Lie: On Thursday, July 20, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, claimed that Israel’s current attack on Lebanon is a war for its very existence. Indeed, every time Israel has entered into a war with its Arab neighbors, be it the 1956 war, the 1967 war, the 1973 war, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, or its perpetual war with the Palestinians, Israeli officials have claimed that Israel is fighting for its survival, defending its very existence from Arabs who want to annihilate it.
This is a blatant lie. First, Israel has the mightiest military in the region, possessing state-of-the-art weapons, including nuclear ones (Israel’s “open secret”). How the area’s strongest country faces existential threats by its far weaker neighbors has yet to be explained. The Palestinians, always portrayed by Israel as threatening its existence, are basically an unarmed people, relying on rocks, firearms, and crudely made rockets to fight Israel’s occupation. Second, any careful reading of history shows that it was Israel that has proved over and over again to be resistant to Arab overtures of peace, pursuing a policy of territorial expansion at the expense of a lasting and just settlement to its conflict with the Palestinians. Virtually every single Israeli prime minister, from David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Shamir, Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, to Ehud Olmert, has rejected a just settlement. Even the much vaunted peaceniks Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak had their own view of what a Palestinian state should be: a shrunken one, with no full sovereignty, a view that no Palestinian leader could accept without rejection from his people.
Double Standard: On Friday, July 21, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice claimed during a press conference that Hizbullah’s penetration of Israeli territory and its abduction of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 violated numerous international laws. That may be so, but her statement is a blatantly selective application of international law. Rice did not, for example, mention the numerous international laws that Israel has violated and continues to violate. Here are a few examples: UN General Assembly resolution 194, which calls on Israel to repatriate the Palestinian refugees; UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which demand of Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war; and the various UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from Lebanon after its 1982 invasion (which Israel eventually heeded, but fully only in 2000, thus defeating the very point of issuing such resolutions).
Culpable Fallacy: On Thursday, July 19, US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, repeated the claim during a press conference that it was Hizbullah that started and caused the current conflict. First, assuming for a moment that we agree that Hizbullah’s abduction of the two Israeli soldiers is the appropriate starting point, it does not follow that just because Hizbullah “started” and “caused” this conflict Israel’s responsibility somehow disappears and Israel can take a moral holiday. For surely Israel can choose to end the conflict or can choose to take it in a non-military direction. Or are Israeli officials mere robots, such that by pressing the right buttons Hizbullah can unleash a wholesale attack by Israel on Lebanon? Second, why begin with Hizbullah’s abduction of the two Israeli soldiers? Why not begin with Israel’s continual violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty? Why not Israel’s continued occupation of Lebanon till 2000 that helped to give Hizbullah its continued reason for existing and operating? Why not its 1982 invasion that helped sow the seeds for Hizbullah’s very existence? Why not even begin with Israel’s occupation in 1967 of more Palestinian lands? Indeed, why not begin in 1948, with Israel’s creation and the simultaneous creation of the Palestinian refugee problem and future turmoil in the region?
Lie: Israeli officials, supported by the US mainstream media, continually assert that Israel targets only Hizbullah positions, and that any civilian casualties are due to either mistakes or to Hizbullah’s hiding amidst civilian populations. But anyone who takes a good look at the havoc that Israel has wreaked on Lebanon since its attack 10 days ago cannot but dispute such a claim. Are the factories, the power-grids, the trucks, the homes, and other civilian infrastructures Hizbullah positions? This is clearly not so. Indeed, Israel has admitted that it has targeted these places in order to cripple Hizbullah. But with this admission, the game is up. What about when Israel hits a civilian building with the excuse that Hizbullah uses it? Why does this count as targeting civilians? Well, someone can say that the Israeli pilot’s intention is not to kill civilians, but Hizbullah fighters, and so he is not, after all, targeting civilians. But this won’t do. When I fell a tree to build a house, the distinction here is not between intending to build a house and not intending to fell the tree. I intend to do both. The distinction here is rather between ultimate or final intentions and mediate ones: the Israeli pilot ultimately intends the death of Hizbullah fighters, but mediately intends the death of civilians. There is no way around it. In any case, the record speaks for itself: can the overwhelming deaths over the past decades of Palestinian civilians, and, over the past 10 days, in Lebanon (setting aside those during Israel’s many incursions into this country) all be due to accidents and mistakes? Israel certainly needs to explain these numbers, and by “explain” I don’t simply mean repeating over and over the mantra that Israel does not target civilians.
But doesn’t Hizbullah hide among civilians? I don’t know about the word “hide” - after all, Hizbullah fighters have not exactly proven themselves cowardly - but Hizbullah is not a state army, it is a militia, a military organization (that some describe as a resistance movement and others as a terrorist organization). Historically, such groups have operated among civilian populations, populations that typically allow them to do so because they come from and are supported by these populations. If they are to successfully carry out their goals, they have to; otherwise, they would be continuously defeated. This is why, while Israel surely prefers that Hizbullah operate from tall buildings with neon signs that say, “THIS IS HIZBULLAH; COME BOMB US,” Hizbullah is not about to do so. And unless we totally rule out the moral permissibility of such groups - and we shouldn’t, since we then rob people of their right to resist oppression - then we cannot condemn in a blanket way the fact that they tend to operate from among civilians.
Double Standard: Both US and Israeli officials claim that Hizbullah is a terrorist organization. I do not wish to argue that it is not one (it has targeted civilians), though Hizbullah itself vehemently denies the claim and most Arabs in the region do not see it as one. I do want to take issue with the double standard: if Israel targets civilians, then Israel is a terrorist state. And not only has Israel targeted civilians in its day to day military operations in Lebanon and in the occupied Palestinian territories, it has also maintained a military occupation of the Palestinians since 1967 that has wreaked havoc and fear on their lives - in a word, terrorized them. Moreover, nothing hinges on the fact that Hizbullah is an organization while Israel is a state; this is utterly irrelevant: if the essence of terrorism is the targeting of civilians for political purposes, then one can be an organization, a state, and even Santa Claus, can be terrorist.
Culpable Fallacy: We have been told repeatedly in recent days by Israeli officials that Israel is not interested in occupying Lebanon but only in getting get rid of Hizbulllah or at least weakening it. I will not dispute the first claim: given Israel’s experience in Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, it makes sense that it does not wish to occupy the country (although Israel’s intentions and plans are not clear, and, in any case, events in the region have a way of wresting things from the hands of leaders and their desires). But the second claim contains a fallacy. Let us suppose that Israel succeeds to the fullest extent: it goes into Lebanon, dismantles all Hizbullah’s infrastructure, and arrests or kills every single one of their fighters. Then what? Has it gotten rid of Hizbullah? For a while, yes it has. But then more fighters will crop up, learning from their predecessors’ mistakes and more determined to inflict even more damaging blows on Israel, with far more serious repercussions for its citizens. And then we’re back to square one, with Israel attacking again and claiming that it wants to defeat Hizbullah II. My dear Israeli brethren: if you want to defeat Hizbullah, then get rid of its popular support and the reason for its being. But to do that, you’ll have to start treating the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and other Arabs with a lot more respect, far less racism, and with bushels of moral decency and justice.
A Few Words on Being Patronizing: In the last couple of days, a few Israeli officials have started saying that they want to get rid of Hizbullah not just for Israel’s sake, but also for the sake of the Lebanese, so that Lebanon can become a truly sovereign nation. God help us. We have a saying back from where I come from (Lebanon): “He killed us with his kindness.” This is exactly what Israel is doing. In its zeal to help Lebanon become a sovereign nation, it has so far managed to kill about 300 Lebanese, injure over 500, and displace over 500,000. I shudder at the thought of more help from Israel. But it seems that Israel wants to add to its glittering list of adjectives - being arrogant, racist, aggressive, domineering, unjust - the word “patronizing.”
Nothing I have said here is original. But in a world whose leaders are almost completely deaf, these claims bear repeating, even shouting.
Associate Professor of Philosophy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Raja Halwani is currently co-authoring a book on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.