Israel in Lebanon

The peacemakers were racing the warmakers as the once-flourishing land of Lebanon continued to be sacrificed to others' battles this week. As the tragedy mounted, the need for widespread prayerful support of the cease-fire efforts was poignantly clear. Indeed, in view of Israel's central role -- and its leaders' frequent invocation of the Bible -- a prayer of David's could be seen in a 20 th-century light: ''Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.''

For today's Israel is the political result of an international process to meet the long-accumulated troubles of the Jews. Its redemption, according to many Israelis as well as outsiders, lies in maintaining the moral force of its beginnings as a haven, a refuge, a land of freedom.

Israel cannot be blamed for being supersensitive to security -- having seen the security of the Jews violated so often throughout history. But when it appears to be less a haven than an expansive power, it risks its underlying strength. It undertakes that risk when it invades Lebanon in the name of self-defense and then goes beyond its own stated goals to strike farther and farther with greater and greater loss of life.

At this writing, Israel remained defiant of the United Nations' Security Council Resolution calling on it to withdraw its forces and return to the internationally recognized boundaries of Lebanon. It remained defiant, too, of the similar call by its main friend, the United States. Many voices were raised for the US to use leverage beyond exhortation, such as holding up the massive military and economic aid Israel has come to expect no matter what it does. But a land with Israel's basic traditions should not have to be pressured into showing the mercy of a cease-fire until more fundamental peace can be gained.

Israel joined in such a cease-fire last year under US auspices. The longer its current violation of that cease-fire lasts, the more threatening the possible consequences. By broadening the war beyond deterring Palestinian attacks across the border, it embarrasses and alienates its Camp David partner, Egypt. And the Soviet Union, always ready to exploit an opportunity, may see ways to use the whole disturbed situation.

The root causes of Israeli-Arab strife require long-term solutions: the Israelis' conviction that they are at last secure in their independence; the Palestinians' conviction that they have at last received justice. The Lebanon war cruelly dramatizes the need for these solutions. But it cannot be allowed to run on by itself in their absence. A great burden falls on those Palestinians and other Arabs who have refused to accept the fact of Israel in their midst. But right now the onus is on Israel to help the peacemakers and prove it is not an expansionist state bent on eradicating the Palestinians.

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