Friday, July 28, 2006

It’s a mythical beast

Spot ran across this web article written for Common Dreams by Jonathan Cook, a writer and who lives in Nazareth, Israel. It should be especially interesting to you, boys and girls, in light of recent reports that the Senate candidates from both major parties have essentially the same position on the Israel – Lebanon conflict. Since Mark Kennedy is beyond hope anyway, Spot is going to concentrate on what Amy Klobuchar said and urge her to take another look. Here’s what Klobuchar said, as reported in the Star Tribune:

Klobuchar: "Israel has a right to defend itself, and it's doing exactly what our country would do if Iranian-made rockets came down on Wisconsin or Iowa or Minnesota. ... We would go to the country from which they were being fired and we would do whatever was necessary to protect our country."

Why yes, Amy, we would. However. If those pesky Iowans had started shelling Manitoba first, we would not be so justified in shooting back, especially if we killed hundreds, perhaps thousands by now, of innocents in the process. Here are some of the myths about that Mr. Cook identifies in his article:

The first myth is that Israel was forced to pound Lebanon with its military hardware because Hezbollah began “raining down” rockets on the Galilee. Anyone with a short memory can probably recall that was not the first justification we were offered: that had to do with the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah on a border post on July 12.

But presumably Horowitz and his friends realized that 400 Lebanese dead and counting in little more than a week was hard to sell as a “proportionate” response. In any case Hezbollah kept telling the world how keen it was to return the soldiers in a prisoner swap.

Hundreds of dead in Lebanon, at least 1,000 severely injured and more than half a million refugees -- all because Israel is not ready to sit down at the negotiating table. Even Horowitz [who had debated Cook on a broadcast program] could not “advocate for Israel” on that one.

So the chronology of war has been reorganized: now we are being told that Israel was forced to attack Lebanon to defend itself from the barrage of Hezbollah rockets falling on Israeli civilians. The international community is buying the argument hook, line, and sinker. “Israel has the right to defend itself," says every politician who can find a microphone to talk into.

But, if we cast our minds back, that is not how the “Middle East crisis," as TV channels now describe it, started. It is worth recapping on those early events (and I won’t document the long history of Lebanese suffering at Israel’s hands that preceded it) before they become entirely shrouded in the mythology being peddled by Horowitz and others.

Early on July 12 Hezbollah launched a raid against an army border post, in what was in the best interpretation a foolhardy violation of Israeli sovereignty. In the fighting the Shiite militia killed three soldiers and captured two others, while Hezbollah fired a few mortars at border areas in what the Israeli army described at the time as “diversionary tactics." As a result of the shelling, five Israelis were “lightly injured," with most needing treatment for shock, according to Haaretz.

Israel’s immediate response was to send a tank into Lebanon in pursuit of the Hezbollah fighters (its own foolhardy violation of Lebanese sovereignty). The tank ran over a landmine, which exploded, killing four soldiers inside. Another soldier died in further clashes inside Lebanon as his unit tried to retrieve the bodies.

There’s not much question that Israel has been spoiling for a fight with Hizbullah for some time, and the reverse is also true. But that doesn’t justify the massive artillery, rocket, and bomb attack by the Israelis, killing countless civilians. Here’s myth number two:

The second myth is that Hezbollah’s stockpile of 12,000 rockets -- the Israeli army’s estimate -- poses an existential threat to Israel. According to Horowitz and others, Hezbollah collected its armory with the sole intent of destroying the Jewish state.

If this really was Hezbollah’s intention in amassing the weapons, it has a very deluded view of what is required to wipe Israel off the map. More likely, it collected the armory in the hope that it might prove a deterrence -- even if a very inadequate one, as Lebanon is now discovering -- against a repeat of Israel’s invasions of 1978 and 1982, and the occupation that lasted nearly two decades afterwards.

Here’s the third myth that Cook articulates:

The third myth is that, while Israel is trying to fight a clean war by targeting only terrorists, Hezbollah prefers to bring death and destruction on innocents by firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

It is amazing that this myth even needs exploding, but after the efforts of Horowitz and Co. it most certainly does. As the civilian death toll in Lebanon has skyrocketed, international criticism of Israel has remained at the mealy-mouthed level of diplomatic requests for “restraint” and “proportionate responses."

One need only cast a quick eye over the casualty figures from this conflict to see that if Israel is targeting only Hezbollah fighters it has been making disastrous miscalculations. So far some 400 Lebanese civilians are reported dead -- unfortunately for Horowitz’s story at least a third of them children. From the images coming out of Lebanon’s hospitals, many more children have survived but with terrible burns or disabling injuries.

The best estimates, though no one knows for sure, are that Hezbollah deaths are not yet close to the three-figures range.

In the latest emerging news from Lebanon, human rights groups are accusing Israel of violating international law and using cluster grenades, which kill indiscriminately. There are reports too, so far unconfirmed, that Israel has been firing illegal incendiary bombs.

Conversely, the breakdown of the smaller number of deaths of Israelis at the hands of Hezbollah -- 42 at the time of writing -- show that more soldiers have been killed than civilians.

In other words, the Israelis are doing a much more efficient job of killing civilians than Hizbullah. And here’s the fourth myth about the cowardly Hizbullah:

The fourth myth is a continuation of the third: Hezbollah has been endangering the lives of ordinary Lebanese by hiding among non-combatants.

We have seen this kind of dissembling by Israel and Horowitz before, though not repeated so enthusiastically by Western officials. The UN head of humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, who is in the region, accused Hezbollah of “cowardly blending” among the civilian population, and a similar accuation was levelled by the British foreign minister Kim Howells when he arrived in Israel.

In 2002 Israel made the same charge: that Palestinians resisting its army’s rampage through the refugee camps of the West Bank were hiding among civilians. The claim grew louder as more Palestinian civilians showed the irritating habit of gettting in the way of Israeli strikes against population centers. The complaints reached a crescendo when at least two dozen civilians were killed in Jenin as Israel razed the camp with Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers.

The implication of Egeland’s cowardly statement seems to be that any Lebanese fighter, or Palestinian one, resisting Israel and its powerful military should stand in an open field, his rifle raised to the sky, waiting to see who fares worse in a shoot-out with an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet. Hezbollah’s reluctance to conduct the war in this manner, we are supposed to infer, is proof that they are terrorists.

Egeland and Howells need reminding that Hezbollah’s fighters are not aliens recently arrived from training camps in Iran, whatever Horowitz claims. They belong to and are strongly supported by the Shiite community, nearly half the country’s population, and many other Lebanese. They have families, friends, and neighbors living alongside them in the country’s south and the neighborhoods of Beirut who believe Hezbollah is the best hope of defending their country from Israel’s regular onslaughts.

This is a complicated situation Amy and buying into the meme that Israel is merely defending itself may be good politics. But that doesn’t mean it’s correct.

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