But Lebanon was supposed to be the exception. With U.S. pressure, Syrian troops — originally invited in with U.S. support during the Lebanese civil war to provide stability — were pressured to leave last year. The “Cedar Revolution” was peaceably proclaimed in Lebanon by a U.S. friendly government composed of the various religious denominations. Finally, independent of both Israeli and Syrian troops for the first time in twenty-three years, the Lebanese started to pull themselves and their economy together.
See Lebanon, see the future in the Middle East, cried George W. Bush — the American Caeser and his advisors in the White House.
Now see Lebanon. In a matter of days, the country is in ruins, its economy shattered, roads, bridges, airports, wheat silos, trucks with medical supplies, new ambulances rushing into service and whole families fleeing north in packed vehicles blown up.
The horrific stillness is in the civilian neighborhoods mostly populated by the innocent poor and their children. The New York Times reports “In Srifa, a neighborhood was wiped out — 15 houses flattened, 21 people killed, 30 wounded — in an Israeli air strike. The town’s mayor, Afif Najdi called it a massacre.” Half-a-million civilians and growing are homeless.
In the Palestinian refugee camp of Al Bourj holding 20,000 people, Israeli bombers unleashed explosives. In a frantic appeal for help to anyone on the global internet a charitable rescue organization entered the area and described a scene of “total devastation with all the buildings and roads totally smashed. There was the smell of death and destruction everywhere.”
And so the rain of Israeli terror fell over this utterly defenseless country, while Bush does nothing but emit go signals to the fifth most powerful military in the world. He repeats again and again that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Of course, but not against millions of people (including tens of thousands of Arab-Americans and other U.S. citizens living or visiting there) who had nothing whatsoever to do with the border raid by Hezbollah.
The Israeli practice of collective punishment, a war crime under the Geneva Convention, is standard against the Palestinians, who lost 78% of their land in the 1940s and want to preserve the 22% that is left to them (the 1967 boundaries). More collective punishments against the Lebanese now, just like during the unprovoked invasion of 1982.
Then, Israel broke an 11 month truce with the PLO and smashed their way to Beirut, destroying 20,000 Lebanese lives and injuring many more. The New York Times reported “indiscriminate” bombing of Beirut. Israeli planes dropped deadly cluster bombs all over the country including four clearly marked hospitals, as reported in The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Who took the brunt of these war crimes? The Shiites who make up the bulk of the population of south Lebanon. And what emerged to defend these defenseless human beings who were not part of the PLO resistance that was the alleged object of the invasion? Hezbollah. A product of Israel’s collective punishment.
Since the Israelis withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 — after 18 years of oppression over the natives — the still land-mined border has been porous. Far more for the well-equipped Israelis than to Hezbollah. Israel routinely violated Lebanon’s airspace and coastal waters, terrorized the area with abductions and damage, retained control over Lebanese territory called Shebaa Farms and generally got away with it without international news coverage. Since 2000, Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah fighters would ritually eye each other over the border and sometimes engage in skirmishes. Still, Hezbollah and Israel wisely negotiated some prisoner exchanges. Israel had 100 times more prisoners to exchange than did Hezbollah.
So on July 12, Hezbollah went for another prisoner exchange by capturing two Israeli soldiers in a firefight, and thought the result would be another such exchange. Big mistake. Even Hezbollah under-estimated the need for each new Israeli Prime Minister to demonstrate his capability for massive mayhem.
Among other towns, he is destroying the ancient coastal town of Tyre where the carpenters have run out of wood for the coffins and the fleeing inhabitants of this municipality of approximately 25,000 people wonder whether they will survive the flight to who knows where from Israeli shelling and aircraft.
So George W. Bush, who knows that Hezbollah’s rockets were fired after Israel started its mass bombing and shelling of Lebanon, willfully rejects a truce, typical of his refusal for five years to overcome Israel’s opposition to an adequate multinational peacekeeping force on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Finally, did you know that Hezbollah is one of the largest employers in Lebanon — schools, clinics, stores, farming, transport? It has 14 elected members in the Lebanese Parliament. It is militantly determined to defend its nearly 2 million Shiites — the downtrodden of Lebanon — from all aggressions. It receives weapons from Iran and the international weapons markets, while Israel receives weapons from the United States within an overall annual aid program of $4 billion.
Israel has 175,000 soldiers and another 400,000 ready reservists. It controls totally the skies, the seas and the ground forces with its advanced precision armaments. It is backed up by the United States to whose Congress it will send the bill for this war. Hezbollah has anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 fighters, according to U.S. press reports, with small arms and short to medium range rocket launchers.
This is a relevant comparative reality, which should replace the apoplectic exaggerations so that sane voices and powers — Israeli, Arab, American and European — can stop the battles, stabilize the border with an effective international guard and move toward a broader Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
The powerful parties and their allies can make this happen far easier than the weaker parties to the conflict. Meanwhile, George W. better stop “losing Lebanon,” and fast.