Losing its Morals and Marbles: Israel’s Fight for Lebanon

Palestinians march with Lebanese flags in a Gaza City rally, August 16, 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

If Hezbollah were a military, given Western standards, it would certainly be the most moral in the world. During Israel’s five week offensive, Hezbollah killed 118 Israeli soldiers and 41 Israeli civilians (18 of which were Israeli Palestinians). Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers for every one Israeli civilian. In contrast, Israeli forces killed more than 1000 Lebanese civilians during the onslaught (more bodies are expected to be discovered during the current period of “calm”). Robert Fisk, based in Lebanon, reported, “They are digging them [Lebanese bodies] up by the hour.” Israeli forces killed 25 Lebanese civilians for every Israeli civilian killed by Hezbollah.

Israel claims it killed three to four hundred Hezbollah fighters during the 33 day war. Hezbollah argues the number is much lower, but since the world maintains that Hezbollah is a “terrorist organization,” Hezbollah’s figure is swiftly rejected. Supposing Israel’s numbers are accurate, the state still killed roughly three Lebanese civilians for every one Hezbollah fighter.

Although the issue of proportionality was discussed in the US media, the issue of disproportionate coverage of the conflict was not. The American population’s strong reaction to the media’s coverage of the loss of civilian life in Lebanon—albeit its extremely minimal coverage—enhanced pressure for the eventual cease-fire. The Bush administration’s “green light” quickly turned red when it realized widespread regional chaos may bring harsh repercussions during an election season. One can only assume citizen pressure for a US pullout of Iraq would have been stronger if the US media properly reported the conflict and shown even a handful of the endless images of immense suffering the Iraqis are enduring due to US occupation.

Israel estimates that more than 4,000 Katushya rockets were fired across its borders during the five weeks of fighting—this was extensively reported throughout the US media. It brings one back to Wolf Blitzer’s opening news segments on the crisis in the Middle East: “Hezbollah rockets hit deeper into Israel and closer to Tel Aviv.” Similarly, it takes me back to images of a disheveled Tucker Carlson reporting the hard news in front of Israeli tanks firing “retaliatory” artillery shells on the civilian population of Lebanon. Yet, 4,000 Katushya rockets pale in comparison to the amount of force used by Israel, which one cannot put an exact figure on because the US media has yet to offer up the information (apparently the media didn’t want to complicate us with too many statistics). The Lebanese government, however, did state that Israeli air and ground forces destroyed approximately 30,000 buildings throughout Lebanon—300 high-rise buildings in southern Beirut alone.

Israel must have lost its copy of the Geneva Conventions for Dummies because Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly states, “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibitedàReprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.” Regarding the Geneva Conventions, Hezbollah is not a signatory; the same cannot be said for the state of Israel. This is not to excuse attacks on a civilian population by any force, including resistance forces, but only to put into context the “morality” of Western nations compared with adversaries they consider to be “terrorist groups.”

An Amoral History

Israel has a long history of using extreme force against civilian populations. During “Operation Peace for Galilee,” Israel slaughtered nearly 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians in Lebanon. Since the start of the second Intifada, Israeli forces killed more than 4,000 Palestinians, most of which were civilians. According to Tanya Reinhart in Israel/Palestine: How To End the War of 1948, “More than seven thousand Palestinians were reported injured in the first five weeks of the uprising, many in the head, legs, or knees by carefully aimed [Israeli] shots, and, increasingly, live [Israeli] ammunition.” Since the capture of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, Israeli forces have killed 188 Palestinians in Gaza, 44 of which were children. Israel used the capture of Shalit as a pretext to wage war on Gaza. Palestinian groups assert that the capture of Shalit was a response to the abduction of Dr. Osama Muantar and his brother, Mustafa.

Since the start of “Operation Summer Rain” in late June, Israel has pounded Gaza with thousands of artillery shells and air strikes. The United Nations humanitarian agencies working in Gaza reported that the Israeli military has “fired on average 200-250 artillery shells per day into the Gaza Strip and conducted at least 220 aerial bombings.” The violence used against the civilian population and infrastructure is increasing, rather than abating, causing billions of dollars in damage. Several UN agencies and human rights groups warn that a disaster of catastrophic proportions is imminent if the status quo—the complete closure of Gaza and the population’s inaccessibility to medicines, food and supplies—is not changed. The United Nations humanitarian agencies stated, “We are concerned that with international attention focusing on Lebanon, the tragedy in Gaza is being forgotten.”

An Amoral Partnership

Israel’s main ally, private ATM machine, and arms supplier, America, has been similarly brutal in its attempted conquests. Since the start of the US invasion in Iraq, an estimated 150,000 Iraqi civilians have perished. There is no official number of resistance and foreign fighters killed during this period, but if one were to use November 2004 as a measuring stick—a month in which approximately 1000 fighters were killed—more than 40,000 insurgents would be killed to date. In November 2004, American forces “battled” for Fallujah—apparently using phosphorus bombs that burn to the bone in the process—and considered this the period in which the largest Iraqi fighter death toll amassed. Given these numbers, nearly four Iraqi civilians have died for every one fighter; for the sake of the population, I dare not consider this “mission accomplished.”

What Happens Next?

The intense and indiscriminate force used by Israel should spark not only condemnation and swift action by the international community, but fear. Dan Halutz, once the star pupil of old comatose Sharon, is already packing his suitcase for civilian duty. Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, however, are not going down without a fight. After the fall of Labor, and the subsequent rise and fall of Likud, Olmert and Peretz were positioned to be the new wave of Israeli politics—whether the Israeli public liked it or not. When the invasion began, morale was predictably strong, but with war comes politics, and in this case, war brought defeat.

Olmert and Peretz need a victory fast. Fighting till the bitter end before the cease-fire was implemented didn’t accomplish this goal, and rather than fading into the dark dungeons of Israeli politics, they will have no other choice but to up the ante on the second phase of war. The reason for the fight? The existential threat to the state of Israel is more imminent than ever before—Olmert is even putting his West Bank convergence plan on the backburner. Furthermore, Hezbollah has been not disarmed, but rather galvanized by Israel’s embarrassment, and Hezbollah must be defeated. The course of this line of thinking will take Israel no further in Lebanon than it has taken America in Iraq. One only need to point Olmert and Peretz to the people chanting and waving signs at the massive demonstrations taking place throughout the US, Europe and the Arab world: “No justice, no peace!” These words have resonance today in Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territories, and throughout the Arab world. Unfortunately for Israel and its America ally, who hoped for a different type of “new Middle East,” these words are being put into action.

Remi Kanazi is the primary writer for the political website www.PoeticInjustice.net He lives in New York City as a Palestinian American freelance writer, poet and performer and can reached via email at remroum@gmail.com.

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