from the policies of the Bush administration.

The Chronicle website even had a picture of Ehud Olmert with the words “most corrupt” above it. The link took you to a story on Transparency International and corruption in the Israeli state. However, the article did seem to twist the facts to make them sound as if the Israeli government was hopelessly riddled with corruption, when what it really said was that 86% of Israelis said that the government’s fight against corruption was ineffective. That is not a sign of corruption, but of public perception. I wonder how many newspapers know the difference between fact and opinion.

The Jerusalem Post

The main editorial in today’s Post is called “Why Obama is wrong about Israel and the Shoah”. It comments on Barack’s trip to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and his statement “[t]he nation of Israel [arose] out of the destruction of the Holocaust,” and his next, that “it is also undeniable that the Palestinians… have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”

The editorial corrects Barack’s mistake immediately. “Barack Obama has been terribly misinformed if he thinks Israel’s legitimacy hinges on the Shoah.” (The Shoah is the Hebrew word favourable to some people to “Holocaust”.) “What the Holocaust proved is that the world is too dangerous a place for Jews to be stateless and defenseless.”

The writer continues by citing the historical precedents for a Jewish state in Israel, since “long before Christianity and Islam appeared”. And yet, he says, if the US president continues to call Israel the state created to atone for Nazi genocide, Arabs will never accept the Jews’ three thousand year old claim to the soil, and peace will never come.

While the Palestine Chronicle only had stories on Israel, Palestine, the US and the Lebanese elections, the Jerusalem Post writes on business, politics, science, health and sports. That said, it is clear that the focus of the paper is on the same issues as the Chronicle. It is clear that everyone considers the Israel-Palestine questions central to the news of the region; it is equally apparent, however, that few are willing to admit their side has done anything wrong.

An article on NGO fact-finding missions in Gaza dismisses the NGOs’ reports out of hand. One might be tempted to dismiss the article in the same way, though it proceeds to make a good point about bias. According to the article, 500 NGO statements were released condemning the three-week war in Gaza in January 2009. During the same period, “less than six” (so five?) NGO statements condemned the violence raging simultaneously in the Congo. That said, this article sets the tone for any number of similar articles in the future, articles that reject all organisations investigating the war in Gaza that find facts Israelis do not like.

A lot was also in today’s Post about the defeat of Hezbollah in the Lebanese elections, mentioning its violent past and sidestepping the fact that these elections were peaceful. “Israel cautiously hopeful on Lebanon”, said one headline, while another quoted Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as saying “Hizbullah will fight Israel”. It seems to have no desire to conceal its confrontational ideology, with one article on the Barack administration’s loyalty to Israel titled “Which side are they on?”, one headline asking “Are Jews ready for Obama?” and a third, related article, “What’s best for the Jews”.

The Palestine Times

The Palestine Times is based in London. The first headline reads “Last-ditch effort to end rift between Hamas and Fatah” at the talks in Cairo aimed at ending the violent rivalry between the two political factions representing the Palestinian people. It quickly blames the US for backing “Fatah security lords” trying to overthrow Hamas in Gaza and surrender to Israel.

The article quotes various Palestinian leaders as desiring a national unity government to confront Israel. Highly contentious, however, is the matter of recognising Israel, which could lead the talks into deadlock. Curiously, at the end of the article, there is a seemingly perfunctory note that the “Israeli occupation army arrested hundreds of suspected political activists in the West Bank in recent weeks.” While I was scratching my head wondering what that had to do with Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, the next paragraph made it slightly clearer. “Israel is holding thousands of Palestinian activists and political leaders hostage in concentration camps all over occupied Palestine, mainly as a pressure tactic to force Hamas to capitulate to the Zionist regime.”

Some of the other leading articles are regarding Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. In a tone of slight accusation, Fatah is implied to be pro-Western, corrupt and less representative of the Palestinian people than Hamas. Abbas is shown as a divisive figure, even within his party. This may, of course, be common knowledge in Palestine.

The first article in the “articles” section is about a massacre in 1948 by the Hagana attacked the village of a man who is still alive to talk about it. It cites the first Israeli minister of agriculture, Aharon Zisling, as having said of its brutality that “Jews, too, have committed Nazi acts.” The man who witnessed it all recalls all the brutal details, none of which are spared the reader. The whole article was written from an interview with one man, aged nearly 100.

The second headline reads “Freed Palestinian woman speaks of ‘horrific mistreatment’ in Israeli jails”. The third spits bitter poison as it outlines UN Security Council resolutions (one from 60 years ago) regarding Israeli occupation and continually addresses the Quartet (the US, the EU, Russia and the UN) as one might rap another’s head to wake him up. And as with the Palestinian Chronicle, the Times details the brutal existence of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and as many details of the January 2009 war in Gaza as can fit in a well-written news article.

Haaretz

Binyamin Netanyahu is convinced President Barack wants a confrontation with Israel in order to bolster his image among Arabs. Washington and Jerusalem are rowing over Jewish West Bank settlements. More on Netanyahu. More on Barack. The headlines are in-depth stories on personalities and policies.

But there are fewer bitterly political stories than the other papers. Haaretz also features a count of how many days (and seconds) since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip.  After the first five headlines is an article on joining the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). It follows a new recruit, proud and psyched to be there, and tells the reader how great it is to be in the Golani Brigade. I am not the most perceptive person, but I think even I can recognise propaganda. The article really does feel like another “support our boys” piece. My suspicion rises a bit more when I read related articles “Were IDF close-range killings in Gazan justified?” (the conclusion turning out to be ‘who says we did?’) and “Iraqi general tells of Arab armies’ admiration for IDF”.

In fact, the former article on close-range killings writes, during the siege of Gaza in January of this year, of Israeli soldiers ordering the Abu Hajaj family out of their home. A shell burst through the wall of their home and a young girl suffered from a shrapnel wound in her hand. They went out with white flags, saw Israeli tanks in front of them, tried to run, but the mother and sister were shot.

Could it be that the IDF admits it killed two innocents at close range during the war in Gaza? Well, said a spokesperson, the army denies knowledge of such an incident; and by the way, “Hamas cynically exploited the civilian population and used it as a ‘human shield’”. So maybe it was Hamas.

Haaretz has all kinds of other articles: like the Jerusalem Post, it is not dedicated solely to anti-Palestinianism but also business, sports, travel and the arts. For some reason, the news on Lebanon’s election is way down the page, under the Jewish World section where “Will anti-semitism take over Hungary?” is the top story. It is interesting, too, that unlike the other papers, there are sections called Diplomacy and Defense. I will look more closely at them tomorrow.

Lebanon’s election is an opportunity for peace

Lebanon has been a place of violence for so long that it is surely wrong to pin so much hope on one election. The outcome of Lebanon’s parliamentary election today will not defuse ethnic tensions in Lebanon, nor will they stop foreign powers from intervening in Lebanon’s internal affairs. However, they do give the nation a chance for a peaceful future.

Little violence was reported after polls closed. Even in this tight race for power, characterised by two opposing coalitions, each representing a motley group of constituents, opposing parties competed not to kill each other but to hand out flyers, food and water. Amin Gemayal, former president and head of a Christian party in the election, urged his supporters to accept its outcome regardless.

Observers, particularly from Europe, North America and Israel, complain that Hezbollah, recognised by the US government as a terrorist organisation, is competing as a legitimate party. Hezbollah is notorious for being pro-Syrian, despite Syria’s longtime occupation of Lebanon, and has been, to say the least, a thorn in the side of Israelis. However, it is part of a coalition of different ethnic groups and ideologies. If a supposedly divisive group such as this can cooperate with another Shiite party and a secular party, whose leader, Michel Aoun, and his mainly Christian supporters, who oppose Syrian influence, surely it can cooperate with its political opponents. It may not rush to recognise Israel’s existence, but under pressure, in time, it may consider it advantageous.

Moreover, if Hezbollah is a major part of the government, conflict with Israel is less likely, not more. When it was an opposition party and terrorist group, it could cause endless mischief for Israel because it had no shape that a conventional military could strike. It was not a well-defined group with famous actors that Israeli missles could selectively assassinate, and buildings Israeli tanks could shell. If it forms the government, however, it will be forced to act more responsibly. Its members will occupy government buildings that the Israel Defence Forces can target more easily. It will not want to risk an international war because all rich country aid to Lebanon would be cut off. More of its members will be distracted with affairs of state such as improving the economy, too busy building a reputation for responsibility and openness, reaching out to foreign governments for aid.

That, of course, is assuming that Hezbollah plans to build up a reputation for responsibility and openness, still a highly speculative possibility. But a peaceful election, pressure from coalition partners and the impracticalities of continued violent conflict with its neighbours mean the chances of violence in Lebanon are lower than they have been for a long time. Whatever the outcome of this election, Lebanon has a new opportunity for peace.