“507- this is the number of soldiers who have been killed in the war in Lebanon until now. THE PRICE HAS BEEN TOO HIGH.”
UNTIL JUST the other day, this message on a small placard greeted all who passed by the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Every few days, the cardboard counter was moved around to register another death and a new total in the war that was supposed to last only forty-eight hours.
The operation, which was designed to bring “Peace for Galilee,” “Peace for Beirut,” “Peace for the Shouf Mountains” and now “Peace for Lebanon, south of the Awali River,” has culminated in the resignation of Menachem Begin.
It can be argued that, had it not been for the peace movement in Israel constantly focusing on the debacle in Lebanon, there would have been no nucleus around which ordinary Israelis could express their profound dissent from Government policy.
The Labour Opposition, in all its reticence, hesitation and confused political horse-trading, could not have mounted such a protest. The peace people undoubtedly played a major role in contributing to the psychological situation which forced Begin to step down from office.
Uri, Dania and other student friends began the grim vigil outside the Prime Minister’s residence after serving in Lebanon. Unconnected with any political party or organised peace group, their action attracted spontaneous support and publicity. For over 100 days, some 500 volunteers from all walks of life manned the site, 24 hours a day.
In parallel, a few yards away, an Israeli flag is still guarded by a Likud supporter. He is surrounded by more placards which proclaim patriotic virtues and the adoration of Government policies. This small scene in the heart of the capital is symbolic of the division in the House of Israel.
One year after Sabra and Shatila, many people understand that the war was anything but a total success. The losses outweigh the gains. Begin before his resignation, spoke of the tragedy of Israel’s soldiers adrift in the Lebanese mire.
The majority who imbibed and were intoxicated by war fever now suffer from a confusing hangover, All look for a scapegoat. Some find it in Sharon. Even those who simply believed it to be just another episode in Israel’s continuing war of independence now hesitate before answering.
Government supporters blame the press. According to Eliahu Ben Elissar, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, “whoever refrains from reading newspapers and listening to news, his morale rill not be bad.”
The slow process of re-evaluation has begun. Even Likud supporters and believers in a Greater Israel stood with Uri and his friends outside the Prime Minister’s house.
Outside the Knesset, “Parents Against the War in Lebanon” continue to demonstrate. This organisation similarly arose spontaneously hen a Mrs Samueli wrote to “Ha’aretz” to ask why the parents of serving soldiers were silent. Thousands responded, and now there are branches all over Israel. Their movement has fly one demand — a complete return of all the Israel Defence Forces to the international border with Lebanon.
One mother, Pnina Shachar, believes that “service in the Army is difficult for all parents, but you can bear it if it is right. We don’t believe in this new order in Lebanon. We object to the use of our sons for goals that have nothing to do with the continued existence of the State of Israel.” Her son has spent the past six months in Lebanon, keeping the peace between Druse and Phalangist.
During the first few weeks of the war, many soldiers, embittered by deception and lack of explanation, returned from the front and, as civilians, formed groups. “Soldiers against Silence.” which emerged as the most important of these groups, requested the resignation of Sharon and an inquiry even at that early stage.
Its supporters included all ranks, from private to general and members of some of the crack unites of the Israeli army. Avraham Burg, son of the longest-serving Israel Government Minister, Dr. Yosef Burg, was one of the leaders of ‘Soldiers against Silence’ and is today one of the most influential and charismatic figures in Peace Now.
Burg recalls that many soldiers who found the courage to perform feats of tremendous courage under fire in a war in which they did not believe were unable to find the same courage to t’ace people and speak out when they returned home.
“We knew then what half the population of Israel, including Begin, knows now. It’s very easy to hide, not to look, to put your head down, to ignore the situation and hope it will pass with the wind. It didn’t.”
Most people in the peace camp believe that the threat of the PLO and its arsenals in Lebanon to the existence of Israel was an exaggeration. They quote IDF published statistics that only after “strenuous training, prolonged organisation and meticulous indoctrination could such weapons provide some five infantry brigades.”
They compare this to the 23 brigades which were repulsed by Israel on the Golan Heights during the Yam Kippur War and they point out that the PLO tanks were in fact T-34 models which date back to the Second World War and the Korean War. Even so, all recognise that any weapons, no matter how obsolete, could cause future problems for Israel’s northern border.
Avraham Burg adds: “You can take every shadow in the street and see gangsters. You can see an enemy behind every tree. Yes, the PLO had forces there, but to compare these with forces that can even remotely threaten the existence of the State is an illusion.”
The concealment of the war’s aims and its quite incompetent portrayal caused one Soviet Jewish acquaintance damningly to label Begin and Sharon as “political amateurs” for their lack of foresight. Yet the war for “Peace for Galilee” still continues.
Some reservists belong to “Yesh Gvul” (There’s a Limit). Around 2,000 Israelis have signed a petition of Yesh Gvul stating their intention to perform their Army service, but not to serve in Lebanon. Although their numbers are small, some soldiers have been imprisoned for short periods for their stand.
Many reservists in the peace camp do not agree with Yesh Gvul. “You can’t decide which taxes to pay and which not to pay because you
Many people lost sons in the war, but for Raya Harnik, there is the added burden of knowing that her son — an Army commander of some eight years standing died in a “war without purpose.”
Goni Harnik was killed in the assault on Beaufort Castle. In public, he was the complete professional soldier; in private, he was a sympathiser with the peace camp.
Her son’s death persuaded Raya Harnik to participate more vigorously in the peace movement. She points out that most people in her situation must find some meaning in the loss of a loved one and thereby justify the war. “People who think like I do cannot find any rational explanation for the death of their son. Very few people are willing to live like this.”
Her continued support for Peace Now has not made life easy for her. More than once she has been invited “to leave the country.” Raya Harnik speaks of friends who can’t go to social events these days. “We can’t be polite anymore. Before Lebanon, you could make small talk and not touch the issues. You could always agree to disagree, but not now.”
The course of the war in Lebanon has undoubtedly caused deep stirrings within the religious community. The irrational approach of the Government to the Phalangist massacre at Sabra and Shatila catalysed the unease which many had felt since the open assault on Israeli soldiers by observant Jews at Yamit.
Many Orthodox Jews were severely perturbed by the shelling of civilian areas. Some even addressed moral sha’alot to political leaders. Deborah Weissman, a representative of Netivot Shalom (Paths to Peace), the religious peace movement, recalled the feelings at the time.
“The most telling example of the lack of sensitivity and concern for the suffering of others took place on Motzaei Rosh Hashana when we finally heard the news about the massacre. We saw that a long list of members of the Knesset had condemned the massacre.
“We then saw one of the MKs of the National Religious Party, Rabbi Druckman, get up and condemn the yefei nefesh — the liberal do-gooders. A rabbi, immediately after Rosh Hashana, when we had spent the whole morning praying, should have tried to do teshuva and talk about God’s universal concern — that he could be so insensitive and could not have one word to say about hundreds of men, women and children being killed.
“The next day, the Fast of Gedalia, we organised a demonstration outside Hechal Shlomo and davened mincha. This was the first action of what was to become Netivot Shalom.”
Rabbi Yehuda Amital, a rosh yeshiva in Gush Etzion, is one of the most prominent figures in Netivot Shalom. Apart from the moral and ethical reservations about this war, his responsibility was for the Hesder yeshiva students who had been placed in the same unit so that they could learn and pray together.
Their small group was heavily hit, accounting for nearly 10 per cent of all war dead. He .regarded the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla as a sacrilege, a Chillul Hashem and a failure of the State,
Above all these groups stands Peace Now, which mounted the biggest protests against the war in Lebanon, including a huge demonstration of 400,000 after Sabra and Shatila. It is clear that on that occasion there was an overwhelming sense of duty to be present. No more Marranos in the peace camp. Although the more radical Committee Against the War in Lebanon initiated the protests, Peace Now became the focal opposition to the policies of the Government and a source of inspiration for men and women in dark times. In a general sense, it can be viewed as the successor to the efforts of Buber and Magnes, the Committee for Peace and Security at the end of the ‘sixties and the populist protests of Motti Ashkenazi after the Yom Kippur War.
Lt. Col (res) Morale Bar-On, former chief of education of the Israel Defence Forces, believes that Peace Now represents a consolidation of moods, ideas and experimentation in non-party politics in the ‘seventies. Even the Democratic Movement for Change of Professor Yigael Yadin, which attempted to reform the Labour Party but made the mistake of becoming a party, can be viewed as part of this process.
It was, however, the visit of Sadat that provided the psychological breakthrough for many Israelis that made it possible to sign a peace treaty with an Arab adversary. Shortly afterwards, some 300 Army reservists who wished to reverse the decay of the peace process signed a letter to Begin and from there it was but a short step to the founding of Peace Now.
Peace Now is not a party, perhaps not even a movement. It is more a mood, a sentiment that places the attainment of peace with Israel’s Arab enemies above all other considerations.
Galia Golan, a professor at the Hebrew University, considers that Peace Now represents the central humanitarian stream of Zionism. “We oppose those who believe that strength is in territory and that peace is only a result of our strength.
“We don’t believe that. We think that security will come only through peace. We believe that strength will show itself only through the quality of life here.”
With so many reservists in its ranks, Peace Now is well aware of the realities of the Middle East conflict. While it is pro-peace, it is not anti-war. The pacifist tag does not apply. In cutting across party lines, it can unite moderates from the Liberals, the National Religious Party, the Labour Party and many other smaller parties.
The issue of peace and a political accommodation between Jewish and Palestinian nationalism transcends all other issues which would inevitably divide the many components which constitute Peace Now.
In the diaspora, information about the peace camp is hard to come by outside of the Jewish press. In recent years, public relations has supplanted factual information.
In one sense, therefore, the Jews have come to believe their own propaganda. This inevitably contributed to the bewilderment and confusion that British Jews felt when confronted with the crisis of the war in Lebanon.
Because it does not recognise that a national consensus on policies does not exist in Israel and the diaspora, public relations has degenerated into a receptacle for the defence of the indefensible and a bulwark of support for the Government view. The contradiction that communal organisations find themselves in is that, although they now accept that there are different viewpoints in Israel, they still disseminate only material propagating the official Government position.
The International Centre for Peace in Tel Aviv has attempted to bridge this information gap. Each month, it produces “Israel Press Briefs” in English which carries extracts from the Hebrew press. In view of the considerable demand, extracts from the Arab press are now available, as well as “Jews Speak Out,” the views of prominent diaspora Jews who dissent from the policies of the Israeli Government.
Itzik Gal-Nur, of Peace Now, noted that “Jews in the diaspora will have to get used to the idea that a Government of Israel can go wrong. And if you care about Israel, you had better say it. The good old days of the beautiful package are over.”
They believe that the diaspora should not effectively disenfranchise itself from membership of the Jewish people, but must participate in the rational dialogue that will emerge out of the emotional wreckage.
For Itzik Gal-Nur, it is something fundamental. “We are not talking about saloon politics. We are talking about the very nature of our society, of the Jewish State, of the future. The split in Israel exists. It is a fact. It is a reality. The question is whether the diaspora wants to participate in this historic discussion.”
Jewish Chronicle 16 September 1983