Wednesday, July 19, 2006

two war comments

The first point is more analysis, the second is on how I feel.

1. For a lot of people the whole middle east situation mashes into one big mess. I think that it's important to distinguish between Gaza and Lebanon. While the two situations may look the same - abducted soldiers, retaliiatory bombing - but there are considerable differences.

Fighting in Gaza has been continuous in the last few years, and did not stop after the Israeli 'disegnagement'. On the Lebanese front, the border has been largely quiet since 2000, Hizbullah has been actively prveneting other groups from launching attacks on Israel. This was a privelge it kept to itself, and in six years it launched some 6-7 attacks on Israeli troops - usually in very specific locations (Shaba farm, Rajjar), in an attempt to create contained escalations.

Gaza is still under effective Israeli control, and the West Bank is under direct military occupation. Unlike in Lebanon where since June 2000 there are no Lebanese living under Israeli occupation; Hizbulla claims Israel is still occupying a stretch of Lebanese land (the shaba farm) but according to the UN this is Syrian occupied territory. Syria has been silent on the issue, providing Hizbulla with a convinient excuse to keep up the 'resistance', and its para-military presence in Lebanon.

There are 3 Lebanese in Israeli prisons, compared to 9000 Palestinians.

And Lebanon is a soverign state with a functioning economy (at least until last week), unlike the 'Palestinian Authority' which has less power over Palestinians' lives and economy than your average municipality, and is not soveign in any meaningful way.

So while in Gaza the capture of the soldier is one episode in a long series of tit-for-tat, and it really is rediculous to ask 'who started', the Hizbulla operation last week was a clear provocation, an unprovoked attack on Israeli troops on the other side of the border.

And Hamas are not Hizbullah. Both are militant Islamic movements with wide grass-roots support. But Hizbullah can sit on the other side of the border and talk about the destruction of Israel as the only way. Yes it could take decades but they're not in a hurry, and they have no desire to negotiate with Israel. Hamas operate under Israeli occupation and
they can't afford this stoic stand, especially since coming to power. They have had to come to terms with Israel. Anyone reading Ismail Haniya's article last week could see that they came a long way from their official position of 'one Islamic state between the river and the sea'.

I feel a need to state these things because they are being mashed by the media, and for more than one agenda. Critics of Israel see it as one story: the crazy bully Israel bombing its neighbours for hardly any reason. Israel-supporters see it as one story: Israel being attacked by Arab terrorists who would never accept its right to live in peace.

I agree with neither. First, I think that attacks on military troops are not terror. Even when they are not justified. But similarly it's only reasonable to expect Israeli troops to defend themselves and react to such attacks. (This does not mean that any reaction is legitimate: targetting civilians is wrong - and I don't care if you call it 'infrastracture'; had Hizbulla bombed the Ben Gurion Airport it would have been considered a 'terror attack', no?)

Second, I see a difference between the resistance of the Palestinian people under occupation, to Hizbulla's unjustifyable provocation designed (I think) to assert its role in Lebanese and regional politics. It was a big gamble and a stupid one. Hizbulla pride themselves at being cool-headed and calculated, so they should have known better. When you tease an angry and wounded beast you should expect it to react violently.

2. I read of international support for the Israeli operation. They're talking about the decommissioning of Hizbullah, and an international peace force in the south as possible outcomes. This would not be a bad thing. So I start wondering: maybe I should rally behind the IDF like 99 percent of my compatriots? Maybe it's actually a great thing what they're doing? Maybe I should forget about the 300 dead Lebanses civilians (and counting)? Maybe I'm just a defeatist who since living for five years out of the country forgot 'the reality of the middle east' etc etc.

But then I see these pictures of cute girls in the Galilee writing on artillery shells (AP, via Niki). 'I've been waiting for this so long' says one grafitti, with a spelling mistake.

I have no interest to debate the strategic benefits or risks of the current Israeli operation. I have my doubts but they belong to a geo-political discourse which I am not keen on right now. I am far more concerened about people who teach their kids to write cheerful slogans on missiles. These pictures scare me much more than pictures of houses hit by rockets. Israeli society is strong enough to sustain rocket attacks. Is it strong enough to teach its children not to hate 'the other side'? Is it strong enough not to find joy in the act of killing? Is it strong enough to be able to find empathy - an obscene word in our part of the world - for victims other than 'its own'?

When one stops seeing the people on the other side as human beings, inevitably one will not see the atrocities committed in one's name. Then one can comfortably maintain one's self-rightousness and moral indignation. A very grim prospect, as far as I'm concerned.


At 9:59 AM, Blogger Electric Sadhu said...

National infrastructure is always one of the first targets in any war. Is it a legitimate target? I think that depends on what exactly you aim at. For instance, if the international airport's runway is bombed (as the IAF did), thus rendering it unusable, it's a reasonable way to apply military pressure on your opponent. If a terminal full of passengers is bombed, that's a whole different story.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Are you sure that there are only THREE Lebanese prisoners? Or are there in fact many more Lebanese prisoners in Israel's prisons?

At 6:29 AM, Blogger mink said...

three or four was the number quoted five weeks ago.
Virutally all the Lebanese prisoners - a few hundreds - were released last year in a big swap.
Now after a month of fighting there's a few dozens war prisoners.


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