As a follow-up to yesterday, I want to emphasize that Israel may defend itself. However, as a democracy, it needs national unity and the authentic support of fair-minded outsiders. Both will come only if Israel has a reputation for actively seeking a just peace.
Today, Prime Minister Olmert’s office said that “Israel has no intention of harming the Lebanese population and that Israel is fighting against the Hezbollah terrorist organization and not against the Lebanese government or its citizens. … The prime minister said he was very sensitive to the humanitarian situation in Lebanon.”
This is something you have to show and not just say. In fact, treating Lebanese refugees as simply a “humanitarian” problem threatens to reduce their self-respect. Given Israel’s overwhelming conventional military superiority, it should take pains to:
show explicit and deep respect for Arab and Moslem civilizations; forcefully maintain a commitment to respecting Arab lives; express solidarity with the democracy of Lebanon, even while complaining about its unwillingness to confront Hezbollah; explain that Israel’s goal is to coexist in peace with strong, prosperous, independent neighbors; refrain from undermining the dignity and self-respect of Arab populations, even during wars; and take all reasonable measures to spare non-combatants.
The last precept would be more difficult to follow if killing civilians in aerial attacks were Israel’s most effective means of self-defense against Hezbollah’s rockets. However, I doubt very much that that is the case.
[Update: See Gideon Levy’s “Days of Darkness” in Haaretz: “Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalistic atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything. The brakes we still had are eroding, the insensitivity and blindness that characterized Israeli society in recent years is intensifying. …”]