One would think that you cannot surrender your moral high ground in the Middle East. To do so is suicide so the thinking goes. It would be a display of weakness. And so no country owns up to its mistakes, much less its crimes. The Arab World that admits it created the Israel they whine about – the one military machine that has learned to rely on the gun rather than the spoken word – is the Arab World I never anticipate seeing.
But Israel has the same attitude. There might be solid arguments for hundreds or even thousands of those killed during Israel’s wars, but the dead remain silent and gone from the lives of those they left behind. Hence, resentment is still rife, no matter how many people Israel convinces their actions were justified in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon or anywhere else the IDF might find itself.
Israel’s position in the Middle East will depend on some flexibility and expressed regret over its past at some point. Not necessarily the Nakba, but the massive collateral damage its offensives have caused. I have supported every war over the last ten years, but that does not mean we cannot soften our hearts when we have to. When Israel takes a peace initiative to Lebanon or Syria or the Palestinians, it will have to express some remorse. The same, for sure, goes for the Arab World. The Holocaust, the expulsion of Jews from the Arab World and indisputable aggression against Israeli civilians are stains on Arab honor. Too bad I think we are some distance from that sort of reciprocity.
Middle Easterners argue as if they were primitive tribesmen rather than articulate debaters. Politics in this place seems to be based on trying to delegitimize the opponent. Israel’s trials over it are well known, but Israelis are sucked into the temptation to delegitimize the predicaments of their enemies as well. It is not just about winning a war or defeating terrorism, but undermining their peoples’ narratives also.
Very soon, Israel will have to acknowledge the past to make headway with Lebanese and Syrians, all the more so Palestinians refugees. I am not comfortable with some of it, but we are going to have to lay our pride down about it. The Arab Spring represents both an opportunity and a responsibility to the Arab World. There will be far fewer excuses for the countries that achieve representative democracy. The idea of freedom is not merely the liberation of one tribe at the expense of the other. Jews, Alawites, Shiites and Sunnis – among others – will be tested to reach out to each other under insecure circumstances in the very near future.