“Every neighborhood has one, a loudmouth bully who shouldn’t be provoked into anger. He’s insulted? He’ll pull out a knife. Someone spat in his face? He’ll draw a gun. Hit? He’ll pull out a machine gun. Not that the bully’s not right — someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction! It’s not that he’s not feared, but nobody really appreciates him. The real appreciation is for the strong who don’t immediately use their strength. Regrettably, the Israel Defense Forces once again looks like the neighborhood bully. (…) One and only one language is spoken by Israel, the language of force.”
Thus says Gideon Levy in his column for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz (16 July 2006) on Israel’s aggressive policy towards Gaza and Lebanon. He indicates that Israel’s current bully-like behavior has become, as it were, an Israeli trademark.
The Israel Defense Forces were hit near the Gaza border: Palestinian militias killed two soldiers and one corporal was captured. Israel’s reaction was not a pinpoint military reprisal; nor did it await political mediation by Egypt. No — Israel immediately bombed the whole of Gaza, destroying infrastructure and killing many innocents.
Two weeks later the Israeli army was hit again near Lebanon’s border: Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two. Israel reacted, again, with much violence. The whole of Lebanon, which was still recovering from years of deadly conflict, became a target; for it was Lebanon that tolerated Hezbollah within its borders, as if the ramshackle Lebanese government has any ability to contain or even disarm Hezbollah. Lebanon saw its bridges, roads, oil repositories, communication infrastructure, harbours, airports and power plants destroyed again. Hundreds of innocents died as a result of Israel’s fury.
With regard to Israel’s “defense” rhetoric, one should pose some key questions and consider the obvious irrefutability of their answers. Does Israel’s violence safeguard the life of the three kidnapped soldiers? No; rather it jeopardizes their safety. Does Israel’s policy of throwing bombs bring about peace? No; on a structural level Israel’s policy exacerbates the grass root level anti-Israel sentiments fundamental to Hezbollah’s existence. It also explains why Hezbollah is now shooting its missiles on Israel. Is Israel’s violence legitimate? No; Israel’s violence is, first and foremost, to the detriment of innocent civilians, not Hezbollah or Hamas. Condemning Hamas and Hezbollah militancy must, therefore, be accompanied by even stronger condemnation of Israel’s militancy considering its illegal traditions, which give rise to the militancy of Hamas, Hezbollah and other movements. For example, annexation and occupation of Arab land, and, mind you, detaining of Arab civilians on Arab territory.
The current conflict demonstrates why Israel’s war will not lead to peace, for Israel’s opponents both came into existence as a result of Israeli policies. At the beginning of the first intifada (1987-1992) Hamas emerged to resist Israel’s oppression and annexation policies. Since 2005, Hamas displayed interest in taking political responsibility as well.
Following the Palestinian elections last January, Hamas became the largest Palestinian political movement. The popularity of Hamas is, mostly, a consequence of the ever-deteriorating standard of life in the West Bank and Gaza and the failure of the nationalist Fatah to gain some tangible results out of the various “peace processes” (in particular, the Oslo trajectory and the “Roadmap to peace”).
Hezbollah emerged in a significantly different context. It started as a resistance movement to the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1982. Hezbollah gained much popularity after liberating the Lebanese people in 2000 from the Israeli occupation. While not losing much popular support since then, commentators argue that by defeating the Israeli occupier, Hezbollah did lose much of its raison d’être.
This explains, in part, why in the last few years Hezbollah has been active as a political party in Lebanon and why Hezbollah felt it to be useful to respond now to Israel’s extruding activities towards Palestinians, Israel’s kidnapping of Lebanese and other Arabs, and Israel’s occupation of the Shebaa farms.
The past confrontations between Israel and Hezbollah and Hamas provide, therefore, abundant indications that violence does not solve problems. Unfortunately, this lesson seems not to be learned in Israel. Categorically denouncing Hamas and Hezbollah as “terrorist organizations”, Israel denied both parties political participation. Israel preferred deadly conflict.
Taking Palestinian, Lebanese and - to a much lesser extent - Israeli civilian casualties for granted, Israel seems to need violent confrontation to display its “deterrence” and to conceal its annexation ambitions (on the West Bank and elsewhere) with the “we need to defend ourselves against the terrorists” mantra. Obviously flawed as it is, Western political leaders should refute this dogma and media should expose its falsehood. The international community should intervene.
But which party does intervene? As always protecting Israel from any serious influence on its illegal practices, the US once more deployed its veto in the UN Security Council to abort a resolution calling on all parties to cease fire.
At the G8 summit in St Petersburg, an open microphone caught a tête-à-tête between George Bush and Tony Blair. Bush made it clear that he does not blame Israel but Syria: “[Syria should make] Hezbollah stop doing this shit and it’s over”. Apparently Bush thinks, contrary to the facts, that Hezbollah’s policy is made in Damascus.
Effective political pressure from the Americans on Israel is clearly not to be expected; nor should UN or NATO action in Lebanon be expected soon — that is, before Israel considers its mission in Lebanon accomplished.
The European Union policy is not much better. The EU did indeed call upon all parties to cease the fighting and it called Israel’s policy “disproportional”. But when Israel, as expected, reacted obliviously towards the EU stance, the EU did nothing but react with “disappointment”.
Not surprisingly, not one party is willing and capable of reacting effectively to the chaos. The result of this lack of significant intervention is that Israel, as usual, will not be obliged to adhere to international agreements (in particular, the Geneva Conventions and UN resolutions).
Nothing stops the violations of human rights committed by “the only true democracy in the Middle East”, Israel. Those violations are evident in Lebanon. What takes place in Gaza is even worse. Due to the violence in Lebanon, politicians and the international press seem to care less and less for the situation in Gaza: lack of freedom (Israel still supervises all borders), lack of safety, no work, no money, lack of food, lack of drinking water, lack of medical care, threats of epidemics, no electricity, and so on.
And Israel ponders and ponders: “Why do they hate us? We left Gaza, didn’t we?” And we in the West, who make up the so-called “civilized world”, sit by and watch these grave injustices take place. Those who are supposed to be our leaders proved eager to blame the Palestinian victims and their resistance movements, but are hardly willing to express any disapproval of the victimizer, Israel.
It is a disgrace.
Maarten Jan Hijmans is former Middle East correspondent for De Volkskrant newspaper. Fadi Hirzalla is a political scientist. Both are editors of ZemZem, a Dutch magazine on the Middle East, North Africa and Islam.