Israeli 'Doves' Say Response Is Legitimate

In Haifa, an Israeli woman and a policeman react after a rocket exploded nearby.
In Haifa, an Israeli woman and a policeman react after a rocket exploded nearby. "This is probably the most justified war in our history," said Ari Shavit, a dovish Israeli newspaper columnist. (By Baz Ratner -- Associated Press)
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

JERUSALEM, July 25 -- Yossi Beilin, one of Israel's most prominent peace activists, has a problem, and it is not the predictable one.

It's not that he's a lonely dove speaking out against Israel's strikes on Beirut and other Lebanese cities, or that he alone seems to remember the deep scars left by Israel's 18-year military occupation of southern Lebanon. Quite the opposite. Beilin's problem is that this time around, with some reservations, he supports Israel's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon -- and that leaves him feeling, in a word, conflicted.

"People like myself led the movement to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, and when we were asked what would happen if they continued to use violence against us and shoot at us from Lebanon, we said that when we leave Lebanon according to a U.N. agreement, then we will have a free hand to use against those who act against us," said Beilin, who was justice minister at the time of the pullout. "This is why we find ourselves in a difficult situation. We cannot criticize everything the government does, especially since it is clear-cut that there was no Israeli provocation."

Two weeks into a war that began after a cross-border Hezbollah raid captured two Israeli soldiers, Israelis have shown extraordinary unanimity in backing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's military campaign to inflict a punishing and perhaps lethal blow to the militant Shiite group, despite a rain of rockets into northern Israel and hundreds of civilian deaths and widespread bombing destruction in Lebanon.

This singularity of purpose, which bridges Israel's weary center, dovish left and hawkish right in a way rarely seen here, is all the more striking coming just six years after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the self-declared security zone it held in Lebanon for nearly two decades, ending a painful experience that inflicted deep wounds on the national psyche and might have made some wary of reentering the Lebanese morass.

"Lebanon was Israel's Vietnam, and when we went there in 1982, it was really a march of folly, it was wrong morally, it was wrong strategically, and we paid dearly for that grave mistake," said Ari Shavit, a dovish columnist for Haaretz newspaper, referring to the full-scale invasion masterminded by then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to drive out the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But today is different, he said, "because Israeli is not the aggressor marching into another land." Rather, the current campaign "is an old-fashioned war where we are right, and we were attacked for no reason whatsoever. This is probably the most justified war in our history."

In a survey published Friday by Israel's Maariv newspaper, 95 percent of those sampled said that attacks against Hezbollah were justified, and 90 percent said that fighting should continue until Hezbollah was pushed away from Israel's northern border.

"Do you think it was easy for us to decide to go back into Lebanon?" said Israel Mizrahi, 46, a Jerusalem printer with six children. "We waited many years, holding back, until everything exploded."

"These people have to be taught a lesson," he said. "Why should I care about Lebanese civilians? Have you heard them talking on TV? They hate Israel. They want to destroy Israel. They hate Jews. Why should I have mercy on them when we are being attacked from their country?"

But despite the broad support, some Israelis are starting to speak out against the way the battle is being conducted, questioning less the justice of striking back at Hezbollah than the way it is being done. They note the high number of civilian casualties in Lebanon, prewar intelligence failures about Hezbollah's strength and gaps in Israel's military offensive that are permitting dozens of rockets to land in northern Israel every day. Articles on the editorial pages are starting to show more edge, and the word "quagmire" is beginning to pop up on talk radio.

"We are not really totally wiping out Hezbollah using some kind of super force, nor are we really sparing innocent Lebanese civilians who are being used as human shields by the terrorists," said a frustrated Rina Kline, 36, an elementary school teacher from Tzur Hadassah, on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem. "We're flattening empty buildings and then going back and bombing them again, while they're still shooting missiles at us and half the country is still sitting in bomb shelters."


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company