David versus Goliath in the Middle East

david and goliath_aaron wolpert

W.J. Astore

When I was a kid, I was a big admirer of Israel.  I saw Israel as being surrounded by implacable enemies bent on its destruction.  Israel was the plucky underdog, David against Goliath, with Goliath being Arab countries like Egypt and Syria, having militaries trained and equipped by the Soviet Union, sworn enemy of the U.S. during the Cold War (or so my ten-year-old mind saw it).  I recall keeping a scrapbook of articles on the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  I cheered the Israeli “blitzkrieg” (What an odd term for a daring Jewish armored attack!) that crossed the Suez Canal and isolated the Egyptian Third Army, as well as the Israeli riposte on the Golan Heights against Syria.

That was 1973.  Forty-one years later, Israel is engaged in yet another assault on Gaza and the Palestinians.  Compared to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the Palestinian militants are undergunned and hopelessly outclassed.  Organizations like Hamas rely on the traditional tactics of terrorists (or freedom-fighters, choose your loaded word): hit-and-run raids, random attacks (unguided rockets), war in the shadows (or in the tunnels).  Who is David and who is Goliath now?

What hasn’t changed, of course, is the mainstream media in the U.S., which cheers the Israelis while condemning Hamas and any other Palestinians who choose resistance instead of compliance.  Watching a snippet of CNN, I witnessed Wolf Blitzer, who poses as a disinterested journalist, demanding from his Palestinian interviewee an immediate stoppage in rocket attacks.  Blitzer had nothing critical to say of Israeli air raids or the disproportionate casualties suffered by the Palestinians in this latest skirmish in a very long war.

What can be done?  As one of my historian friends put it, the Middle East has “a massive legacy of entropy.”  All I know is that more bloodshed, and more innocents killed, like those four young boys playing soccer on the beach, only adds to that entropy — and the legacy of hatred.

Perhaps one thing I’ve learned in four decades is that negotiations in good faith can’t occur when either side sees itself as a heroic David fighting against a glowering Goliath.  Until Israelis and Palestinians see each other as fellow human beings, as equals rather than as monsters, wars will continue, innocents will suffer, and hopes will be left in the dust, slayed like so many Goliaths by self-anointed Davids.

15 thoughts on “David versus Goliath in the Middle East

  1. “Words can Kill”. You refer to Hamas in this article “Hamas …traditional tactics of terrorists…” If this were 1945-46 that is pretty much how the British in Palestine referred to the Jewish ‘Stern Gang’ and ‘Haganah’ as they attacked the British using tactics similar to Hamas. How about undertaking this discussion of the present asymmetrical warfare by referring to Hamas tactics as ‘guerilla’ warfare. When one powerful party is oppressing another with overwhelming lethal power the weak party is fighting a ‘guerilla war’ not a terrorist war. We must remember that Hamas is the popularly elected government of Gaza and has been under constant suppressive force by the Israeli government.
    The powerful always try to diminish the humanity of those who oppose their oppression by labeling them as “terrorists”. We see that currently in Ukrainia where the coup government, in their effort to demonize the efforts of the eastern region Russians to retain some control over their lives have revolted and are now called “terrorists” by the Kiev pseudo government.


    1. A typical tactic of guerrillas is to spread terror for political purposes. Call them “terrorists” or “guerrillas” or “freedom-fighters,” but the result is the same for those innocents who get caught in the crossfire.

      Words are important, but they’re rarely fatal. The Israelis and Palestinians need to move beyond words to honest deeds — deeds that will change the current dynamic of an eye for an eye, of never-ending cycles of violence and revenge.


  2. Webster dictionary: “One who engages in irregular warfare”. ( no mention of ‘for political purposes’ ) I would guess by definition then drone warfare and Special Ops could be defined as “guerrilla warfare” because they are certainly “irregular”. So we are doing the same as Hamas only on a global scale. Are we
    ‘freedom fighters” and Hamas ‘terrorists. Or are both “terrorists? ?


  3. I see the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict as two warring ideologies on either side of the general populace. On one side are the Zionists, coldly committed to a regionally-dominant Israeli state. On the other side are the Jihadists, hotly obsessed with realizing their religious fanaticism no matter the cost. Stuck in between are ordinary, everyday Jews and Muslims just trying to live their lives peacefully.


  4. With apologies to the shade of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his immortal poem “Ozymandias,” I offer here a brief meditation on the past, current, and contemplated depredations of the Apartheid Zionist Entity upon those captive Palestinian Arabs who had absolutely nothing to do with the German/Christian persecution of Jews in Europe before and during World War II.

    Cozy, Scandalous

    I met a refugee from Gaza Strip,
    Who spoke to me with empty, staring eyes
    Dumb words whose depth of pain I could not grip
    With all the helping hands the world denies
    While lapping up the lurid lies that slip
    And roll so greasy off the practiced tongue
    Of Zionists whose caged and wounded prey
    Are told to flee and leave their dying young
    To weep beside the corpses of their old
    In darkened shattered former homes where they
    Cannot refute the garbage we’ve been told
    By glib Israeli liars trained to spread
    A veil of darkness over crimes they’ve sold
    As “Peaceful Co-Existence” — with the dead.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2009

    I can still recall the U.S. administration of President George Herbert Walker Bush — not all that long ago — when Secretary of State James Baker had this to say about the Apartheid Zionist Entity and its belligerent AIPAC lobby in the United States: “Fuck ’em. They didn’t vote for us.” My sentiments, exactly.


  5. Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government has an excellent article at the Huffington Post entitled,
    AIPAC Is the Only Explanation for America’s Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy. Regarding the current — not the first or last — pounding of the captive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by the Apartheid Zionist Entity, he writes:

    “And why did [A.Z.E. Prime Minister] Netanyahu decide to go on another rampage in Gaza? As Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group points out, the real motive is neither vengeance nor a desire to protect Israel from Hamas’ rocket fire, which has been virtually non-existent over the past two years and is largely ineffectual anyway. Netanyahu’s real purpose was to undermine the recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah for a unity government. Given Netanyahu’s personal commitment to keeping the West Bank and creating a “greater Israel,” the last thing he wants is a unified Palestinian leadership that might press him to get serious about a two-state solution. Ergo, he sought to isolate and severely damage Hamas and drive a new wedge between the two Palestinian factions.

    The old, cynical “divide and conquer” tactic at work again, with the U.S. government in full support. So in the eyes of the civilized world, the United States and its pet parasite go down together as ignominious pariahs. Anyway, the entire article merits serious consideration as it cuts through the pious posturing and hot-air propaganda ceaselessly propagated by the A.Z.E. and U.S.A.


  6. Personally, I would have entitled this article “Ahmed vs Apartheid” and would have accompanied it with a graphic showing a Palestinian Arab teenager throwing rocks at an Apartheid Zionist tank busy demolishing his home and neighborhood.

    Additionally, I think the whole “sympathy for the underdog” thrust of this article could benefit from a more in-depth, less mythological analysis. Take, for example, an article: “Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did” written ten years ago by Martin Van Creveld, a historian and military theorist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In his concluding summary, Professor Crevald wrote:

    “The most important reason why I think Vietnam is relevant to the situation in Iraq is because the Americans found themselves in the unfortunate position where they were beating down on the weak. …

    “… In private life, an adult who keeps beating down on a five year old – even such a one as originally attacked him with a knife – will be perceived as committing a crime; therefore he will lose the support of bystanders and end up by being arrested, tried and convicted. In international life, an armed force that keeps beating down on a weaker opponent will be seen as committing a series of crimes; therefore it will end up by losing the support of its allies, its own people, and its own troops. Depending on the quality of the forces – whether they are draftees or professionals, the effectiveness of the propaganda machine, the nature of the political process, and so on – things may happen quickly or take a long time to mature. However, the outcome is always the same. He (or she) who does not understand this does not understand anything about war; or, indeed, human nature.

    “In other words, he who fights against the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if U.S troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.”

    Since the clearly more powerful Apartheid Zionist army has had to retreat from its excursions into Lebanon (after almost twenty years) and Gaza (several times already), it does not appear that Professor Crevald’s lecture to the Americans about Imperial military ineffectiveness has received much of a reading in the A.Z.E. — or the U.S.A., for that matter. Still:

    “As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat.”


    1. I met Van Creveld at the AF Academy, Mike. He’s a strange dude. He was perplexed about how female cadets went to the toilet in their flight suits. One of our female cadets enlightened him.

      He’s got some interesting ideas, but some of his stuff is outlandish. Is a major power fighting a minor power really the equivalent to an adult smacking a five-year-old around? Dubious analogy. The U.S. lost in Vietnam, but that was a war we should have never fought in the first place. As Hannah Arendt put, we were using excessive means to pursue moderate ends in a region of marginal interest to us.

      Iraq is an entirely different story, and you’ve written about that here with some eloquence. I’d say our aims in Iraq were both grandiose and muddled, a good description of our leaders who brought us into that war.

      Thanks again for your provocative comments. Always contrarian!


      1. Bill.. O’Neil ,Bush’s first Secretary of the Treasury in his book after he left office said that in Bush’s first cabinet meeting before 9/11 the issue of attacking Iraq came up which floored O’Neil. It’s OIL! Oil is not a marginal issue to the neo cons and the neo liberals. They really don’t care how many Americans and others die securing it. Obama doesn’t care how much his decisions on fracking, Atlantic drilling, and pipelines may despoil our country if there is oil or gas at the end of the line.
        Incidentally, how do they in their flight suits?


      2. Thanks for the reply, Professor, but I don’t see where Van Creveld’s interest in how females urinate in their flight suits relates to his views on great powers picking fights with little countries — and then losing. I’ve come across numerous persons who expressed a similar interest in knowing how astronauts of both sexes urinate and defecate in zero gravity. So I’ve got to call “non-sequitur” on that part of your response.

        I can’t speak for all of Van Creveld’s writing, since I’ve not read all his books or articles, but one quote from him absolutely rang true for me, given my own desultory experiences as an erstwhile “Vietnamaizer” of the Vietnamese military (Navy) in the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam. Regarding the oft-repeated official rumors of the American military “training” the Iraqi army, he said (I think to Seymour Hersh):

        “The only thing the Americans can train the Iraqis how to do is how to kill Americans. How stupid can they be?”

        I would answer that rhetorical question by pointing to the U.S. trained Afghan forces now either deserting or killing their American trainers, and saying: “Pretty damned stupid.”

        As well, Seymour Hersh reported years ago a discussion with A.Z.E. defense minister Ehud Barak who told Vice President Dick Cheney that America in Iraq faced only the prospect of “choosing the size of your humiliation.” Ouch!

        It did not come as a surprise to me that the demoralized peasant conscripts of the so-called “Army of Vietnam” dropped their weapons, took off their pants, and then ran off in their underwear once we Americans had taken our money — the only thing sustaining their economy that we had destroyed — and left them to face the truly motivated National Liberation Front cadres and the North Vietnamese Army, one of the world’s great infantries. Later in life, when I returned to college and studied the American military’s failed attempt to intervene in the Chinese Civil War of 1945-49, I understood what Mao meant when he jokingly called the Americans “my quartermaster,” since the demoralized Nationalist peasant conscripts we had armed and trained usually just dropped — or sold — their U.S. weaponry and disappeared into countryside when faced with motivated guerrilla forces intent on winning national independence for their country. So these days, when hearing of the similar implosion of the U.S. trained and equipped Iraqi military when confronted with motivated Sunni jihadis, I can only quote Arthur Schlesinger, Jr from his book The Imperial Presidency (1973):

        “The weight of messianic globalism was indeed proving too much for the American Constitution. … In fact, the policy of indiscriminate global intervention, far from strengthening American security, seemed rather to weaken it by involving the United States in remote, costly and mysterious wars, fought in ways that shamed the nation before the world and, even when so fought, demonstrating only the inability of the most powerful nation on earth to subdue bands of guerrillas in black pajamas.”

        It seems to me that Van Creveld’s critique of the monumentally ineffective U.S. military behemoth — what I like to call The Lunatic Leviathan — applies to the Apartheid Zionist military in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, as well. An enormous discrepancy in the applied destructive power by one side over the other. Still, after launching an enormous global war against those little Muslim kids with knives and rocks, the U.S. and A.Z.E. now find themselves confronted by even more of them — many now driving U.S. military vehicles, brandishing U.S. weaponry, copying the Vietnamese tactic of living in tunnels, and leaving the U.S. training to those corrupt collaborators who can’t figure out how to make a simple IED for the cost of a pizza.

        How stupid. How humiliating. (And I understand that female pilots and astronauts employ a diaper to absorb their urine while suited up for flights of various kinds.)


  7. I too was a starry-eyed admirer of the Israelis (as a boy). That was before I realised that the argument was started when a bunch of Jews came to Palestine from other continents, and grabbed all the good land. They threw out the existing inhabitants, killing any who resisted. And they used terrorism against the British armed forces who were trying to see fair play in accordance with their UN mandate.

    Today, it seems there is a consensus that you can’t even discuss the situation unless you promise not to challenge Israel’s right to exist. But I don’t understand that! If someone committed theft and murder 66 years ago, presumably they are still guilty of those crimes today. What criminal court would smile and nod and agree that too much time has passed, and we’re all better just forgetting the crimes? (Except maybe an insane British court giving squatters the right to remain in a house they have invaded).

    I just don’t get it. Sure, the Old Testament says that God told the Jews to take over Palestine and kill the inhabitants. But the Jews WROTE the Old Testament! In any case, I can’t see a single other example where modern international law is decided by an ancient religious text.

    And the timing! Just after WW2 was over, and everyone who had been persecuting the Jews in Europe had been comprehensively crushed. At the very moment when even saying anything critical about Jews became socially impermissible (if not actually illegal).


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