I have tried very hard to be “intellectual” and “academic” about what is going on in Lebanon, and to rationalize Israeli actions as a desperate act of self preservation (in fact this article was initially conceived in that mold), but I cannot just bring myself to accept that conclusion. There is no justification, moral, legal or otherwise, for the complete destruction of a country and its infrastructure, and for the indiscriminate killing of innocent and hapless civilians as it happened in Qana, in the name of the right to self defense.
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Yes, Israel has every right to defend itself. But what I see in Lebanon is no act of self defense or of self preservation – it is the collective punishment of an entire nation – the Lebanese people - for the crimes of a few – Hezbollah - by a country – Israel – which by virtue of its history, should best appreciate the obscenity, immorality, and illegality of any form of collective punishment.
Try as hard as I can, I just can't help but agree with United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour that Israel is once again flirting with war crimes, just as it did in1982 in Beirut, or in 2002 during the brutal siege on the Jenin Refugee camp on the West Bank:
“The scale of killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control... International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities. Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians. Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable.”
We have heard claims that this is all about putting in place right conditions for a “sustainable ceasefire”, for lasting peace. Pray tell, how can the destruction of roads, bridges, communications towers, residential quarters, gas stations, schools, hospitals, attacks on ambulances (again in Qana), the blockade and destruction of relief supplies, attacks on refugee convoys, or the indiscriminate killing of women and children, etc., build the foundations for lasting peace?
We have heard uncompromising statements from the United States and Israel that there can be no ceasefire without the implementation of UN Resolution 1559, which calls for disarming Hezbollah. “International law must be respected for real peace to occur in the Middle East”, supporters of Israel’s campaign insist. But I can’t help but wonder; What about UN Resolution 242 (adopted after the Six day war) and UN Resolution 338 (adopted after the Yom Kippur war), which both call for the withdrawal of Israel from territories it occupied in the 1967 war, and whose non-implementation by Israel fuels the current Arab-Israeli conflict? Will the defenders of International Law stand up!!!
I have heard so many statements that the Lebanese deserve what is happening to them because Hezbollah "started it", and that the capture of two Israeli soldiers justifies the destruction of Lebanon. Really???!!!
Israel was not attacked by the State of Lebanon or by the Lebanese army, but by an armed militia (irrespective of whether it is a resistance movement or a terrorist organization). However, Lebanon and its state institutions are being destroyed by the state of Israel. Israel’s response is, therefore, disproportionate and unjustifiable. That is what the international community unanimously concluded back in 1968 when Israel attacked Lebanon in similar circumstances.
On December 26, 1968, the George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attacked an El Al (Israeli Airlines) airplane in Athens, killing a retired Israeli soldier. Because one of the hijackers was Lebanese and the claim of responsibility had been made from Lebanon, an Israeli commando team was dispatched to Lebanon for a punitive expedition. The commandos attacked the Beirut airport and destroyed 13 commercial jets belonging to Middle East Airlines (MEA) and Air Libea. The United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned the Israeli attack, and demanded that Israel to pay damages to Lebanon (it never did). The international community, including the United States, was not at all swayed by the they-started-it excuse.
On January 8 1969, the French cabinet issued a statement explaining why the International community unanimously condemned the Israeli action:
« On a fait la comparaison entre l’attentat d’Athènes contre un avion israélien et l’opération contre l’aéroport de Beyrouth : en fait, ces deux opérations n’étaient pas comparables. A Athènes, il s’agissait d’un coup de main organisé par des hommes appartenant à une organisation clandestine. A Beyrouth, l’opération a été montée par un Etat avec son matériel militaire, en particulier des Super-Frelon et des Alouettes de fabrication française contre des installations civiles d’un autre Etat. »
"A comparison was made between the attack of an Israeli plane in Athens and the operation against the Beirut airport. In fact, these two operations were not comparable. In Athens, the operation was organized by men belonging to a clandestine organization. In Beirut, the operation was carried out by a State with its military equipment, particularly French-made Super Frelons and Alouettes, against the civilian installations of another country”.
From where I stand, that fundamental principle still holds today - even if today’s geopolitical and strategic interests have led to a self-serving change of tone and tune…
By the time this war ends, Beirut, Sidon, Tyre and other Lebanese towns and villages would be just a pile of rubble, and the Lebanese people the newest batch of Middle Eastern refugees yearning for their old lives and shattered homes. As I watch these valiant people trying to stay alive one day at a time, the words of a poem by Cameroonian Poet Simon Mol - in tribute to refugees from the Chechen city of Groznyy after its destruction by the Russian army – come to mind:
Who knows what it feels
to be away...
far away from home?
To leave behind
the cradle of his dreams?
Who knows better than I-
the grief of drinking tears?
That, paradoxically, was the cry of the Israelis for centuries. But no more…
“How can a people [who have] suffered so much over the ages, from pogroms in Europe to Nazi genocide, emulate their historical oppressors and be so lacking in empathy with their victims…?”
And the Phoenix shall rise again…
"Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries? Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by Israel is inflicted on us?"
That was the question that Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, asked in his emotional speech to the Lebanese people at the beginning of the Israeli campaign. The international community, led by the United States, seems to have answered in the affirmative. Israel’s policy of massive retaliation which has ravaged the Palestinian territories is alive and well and wholeheartedly embraced by the International community. But Lebanon shall eventually stand on its feet as it has done so many times in the past:
Cry Lebanon cry,
The world is watching
Laughing as you die
Cry Lebanon Cry? No, let your tears run dry-
The world will watch in fascination as you rise.*
*Adapted from “Cry Liberia cry!” by G. Henry Andrews.