The Mid East Crisis
Tibor R. Machan
When the Hizbullah initially kidnapped the Israeli soldiers, the event that seems to have sparked the current crisis, I was traveling in Europe with only the International Herald Tribune, CNN, BBC and some German newscasts available to keep me up to snuff. I also had a chance to talk with several people from the region itself.
These days there is hardly a conflict in the world that one can afford to ignore, if only because the price of something or other is bound to be affected, even if one can live with all the misery these events spawn for thousands of people. Of course, in all armed conflicts there is the immediate question of who is responsible. And while it would be very helpful to have a dependable historian tagging along so as to keep one informed about how various crises were precipitated, few of us have that luxury. (I actually did have just that luxury for a week since at one of the seminars where I was lecturing, near Cologne, Germany, a superb historian was one of my colleagues. Unfortunately, even he wasn’t in full command of the necessary details to get a decisive handle on what was going on just then in the Mid East.)
So I continued to check into my highly suspect news sources—suspect because even an amateur could tell how slipshod and often mainly sensational the coverage was—so as to keep abreast of unfolding events. I was beginning to get a sense of at least how the mainstream media was covering the unfolding conflict but not until I visited my mother in Southern Germany did something come together for me about this coverage.
My mother has always had a tinge of the anti-Semite about her, especially back when she was married to my father in the late 1930s, a man who was the epitome of the virulent Central European anti-Semite. Till the day he died, in 1970, he continued with this attitude, so much so that he alienated both his children as a result, not to mention innumerable acquaintances who knew him mainly professionally. My mother was never quite like my father in this regard but she clearly shared the widespread prejudice against Jews shown by millions throughout Europe, east and west.
We had managed during my previous visits to skirt this topic—there was no way that I could make any headway with her during a day’s worth of chit chat, although in her mid 80s she is entirely lucid. This time, however, she initiated a discussion on the topic of the Jews by turning to me and saying, “You know, Richard (she calls me by my middle name), I have never liked the Jews, but recently I have begun to wonder why it is that so many people around the world begrudge them that tiny plot of land they got back in the 1940s.” I was taken aback by this and my shock increased as she continued: “I have been watching television news throughout the recent upheaval (indeed, she can do little else but that and read, given that she is physically quite frail), and have noticed that nearly all the commentators, including reporters, seem to favor the Hizbullah even though they were the ones who started all of this.”
By my own fragmented information, too, I came to this conclusion but having my anti-Semitic mother in agreement with me on the matter was quite a surprise. Because she seemed to me to be right. Everything I read and listened to about the conflict kept emphasizing the collateral victims in Lebanon, produced from Israeli shellings, with hardly any reminders that (a) the Hizbullah initiated the conflict and (b) the Hizbullah routinely locate themselves—their artillery and inventory of weapons—within the Lebanese civilian population so that efforts at placating them and any retaliation could not but do damage to these civilians.
During one of the few presentations on CNN of the Israeli side of the dispute, the ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, did manage to make what to me appeared to be the decisive point, namely, that “there is a huge moral disequivalence between the two sides. While our enemies—who only today have launched more than 100 missiles at Israeli towns and villages—specifically target women and children in order to kill them, we are defending ourselves in this brutal war. And sometimes, tragically, as happened today, women and children get hurt, because they are used as human shields by Hizbullah. Hizbullah has homes in Lebanon that house missiles—in which the family sleeps with a missile. When you sleep with a missile, sometimes you do not wake up in the morning. In Israel, we have homes that are equipped with air raid shelters to save people from bombs; in Lebanon, they have homes that they equip to launch missiles, taking into account that those people could be killed.”
So, for the time being, this amateur will hold to the belief that there is indeed some kind of irrational anti-Israeli sentiment afoot around the globe and that it is Israel that holds the moral high ground in at least this current conflict.