Israeli attacks have killed at least 615 Lebanese civilians in the past 18 days and 160 Palestinians over the past month. Yet, in the name of “self-defense,” Israel is shielded from criticism and allowed to continue to systematically destroy Palestinian and Lebanese infrastructure, attacking residential areas, Red Cross convoys, medical crews, and even civilians fleeing death and destruction at the demand of the Israeli army. At least 800,000 Lebanese civilians are now displaced, forced to seek shelter in schools, worship houses of all faiths, and even public parks. They are short of water, food and medicine because Israeli air strikes have targeted or prevented the movement of aid convoys that attempt to come to their rescue. In the meantime, the over 1.3 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and already brought to the brink of starvation by over four months of a choking economic siege, are without water or electricity after Gaza’s only power plant was bombed and water networks were destroyed, while fuel and food supplies are running out.
Despite this bleak humanitarian situation, the United States, Israel’s patron and ultimate protector, continues to declare that the time remains “inappropriate” to seek a ceasefire in Lebanon, or Palestine for that matter. In the United Nations, the undiplomatic US representative, Ambassador John Bolton, went as far as saying that there is “no moral equivalence” between the thousands of Lebanese civilians, killed, crushed, burned, and maimed by the Israeli assault with the Israelis wounded by Hezbollah attacks. Even a simple condemnation of the Security Council for the Israeli bombing of a UN observation post in Southern Lebanon, which killed four international observers on 26 July, was blocked by the United States representative.
Perhaps given his declared disdain to the United Nations, Mr. Bolton forgot to read its Charter or the Fourth Geneva Convention, which does not distinguish between civilian victims and award them all, without exception, equal protection - in theory. International human rights law, which seems to be more of a nuisance rather than a reference to Mr. Bolton, also states that regardless of the pretext, states that attack civilians and civilian infrastructure commit war crimes, liable to international reproach and punitive action - again, in theory. But one cannot blame the undiplomatic diplomat for his offensive and outright racist comments, for he represents an administration that has allowed itself to commit war crimes and openly defy international human rights law under the pretexts of “fighting terrorism” and “defending/spreading democracy.” Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure and neighborhoods in Afghanistan and Iraq are but a few examples of the above.
President Bush Jr. showed equal indifference when the crisis first broke while he was visiting Germany on 13 July. He was then more interested in the wild boar roast he was going to have with his German host later that evening than the fires feeding on Lebanese flesh and blood. Mr. Bush was also more enthusiastic about the war when he declared that Syria too “must be held responsible” for this crisis, widening the scope of political and military tension in the explosive crisis. Four days later, and as the human toll of the crisis was rising, Mr. Bush was caught off guard in St. Petersburg talking to Tony Blair regarding the situation with a language expected only from the crudest of laymen.
The Israeli side has attempted to market this campaign of death and destruction in Lebanon and Palestine as “self-defense” intended to “defend peace,” in the words of Shimon Peres, who in 1996 gave the orders to bomb a UNIFIL post in Qana, South Lebanon, where hundreds of civilians had sought refuge. That attack burned 106 Lebanese civilians to death, also in the name of Israeli “self-defense.” Israeli officials have also allowed themselves the audacity of speaking on behalf of the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples they are assaulting. In the UN, the Israeli representative Ambassador Dan Gillerman was able to lecture the Security Council with a straight face about the right of the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples to live in peace and prosperity. He also couldn’t hide his country’s contempt for both peoples and their choices or rights. The Israeli Ambassador claimed that the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples had been hijacked by Hamas and Hizbollah, respectively, even though both parties had risen to power (in varying degrees) through US-backed free and democratic elections. So much for respecting free choices!
To top off this shameless Israeli public diplomacy campaign, Ms. Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, states repeatedly, without the slightest embarrassment, that her country’s assault on Lebanon is meant to “help” the Lebanese government exercise its sovereignty and implement Security Council resolution 1559! Unfortunately, she has yet to be asked how the bombing of Lebanese bridges and roads, army barracks, and communications antennas is meant to help the government nor how infringing upon the sovereignty of Lebanon is meant to solidify that country’s sovereignty. More importantly, this shocking remark did not invite a response that would remind the Israeli official that her country infringed upon Lebanon’s sovereignty through land, air, and sea over 11,000 times in the past six years. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it must be noted that there is no other country in the world that has defied more Security Council resolutions than Israel. Hence, it is baffling to see it use the implementation of resolution 1559 as one of its pretexts for the offensive.
The crowning jewel of this crisis, with its twisted logic and perverse objectives, is the statement of the US Secretary of State, calling the current carnage “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” These “pangs” of a foreign-grown and forcibly implanted pregnancy are more like deafening “bangs” that shatter the homes, hopes, and future of Lebanese and Palestinian children. They are the blows Ms. Rice is allowing to continue to burn, maim and kill civilians in Lebanon and Palestine. Ms. Rice’s “new” Middle East is being molded by the charred remains of children and their hopes for a dignified life in Palestine and Lebanon. These “pangs” are gaining momentum from the fires raging in Palestine and Lebanon and at their peoples’ expense. It seems that bucketfuls of Palestinian and Lebanese blood are also the required paint for this “new” Middle East, with their moans and cries of pain — the background music. The question then becomes, who is this “new” Middle East for and who asked Ms. Rice to volunteer in ushering it in with such disgraceful and outright racist apathy to Middle Easterners’ suffering and pain?
This cataclysmic American ideology that justifies death and destruction in the name of “peace” is feeding the fires in the Middle East. It feeds these fires literally, through the hastened shipment of even more bombs to Israel, including the horrific “bunker busters.” It also does so metaphorically, through the political position that prefers to keep the civilian death toll rising by impeding the UN Security Council from seeking as much as a “cessation of hostilities.”
Usually, the lady of justice is blind because she is unbiased and fair. Today, we live in a world where blindness only occurs to the suffering and violated rights of the weak. The Lebanese and Palestinian peoples seem to be the Children of a lesser God for America and whose blood and suffering are necessary “pangs” for the realization of its policy goal. This goal sees no sovereignty but that of Israel and only affords its citizens the advantages of being civilians. It also envisions a Middle East where Israeli occupation is made irrevocable, acceptable, and not subject to as much as verbal defiance. It protects the last occupation army in the world, allowing it to persist in its occupation and select when, if ever, to respect the sovereignty of its neighbors. However, it is undeniable that after this carnage, the real “pangs” will come when the Israeli occupation regime will crumble just as all other racist and oppressive regimes before it did. That’s a historical eventuality and only then will these “pangs” be voluntary, home-grown, and welcome.
Finally, it must be said that there is a very large mental banner blanketing the Middle East in response to this policy and supposed birth “pangs” for America’s “new” Middle East. It says: Not in my Name …
Nour Odeh is a Palestinian journalist who has worked in a number of Palestinian print and television media institutions, including the Palestine Media Center (as the Head of Communications Department), Ramttan News Agency (as the Chief Editor), and Palestine TV (as an English TV anchor).