Monday, July 31, 2006

Israel's secret war: Gaza

Don't forget Gaza and the West Bank. As horrible as what is happening in Lebanon right now is, a similar scene unfolds in Gaza, only in slow motion.

Israel's secret war: The Humanitarian Disaster Unfolding in Palestine

Anne Penketh, Independent, 7/29/06

A 12-year-old boy dead on a stretcher. A mother in shock and disbelief after her son was shot dead for standing on their roof. A phone rings and a voice in broken Arabic orders residents to abandon their home on pain of death.

Those are snapshots of a day in Gaza where Israel is waging a hidden war, as the world looks the other way, focusing on Lebanon.It is a war of containment and control that has turned the besieged Strip into a prison with no way in or out, and no protection from a fearsome battery of drones, precision missiles, tank shells and artillery rounds.

As of last night, 29 people had been killed in the most concentrated 48 hours of violence since an Israeli soldier was abducted by Palestinian militants just more than a month ago.The operation is codenamed "Samson's Pillars", a collective punishment of the 1.4 million Gazans, subjecting them to a Lebanese-style offensive that has targeted the civilian infrastructure by destroying water mains, the main power station and bridges.

The similarities with Israel's blitz on Lebanon are striking, raising suspicions that the Gaza offensive has been the testing ground for the military strategy now unfolding on the second front in the north. (MORE)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The coming cease fire?

On Friday as I was returning home from Abdoun circle, i found myself stuck in traffic as a UN convoy slowly progressed across the city.

The convoy consisted of maybe 10-12 flatbed trucks carrying shipping containers, small vehicles, light trucks and armoured vehicles, all painted white, with "UN" painted on the sides. It was being escorted by Jordanian police cars and army Humvees.

Was this going to be part of Jordan's contribution to an international force designed to seperate Israeli and Hizbollah forces? The armoured vehicles were exactly the type used by Jordanian security forces, the kind you see parked outside the US embassy 24 hours a day.

Maybe they were on their way to Iraq, but I couldn't help thinking that behind the scenes a cease-fire for Lebanon was in the works. Jordan has frequently participated in peacekeeping missions across the world, has a well-trained professional army, and has signed a peace treaty with Israel. Jordan is also a predominantly Muslim country, which may make their participation more acceptable to Hizbollah.

Rice is now back in Israel and it seems there is growing momentum for a ceasefire. Israel's war has proven a total disaster for Israel, Lebanon and the region. The initial goals of destroying or disarming Hizbollah have been vastly scaled back, and I think everyone is looking for a way out.

Was any of the killing and destruction worth it? When will countries stop engaging in these wars of choice? When will humans stop being so easily seduced by the sick allure of violence?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Moral equivalency and killing civilians

A few days ago I read a quote from an Israeli defense official claiming that a strip of southern Lebanon had been cleared of civilians, and that anyone who remained was of Hizbollah and a legitimate target.

I unfortunately can't find that link, but the following stories show how untrue that was. But what the Israeli official was getting at was that Israel now has a free hand to kill anything that moves in a two mile strip of southern Lebanon. Many civilians remain in the south.

Another tactic is to say that they've warned civilians to leave, and that those who remain must be Hizbollah fighters. Some recent news shows that is not the case.

This is not to imply that Israel is trying to kill civilians, but it is increasingly difficult to bear the claim that Israel is somehow more moral than its enemies.

An Israeli bombing raid killed or wounded as many as 50 people in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice resumed Middle East talks aimed at stopping the fighting.

Israeli warplanes bombed a three-storey building in Qana, leaving 50 casualties, including 21 children, Lebanon's state-run Teleliban television reported, citing its reporters at the scene. Israel attacked Hezbollah rocket launchers in the area and the incident is being investigated, said an Israeli army spokeswoman. Civilians were warned to leave several days ago, she said.

Both belligerents are attacking indiscriminately. Hizbullah's weapons are notoriously inaccurate and more likely to kill innocent civilians than soldiers. And Israel has targeted noncombatants in southern Lebanon as though the area were a free-fire zone. Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz as much as admitted his contempt for noncombatant immunity when, according to Israeli army radio on July 24, he ordered the destruction of 10 multistory buildings in the Shiite-inhabited suburbs of Beirut for every rocket hitting Haifa.

"There are still 20,000 children trapped behind the lines of hostility, traumatized and unable to move on," said Jamie McGoldrick, a team leader from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We still can't reach them."

Naila last set foot in Beirut during Israel's Grapes of Wrath campaign in 1996, and now she is desperate to escape. But there is no way out. One brother emigrated to Germany years ago; another lives in Beirut. A third brother, the last male relative in Bazuriya, managed to find a place in a car for himself, but not for his sister and mother. "We asked a lot. The people said no," she says. "We just couldn't find a car."

The Israeli army broadcast a warning on its Arabic-language radio station yesterday telling Lebanese in the south that their villages would be "totally destroyed" if rockets were fired from them.

Adnan al-Hajj, economic editor for the daily newspaper As-Safir, said Israeli bombing has razed an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 homes, and left a much higher number in partial ruin.

In Gaza, Israel has now started giving "prior warning" to people's whose homes they plan to blow up with air-to-surface missles. As the Palestinian Human Rights Committee reports, and as verified to me by friends in Gaza:

"In the Gaza Strip, on Saturday morning, 30 July 2006, IOF warplanes bombarded two houses in the north. The two houses were destroyed. The owners of the two houses received calls on their mobile phones from the IOF intelligence, in which they were informed that their houses would be attacked in 15 minutes. Thus, the number of houses destroyed by IOF in such a way in ne week has mounted to 10. "

These stories show a clear disregard for civilian casualties in pursuit of military objectives. What makes these deaths somehow more acceptable than those of a Hizbollah katyusha or Hamas qassam?

I'm sure there will be heartfelt apologies, and everyone will be deeply saddened by the loss of innocent life. There will probably even be an official investigation. And then it will happen again.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Levy reminds us there's still Gaza

Here is a very good article on how misguided the Israeli response to Hamas and Hizbollah is. It's from Gideon Levy in Haaretz.

Levy says:

The painful steps taken in Gaza, which included dropping a one-ton bomb on a residential building, or killing an entire family of seven children under cover of darkness in Lebanon, killing dozens of residents, bombing an airport, cutting off electricity and water to hundreds of thousands of people for months were a response lacking any justification, legitimacy or proportion. What goal did it
serve? Was the soldier released? Did the Qassams stop? Was deterrence restored? None of that happened. Only lost honor was supposedly restored, and immediately the next evil wind showed up, this time from the north.

Interesting thoughts. It's a wonder more Israelis don't get it.

Witnesses from Lebanon

A friend recently wrote from Lebanon to describe one little slice of what has happened in Lebanon.

i don't know what to say, i m really not fine...all what i can say is they destroyed my home in nabatieh, and some of my neihboors are dead and they destroyed our new souvenirs and gift shop containing for about $50000 of gadgets, so u can imagine my situation.

and where is the nice idea? it is that tomorrow the 23rd of july is my birthday and i hope it to be my death day, i hope so and i want so 2.

and that bad feeling, is that as a lebanese, i feel that all the world sold us, and for whom??? look out , we are alone but be sure that we will pass all that and we will be an honour for all the arab people, and when i say arab people i don't mean the arab

any way

all my regards to all of u.

The guy who wrote this has got to be one of the nicest guys I know. He is always joking, always has a smile of his face. He's exactly what you think of and hope for in a "moderate Arab." Where do you think he stands now?

Ghassan Sharbel again writes poignently in al-Hayat:

"What you see flying through the air are the pieces of the Lebanese body. Because it is our body pieces we raise our voices. This is not a war to kill the resistence (Hizbollah). This is a war to kill Lebanon as punishment for operations of the resistence. It's not a war to put an end to Hizbollah, it is a war to put an end to Lebanon. We are shocked by those who are shocked at the barbarity of the Israeli attack. Whoever is shocked is forgetting the long black list of the Jewish state... (Israel has choosen) to bury the resistence under the rubble of Lebanon, that is, to kill Lebanon first."
Say what you will about self defense and moral equivelancy. If you want to know the impact of Israel's war on Lebanon, ask the Lebanese. If you think it will make Israel or the West safer, then you are deluded.

Hizbollah was wrong to attack those Israeli soldiers in Israel. But Israel was 10,000 times more wrong to mercilessly pummel Lebanon for the acts of an organization the Lebanese government hasn't the strength to control.

Israel could have shown restraint, could have gotten world sympathy and support to furhter isolate Hizbollah. Instead it has whipped the world up against itself and done more to harm its own security than Hizbollah or any other Arab state ever did.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lebanon overview

Come what may, one of the most likely and undesireable outcome from the current war in Lebanon is summed up nicely by Suzanne Buzzbee:

"In many ways, the biggest risk is that this sudden, violent little war will tip the balance toward extremists and away from moderates across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, where the government has been dramatically
weakened by the fighting."
Hizbollah entered the fray now for important domestic and regional reasons. If it was solidarity with the Palestinians it could have choosen to undertake such an operation on many occaisions in the past few years. Why now? Some say it was opportunism, they found a convenient target, an exposed and unprotected Israeli patrol. But the reason likely goes deeper than that. One of the most accurate depictions of what Hizbollah wants is written here

"Domestically, Hezbollah has succeeded in integrating itself into the Lebanese
political system, with its two government ministers and 14 MPs. But the party has also been keen to convince others of the importance of its resistance and of its unrivaled efficacy as a deterrent to the threat posed by Israel.

And Israel's current onslaught has unwittingly provided Hezbollah with the opportunity to demonstrate both -- that Israel remains Lebanon's gravest enemy, and that Hezbollah is the only force capable of confronting it. The Lebanese government's ineptitude in handling the crisis, coupled with the army's sitting-duck status, only underscores that point.

Hezbollah has succeeded in elevating its regional importance, positioning itself alongside Iran, Syria and Hamas -- the axis of terrorism in Israel's lexicon. In this
light, Hezbollah's face-off with Israel is not only a defensive war of survival (in response to the declared Israeli and U.S. objective of eliminating the organization), but also an attempt to shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility (which explains why Israel also views this conflict in existential terms).

Most of all, though, Hezbollah hopes to set a new precedent in the Arab world, as its leader Hasan Nasrallah revealed in his latest televised speech: He characterized his movement as a "spearhead of the [Islamic] umma" and declared the conflict as "surpassing Lebanon . . . it is the conflict of the umma," whose success or failure will reverberate in the entire region. In other words, Hezbollah is to serve as an inspiration, as an exemplar of bold action against Israel and, by extension, against Arab regimes that have allied themselves with the United States and Israel."
It seems the Israelis are following a script from American military strategy of the 1980's and 90's, which dictates that airpower alone is enough to tip the military balance on the ground. Haven't they seen the failures of such policies and how ground troops are necessary to make the differences they want. Their reliance on airpower is noted here:

"The overall aim, Israel says, is to weaken Hezbollah sufficiently so that the international community can help the Lebanese government to carry out United
Nations Security Council
Resolution 1559 and exercise its sovereignty all over Lebanon, expelling any foreign fighters and disarming Hezbollah."
Haven't they seen the outcome of American efforts to fight wars with airpower alone? Airpower is seductive to states that rely on armies and expensive weapons systems, but it will do little or nothing to stop a determined guerilla force with broad popular support on the ground.

The problem is that the Lebanese government would require many years to become strong enough to take over positions from even a weakened Hizbollah. It was not even able to organize a needs assessment survey in the Lebanese capitol of Beirut. How much less able will it be to take over the Shiite villages from a population that has long viewed Hizbollah as its savior.

If Hizbollah miscalculated, it may have miscalculated in one thing only, the response of Arab governments. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all initially condemned the Hizbollah raid. Nasrallah probably did not expect them to support him, but he also didn't expect them to condemn him. That is a step they took that they may come to regret. In his interview on al-Jazeera, Nasrallah said that Hizbollah won't forget the political cover moderate Arab governments have given to Israeli, and warned that the movement may or may not make them pay for their actions.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

An update from Lebanon

I just talked with a number of people in Lebanon, and they say that although the humanitarian situation is varied and changing throughout Lebanon, there are some areas of severe crisis. Many people fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The worst affected areas by far appear to be Beirut and southern Lebanon, south of Sidon.

So far most items are still available in local markets but that might change soon. The bigger problem is huge inflation, with prices of goods skyrocketing. There are reports that ex-pat Lebanese who've tried to send desperately needed money to their families have been prohibited from doing so, on account of anti-terrorism rules.

Of potentially greater concern is that Israel today bombed a broadcast station for LBC television, which has had perhaps the least extensive coverage of the war. This attack may signal a coming effort to knock out all Lebanese broadcasters, mobile services and internet providers. Israeli planes have also attack mobile relay stations in the south and east. If mobiles become inoperable it will make information gathering and humanitarian assistance coordination extremely difficult. Knocking out television and internet will make it extremely difficult to relay information about what is happening in the country and will worsen the growing feeling of isolation among the Lebanese. This is expected in the coming few days.

Also of concern is that many people in the south are staying in underground shelters and there is fear that the Israeli may bomb the shelter either to drive people out of the south or by accident, thinking the shelters are underground bunkers for Hizbollah. (think Amariya in 1990 Baghdad). Media interviews at some of the shelters have not named their location for fear that Israel will use the information to bomb the sites.

Finally, there is also reportedly up to 100,000 refugees on the Syrian side of the border, some in transit and others with no where else to go. The Syrian government response so far as been fairly good, but the situation there will probably get worse as the fighting increases.


In Beirut the most affected area is the southern suburbs of al-Dhahiya. There are tens of thousands of people who've lost their homes or fled the neighborhood, putting a huge strain on other parts of the city. The government response is reported to be exceptionally inefficient and incapable, even unable to carry out a basic needs assessment survey, with only civil society providing an organized response. Civil society is better organized, but capacity is exceptionally low and totally insufficient to deal with the huge numbers of wounded and needy.

Adding to the current pressure, today refugees from the south began to arrive in Beirut in significant numbers, and those numbers are expected to rise considerably as the threat of a land invasion grows or actually happens. Of growing concern is the number of unregistered refugees, those staying in private homes who are receiving no assistance, but who have increased the needs on those with whom they are staying.

Southern Lebanon

Most refugees in the south have gone to Sidon (at least those who have not gone to the mountains), where contacts there inform us that the need is great but that civil society has been able to organize a more efficient response than Beirut. The need is still great though, and any assistance is welcomed. In Nabatiya, a small city in southern Beirut, although there are relatively few refugees (roughly 3000), there is enormous need. There is no electricity, water or fuel, hospitals are almost out of supplies, roads to the town are all bombed, and very little assistance is coming from outside. Israel is reportedly refusing to allow any aid into the south in order to force people to seek refuge further north.

Many people fleeing the southern border area are seeking refuge in the Palestinian camps. Of biggest concern are those staying in the unofficial Palestinian settlements, which are perhaps the least served places in all of Lebanon. The refugee situation is fluid and changes from hour to hour and day to day. Refugees in one area one day are moving to different areas the next, making assessment or relief efforts hard to deliver.

Some people in Lebanese feel greatly betrayed, one saying "the world has sold us." They see and sense no support or solidarity from the outside world and feel increasingly isolated. Lebanese are also extremely angry at their government's inability to respond to the disaster.

That's what they say, but who knows. The fog of war clouds everybody's eyes.

British Anger at Terror Celebration

British Anger at Terror Celebration

Ned Parker and Stephen Farrell, The Times, 7/20/06,,173-2277717,00.html

AS ISRAEL wages war against Hezbollah "terrorists" in Lebanon, Britain has protested about the celebration by right-wing Israelis of a Jewish "act of terrorism" against British rule 60 years ago this week.The rightwingers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister, are commemorating the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of British rule, that killed 92 people and helped to drive the British from Palestine.They have erected a plaque outside the restored building, and are holding a two-day seminar with speeches and a tour of the hotel by one of the Jewish resistance fighters involved in the attack.Simon McDonald, the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv, and John Jenkins, the Consul-General in Jerusalem, have written to the municipality, stating: "We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated."

Stepping on landmines

Israel and the US claim they want to disarm Hizbollah. What they fail to acknowledge is that the Lebanese government has never been in a position to disarm, remove or replace Hizbollah. Please explain exactly how they were supposed to do this?

Has Israel, with a much stronger army, ever been able to disarm or remove Hamas, a much weaker movement? Could Arafat or Abbas, weakened by years of Israeli raids on Palestinian National Authority police and security forces have done so? Can the US disarm Moqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army?

The idea of physically attacking, defeating and disarming these militant movements is a red herring. It sounds nice but it is not in the least bit realistic. The failure here is to come to a negotiated settlement that ends these conflicts. Unilateral military action, whether attacks or withdrawls, only feeds the conflicts.
In the meantime, here's what the conflicts mean:
"These people, what was their sin to die?" asked Ziad Shahadi, one of the onlookers.
"None of them was carrying a weapon. None of them was wearing a uniform. None of them were soldiers on the ground," he said. "They were all civilians. There's no military honor in this, none. How could there be? Killing the young and the old."

Civilian casualties are mounting in Lebanon. No. 37 became Sally Wahbi, a 7-year-old who died in an attack on the Civil Defense Building in Tyre on Sunday. No. 35, Alia Alaedeen, who suffered serious head injuries as she was escaping the town of Sarifa on Wednesday and died Thursday. And No. 73 became Mariam Abdullah, who along with Zahra, Hadi and Myrna was among the 23 people killed in an Israeli attack on a pickup truck escaping the town of Marwaheen last Saturday.

I'm reluctant to post this next link, it has some of the most horrific pictures I've ever seen, but this is the real meaning of war, not the pretty sanitized computer games and Hollywood-like scenes we usually see on TV. I don't mean to sponser the site by sharing it. I have no idea who put it together, but maybe it will make people less eager for war.

Forget all the extended commentary you read about the conflict in Lebanon. The average person speaks it better than anyone.

“If you speak the truth here you are called a traitor,” Mr. Abdullah said. “But we all know that this is a war between Iran and America. I am paying part of the price for it.” Then he suddenly grew pensive as he stood at the edge of the trench. “That’s my daughter, No. 9,” he said, pointing at a coffin coming out of the truck as. “It’s a nice number, don’t you think? And No. 7, it’s a nice number, too. It’s my wife. And there’s No. 10. I hope they will be lucky.”

The stupid right-wing arm chair analysts, who've never experienced a conflict in their lives, are cheering on Israel, and a friend of mine here in Jordan suggested last night that the US maybe wants this war more than Israel does. He argued that the US sees this as an opportunity to reduce Iranian influence in the region and are egging the Israelis on. Israelis are privately more torn about it then they admit in public, especially those in the military. They recognize air-power alone won't acheive thier goals and are worried about the costs of a land invasion. They recognize the limits of their power and if you look closely you can see that they don't quite know what they are doing.

Israel has already lost this war, radicalized people who just a few months ago were moderates and given a new generation of Lebanese a reason to hate them more than the last. Until people in the west understand how military defeat of one's enemy can translate into his political victory we will continue to step into fields of landmines all over the Middle East.

An old proverb aptly describes what is happening right now: "The jackal has swallowed a scythe. When it comes out the back end you will hear the howls."

Friday, July 21, 2006

teaching hate

Pro-Israel forces in the United States like to tell people that Palestinians teach hate to their children. Aside from the fact that they should look more closely at the Israeli national curriculum, here are some interesting pictures they should start sending around to their friends..

I hope these little girls someday grow up to understand that their parents were really messed up in the head for bringing them to an artillery launching site in the midst of a war, and regret how they were indoctrinated to hate people they never met. Look at the second picture, where the adult person is just having a grand time!

Last night watching MSNBC's Tucker Carlson show was interesting, but not for the news it relayed. Tucker was standing in a little Israeli town (really a kibbutz) on the Lebanese-Israeli border. He noted how the town literally jutted into Lebanese territory, showing how vulnerable it is to attacks from Hizbollah.

What our friend Tucker failed to mention is that it was the policy of the Israeli state to set up kibbutzes and then settlements on areas bordering it's hostile neighbors.

Can anyone say "human shields"? Israel has been using it's civilians as human shields since before the creation of the state of Israel. Isn't there something wrong with that?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

It started when....

So much to say on the situation in the Middle East right now. I'll start with a couple of phrases that have been bothering me.

The first is that this recent fighting started when Hamas and Hizbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers. That is in some ways true, but doesn't begin to tell the whole story.

You could say it started when the international community imposed a strict blockade on Gaza in response to the Hamas victory in the elections. You could say it started when Israel initiated it's policy of assassinations that has continued throughout the second Intifada. Or that it started with Hamas and others sending small home-made rockets into Sderot. Or with the break down of the Camp David talks in 1999. Or the occupuation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. Or the displacement and dispossession of 800,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948-49. Or the persecution of the Jews in Europe.... you get the picture.

The point is this was and still is a hot conflict. There may be quiet from time to time, but it is a lull between battles, some violent, some not. Looking at who started what and when is just about pointless. People like David Brooks in the NYTimes who are saying, for example, that Israel was trying to disengage from the Occupied Territories and give Palestinians a chance to build an independent state, but were met with rocket fire and kidnappings, are either simply unaware or deceitful. It ignores a lot of very recent history.

The other phrase that is bothering me is that the Israeli reponse is "disproportionate". It's not that the response is disproportionate. It is that the response is targeting civilians, by targeting essential civilian infrastructure. Israel is hardly even hitting those who took their soldiers, Hamas and Hizbollah. Israel is focusing much more attention on electrical stations, bridges and, in Gaza, government ministries. If Israel responded disproportionately on Hamas and Hizbollah targets I wouldn't care much. But they are hurting people who had nothing to do with these operations, and hitting them in ways that endanger their health, sanity and lives. It is de-developing these countries, making ever-weaker and failed states. It's a disaster on many different levels.

None of this does anything to Hamas or Hizbollah except strengthen them. What Israel is doing is against international law and it is just plain morally wrong. The Israelis have made it quite clear that their strategy is to make the average person hurt so bad that they turn on Hamas and Hizbollah. That is not happening. People are rallying around Hamas and Hizbollah. Some people who just a few months ago hated them now admire them.

The Israelis have done this for a long time. It seems the first time was in the 1960's when they blew up 13 Lebanese planes at the Beirut airport for a hijacking by the Palestinian PFLP. The Christian dominated government at that time detested the Palestinians. They probably would have loved an attack on the PFLP. Why did Israel strike Lebanese targets? Did it make people fear Israel or hate them even more?

Another recent occurance was in the middle of the second intifada. Hamas and Islamic Jihad would send suicide bombers into Israel, an obnoxious and despicable action itself, and Israel would respond by hitting the PLO-led Palestinian National Authority. Israel at this time didn't hit Hamas, didn't make life more unbearable for them and their supporters. No, it hit the PNA. What did that do? Destroy the PNA, especially its ability to maintain order, as strengthen Hamas for fighting Israel while the PNA spoke of peace and reconciliation.

It's not about proportionate or disproportinate. It's about hitting civilian targets and killing innocent people. It's about radicalizing populations to the point that you have no "partner for peace".

Fine, Hamas and Hizbollah kidnapped soldiers, and Israel is going to respond, it's war. But respond against those who took the soldiers, not the innocent people who are just trying to live their lives.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The latest round

There are two lessons in the recent escalation in the conflict between Israel on the one hand, and Gaza and Lebanon on the other. One is that this conflict will never end through the use of violence.

The reason the tension between Israel and Gaza is so bad, and that there is still fighting with Hizbollah in Lebanon in the north, is that there still has not been a political solution to these conflicts. Israel can neither militarily defeat it's foes, nor can it build barriers and borders that will protect it's people. There must be a political solution to these conflicts.

A second lesson that should have been learned a long time ago is that attacks on civilian targets will not turn people against groups like Hizbollah and Hamas. These are popular social and political movements in Lebanon and Palestine. In Lebanon, I've heard many Christians and secularists speak admiringly about Hizbollah. One secular Christian I know once said her friends wish for a Christian Nasrallah. Others speak in glowing terms of Hizbollah's capacity to gather intelligence on Israeli troop movements on the Israeli-Lebanese border, even knowing the names and rotations of Israel's officer corps stationed on the border. In Gaza former critics of Hamas now express their support for the movement. Israeli reaction to the capture of its soldiers is only radicalizing these populations and strengthening these militant movements.

The reality is that while it may feel good for Israelis to send in its tanks, planes and ships to destroy bridges, electrical plants and homes, such actions only show the country's weakness, not its strength. Just as terrorists strike out at civilian and other "soft" targets, Israel does the same. Israel knows it cannot defeat these groups, so it lashes out at soft targets, such as civilian infrastructure and civilians.

In Lebanon Israel killed 40 civilians yesterday. In Gaza Israel killed 23 Palestinians, many of them civilians, 10 of them children. Israel knows, and the internationial community should know, that such actions only make its position weaker, and only delays the inevitable concessions the country will have to make if it ever wants to live in the region in peace.

Peace is possible. Hamas has said it will recognize Israel if it returns to the 67 borders. In 2004 the Arab League offered full normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 67 territories. Hizbollah will follow the Palestinians lead. If and when Israel gives up it's dreams of annexing much of the West Bank, it can have peace.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's all about perspective

It is not suprising that editorials in most American newspapers are supporting the current Israeli "offensive" in Gaza. When it comes to the issue of Israel, Americans seem to wear a special kind of intellectual and moral blinders, that keep the view narrow and myopic.

The Washington Post is often decent, but was incredibly sanquine about what Israel has subjected Palestinians to in the past few days.

Israel's Gaza incursion has been reluctant, slow, carefully calibrated -- and as of yesterday, casualty-free. In addition to the arrests, Israel has disrupted power supplies for slightly more than a tenth of Gaza's population, occupied an abandoned airport, rained shells down on empty fields and bombed the Hamas-controlled interior ministry while it was empty. Yesterday it again postponed a larger operation aimed at stopping the launching of rockets at Israel from northern Gaza in order to allow more time for mediation by Egypt. Meanwhile, the rocket firings continued -- another act of war that Hamas has encouraged, if not sponsored.

The Financial Times, on the other hand, not a left-wing, alternative media type of publication, had this to say.

It is just conceivable that Israel's present course of action in laying siege to the Gaza Strip could be tactically rational. It may, for instance, be aimed at turning the Palestinian people against Hamas, the Islamist movement they elected in January. What is certain, however, is that it is dangerously disproportionate.

No two conflicts are alike, in cause or in contour, but it is legitimate to compare standards of behaviour. Consider, for a moment, what would have happened if, in reaction to the IRA seizing a soldier, the British government had: invaded Northern Ireland; punished its people by destroying its electricity supply, transport links and government offices; shelled Belfast and Derry from land, sea and air; cratered the Falls Road; used the Royal Air Force to buzz the offices of the Taoiseach in Dublin; and arrested every Republican it could lay its hands on.

There would rightly have been an international outcry - and so there should be in this case.

The Post opines that the limited and restrained Israeli response, shows that "the incursion seems mainly intended to recover a soldier held hostage by Palestinian militants," while the Financial Times thinks that the taking of the Israeli soldier provided the Israeli government with the pretext to bring down what remains of the Palestinian government, stating that, "the disproportion between means and ends suggests this may be a pretext."

Talking with friends and colleagues in Gaza, I can tell you that the sterile and surgical attacks described by the Post editorial do not match the suffering and desperation of most Gazans. They have little or no electricity, there is no sleep or rest because of the bombings and sonic booms at night, and the most basic food and medical supplies are running out for many people.

Say what you want about Israel's right to defend itself, but targeting the general Palestinian population for the acts of a couple of militant groups is not defensible under any circumstances, or in any religious, moral or legal code. Bombing the electrical plants has nothing to do with Shalit, and has everything to do with making the situation as unbearable as possible for the largest number of people possible in the hopes the Palestinians somehow abandon all thoughts of resistance to Israeli policies.

When Israel fully controlled the West Bank and Gaza, it gave the Palestinians a few crumbs. When Abbas had full control Israel gave him nothing. Hamas is now in control, and Israel gives them nothing. Why would Palestinians believe anything they do will positively impact Israel and the harsh reality of living under the occupation?

It is this desperation that feeds the viciousness on the Palestinian side of the conflict. Give some hope to people and they will respond positively. What is it that feeds the viciousness on the Israeli side?