There’s something about war that can make intelligent people look foolish. I’m thinking right now of all those smart people in Tel Aviv on July 9 who analyzed the subtleties of peace at the Haaretz Israel Conference for Peace — only a few hours before Jew-hating terrorists from Hamas began firing rockets throughout Israel.
I wonder if they even considered having a session at the conference called, “What happens when people want to kill you no matter what you do?” That session might have included, for example, a panel of experts discussing the Hamas Charter, which calls for “the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine, in place of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel.”
But there was no such panel at the conference. Instead, they had exclusive contributions from important people like President Barack Obama, who expressed the well-worn mantra of the sophisticated man: “Peace is the only true path to security.”
Well, maybe not, Mr. President. For the millions of Israeli residents now making sure they’re 15 precious seconds away from their bomb shelters, it’s more the other way around: “Security is the only true path to peace.”
The Middle East is one of those places where you can’t always rely on the thinking of sophisticated, intelligent people — it’s a place where the brutality of life creates its own dynamic, logic and rules.
Israel has struggled since its creation between two impulses: the wordly “peace will bring security” camp versus the more primal “security will bring peace” camp. Both are well-intentioned.
The cosmopolitan crowd at the Haaretz conference is surely in the first camp. They can’t afford to leave it. It is who they are. Moving to the “primal” camp would undermine their essence; it would put them in kinship with the bus driver in Dimona who barely has a high school education.
We have a tendency to underestimate the importance of self-identification — how people like to think of themselves — when assessing someone’s worldview. We shouldn’t. Self-identification is a stubborn thing. If I think of myself as an educated gentleman, I must be a seeker of peace, no matter what.
Ugly stuff like a charter that calls for the destruction of a whole people just gets in the way of how I want, and need, the world to be.
That’s why there was no session on the Hamas charter at the Haaretz peace conference. It would have spoiled the party. It would have poisoned the atmosphere. It would have introduced something raw, something primitive, to an educated audience that prides itself on transcending the basic instincts of human nature.
To be honest, I often try to be a part of that camp myself. It feels better. After all, what kind of life would it be if I had to succumb to my primal nature? How would that be considered progress? How would that be a life worth living?
But unlike my Israeli compatriots, my house in Los Angeles doesn’t need a bomb shelter.
I suppose it’s in those bomb shelters, not the intellectual salons, that one gets a glimpse of Middle East reality. You can decide at a “peace conference” to avoid talking about the Hamas charter, but eventually the charter will find you. If it’s not through a panel of experts, then it’s through a rocket with your name on it.
It took less than 24 hours for those Hamas rockets to get a hearing with the attendees of the Haaretz peace conference.
Now, it’s perfectly OK for the enlightened set to stick to their guns. There’s something in me that prefers they do, something in me that says, “We need you to keep pushing your worldview.” In any event, they will not, they cannot, go down gently. Abandoning their self-identification as sophisticated people is not an option.
So, be prepared for the smart pieces analyzing the “weakness” of Hamas, the “overreaction” of Israel, the need to promote “moderate” forces, and, of course, the perennial meta message: The need “now more than ever” to keep pushing for peace, because, as President Obama himself said, it is “the only true path to security.”
There’s something poignant, really, about how the brutal nature of the Middle East has prevented Israel from fully reaching the exalted status of the sophisticated state.
Sadly, no amount of “Start-Up Nation” or avant-garde Israeli culture can cover up the ugly truth of Israel’s neighborhood. It is a truth that is bigger than dreams, bigger than life, bigger than success.
It is a truth that says, simply: We don’t want you here. You’re a bone in our throat. The more successful you are, the more we despise you.
Oh, how we wish it were in our control to change those sentiments!
How we wish that dismantling the settlements would dismantle the Hamas charter!
When the bombs fall, you don’t look for answers in the salons of Tel Aviv; you look for them in the car shops of Dimona.
And in the Middle East, that answer is always the same: Israel can never afford to lose a war.
David Suissa is president of Tribe Media Corp./Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.