Give War a Chance
I’m reminded of the self-proclaimed motto of Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “give war a chance”, a phrase which sums up exactly the line taken by Britain and the US on the Israel-Lebanon war. Try as Bush and Blair have over the years to present themselves as statesmen of grand moral vision, one somehow doubts that future historians will be talking about them in the same breath as Gandhi.
The Washington Post says that "According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of [Israel’s military] campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." The message to Lebanon's elite, he said, is this: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land."
Elsewhere, “Brigadier General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, emphasised that the offensive . . . was open-ended. ‘Nothing is safe (in Lebanon), as simple as that’ he said.”
Dictionary.com defines terrorism as “The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.” So perhaps “give terrorism a chance” would be a more apt summation of British foreign policy – provided of course that the terrorism in question is being carried out by one of our allies, which by definition is not terrorism at all, but “self-defence”.
Also, note the vast difference between Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, where “nothing is safe”, and the proportionate measures taken strictly in self defence against legitimate targets that would be entirely legal and justifiable if Israel chose to pursue them. But Israel’s actions have by now surely reached the point were talk of proportionality, even of a “response” to Hezbollah’s actions, are little more than a bad joke.
For example, during a recent tour of Beirut, the UN's emergency relief chief Jan Egeland described the destruction wrought by the Israeli air force as "horrific" and "a violation of international humanitarian law…I did not know it was block after block of houses….It's bigger, it's more extensive than I even could imagine". Patrick McGreevy of the American University in Beirut described in the wrecked southern residential districts of Beirut “a landscape the likes of which no one has seen since Dresden in 1945”.
Human Rights Watch has compiled details on the deaths of more than a quarter of the roughly 400 Lebanese killed so far by Israeli air strikes. "They're hitting civilians time and time again," Peter Bouckaert, an HRW investigator, said. "The Israelis seem to make no discrimination between military and civilian targets."
Tuesday’s Guardian reported an Israeli missile strike on “two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances”, after Monday’s edition had reported a strike on a refugee convoy waving white flags. However, these acts of bravery were dwarfed by Tuesday’s attack on unarmed UN peacekeepers. As they came under bombardment from the IDF, the UN staff had made 10 calls to the Israelis begging them to stop. According to the UN, after each call, it was assured the firing would cease. In fact, the bombing continued until their post – which was clearly marked and had been established for 50 years - was destroyed by a precision guided bomb. Later, UN soldiers who came to retrieve the bodies of their comrades also came under fire. Israel described the incident as “unintentional”.
So far, in this war of self-defence, Israel has killed 391 civilians, as opposed to 18 of its civilians killed by Hezbollah, (see Guardian print edition page 3, 27 July) and driven 600,000 Lebanese people from their homes
Whilst it’s encouraging to see that a substantial majority of the British public oppose what Israel is doing, according to two polls this week, it’s important that people here focus on our own complicity in the crimes described above As indicated at the top of this article, Britain is currently working to prevent a ceasefire. It is also providing political support by parroting the US-Israeli line that all blame lies squarely on Hezbollah and that Israel is doing no more than responding to terrorism. Finally, it should be noted that Britain is providing material support to Israeli terrorism in the shape of arms sales, which between 2004 and 2005 doubled in value to £22.5 million. It is therefore, not just a question of pointing the finger at the protagonists. What’s important is to understand and to campaign against our own significant role in the conflict.