Reading, Watching 11.19.23
This is a regular feature for paid subscribers where I write a little about what I’ve recently been reading and/or watching. Hope you enjoy!
In the New York Review of Books, historian Seth Anziska has what I think is an important piece, which looks at the First Lebanon War—an event that always seemed to me a key turning point for the worse in the Israel’s history—as context and analogy for the present war in Gaza:
…Last summer was the fortieth anniversary of the first Lebanon War, which began in June 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon with the stated aim of targeting militants from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Even as it promised a limited incursion, Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s government had a far more ambitious plan to root out Palestinian nationalism from Lebanese territory. Soon the army had laid siege to Beirut as part of its ground invasion and bombing campaign, which in the southern city of Sidon destroyed entire homes, at least one hospital, and swathes of Ain al-Hilweh, the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp.
The 1982 Lebanon War became what some have called Israel’s Vietnam. By the end of the first, ten-week phase of the war over 19,000 Lebanese and Palestinian combatants and civilians and 364 Israeli combatants were dead. The PLO was expelled to Tunis, reconstituting Palestinian politics both in the diaspora and on the ground in Palestine, paving the way for the group’s greater international recognition, including by the United States, and contributing to the outbreak of the first intifada. South Lebanon was occupied by Israeli forces and the South Lebanon Army (SLA), which remained there until Israel withdrew its forces and the SLA collapsed in 2000. Local opposition militias evolved into Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed paramilitary organization that in the 1980s emerged as a central player in the region.
Meanwhile a movement of military refusal emerged in Israel itself, starting in the opening days of the war, when combat veterans founded a group called Yesh Gvul (“There Is a Limit”) to advocate for conscientious objection. The shocking accounts and images of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September 1982—when IDF-backed Phalangist forces murdered between eight hundred and three thousand Palestinian refugees, including infants, children, and pregnant women—temporarily pierced support for Israel within the Jewish diaspora and brought 10 percent of the Israeli population into the streets. Many began questioning Israel’s use of force and the eliminationist thinking about Palestinians that had enabled the violence, while others charged Israel’s critics with promoting antisemitic blood libels. Despite the PLO’s dispersal, the Palestinian quest for self-determination intensified. As the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate argued in November 1982, “Israel has been surprised to discover that its military victory has not produced the expected political dividends and seems to have strengthened its antagonists’ political hand.”