Killing Lebanon


I had thought of moving on to other topics this week, away from the depressing news of the violence in the Middle East to the other depressing (but at least science-related) topic of global warming. But I simply could not ignore the news over the weekend about the destruction of Lebanon and its capital Beirut and have postponed global warming until tomorrow.

Lebanon is a country that was rebuilding itself after many, many years of civil war that killed over 150,000 people. What we see now is that the Israeli barrage of that country is destroying everything that was so painstakingly created. Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk who has made Lebanon his home and seen it go through good times and bad, walked through the now-deserted streets of this once-vibrant city that had been built from the ashes.

And now it is being un-built. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its glistening halls and shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri’s wonderful transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been levelled and “rubble-ised” and pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shia Muslims to seek sanctuary in schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hizbollah, another of those “centres of world terror” which the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands. Here lived Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God’s leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man; and Sayad Mohamed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics; and many of Hizbollah’s top military planners – including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pin-point accuracy – a doubtful notion in any case, but that’s not the issue – what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?

Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor, fresh from his earlier attempts to provide mechanisms to justify torture, now turns his talents to justify the killing of Lebanese civilians, arguing that many of those “tens of thousands of poor” did in fact deserve this punishment. Following his usual methods, Dershowitz carefully fine-tunes and calibrates his definitions and arguments so as to exonerate the actions of the US and Israel against others, while similar actions taken against the people of the US and Israel are treated as horrendous crimes. Dershowitz always provides fine examples of how to start with a desired conclusion and work back to the required premises, showing that there is no proposition, however execrable, that some people will not attempt to rationalize.

The BBC website has pictures of Beirut after the shelling began. These pictures are shocking in showing the level of destruction, but are not gruesome. Other sites (which I will not link to) are showing pictures of dead and mutilated bodies, many of them children, that are appalling and stomach churning, and these pictures are being seen all over the world. For those who are consoling themselves that what is happening is “precision bombing” that is not targeting civilians, it has to be realized that there can be no such thing in densely populated, highly built up areas. When you hit a high rise building in a city, you are targeting everything and everyone around it as well.

According to the BBC again, “The UN’s Jan Egeland has condemned the devastation caused by Israeli air strikes in Beirut, saying it is a violation of humanitarian law. Mr Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief chief, described the destruction as “horrific” as he toured the city.” The scale of the destruction of Lebanon has even caused “Bush’s poodle” Tony Blair’s government to break with the US. The British Foreign Office minister Kim Howell on a visit to Lebanon said “The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.”

Meanwhile, the Bush government is “rushing” a delivery of more missiles to Israel, which requested them after the bombing of Lebanon began, suggesting that even more of Lebanon is going to be devastated. The administration seems to see no irony in doing this while at the same time alleging that Syria and Iran are supplying Hamas and Hezbollah forces and condemning that support.

When this action is coupled with the US not calling for an immediate ceasefire and Condoleeza Rice’s lack of urgency in trying to find a solution or ceasefire, the rest of the world will simply take this as a sign that the US is doing Israel’s bidding, giving Israel all the time to wants to pummel Lebanon.

Glenn Greenwald argues that all these are signs that the neoconservative stranglehold on American foreign policy is not only complete, but it has lost all semblance of restraint, supporting reckless policies and cheering on further destruction and death with an abandon that should send chills down every person’s spine.

Apparently, it isn’t enough that the U.S. has been defending without reservation the wisdom of the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon. Nor is it enough that we have been unilaterally blocking a cease-fire and other diplomatic solutions. Nor is it enough that the American taxpayer pays for enormous amounts of Israel’s military equipment — from the planes flying over Lebanon to the tanks entering it. Now we are handing Israel the very bombs that they drop in order to flatten more and more of Lebanon, on a bomb-by-bomb basis.
. . .
The terms they [i.e., neoconservatives] are using to describe their grand war visions are “annihilation” and “cleaning out.” They have had enough with restraint and limited strikes and a war that has been depressingly and weakly confined just to Iraq and Afghanistan. They want full-scale, unrestrained Middle Eastern war — they always have — and they see this as their big chance to have it.

And the more one reads and listens to neoconservatives in their full-throated war calls, the more disturbing and repellent these ideas become. So many of them seem to be driven not even any longer by a pretense of a strategic goal, but by a naked, bloodthirsty craving for destruction and killing itself, almost as the end in itself. They urge massive military attacks on Lebanon, Syria, Iran — and before that, Iraq — knowing that it will kill huge numbers of innocent people, but never knowing, or seemingly caring, what comes after that. And the disregard for the lives of innocent people in those countries is so cavalier and even scornful that it is truly unfathomable, at times just plain disgusting. From a safe distance, they continuously call for — and casually dismiss the importance of — the deaths of enormous numbers of people without batting an eye. And for what?

What is Lebanon going to look like — let alone Syria and Iran — once we decimate large parts of their infrastructure, kill, maim and render homeless thousands upon thousands of their citizens, and bring down their governments? Who cares. Let’s just stop whining and appeasing and get on with the action.
. . .
One can easily lose sight of how bizarre it is that we now so frequently debate whether we should attack countries who have not attacked us nor pose any real threat to attack us. As was true for the “debates” over whether we should use torture (or even “debates” over whether the President can break the law), when something is advocated openly and frequently enough, even the most reprehensible and previously insane ideas can become acceptable and mainstream. We have become a country that now casually and without much trauma debates which countries we should preemptively invade next.

Veteran Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery argues that if the goal of punishment the entire nation of Lebanon is to weaken support for Hezbollah, then Israel has gravely miscalculated, which agrees with what I wrote last week.

Further support for this view comes from a CNN interview with the Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. The interviewer Nic Robertson kept pressing the prime minister to condemn Hezbollah and distance himself from them, and even suggested that he should order the Lebanese army to move against them. But Lahoud was having none of it and said that the Israeli invasion of his country is only going to unite the people of Lebanon. Here are some excerpts of the interview:

LAHOUD: Well, if you knew the interior politics of Lebanon, you will understand that in 2000 Hezbollah was the main liberator of our land. And at the time, the Lebanese army was and still is with what is happening on the frontier. Because, you see, what was happening was Israel with airplanes. . . but having the resistance, they think twice. And because of that there is no animosity between the army and the resistance [i.e., Hezbollah]. . . The resistance are Lebanese.
. . .
So our thanks comes when we are united, and we are really united, and the national army is doing its work according to the government, and the resistance is respected in the whole Arab world from the population point of view. And very highly respected in Lebanon as well.
. . .
Believe me, Hezbollah has done a lot for Lebanon in liberating this land. . . Hezbollah is part of the government.
. . .
ROBERTSON: Not everyone supports Hezbollah, and there are divisions in this community. And this country fought a 15-year civil war over those divisions. Those divisions are re-emerging below the surface of support of the attacks that are going on. Those figures could realistically grow bigger.

LAHOUD: Yes, but we’re not going to let them. Because the Lebanese have learned the lesson. Because when they fight between themselves it’s much worse than having someone come from outside. Because we’ve seen what happened in ’75 because we paid a very high price. Now, being united, whatever Israel can do we stay strong, because this makes the morale of the Lebanese stronger when they are united and no one can beat them.
. . .
But children are being killed, massacred. And we don’t see these pictures of these children in the international media because of political reasons. If you see them, well you can’t wait to talk about it and wait for these children and women with nowhere to go and live under bombs and shells. They just live outside. They don’t have a shelter. We can’t wait for the talks to go on. Meanwhile the aircrafts are bombing whatever they want in Lebanon. It never happened. . . I don’t see anything in history that has happened like what is happening now. Airplanes are hitting civilians all over the country and [there is no] retaliation on these airplanes because they are civilians.
. . .
Believe me, violence brings violence, and it will be a cycle that no one will be able to get out of and everybody will lose. If Israel thinks it’s going to win, it’s very mistaken. You cannot solve things and have peace in the region with violence. It might be now they have all this weaponry. But what about the children and the people who have brothers and sisters now dying? Well, they’re pushing them to, really, well, they don’t have anything to lose. For them, their life is nothing, so whatever will do to them. In the future they will seek revenge. So the only way [is] to stop the firing right now for the good of everybody.
. . .
ROBERTSON: How do you get the cease-fire? The Israelis want their soldiers back.

LAHOUD: There were three in Lebanon that have been in prison since 30 years. And there were many, and there was an exchange. So why now, suddenly, after taking two soldiers they have done such a retaliation? Because I believe all was planned from before and, unfortunately, they were waiting for the moment. And when the moment came and these two soldiers were taken, they had the plan of attack. It’s not for the reason that the soldiers were taken, it’s for other reasons. Because since 2000 they have wanted to take their revenge because they had to leave Lebanon.
. . .
Because they have a previous plan and they are executing that plan in that way thinking they will do what they did in ’82. But things have changed since ’82.

ROBERTSON: How?

LAHOUD: Because it’s not like ’82 that they can come in Lebanon and make a promenade until they reach Beirut. These people, underground Lebanese, are ready to die for their land.

ROBERTSON: Hezbollah?

LAHOUD: Not only Hezbollah, many people are ready to die for their land. Wouldn’t you do that if they go inside your country? You’d do the same. And the Lebanese army as well. We’re not going to let anyone take our land. We’ve done it in the past, we liberated our land. We’re not going to let them come back and take it from us. (my italics)

While much of Lahoud’s rhetoric may be just bluster and defiance (because the Lebanese army is no match for the US-supplied Israeli forces), Lahoud’s remarks are a sign that politically, Hezbollah has gained by this action, not only in Lebanon but around the region.

Larry Johnson, formerly with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism says much along the same lines as Lahoud. Meanwhile Paul Craig Roberts argues that Americans should be concerned about allying themselves with neoconservative policies of “tooth and claw,” where might makes right, and Palestinians are treated as expendable. And Juan Cole also debunks the notion that this attack had much to do with the capture of two Israeli soldiers. He says “That this war was pre-planned was obvious to me from the moment it began. The Israeli military proceeded methodically and systematically to destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure, and clearly had been casing targets for some time.” Support for this view also comes from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It all comes back to the problem of Palestinian statelessness. That is the key problem that must be solved if any progress is to be made on any of the other fronts. But it keeps getting deliberately ignored.

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