Five Brief Reviews

Against the Current, No. 128, May/June 2007

David Finkel

The 33-Day War
Israel’s War on Hezbollah
in Lebanon and Its Consequences
by Gilbert Achcar with Michel Warschawski. Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers, 2007. 95 pages + notes and index. $17.95 paper.

THE SPIRALLING DISASTER generated by the George W. Bush administration’s Middle East adventures is at the center of this concise and sharp little book. The principal author, Gilbert Achcar, contributes the first three chapters as well as the fifth, titled “Conclusion: The Sinking Ship of U.S. Imperial Designs,” which has previously circulated via the internet. Chapter Four, “Israel, Between Its ‘Second Lebanon War’ and Its Participation in Washington’s ‘Global War,’” is authored by Michel Warschawski, a leading Israeli antiwar and occupation activist and author.

Last summer’s Israeli-U.S. assault on Lebanon, ending in military-political failure while leaving much of Lebanon in ruins, has opened up frightening political crises in both Lebanon and Israel. Gilbert Achcar presents an informative and unsentimental background analysis of Lebanon’s origins and civil war, the origins and rise of Hezbollah as both a resistance and fundamentalist religious movement, and the reasons why the Israeli invasion failed in its aims of militarily crushing the movement and isolating it from the Lebanese population.

Achcar goes on to explain the logic of the postwar crisis in Lebanese politics, including the bizarre power bloc between one-time Maronite extremist General Michel Aoun and Hezbollah, concluding that “Lebanon again stands at the crossroads: A political settlement in the way of holding new elections in the short term is reasonably the best alternative, the other one being a decision by the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance to resort to extra-parliamentary mobilizations that entail the risk of degenerating into new bloody clashes between the Lebanese.”

Attempting to resolve the crisis by force, Achcar warns in recalling the disastrous civil war of 1975-1990, “is an insane and disastrous goal in a country as heterogeneous as Lebanon: Those who made this choice in 1975, incited by Washington, paid a very heavy price. The country as a whole suffered an even heavier toll.” (54)

Warschawski’s chapter on Israel, translated from French by Marie Stuart, covers some of the same ground that he explored in depth in his own book Toward an Open Tomb: The Crisis of Israeli Society (Monthly Review Press, 2004), notably the destructive symbiosis of the global-war neoconservatives within the Israeli and U.S. governments.

He extends the analysis here by tackling the question:

“So why did the [newly elected Olmert] government go to war when it was evident that nothing had been seriously prepared, even on an operational level? To be sure, blame can always be leveled against the American neoconservatives who goaded Olmert into launching a proxy war against Iran’s allies. But the main reason — let it be repeated — is the colonial arrogance brought on by Israel’s overwhelming military superiority, which led it to believe that everything could be solved by a big-stick policy.” (78)

Quoting military analysts Avraham Tal and Ze’ev Schiff, Warschawski goes on to warn that the intended next “big stick” target is Iran. Whether this should tactically be preceded by an assault on Syria, or alternatively some kind of peace agreement with Damascus, remains under debate.

We may add to this another point of uncertainty: whether war with Iran, potentially suicidal for the Israeli state and its people, is more likely to erupt in the death throes of the current U.S. administration, or to await a not-yet-discredited Democratic regime under Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Either way, the antiwar movement can’t afford to take time off during the coming electoral cycle.

A NUMBER OF important books have been recently published on aspects of the Israel-Palestine crisis. Some of these will be reviewed in future issues of this magazine, but they can only be briefly cited here.

Failing Peace
Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
Sara Roy
London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2007. 332 pages + notes and index. $29.95 paper.

This is a powerful and systematic account of the destruction of Gaza under occupation, written by a leading researcher on Gaza in particular and Palestinian society and economy in general.  The author’s preface, “Humanism, scholarship and politics: writing on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” discusses her family history, including her mother’s and aunt’s experience in the Nazi camp at Auschwitz, and the pain and inspiration that arises in applying her Jewish identity and memory to the realities of the present conflict.

The Israeli Dilemma
A debate between two left-wing Jews: Letters between Ralph Miliband and Marcel Liebman
Selected and introduced by Gilbert Achcar, translated from French by Peter Drucker.
United Kingdom: The Merlin Press, 2006. 82 pages, $19.95 paper.

This correspondence, from shortly before and then following the June 1967 war, is of interest both historically and in today’s discussion over the meaning of the right of self-determination and Israel’s right to exist in the tangled context of the struggle in Palestine. While Ralph Miliband’s position expresses more sympathy for the Israeli predicament as compared to Marcel Liebman’s pro-Arab stand — on May 28 Miliband writes teasingly to his friend, “Being Jewish does not in itself justify a frenzied pro-Arab attitude” — the result of the war and the U.S.-Israeli alliance brings their positions closer together. Achcar’s conclusion is particularly insightful in this regard.

Overcoming Zionism
Creating a Single Democratic State
in Israel/Palestine
Joel Kovel
London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2007. 247 pages + notes and index. $20.00 paper.

The editor of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism and the author of The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? (2002, revised edition forthcoming), Joel Kovel presents a useful critique of Zionism from both an environmental and a left-wing humanist philosophical standpoint. He concludes with a call for “Palesreal: A Secular, Universal Democracy.” The dimensions of Palestinian and Israeli national identity are not addressed, however, leaving the question of agency for achieving the proposed solution somewhat abstract.

Blood and Religion:
The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State
Jonathan Cook
London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2006. 240 pages, $24.95 paper.

A journalist based in Israel, Jonathan Cook looks at both sides of the Green Line — i.e. inside Israel as well as the Occupied Palestinian Territories — arguing that Israeli state policy is guided by the “demographic threat,” the need for continual restrictions on Palestinian rights and reduction of Israel’s Arab population by either persuasion or hard ethnic cleansing. A sober warning of the future implications of maintaining a “Jewish state.”

NOTE: Pluto Press books are distributed in the United States by the University of Michigan Press.

ATC 128, May-June 2007