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Fighting the Lebanese War
On February 8, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a series of air strikes against Lebanon as revenge against recent Hizbullah attacks in South Lebanon. Three power switching stations, the most vital electricity facilities in the country, were bombedone in the Jamhour district of Beirut, one in Baalbek, and one in Tripolieffectively cutting off all electrical power in the country. These attacks on civilian targets are violations of the rules of war as well as a breach of the 1996 Grapes of Wrath Accord, which took effect after the Israeli massacre of 106 civilians sheltering in Qana, Lebanon at a UN headquarters. The Hizbullah attacks are, on the contrary, a legally sanctioned response to the 22-year-old occupation by Israel of South Lebanon.
Reading the news reports in the United States one would never know that Hizbullah and the Lebanese people, not the state of Israel or Israeli citizens, are the victims of continuous aggression. Hizbullah, remarked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, are the enemies of peace, and many headlines echoed her sentiments.
In addition to the attacks on the power stations, the IDF successfully struck two military (Hizbullah) targets. Eighteen civilians were reported wounded. Very little about these events made it into the U.S. national papers that day, not surprising since the Israeli daily Haaretz reported a day earlier that Washington approved an Israeli action in Lebanon. (Soldier killed in Lebanon; Barak vows to stop this, by Aluf Benn, Sharon Gal, and Daniel Sobelman, Haaretz correspondents). After the raids, the usual spokespeople mouthed the usual empty phrase about urging all sides to exercise restraint. Short blurbs appeared in which, for example, an Israeli Army spokesperson was quoted as saying that the air strikes were intended as a message to Hizbullah and the Lebanese government to stop the escalation and to live in a coexistence as neighbors in the Middle East (CNN: staff/wire reports).
According to U.S. State Department spokesperson, James Rubin, We can only interpret this action as a deliberate attempt by Hezbollah to wreck the prospects for peace in the region. Hezbollahs action is particularly egregious in the context of Israels repeated commitment to withdraw from southern Lebanon by the middle of this year (Nitzan Horowitz and Reuters; 2/13/ 2000). Israel was given no reproach for still being in Lebanon after all these years, fighting a war whose ostensible purpose (to protect Israels northern border from attacks) had long since ceased to be an issue, let alone a credible one. No Lebanese citizen was quoted on what it was like to wake up to bombing raids, to experience the terror that must have accompanied these raids, or to be suddenly (and for days to come) without any power. Immediately after the air strikes, U.S. reporters were not anxiously awaiting comments from Hizbullah spokes-people or members of the Lebanese government. Instead, Washington absolved the Israelis for their civilian attacks, reported Robert Fisk, because it was a reaction to the deaths of Israeli soldiers (U.S. heaps blame on the victim, say Lebanese, Robert Fisk, 2/11/2000).
Talk within Israel of a complete withdrawal from Lebanon has grown in recent years amid the deepening unpopularity of this war. Israeli parents are tired of worrying about their sons safety in a zone that has failed to provide security for Israel; theyre tired of the body bags that return the unluckiest of the soldiers. Some in Israel are even starting to wonder whether occupying South Lebanon isnt something of an ethical dilemma, international laws prohibiting such occupation notwithstanding. Prime Minister Barak, nevertheless, vowed revenge after Hizbullah killed five Israeli soldiers in the nine-mile-wide occupied strip just before Israels strikes on the Lebanese infrastructure. Peace talks between Syria and Israel would not resume, Barak insisted, until Syria reined in Hizbullah. No one in the U.S. spoke of reining in the IDF.
True, Syria controls most of Lebanon. Also true, it opportunistically uses Hizbullahs resistance activities against the Israeli occupation to further its own interests. Syria does indeed have a certain amount of control over Hizbullahchanneling money and arms to it from Iran. Ultimately, however, Hizbullah is an autonomous Islamist organization indigenous to Lebanon, whose ideology is not particularly conducive to those who might opt for a secular democracy. That its fighters are in the vanguard of the resistance movement in Lebanon, and indeed are the only group, besides the Lebanese armed forces, to have arms legally in Lebanon, is a sorry situation for anyone who might have hoped that Lebanons future be free of fundamentalist religious authoritarianism. How tragic then that Hizbullah is the symbol of Lebanese resistance. For this reason, then, one can rightfully claim that Lebanon is the primary casualty of the cold war between Israel and Syria. Hizbullah is the means by which this war is being fought and prolonged. Keep sending the group arms until all the Golan Heights are promised back to Syria. Keep bombing Lebanon until Hizbullah stops resisting the occupation. Hizbullah is thus able to maintain a life of its own separate from, and yet connected to, the frail sub-structure of Syrian-controlled Lebanese politics. Unless and until the occupation of the Golan and the occupation of South Lebanon by Israel end, Hizbullah will manifest the glorious wound of endless warfare. Lebanon will continue to bleed perpetually because of regional rivalries whose source is the arrogance of a self-aggrandizing, fully subsidized, and yet capricious U.S. regional ally. Few understand that a terrible, incalculably costly war is being fought daily on Lebanese soil because the point of view presented most consistently in the press is that of a besieged and beleaguered Israel.
Let us look at a small example of what does not get reported in the U.S.: According to the AFP in Tyre, Lebanon, the day after five Israeli soldiers died, and two days after SLA second-in-command Akl Hashem was killed, Israeli warplanes launched heat-seeking missiles north of the occupied zone while Apache helicopters flew over both Sidon and Tyre (neither in the occupation zone) terrorizing the local civilians. The missiles were fired near the villages of Kafra, Qana, Jebel Botom, and at the Iqlim at-Tuffah hills near the central occupation zone. Helicopters flew over Tyre and Sidon for as long as two hours causing confusion on the highways and panic within these cities about the possibility of a major offensive while parents rushed to get their children out of school. This minor offensive was but a preview of what happened on February 8.
As I read this report I remembered seeing the bombed Awali Bridge outside of Sidon last July, and the shell of an automobile in which two civilians had been killed while driving across that bridge. I remembered the multiple blackouts every single day in Beirut during my visit the result of a bombed power grid (yes, the same that was just destroyed again) hit by Israel in retaliation for Hizbullah attacks. I remembered the mass grave at Qana where the pictures of the murdered civilians now stand above their cement tombs. But mostly I remember the anger and the defiance expressed towards Israel for its constant, arrogant, military intimidation of Lebanon, and it was suddenly so easy to understand how even the most secular Lebanese would cheer every time Hizbullah struck at the IDF/SLA targets in the south. Equally clear was how the quiet but pervasive presence of Syria in Lebanon cynically underpinned the outrage of the majority towards its belligerent southern neighbor, complicating the predicament of the Lebanese national battlefield.
Support for Hizbullah in Lebanon and elsewhere is not diminishing. Under the circumstances those who rally to its successes are at least superficially justified: It would be legally irresponsible to ban its actions. This is perhaps the unavoidable irony of a victorious Hizbullah. The laws created to permit the resistance to occupation are, by whomever they are carried out, intended to uphold justice. Whether that will be the outcome of their use is a separate issue. Failing to acknowledge the existence of these laws, as we do in the United States, may render us ignorant but not immune to their effects. One might therefore consider how ones judgment of this crisis would be tempered were the truth of Lebanons plight made understandable in our media; were the brutality and self-interest of those managing this war exposed. One might at least be allowed to hope for a viable, independent, and peaceful Lebanon were the facts allowed to contest the on-going fiction. Z
Jennifer Loewenstein is a senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business.