Jacob Sivak

The Eternal Arms Race

Biologists have long been aware of the evolutionary struggle between a large group of moths, the Noctuid moths, and insect eating bats. To avoid being seen and eaten by birds the moths developed a nocturnal lifestyle, only to find that they became the prey of echo locating bats. The moths then developed a sensory system that detected the bats’ sonar to avoid being eaten. In response, the bats evolved super sensitive hearing so as to be able to locate the moths by hearing the beating of their wings, and so on. The struggle goes on.

To some extent the ongoing struggle between Israel and the Arab nations is reminiscent of the struggle between the bats and the moths. In response to hostility and periodic attacks by its neighbors as well as periodic arms embargoes by the major powers, the Israelis have had to create a strong military force by way of a universal draft and a homegrown arms industry. A spate of suicide bombings from the West Bank during the Second Intifada in 2000 led to the creation of an effective security barrier. Indiscriminate rocket fire on civilian Israeli targets by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza led to the creation of the Iron Dome defense system. Efforts by Hamas to penetrate into Israel by way of tunnels resulted in the development of efficient tunnel detecting technology. More recently, Hamas and its allies in Gaza have resorted to the use of incendiary balloons and kites, and the prevailing winds, to set fire to the Israeli farm fields near Gaza. In return, Israeli inventors have come up with drones capable of cutting the kites’ strings or putting out the fires before they spread.

The example of the moths and the bats describes co-evolution; the evolutionary influence of closely associated species on each other. While human activity, for example, light pollution, may inadvertently change the balance of power, in this case by disorienting the moths and favoring the bats, biologists have asked whether victory is possible in the case of such arms races.

In the concluding chapter of his book My Promised Land (2013), the Israeli writer Ari Shavit asks “I wonder how long we can maintain our miraculous survival? One more generation? Two? Three?” In 2014, Michael Cohen, a columnist for The Guardian, wrote in regard to the Arab Israeli conflict “So how does this end?… maybe it never will.” According to a 2017 report by the Middle East Policy Council even Jared Kushner, US President Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, expressed some pessimism in noting that there may be no solution that is acceptable to all parties.

In Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (2018) the Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevy attempts to break the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians by setting out his (the Jewish/ Israeli narrative; including the long and continuous connection to the land of Israel and the history of modern Zionism) and acknowledging that each side has a narrative. “To you we are colonialists, Crusaders. And to us you are the latest genocidal enemy seeking to destroy the Jewish people.” Halevy asks “Can we, instead see each other as two traumatized peoples…neither of whom will find peace or justice until we make our peace with the other’s claim to justice?” Later in the book Halevi describes an Arab initiated visit to Auschwitz in 2004 by 300 Jewish and Arab Israelis. One of the Palestinian participants says, “We are ready to hear your story, live together as neighbors. But we need you to see us, too; we need you to hear our story and our pain.”

The epilogue consists of a selection of eleven signed and unsigned responses from Palestinians and other Arabs to Yossi’s book. Halevy has made an Arabic translation of the book freely available on the internet, with the hope that his efforts will result in an important dialogue among Israelis and Palestinians. The alternative, as Halevy puts it, is “We can continue fighting for another hundred years, in the hope that one side or the other will prevail. Or we can… divide the land between us.”

About the Author
Jacob Sivak, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, is a retired professor in the School of Optometry, University of Waterloo, where he continues to pursue scientific research. He has published an annotated memoir (Chienke’s Motl and Motl’s Cheinke:A Twentieth Century Story, Mantua Books,) related to his parents’ experiences as immigrants to Montreal and kibbutzniks in Palestine in the 1930s and he has written blogs and articles published in The Canadian Jewish News, Algemeiner Journal, and The Times of Israel.
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