Sowing the seeds of future wars

Palestinians demonstrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah to protest the ongoing Israeli military campaign in Lebanon, 1 August 2006. (MaanImages/Mushir Abdelrahman)

Thanks to the US’s latest intervention in Lebanon, the Islamic values of Hizbollah, of Islamic Jihad, are gaining ascendancy in the Arab world and sowing the seeds for future wars. The lesson learned from this latest Lebanese war is this: The only thing that has a chance of working in the Middle East is the emergence of a powerful force that will act as a deterrent to the United States’ unconditional support of Israel’s illegal and unjustified actions.

The Lebanese should incorporate Hizbollah fully into the Lebanese army as an elite force and continue to arm and train it. To the Arab and Moslem world, far from being a terrorist organization, The Iranian-backed Hizbollah is now a symbol of Lebanese and Arab pride.

Imagine Lebanon now as a coliseum and the world as spectators in it. The US is the Roman emperor, surrounded by yes-men who will finally point their thumbs up or down. The gesture is pre-determined and the two opponents in the ring are vastly mismatched. The spectacle promises to be satisfyingly gory, though lacking in suspense.

As the gates open, Israel sprints into the arena and blankets the skies with its winged beasts. Approving nods are seen on the western side of the coliseum. Outraged jeers emanate from the other side. As warm-up exercises, the Israelis mow down Lebanese children.

Because of Israel’s military strength and power and the backing of the emperor, all bets are off, especially as the game is scheduled to last for only a few minutes. The object of the game is muddled, but the various speculations from both east and west generate an energetic buzz in the media. Attention is diverted from Israel’s other power game in town, where it is simply lining up Palestinians against the wall and shooting them, having already built the wall and torn up and sectioned their land.

This is how much of the Arab and Moslem world sees what’s happening in Lebanon.

Then Hizbollah’s men walk stealthily into the arena. Lo and behold, they are in possession of some effective weapons, of courage and resourcefulness. The emperor is surprised and bewildered, persisting in dismissing and undermining them as members of a terrorist organization that must be eradicated for the good of Lebanon. He stubbornly sees no reason to deviate from his thinking even as the mayhem unfolds. The east side in the coliseum sits up, incredulous and hopeful. The lopsided number of deaths and utter devastation in Lebanon mount.

The fact that Hizbollah is able to stand up to Israel’s superior power (meaning they do not cave in after six days, as in the Arab ignominy of 1967) reverses a miserable decades-long series of humiliations. Furthermore, Hizbollah’s relative success injects Arab rulers with a new sense of dignity - enough to make them belatedly speak up against the US/French Security Council draft resolution, which they know will inevitably drive Lebanon into another civil war, a price the US is willing to pay as in Iraq.

In the Middle East, it is the force of power that has prevailed, not of human rights or justice. This philosophy of might is so persuasive, that Arab rulers, to the disgust of most of the Arab and Moslem publics, have taken the diplomatic stance that armed resistance to Israel is “adventurous” or irresponsible. They worry about its seeming futility and Israel’s savage retaliations. Israel, in the meantime, continues steadily and successfully to implement its expansionist and colonial project in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt unchecked. It has changed the map unilaterally and instigated increasingly desperate measures among Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are in miserable refugee camps in the oPt or surrounding countries or in Israeli prisons. They are expatriate nationals prevented by Israel from visiting or residing in the oPt. They are besieged and isolated in East Jerusalem, Palestinian and Arab land that Israel has annexed outright.

The prevailing dynamic between Israel and the US on the one hand and Arab countries on the other is one of powerful and authoritarian adults dealing with backward, recalcitrant and warring children who understand nothing but the stick. There is also a willful ignorance of (not to say prejudice against) Arab Islamic culture and heritage, a heritage that teaches that “a Moslem is strong and does not like to be humiliated by anyone or that anyone should act superior to him, and he does not like to be insulted, for he himself does not like to insult anyone, for Islam moves us away as far as possible from injustice and aggression.” (This is from a children’s book on the conquests of the Prophet Mohammad.)

The dynamic is also characterized by a false “moral superiority” that allows the US and Israel to make fake distinctions. Israel’s massacres of Palestinian or Lebanese civilians are “mistakes” or “collateral damage”; its destruction of homes and lands are “defensive actions”, but suicide bombings of Israeli civilians or Hizbollah missiles are “terrorist acts” equated with the terrorism that the US has suffered at the hands of Al Qaida. Israel “arrests” Palestinian officials while Hizbollah or the Palestinians “kidnap” Israeli soldiers.

For Bush, it’s all about good and evil. In a recent Arab cartoon, the artist dropped the last letter of “Alsharq” in the Arabic phrase that means “The New Middle East” (Alsharq Alawsat Alajadeed), thus changing it to mean “the new evil”. The Arab public knows full well where the evil lies. Bush has the gall to talk about instilling goodness (democratic values) in the oPt at the same moment that Israel is kidnapping Palestinian elected officials and putting them in solitary confinement. Dr. Aziz Dweik, a former professor at An-Najah University, minister of justice and the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (parliament), has just been moved to hospital after being captured and tortured by the Israelis. He joins thousands of Palestinians who have received the same treatment.

No matter what happens now (and the scenarios are depressingly familiar), the Arab world has had a little taste of poetic justice. Arab rulers who had caved in to Israeli might in the past are reassessing their strategies. Until Israel and the US understand the simple concept that Arabs do not like to be humiliated, they will continue to adopt the wrong policies and lose the hearts and minds of the Moslem world.

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Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.