Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Stop shooting, start talking

I try to engage in as much cyber activism as I can, especially during major, wrenching crises. I got one letter-to-the-editor published, and interest in another.

Here's one that the San Fransisco Chronicle published:

Stop shooting, start talking in Middle East

Editor -- In response to David Biale's July 23 commentary (Insight, "Why Israeli bombing might not be enough to wipe out Hezbollah"): What Israel and its supporters seem not to understand is that cutting off the electricity and water of civilian populations, starving them and attacking government ministries is no deterrence to future attacks. Such actions will not bring security or peace, but are a sure provocation to continued conflict.

When Israel uses missiles to assassinate Hamas activists or bombs Hezbollah political headquarters in densely populated neighborhoods, it knows very well that it is also going to kill many innocent civilians. Israel's concern for civilian deaths is hardly greater than that of Hamas and Hezbollah, and it deserves no quarter in this regard.

Hamas and Hezbollah's targeting of civilians are frequently rightly condemned. So, too, should Israel's.

Enough empty justifications for careless killing of civilians in war. There is no military solution to this fundamentally political conflict. It is time to stop the shooting and start talking tough concessions.


The Washington Post contacted me about this one, but I don't think they published it.

What Jim Hoagland [Lebanon's Dividers, op-ed, July 21] fails to acknowledge is that the Lebanese government has never been in a position to disarm, remove or replace Hezbollah. I'd like for him to explain exactly how they were supposed to do this.

Has Israel, which has a much stronger army, ever been able to disarm or remove Hamas, a much weaker movement? Could Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas, weakened by years of Israeli raids on Palestinian Authority police and security forces have done so?

The idea of physically attacking, defeating and disarming militant movements is a red herring. It sounds nice but is not realistic.

The failure here is to come to a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict. Unilateral military action, whether attacks or withdrawals, only feeds conflict.


So there they are. I don't know how many of these letters I've written in the past few weeks. At a minimum I think they can sometimes help inform editorial boards on newspapers, and if they are published it reaches a significant number of people.

I've worked on small arms control issues in the Middle East for about three years. The most basic, fundamental lesson is that you cannot force a population to give up its arms. You have to start by looking at the reasons people feel they need to own weapons in the first place. If you don't address those reasons you have no chance in hell of ever removing those guns and the mulitiple dangers they pose to a community (such as accidental shootings, sectarian conflict, tribal feuds, etc).

The same goes for large well-armed popular militant movements.


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