The lie of victory
By Bradley Burston
We love the smell of victory in the morning.
It smells like ... a lie.
It smells like the lies we tell ourselves to ward off the terrible fear that our side may be, to some extent, mistaken, and our enemy may, to some extent, have a point.
It smells like the self-satisfaction with which we extol our virtuousness, our sacrifice, our very selflessness - all the while reducing the enemy to an abstraction, a caricature of bad intentions and vile deeds.
It smells like the near-erotic, near-narcotic rush that our hotheads get from extremism, especially the narcissistically heroic partisans who live nowhere near here.
It's a coping mechanism, this lying to ourselves. It's a defense mechanism, this lying to others. Who could blame us? Life here is hard, on both sides.
Where the truth hurts, a lie anesthetizes.
It could be argued that, since we tend to believe half-truths with our whole hearts, these are not lies at all.
Whatever we choose to call them, these tenets of suspended disbelief refuse to die.
So let us celebrate them for what they are: glorious crutches, magnificent stumbling blocks, our slippery rock, our inept redeemer.
Of all the lies, the lie of victory is surely the most insidious. It says to us - Israeli and Palestinian as one - that if we were to apply more firepower, endure more punishment, display more unity, take a harder line throughout - we will gain a final, permanent, satisfying victory over the other.
It is, like all of our lies, alluring. It is, in fact, the most alluring, perhaps because it is composed of all the others.
The Top 10 Lies We Live By:
10. The lie of We Were Here First
What Palestinians tell themselves: We are the descendants of the Canaanites, we were here before you. We are the heirs of Ishmael, the first son of Abraham. Your claims to be the descendants of the Hebrews are specious. You are Russians, Americans, Khazars. We were here before you. We have been here forever. Nothing can make us leave.
What Israelis tell themselves: We are the direct and genuine heirs of Abraham, who willed his inheritance to his son Isaac, whose son took the name Israel. Your claims to be Canaanites are specious. Many of you came from neighboring Arab lands a few generations ago. We were here before you. We have been here forever. Nothing can make us leave.
9. The lie of the State They Don't Deserve
Right-wing Israeli version: There is no such entity as a Palestine, and no Palestinian people, as such. They are artificial constructs, to serve the aim of ousting the Jews from their land. Moreover, terror has shown them undeserving of a state.
Militant Palestinian version: The Jews are a foreign growth in the body of Palestine. They came here from Europe and America, expelling Palestinians in the process, and it is time for both to return to their respective homes. The state of the Zionists is illegal, it is build on land that was part of the nation of Islam, and will not endure.
The truth: [Leaving alone the circumstance that most Israelis are native-born, and many trace their roots to Muslim countries from which their ancestors were expelled]
The principle of self-determination and the history of national movements, to say nothing of the development of Zionism and the Palestinian statehood movement, suggest that peoples themselves are empowered to decide if they constitute a people, and if that people legitimately aspires to independence.
This lie is close to, but not the same as:
8. We don't recognize them.
But we do, of course. Hamas talks about Israel incessantly. Israel talks about Hamas in nearly every breath. Then sides have an endless array of go-betweens managing every conceivable aspect of indirect contacts.
This lie is, in turn, similar to but not the same as:
7. There is no partner
The fact is that the lack of a partner serves the needs of both Ehud Olmert and Ismail Haniyeh. Olmert fervently wants to take advantage of the current split personality of the Israeli consensus, which has moved sharply right in its assessment of peace prospects with the Palestinians, and markedly left in its willingness to consider a future West Bank withdrawal.
To leverage this, Olmert has given indications of a preference for unilateralism, a position made much easier by an internationally shunned Hamas government.
At the same time, the last thing Palestinian Prime Minister Haniyeh needs, is to be viewed as a collaborator with Israel. "There is no partner," may have a different meaning when Hamas says it, but the advantage is mutual.
6. The lie of National Socialism.
Palestinian version: They are as bad as the Nazis.
Israeli version: They are as bad as the Nazis.
5. The lie of the Only Language
Both versions: Force is the only language they understand.
4. The lie of will.
Both versions: Our will is stronger than theirs, our cause more rooted, our stubbornness more pronounced, our endurance more bottomless, our tradition more timeless, our defiance more directed, our rage more justified, our presence more entrenched.
3. The lie of revenge
Arguably the hardest lie of all to resist. The lie that suggests that we alone have been wronged, that we have a duty - as well as a gut drive - to avenge that wrong, and that in so doing, we will somehow put an end to the injustice. The lie that masks the fact that the need for revenge is the engine of escalation, the breeder fuel of perpetual war.
2. The lie of victim monopoly
Both versions: We are the world, we are the victims. We kill in self-defense, our enemy kills innocents in cold blood. The moral high ground is clearly ours. The news media are demonstrably biased toward our enemy.
1. The lie of victory
In the Middle East, there is no such thing as victory. Ask George Bush. Ask the victors of the Six Day War. There is no such thing as Mission Accomplished, clear-cut triumph, a simple win.
We want to believe in victory, because the prospect of no hope for triumph, for some meaning to all the suffering, is beyond unbearable. Nonetheless ...
In the Mideast, today's victory is tomorrow's nightmare. In a situation pitting Western concepts of defeat and victory against the Islamist view of martyrdom, no one can win. The best that civilians on both sides can hope for, is a mutual improvement of circumstances, and a truce that -flawed as it may be -somehow manages to hold.