Nov 2010 Journal

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Letter from Israel: Self-defence comes at a price

The Punic Wars, the Roman Empire, the migrations and conquests of the Germanic tribes, the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Barbarians, the split between the Roman and Byzantine churches, the Islamic conquest of Spain, Charlemagne, the Wars of the Three Brothers, which ended with the treaty of Verdun in 843, the Magyar pillages, the Norman conquest (1066 and all that), the Crusades, the Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Wars of the Roses in England, the Reconquista in Spain, the Mongol-Tatar invasions of Poland of 1241, the Fall of Constantinople, the defeat of the Crusader Kingdom in the 13th century, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, alliances and unions that changed the borders of Turkey, Spain, Portugal, France, Poland, all the countries of Eastern Europe, Russia, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and Italy (the latter two not actually existing as sovereign states until the 19th century), the conquest of the Low Countries by Spain, the War of the Spanish Succession, the battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the combined forces of Spain, Genoa and Venice crushed the Turkish invaders, the Wars of Religion (cuius regio, eius religio), the Huguenots, the War of Jenkins’ Ear, the British defeat of the Spanish Armada, the first Schmalkaldic war in 1547, when Duke Maurice of Saxony assisted Charles V, the second Schmalkaldic war in 1552, when the French secured bases in Alsace, the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, Henry of Navarre’s blood-soaked path to the throne of France, the Thirty Years’ War, the Cromwellian Revolution and the execution of King Charles I, the French Revolution and the guillotining of King Louis XVI, the Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War, the Second World War, occasional Balkan wars.

Thus, from a historical perspective, the idea of peace in Europe is a startling innovation.

What does this mean for Israel? Is it destined to endure 1,000 years of fighting before someone out there finally accepts the idea that peace, however unsatisfactory, is still better than incessant bloodshed?

Has any Israeli leader ever opened a history book and tried to learn its lessons? Has any Arab leader?

In the 2,000 years after the Romans exiled the Jews from their country, the Jews were persecuted, or at best tolerated and harassed, throughout Europe. This process culminated in the Holocaust, though some 50 years beforehand the Dreyfus Affair and the rampant anti-Semitism it revealed led Theodor Herzl to suggest that the Jews deserved a homeland. L’Affaire Dreyfus also caused some Jews to espouse socialism and the Russian Revolution, others to abandon their Jewish identity and seek to assimilate in the Gentile world. Hitler would have none of that, however: as far as he was concerned, birth determined identity.

Israel has been attacked since its inception, whether by regular armies or guerrilla groups (the polite term for terrorists). Israel is anathema to radical Muslims, who are gaining an ever greater say in world events. Muslim countries dominate the UN and control some of the world’s most valuable natural resources. Large groups of Muslims are to be found throughout Europe. They are represented in the parliaments of those countries, determine national spending and are able to influence non-Muslim representatives.

Thus, it is hardly surprising that governments condemn Israel for building a wall to keep out those who would blow up buses, cafés and shopping malls. Nor that a flotilla organised by people who are openly hostile to Israel is prevented from breaking the blockade intended to prevent arms entering Gaza. Those arms would be directed against Israel - not any other country. Israel is not in a comfortable position, but self-defence comes at a price.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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