Manifest Destiny

A.B. Yehoshua, translated by D. Nottman


As I write the battle in West Beirut is not yet finished. Will it end in a political settlement, or will the Israeli government really dare to order its army to enter the city and take it by force, with all the killing and destruction such a military operation entails, and all this in order to “terminate” the war Israel started?

And will this really be the end?

Only forty years ago we Jews returned to history as a substantial dynamic element, shaping our destiny with our own hands. No longer a passive entity to be borne on the waves of other peoples’ history, but a nation that acts and causes others to act, that directs its own destiny and so becomes part of the destiny of others, a nation like all other nations. But our entrance into history, which began secretly, stealthily, has acquired extraordinary force and intensity. Like an elderly student entering the university and applying to study in one year all the undergraduate courses, the Master’s courses, and even to start and possibly finish doctoral studies as well—so we are an ancient, passive people who stood in a corner and watched others make history; and then suddenly, for the last forty or fifty years, we have been vigorously cramming in great historical events that other nations spread out over hundreds of years of history: a struggle against a foreign power, a war of independence, total wars, the conquest of a foreign land, colonization, the dissolution of part of the empire, partial peace, and now another “little” war, begun perhaps in the manner of the proverbial nineteenth-century gunboat. And at every additional stage of this dizzying chronicle another force comes into view, an amazing vitality by which the nation reveals to itself and to the world, for better or for worse, qualities of whose existence it was not even aware.

The single rusty revolver of fifty years ago that was secretly passed from settlement to settlement for the purpose of defending the early pioneers has been transformed into one of the strongest armies in the world with thousands of tanks, a powerful air force, missiles and electronics and warships. We ourselves are amazed in every war to discover the extent of our power. There are serious people in Israel who attack those brave intellectuals who dissociate themselves from this war on the grounds that we intellectuals refuse to recognize that Israel really is strong and has the military and political power that establishes it as a prime factor in region, and as such must take upon itself duties and responsibilities in accordance with that great power. They claim that we really would prefer Israel to remain weak and edgy, capable perhaps of defending itself successfully, of fighting off an attack, but incapable of initiating far-reaching moves in order to try to establish a better order in the region, one that will be in accordance both with Israel’s interests and with moral values as Israel…

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