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Fania Oz-Salzberger: Hezbollah and Pericles

[Ms. Oz-Salzberger is a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa.]

... First and most crucial, a majority of Israelis consider this sad unleashing of Israeli firepower in Gaza and Lebanon to be, up to now, a just war. It has both a casus belli and a convincing rationale. Hostilities were initiated by militias strongly associated with the elected governments in both regions, targeting IDF personnel strictly on the Israeli side of the border. Since many media consumers have short memories, a reminder is in order: Over the last five months, some 800 Kassam rockets were fired at towns and villages in southwestern Israel. The town of Sderot alone was hit several hundred times. Israel occupied not an inch of Gaza at that time.

Israel certainly responded, as any sovereign state would; and it did so not by reinvading Gaza, but with air strikes against militants and launchers. Palestinian civilians were hurt; Europeans vocally reproached us; the rockets kept coming. Then came the recent assault on soldiers stationed within Israel, killing three and kidnapping one. Hezbollah of Lebanon, wholly unprovoked, simply liked the idea and sent a force into northern Israel and two follow-up ambushes, killing a total of eight soldiers and kidnapping two. Both assaults breached a fully legitimate international border, in the aftermath of a full Israeli withdrawal -- just in case some media consumers have forgotten. Possible lesson: A sense of right still counts for something amidst all the smoke.

Which leads to a second clearheaded point. Why is Israel's response not "proportional," and why don't we rush to negotiate with the kidnappers, as so many peace-lovers in the Western world would like us to do? Let me be blunt: A "proportional" response would please many Europeans no end, but would scarcely move a hair in the beard of a Hamas or a Hezbollah leader.

They are not set to be gently pushed into moderation, or to hammer out an exquisite compromise with the Jewish state, but to wipe it out as soon as they can. If we shoot a little, they will shoot back all the way into Islamic eternity. If we "negotiate," cave in to blackmail and release Hamas and Hezbollah militants held in Israeli prisons in return for our three kidnapped soldiers, they will send them back to bomb schools and buses and pizza parlors in no time at all.

Negotiation? For sure. It worked with Egypt and Jordan. It would work with Saudi Arabia. It would work with moderate Palestinians -- as soon as they recapture their own polity from Hamas and Hezbollah. But it would not work with the latter, who along with their Iranian allies openly declare that they want us dead, not merely complacent. Possible lesson: Compromise with ultra-extremists usually misfires.

And here is a sad, third clearheaded point: Democracy, in the Middle East as elsewhere, is not just about universal suffrage. The Palestinians brought Hamas to power, and Hezbollah is a coalition partner in the Lebanese government. Please reflect on this, dear Western lovers of democracy: Is majority vote truly the sole gist of it all? Here is a painful truth: Israel is killing civilians -- inadvertently, though arguably too freely -- as it targets militants in Gaza and Lebanon. Yet the hair-raising aspect of it is that many of those civilians voted Hamas, and some voted Hezbollah, into their own governments. Democratically elected, these groups care little for the lives of their own citizens, even less for the Israeli Arabs they have bombed and killed in recent days, and null for Israeli civilians. Yet their voters keep applauding. Gazan and Lebanese children are innocent victims of this policy, and many Israelis -- I must assert this even in the face of disbelief -- truly grieve for them.

But the adults? Are these men and women hostages of live-in terrorists, dumb natives managed by shrewd colonialists, or are they perhaps accountable civil agents who made a very bad choice in one of their first democratic performances? Possible lesson: Reread Pericles....

Read entire article at WSJ