The US Should not Abet Violence in Lebanon
[Originally published by Saree Makdisi in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, 22 July 2006]
Never has the gulf between U.S. and Israeli interests been clearer than during the present crisis. And not since the shameful coverup of the 1967 Israeli bombing of the USS Liberty - in which 34 Navy crewmen were killed - have our politicians done so much to protect Israel's interests at the expense of our own.
We have not been standing idly by as Israel destroys Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, obliterates entire neighborhoods and kills dozens of innocent people.
Not only has our government provided Israel with the weapons with which it is now bombarding Lebanon, it also has provided virtually unlimited financial, military, political and diplomatic support to enable - even encourage - Israel to continue.
Our government intervened to remove criticism of Israel from the G-8 Summit statement on the crisis. It stymied European efforts to call for a cease-fire to protect civilian life. It vetoed a U.N. resolution calling on Israel to stop its attack on Gaza's civilians. It rushed an additional $210 million of aviation fuel to Israel to help it "keep peace and security in the region." And it even granted Israel an additional week to continue its unrestrained pounding of Lebanon, according to diplomatic reports.
Lebanon is facing a humanitarian catastrophe; 335 people have been killed. The United Nations estimates that up to half a million people have been displaced from their homes. With Israel having reduced Lebanon to a large-scale version of Gaza - cut off from the outside world, denied water and electricity, unable to import essential supplies of food and medicine - the country is on its knees. Four million people are now not merely terrified, but increasingly hungry and thirsty.
It is absurd to consider this level of violence a legitimate act of self-defense. During its war with the IRA, Britain could have used the same argument to destroy Ireland's roads, bridges, ports and airports on the pretext that they were being used by the IRA to move weapons and supplies; it could have used it to launch massive bombardments of Catholic neighborhoods both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.
The absurdity of the justification aside, Israel has bombed targets in Lebanon that have no possible connection to Hezbollah. It has killed sleeping Lebanese army soldiers in the north of the country, even though the Lebanese army is not involved in the conflict and is, moreover, supposed to be the key to the solution, according to Israel itself. It has bombed milk factories, cutting off the supply of a vital nutrient to Lebanon's babies and children. It has bombed a desperately needed aid convoy heading toward Beirut from the United Arab Emirates. It has bombed hospitals, schools and ambulances. All of this, of course, is in blatant violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, under which our weapons are provided to Israel.
Why is our country supporting Israel's unlimited violence not only against an entire population, but a population that has historically been the most friendly to the United States in the entire Arab world? For decades, America has been a beacon of hope and liberty to the people of Lebanon. Its foremost university is an American institution. Its people have emigrated in tens of thousands to America (the majority of Arab-Americans are Lebanese), tying our two nations together.
Justice aside, what do we gain from the bombing of these people?
Are we really to believe that this attack will destroy Hezbollah? Israel enforced a draconian military occupation of Lebanon for over two decades; just as it failed to destroy Hezbollah then, it will fail again now.
Are we then to believe that this attack constitutes a slap in the face for Iran and Syria? The destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure hurts neither of them. On the contrary, it will provide them another chance to give generously during reconstruction.
This attack has nothing to do with Israel's self defense. Preparing for eventual negotiations, it is showing how it deals with those who dare question it: It reduces their country to rubble. In the name of combating one form of extremism, we are backing another - Israel's.
We gain nothing in the process. But we will pay a price.
Three hundred million Arabs and 1 billion Muslims are watching as one rational and peaceful and moral argument after another to restore peace is either denied or deflected or contemptuously spurned by our leaders in order to allow Israel to continue its bombardment. The next time one or three or 10 of them take it in their heads to launch a horrific attack on the United States - which they will regard as justified retribution - no one need bother to ask why they hate us. We will all know the answer.