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.