I’ll indicate in advance that this is a personal and rambling note, promoted by several responses to what I wrote about the recent decision of the UN Security Council. And it is by no means the first time I’ve been provoked by what I’ve received from my Internet friends.
Several responses have detailed a century’s worth of agreements, resolutions, et al, with different correspondents producing greatly different conclusions as to what it all means for international law and the obligations or opportunities of Israel.
This interchange has led me to ponder, yet again, the walk that I do several times a week for about 20 minutes from our home in French Hill to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Along the way I pass by the British military cemetery, and think about the significance of those British Christians, a number of Jews, as well as Hindu and Muslim soldiers who came here to fight the Turks in World War I.
That cemetery marks the beginning of modern Middle Eastern history. Since those soldiers died, there’s been countless international agreements, decisions, proclamations and actions, including what Israel has done up until this morning.
My own pondering has been helped by what I learned during two decades’ association with two nations’ militaries. During a period that spanned the 1960s and 70s I traveled the world as a civilian for the U.S. military, lecturing mostly to officers. For logistical purposes I had the rank of Lt. Colonel. In all of those contacts, I listened to and learned from the people I also taught.
Then, after three years as an Israeli civilian, I was drafted by the IDF at the age of 40, sent through basic training, and made a private in the lecture corps. For the next decade, I did up to 50 days reserve duty in some years, speaking to a much wider range of personnel than I saw in the U.S. military, and usually outside formal classrooms. At the bottom of the IDF I had two tours lecturing to inmates in military prisons. I did most of this in Israel in my own clothes, but on several occasions I was put in uniform, given a weapon, and sent into Lebanon. There I talked to soldiers on duty, once within 50 meters of a fire fight with casualties.
After retirement from the military, I gave a semester-long seminar at the National Defense College.
Among the lessons that I carried from these experiences into my university teaching and professional writing were themes that I heard from senior officers in both the U.S. and Israel.
From an American colonel who was a professor at West Point I acquired the acronym KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. The point is that soldiers must be given clear and simple orders in order to carry out what their superiors intend.
I heard the Hebrew equivalent from the Chief of Staff of the IDF, when he had to comment about an operation that went bad. From now on, he said, the orders must be simple. And if they can’t be made simple, the operation simply won’t happen.
Simplicity is hard to find in the blather that relies on all that has happened, been proclaimed, and argued about since the establishment of the British military cemetery on Mt. Scopus. While John Kerry, et al, insist that Israel is occupying Palestinian land, a sharply different view apparent in Israeli government actions is that the land is “disputed” due to a muddied history. Israel resists starting any negotiations from where history was in 1949. Presumably, Palestinians can get some of what they demand, but only after they are willing to concede Israel’s existence and what has happened in the most recent seven decades.
The simplest way of moving forward, and most likely the only one that can succeed, is to start from where things are, rather than where some say they were at one or another point in the past. There are library shelves filled with what has been done and said about this place over the course of a century.
Simplicity requires abandoning such assessments of what was as producing nothing more than continued argument. Palestinians and their friends demand to undo history, and go back to 1967, 1949, or earlier.
Israelis have made it clear that ain’t gonna happen.
Americans and others who threaten a one-state solution where the Palestinians will acquire a majority might better spend their energies working to unite Mexico and the U.S.
From Jan. 20th onward, John Kerry and Barack Obama will be free to work on problems that are closer to their homes, and where they are likely to be more familiar with the details that complicate things.
And then we may discover what Donald Trump has meant by his one-liners and tweets.
Comments welcome. Irashark@gmail.com.