Though Israelis Mostly Support War, Hezbollah Conflict Has Local Detractors

Hannah Safran knows her political views are unpopular these days. The 56-year-old adjunct college professor received numerous telephone threats at her Haifa home, she said, after she recently spoke out against Israel’s military operation in Lebanon on a morning television talk show. Undeterred, the longtime peace activist has continued to demonstrate nearly every day for the last two and a half weeks against the conflict.

On July 27, Safran — when she was not hurrying to take shelter from sirens warning of imminent Hezbollah rocket attacks — was busy creating protest signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English at a women’s center in Haifa for upcoming anti-war demonstrations.

“Our desire, it might sound a big grandiose, is to stop the war,” said Safran, who is a member of the Women’s Coalition for Peace, Women in Black and the newly formed Women Against War and teaches courses on women’s studies and gender in Netanya and near Afula. “We are really, frankly, doing all we can to stop the war now, this minute. This is crucial for us. It will save lives. Each person’s life counts: the civilians in Israel, the soldiers in Israel, the civilians in Lebanon, the Hezbollah people in Lebanon.”

Safran was among some 2,000 people estimated to have joined an anti-war march organized by a coalition of women’s groups on Saturday evening in Tel Aviv. The protest took place a day before an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon killed at least 54 civilians, many of them children.

Yet, Safran is in a distinct minority. Nearly three weeks into Israel’s military operation in Lebanon aimed at bringing home two kidnapped soldiers and removing the threat of Hezbollah from its northern border, many describe Israeli opposition as small and slow-moving. Even normally dovish groups have backed Israel’s right to self-defense.

“There is by and large a consensus that Hezbollah should be neutralized, if not eradicated,” said Moshe Maoz, a professor in the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

While the majority of the Israeli population supports Israel’s operation, there are some arguments and concerns about how the military operation should be carried out.

Meretz, a dovish Israeli party, abstained in the no-confidence vote held in the Knesset earlier this month over Israel’s military operation. While the party had its reservations, “we kept saying that Israel had the full right to react” to Hezbollah’s provocation, said lawmaker Yossi Beilin, the party’s chairman.

Since the beginning of the operation, however, the party has opposed sending in ground troops into Lebanon, and argued that Israel should consider “innocent civilians,” he said.

Now, Meretz is calling for a cease-fire agreement that would include the goals of the Israeli operation such as the release of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, pushing Hezbollah away from the southern border and placing Lebanese troops there.

Negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah through a third party could help achieve these goals, Beilin said, since Israel is unable to achieve them through military actions alone.

“We think that the continuation of the current operation is becoming a war of attrition more than anything else,” he said. Unfortunately, it is “the citizens of both sides” that pay the price.

“The fact that Hezbollah uses people as human shields makes it very difficult to get to them, which is their goal,” said Gadi Wolfsfeld, professor of political science and communications at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, last week. “Israel has no choice.”

Peace Now is also not protesting the conflict since it agrees Israel has the right to self-defense.

The group “thinks we have the right to do it,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, director general of Peace Now in Israel. “The question is whether it will help Israel or hurt? Some think Israel is doing much more than it should.”

Peace Now does not automatically demonstrate against all wars, Oppenheimer said. “Sometimes, you have to use force, unfortunately.”

In the meantime, Peace Now will continue to monitor the situation in Lebanon. Oppenheimer added: “We will probably demonstrate against the war if it gets out of control.”

There is another kind of criticism in Israel, particularly from the right, which argues that Israel waited too long to react to Hezbollah, allowing the group to arm itself for six years following the country’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Maoz said.

In the long term, public opinion will largely be based on how the situation in Lebanon develops, Wolfsfeld said.

“If there is an increasing feeling that we are paying a tremendous price without getting much benefit, or that there’s another way out of it that Israel would gain some strategic advantage, the voices calling for a cease-fire will rise,” he said.

However, if Hezbollah continues to attack Israeli citizens with rockets, “there is also going to be a rise in those calling for an all-out war because of the fact that Israel can’t continue to have its entire North paralyzed.”

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