Okay, here it is. Time to talk about Israel and Lebanon. I’ve been biding my time because things just ain’t right. In this war, things that appear one way on the surface, have an entire different look when appraised more deeply or from another angle.
This article provides the sequence of events as we know it, or, more precisely, as the Western media as transmitted it to us. Note that, according to this version, the story begins on June 25, when “militants” tunnelled from the Gaza Strip into Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. From this telling, it is reasonable to see how Israel would be in its rights to respond with overwhelming force. After all, if a “foreign power” (to the extent that Hamas is foreign to Israel, given Palestine’s problematic status) were to abduct a Canadian, I would hope that the Canadian government would respond with all its might.
But the story is not so simple. This version of events traces the conflict back to January of 2005, with George Bush announcing that the promotion of democracy would be his government’s focal point for the promotion of peace around the world. (A naive position, but let’s talk about that some other time.) According to this chronology, a number of events, petty on both sides, preceded the capture of the Israeli soldier. It’s apparent that, viewed through this lens, the capture can be seen as a response to Israeli actions.
But, my droogies, it still ain’t so simple as two points of view. What of Lebanon? Since the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, they have nonetheless continued to routinely violate that country’s territory, conducting a variety of terror-like activities, including infrastructure damage and abductions. And Hezbollah, acting in loco parentis of an absentee Lebanese government, has risen as the self-appointed defender of Lebanon, gaining bragging points by engaging the Israelis whenever manageable. According to this analysis, it has been traditional for Hezbollah and Israel to engage in routine prisoner exchanges. So it was business as usual when Hezbollah captured (as opposed to abducted, because the reports I’ve seen indicate that the soldiers were in Lebanese territory at the time) two Israeli soldiers on July 12; it was their intention to trade the two for –literally– women and children being held by the Israelis. (It is unclear whether Hezbollah shelling of Israeli targets came before or after the IDF initiated military actions.)
But this time it was different. No country responds the way Israel did without long term planning. In my opinion, the IDF had been poised to destroy southern Lebanon for months, and was only waiting for an excuse. With captures being commonplace, it was only a matter of time before Hezbollah gave them an excuse. And that’s where this analysis gets very easy indeed…
Did Israel want to show the Arab world that they’re big and tough? Fine, they did that. Everyone knows that they’re the 5th biggest military in the world and that their big brother, America, won’t let much harm come to them. Point demonstrated. Why then the need to indiscriminately murder almost a hundred innocent Lebanese civilians? This consititutes “collective punishment” and is in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions, officially making Prime Minister Ohmert a war criminal. One can argue that I am holding Israel to a higher standard than Hezbollah and Hamas, and maybe I am (though I don’t think so). So what? The latter two are the supposed to be the bad terrorist guys, right? The Western-style democracy is supposed to be the humane one who can responsibly use power and abide by international law.
So what’s going on here? Think back to the earlier comment about the new Bush platform advocating for democracy. There’s a strong sense among the thinking world that Israel’s disproportionate response and America’s tacit approval are tantamount to a “punishment” of the Palestinians for electing Hamas. Democracy is okay, but only if you vote the right way. A democratic system, I suppose, makes all citizens responsible for the actions of their elected leaders, thus “collective punishment” becomes justified. Chomsky discusses some of this here. (Do keep in mind that there are two conflicts here, Israel/Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel/Hamas in Gaza, though they are linked in important ways.)
Militarily, I think the Israeli plan is a simple one: push on to Damascus. This is not about disarming Hezbollah –which really was never a great threat to Israel, and really cannot be flushed out of Lebanese society. This is about preparing for a conflict with Syria, or at least flexing muscles in that direction, for a variety of rational and irrational reasons. The tragedy, of course, is that hundreds or thousands may die in the process; and certainly one of the region’s great poetic nations, Lebanon, is being bombed back to the Stone Age.
Here are some useful quotes on this topic:
“It is obscene to demolish infrastructure such as power plants, roads, bridges or airports merely because they are used by those you are fighting. Infrastructure of that sort is the skeleton of civilized life, used by everyone. Why not bomb orchards, supermarkets and cows? Terrorists use them, too.” –Rick Salutin
“There is no single answer to who started it. The answer will vary with the assumptions in the question. All philosophy students know that.” –Rick Salutin
“What matters now in the Mideast is not who is right, or why they feel right. What matters is who has the might to impose their notion of right. The bloody individual carnage inflicted by Israel’s foes has never been commensurate with the vast damage inflicted by Israel on Palestinian and Lebanese society over generations.” –Rick Salutin
“You know, the Israeli and Hezbollah perspectives on this are entirely incompatible, and that means that this conflict is probably going to continue escalating, until some kind of mediation begins.” –Mouin Rabbani
“Oh, yes, collective punishment against innocent civilians is a war crime, and it is an Israeli specialty.” –Charley Reese
“Israel’s over-the-top attacks on Gaza have nothing to do with trying to get one soldier freed from his kidnappers, who are apparently a small group of militants. Destroying bridges and a power plant, which means no clean water or sewage for 700,000 people, is just a dress rehearsal for Israel’s long-term plan to drive the Palestinians out of Palestine.” –Charley Reese
PS. Today’s Word of the Day is pornocracy, which means “government by whores”. One can argue that that pretty much is what we presently have, given pork-barrels and whatnot. As distasteful as it may sound, it’s better than living in a kakistocracy, like our friends in the USA. It means, “government by the least qualified or most inept.”