The news from Israel today (cross border escalation–Gaza and Golan)

The news from Israel suggests that tensions are escalating. I think there is reason to be disturbed about cross-border shelling in Golan. The worry has been that the Asad regime has kept the border largely quiet—and it is not clear whether the leadership of anti-Asad forces can or will do the same. Egypt has taught us that it is not good enough to have a government committed to “border quiet by force” rather than working to maintain good relations with the neighbor. Good fences make good neighbors as long as the fence is up and the head-of-household is firmly in charge.


The Gaza situation appears to be an escalation as well, although I suspect that the anti-Israel rocket fire reflects a more complicated mix of supply from Iran (Israel hit the supply lines recently), as well as the strength or even existence of external pressure Hamas (e.g. from Egypt) to reign in their own militias and other militias operating in Gaza.


While Arab League resistance to the rising Jewish community goes back to the latter days of the British Mandate for Palestine (i.e. it predates any sovereign state of Israel), and predates the Free Officers’ Coup that seized control of Egypt in in 1952, (to my mind) blaming all of Egypt’s problems on the existence of Israel was a tool of oppression by the regime that was overthrown last year. Nevertheless, the fall of Mubarak was not viewed in Egypt as an opportunity to question the Mubarak regime’s negative approach to Israel among Egyptians, while maintaining the peace along the border, but the opposite:  to maintain the negative approach to Israel while questioning peace along the border.


The situation vis-à-vis Israel is moreover not unique; Jews represent diversity of religion, religiosity, ethnicity, language, and culture within the region—and in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Turkey, Tunisia and elsewhere every day, domestic and regional tensions reflect sunni vs. Shii, religious vs. secular, Muslim vs. Copt, Kurdish nationalism, western vs. traditional and much more. One of the results of the 21st century in the Middle East – probably starting with the invasion of Iraq—is that the strongmen and tough fences have tumbled, and we see that the “solutions” to the underlying tensions were often artificial indeed. It seems to me that any approach to struggles anywhere in this region (as everywhere else, domestic and international, for that matter) needs to consider how better to deal with diversity, and create approaches which are more likely to limit violence and promote positive cultural and national identities with appropriate and honorable roles for all.


This weekend we recalled Kristallnacht. The violence that was generated then was energized by an ideology that ascribed all problems to the Jews, and an infrastructure that made it easy to organize. It’s easy to see a parallel in the conflation of a significant date, anger over an assassination,  and a worsening situation in Germany (caused in part of course because the Nazi “economic recovery program” was more interested in removing Jews and other undesirables from the economy and reversing the humiliation of the Great War (World War I), than real economic and social progress. In this case, the significant date is the beginning of the Islamic New Year, this year Nov. 14. I do not think anything will happen—in part because I do not think the Muslim world looks at the beginning of the Islamic hijra year as a date that has the kind of meaning and symbolism that, say, September 11th has. But yes, I am worried today about the apparent escalation along Israel’s southwest and northeast borders.


Seth Ward


Religious Studies Program, University of Wyoming


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