Michael Oren has an op-ed in Thursday’s NY Times about the Bibi-Biden flap. While a comprehensive dissection would consume many times the length of the original, my attention was drawn to a very narrow issue that appears in the following sentence: "Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods."
Let’s leave aside Gaza, which is quite deserving of its own counter-analysis, and focus on Lebanon. It is widely believed that upon Israel’s "voluntary" withdrawal in 2000 from territory it had been illegally occupying in southern Lebanon for about two decades, Hezbollah repeatedly fired rockets into northern Israel, eventually resulting in the 2006 bombing and invasion of Lebanon. Oren describes this bombardment in his current op-ed, and when Gaza started 15 months ago, Ethan Bronner wrote an article in the Times stating that the 2006 Lebanon war began after "an Iranian-backed Islamist group [Hezbollah] was lobbing deadly rockets into Israel with apparent impunity and had captured an Israeli soldier in a crossborder raid."
Anyone who remembers rocket barrages from Lebanon into Israel in the six years between 2000 and 2006 is delusional. It just did not happen. There were a handful of incidents in that direction over those six years, and more deadly ones in the other direction. Israel launched its 2006 invasion allegedly in response to the "crossborder raid" alone. To be sure, after Israel’s invasion, Hezbollah launched retaliatory rockets aimed at civilian communities in northern Israel, but it was not raining "thousands of rockets" (Oren) or "lobbing with apparent impunity" (Bronner) before Israel initiated the large-scale hostilities.
This brazen rewriting of history is in turn reminiscent of Israel’s June 1982 invasion of Lebanon that took an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese lives. There continues to be a widespread fictional recollection that that invasion also was launched in response to rocket fire from Lebanon (from the PLO). The truth is that a cease fire had been in place for nearly a year, and had been scrupulously honored by the PLO while the Israelis occasionally tried to provoke a casus belli to justify a long-planned invasion. When Israel’s ambassador to the UK was shot in London, and not by the PLO, Israeli PM Begin proclaimed that the cease fire had been violated and ordered a massive invasion led by Defense Minister Sharon. I distinctly recall that historical revision started right away. Later that same month of June, 1982, I heard from two separate people, one a friend and one a rabbi, that the rockets had finally stopped threatening Israel.
In the years since, I have followed this factoid and it can be surprising who still gets it wrong. For example, in his book with the A-word in the title, Jimmy Carter mistakenly (I presume) says that Israel had invaded Lebanon to stop the rocket fire. Other claims to this effect are not so surprising, like this one from the ADL website: "In June 1982, after the continued shelling of northern Israel by Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) forces based in Lebanon, Israel launched a full-scale invasion of Lebanon."
This is not insignificant. Israel repeatedly manages to alter history in its favor, resulting in common acceptace that Israel won territory in a 1967 "defensive war" and that Arafat ordered the second intifadah in 2000 to win through terror what he could not negotiate at Camp David. On the other hand, Palestinians are often unable to gain public recognition of actual realities, such as the massacres that precipitated the Nakba and Israel’s shamefully discriminatory treatment of its own non-Jewish citizens. Oren’s false comment, which I am sure passed by the paper’s staff unnoticed, reflects the carefully cultivated assumption underlying mainstream discourse, that Israel is perpetually forced to defend its populace from attack. Even many who criticize Israeli "excesses" believe that there was a legitimate reason to initiate military action. It is especially significant when considering last year’s Gaza offensive, which in many ways mirrored the Lebanon "war" two years earlier. Israel’s insistence that it was finally responding to incessant rocket fire from Gaza gets a much-needed but undeserved boost if people believe that its similar offensive against Lebanon two years earlier was in reaction to similar provocation. Oren’s and Bronner’s casual references to historical fiction are insidious and contribute mightily to this false narrative.