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by Gary Showalter

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2001 PDT

If Israelis are to survive as a free people within their own national borders, they must change the way they look at problems with their neighbors and how they view themselves as a nation.

ISRAEL IS INVOLVED in what may be called the 'War of the Canaanite Succession.' This war has been fought intermittently for over five thousand years. For the entire history of this area, each new wave of immigrants—from the Canaanites, Hebrews, Philistines, Greeks, Nabateans, Romans, Arabs and Turks, up to and including the Jews from Europe—has had to fight the current inhabitants for control. They have each conquered, only to be conquered in turn by the next wave of migrant peoples.

At the end of the 1800's and on into this century, the migration of Arab and other non-indigenous Moslems into the area called Palestine occurred over many years, as individuals and small family groups moved into what was then a comparatively empty wasteland to seek work, food and housing. This began during the reign of the Ottoman Turks, as the Jews began to migrate into Palestine, and continued throughout the period of the British Mandate. While the Jews built the Yishuv, Arab immigrants worked for them and (later) the British Mandatory Authority. At the same time they began to build their own communities, sometimes in close proximity to the Jews and sometimes apart. In other words, the migration of the Jews into Palestine supported and encouraged the migration of the Arabs, Lebanese, Sudanese, Egyptians and others into the same area.

Population shifts, such as those the American Indians faced a few hundred years ago when American settlers began to arrive in the New World, or the Chinese during the invasions of the Mongols over a thousand years ago, always pit the defending peoples against an incursive force that invariably has time on its side. In the case of the American Indians, American military supported the settlers; in the case of the Chinese, they faced first the military arm of the Mongol invaders, with the civilians following after. But in all such cases, the defenders find themselves with increasingly limited resources—land and population chief among them—that are depleted over time, while the invaders always seem to have a ready supply of men and material.

Very often a population shift devolves into an armed conflict, especially where the migrant population is determined to impose its will and form of government on the indigenous population. This occurs either at the very beginning, in the case of an armed invasion, or later, as the migrant population begins to develop a sense of unity and purpose, and individual families and tribes coalesce, either to ensure their survival or develop a political/military power base.

When the migration occurs over time, the existing government always faces the same set of decisions about absorbing the new population. These decisions revolve around issues such as how to exploit the immigrants’ talents and skills, and how to deal with the issues of water, food, cropland and living areas. Provided the migrant peoples are willing to live under the rule of the existing political and economic structures, and accept their absorption into the dominant culture, there is no need for armed conflict.

Consider the situation the United States finds itself in today, with the almost constant arrival of illegal migrants from Mexico and other Latin states. In many of the southern and southwestern states, especially along the borders, Latin American language and culture has assumed a prominent role in the life of the community. There is some level of friction between the Latin and North American cultures, and will be for years to come. But this population shift is very unlikely to develop into the sort of armed conflict such as we face here in Israel, because the immigrants are able to take their place within the political, religious and economic spheres of their communities. They have neither the need nor the desire to replace the existing cultural model.

The results of migratory incursions are as varied as their circumstances. On the one hand, American Indians have been essentially subsumed into the population of the United States (the Native Americans lost); while on the other, the Mongols were absorbed into the population of China (the Mongols won the battle but the lost the war).

Today, Israel faces an aggressive migration, one whose stated goal is the replacement of the State of Israel with their own unique political, economic and religious structure. Israel finds itself under siege, from all sides — politically (internally and internationally), economically (through boycotts on goods and produce, locally and internationally) and militarily (via low-level warfare with the PLA irregulars and the threat of a regional war).

The government of Israel, no matter its political makeup, must deal with the same problem that every commander of a besieged force has faced throughout history—that of trading land for time. Time the defender needs to build up his supplies, rest his troops, heal the wounded, and build alliances with strategic partners for supplies and food. Time, to find a way to live with the situation—to manage it—as it continues to develop.

Israel is buying time at the cost of land, and works to contain the situation through negotiation. Whether this is the correct policy for the moment or not has yet to be seen. In that it has prevented a major military conflict in what is considered to be a trigger area for another world war, it is the correct policy.

Going to war is a strategic decision, always with very mixed results.

Containment is always to be preferred to escalating a conflict. In that war is an incredibly expensive affair, in terms of men, material and morale, containment is perceived as the preferable policy.

Is war ever to be preferred over negotiation? It is, when you know without any doubt that by initiating that war you will win an overwhelming victory, one that will not be snatched away from you at the next peace conference. We do not have that guarantee today, nor, when you consider the interests and policies of the Europeans, Arabs, Russians and the Americans, are we likely to have it any time soon.

Even worse than initiating the war and winning it on the battlefield, only to loose it at the negotiating table, would be to have war forced upon us when we are incapable of winning it, either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table. Whether we lose on the battlefield because we lack strategic depth or men and materials to bring the war to a successful conclusion, or at the negotiating table, when we sue for peace from a position of weakness because we could not win on the battlefield, the results would be the same. Should either of these events occur, Israel will cease to exist, and the migration of the Palestinian people into the Fertile Crescent will have drawn to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Sharon's approach—negotiating long-term interim agreements with the PA—makes much more sense for Israel than did the Oslo "Final Status" agreements of the Barak Administration. In Mr. Sharon's model, good behavior on the part of the PA will be rewarded, while violence on their part will bring any further negotiations to a halt. In military terms, the initiative remains in the hands of Israel.

The Oslo "Final Status" talks were a strategic error for Israel. They could not have been any more "final" than any other series of negotiations by any other parties in any other conflict. The historical record for treaties made between nations is laughable for its long list of broken agreements.

Pressures placed upon our current government by the nations of the world are intended to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestine Authority. These concessions will inevitably result in the establishment of a Palestinian state that has as its stated goal the elimination of the State of Israel. Every Israeli government since Ben Gurion has worked to contain this situation, gain time, and achieve the best deal possible in the short term. But every concession that is made only further weakens our ability to defend ourselves, and strengthens our opponents. We are trading land for time, not for peace. We are under siege, and we are thinking with a siege mentality.

It is very likely there will be a major military conflict involving Israel during the next five to ten years. Current military analyses give four reasons for the start of such a conflict:
  • A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan ranks high on the list, since it would inevitably spill over into neighboring countries,
  • A civil war within Israel, since the resulting chaos would make it impossible to organize a coherent defense,
  • A coordinated invasion by Syria, Iraq and Egypt, and the Palestinian entity when it is believed that Israel no longer has the strategic depth or strength of will to win, or
  • Fresh water aquifers of the neighboring countries become contaminated due to over pumping, and the aquifers controlled by Israel represent the only remaining supply of potable water in the Middle East.

Territorial concessions in exchange for signatures on treaties are not the answer. Ask the American Indians about "Land for Peace." Ask the Magnates of Poland who, at the height of the Golden Age of Poland, gave away fully one half their territory to Russia in exchange for peace. There are few American Indians in America today, and there are no Magnates in Poland.

Albert Einstein once said that you cannot use the same kind of thinking to solve a problem as that which was used to get you into the problem in the first place.

The phrase "War of the Canaanite Succession" was not made up for the sake of this article; it is a highly apropos title for the historical record of the land in which we Israelis live. If we wish to survive in this part of the world as a free people within our own borders, we must change the way we look at our problems with our neighbors, and the way we look at ourselves as a nation. We must begin to look at our current generation within a historical context, and understand that the problems we face today were faced by others, both here within our part of the world and in other lands and other times.

We must learn from their mistakes. If we do not, we will damn our children and ourselves, because we will make those same mistakes again. Our children, and their children, will be the ones to pay the price for our folly.

Gary Showalter is a novelist and independent journalist, specializing in political issues surrounding the Middle East. Recent articles by the author include:
Strategic Terror Attacks within the United States
Tactical Terror Attacks within the United States
The Misunderstood Object of War
Peeling the Onion
A Rumor of Democracy

Article copyright © Gary Showalter; all rights reserved
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| r e a d i n g |

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The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World; Avi Shlaim; ISBN: 0393048160

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Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare; Bard E. O'Neill, Edward C. Meyer; ISBN: 1574883356

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Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind; Walter Reich, Walter Laqueur; ISBN: 0943875897

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Altering U.S. Sanctions Policy: Final Report of the CSIS Project on Unilateral Economic Sanctions (CSIS Report); Douglas Johnston, Sidney Weintraub, Csis Project on Unilateral Economic Sanctions; ISBN: 0892063521Social Exclusion (Issues in Society); D. S. Byrne; ISBN: 0335199747

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| u s e n e tg r o u p s |











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| w e b s i t e s |

Lessons of War (thinkQuest)

Lessons of War: Discussion Forum (thinkQuest)

The Thirty-Six Strategies of Ancient China

An Introduction to Sun-tzu and the Art of War (Univ of Florida)

The Sun-tzu in English and Chinese (the China Page)

Strategic Information Warfare: A New Face of War; Roger C. Molander, Andrew S. Riddile, Peter A. Wilson; Rand Publications

The Korean War (Air University Library Publications)

The Cold War Science & Technology Studies Program (Carnegie Mellon University)

. . . . . . . . . .

israel research

American Israel Public Affairs Committee

CIA World FActbook 2001: Israel

Israel Defense Force

The Israel Democracy Institute

Israel Embassy, Washington DC

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Jerusalem Post

The Knesset

Library of Congress: A Study of Israel

The Peres Center For Peace

The Yitzhak Rabin Center

Zionist Organization of America

arabic/palestinian research

ArabNet: Palestine

Complete Guide to Palestinian Websites: Academic Research

Iran Press Service

Institute for Palestine Studies

Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics

Palestine Daily

Palestinian Ministry of Information

Palestine Permanent Observer Mission to the UN

Palestine Report Online


Council On Foreign Relations

United Nations

(*see our resource directory for add'l resources)

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