July 28, 2006
Hezbollah, Amal, the communists, the Christians etc.. A brilliant article by Jonathan Steele in The Guardian today:
"The Israelis are radicalising Lebanon, even liberal democrats like me. I took part in last year's demonstrations against Syria. I was a critic of Hizbullah. Now I cannot help but support Hizbullah's fighters who are defending our country." What about Hizbullah's rocket attacks on Haifa? "It's right," she replied. "It's not only Lebanese who should have to suffer. Are human rights available only to Israelis? You can't have winter and summer on the same roof."
Demonising Hizbullah as terrorists or Iranian and Syrian agents confuses the picture. Moreover, the only party that declined to take part in government, the Maronite Christians led by Michel Aoun, made a tactical alliance with Hizbullah. Since the Israeli attacks Aoun has been one of Hizbullah's most vocal defenders.
While accepting Hizbullah's political weight, no Lebanese politician believes that its military wing can be disarmed against its will. Their view has to be the starting point for any discussion of an international force for southern Lebanon, whether it is a beefed-up version of the current UN force, Unifil, or some sort of "coalition of the willing".
European governments should resist the idea. Jacques Chirac has rightly said a Nato force is out of the question since the alliance is seen as "the armed wing of the west". Even without this association, any force would risk being seen as Israel's instrument. Israel's plan seems to be either to use foreigners to do its work or, if that fails, to turn south Lebanon into a giant Rafah - the city in Gaza where it demolished hundreds of homes and created a free-fire zone in which anything that moved was shot.
What Lebanon needs, as Siniora said in Rome, is an immediate ceasefire and an Israeli withdrawal so that refugees can go home before any more destruction is wrought. The world should take its cue from that.
Meanwhile, how well are the Israelis doing, exactly? It is hard to stomach the grief-stricken reports of Israel's terrible losses, (you know, Channel Four's reporters sycophantically playing up Israeli 'suffering' and 'determination' outside a military funeral in a West Bank fucking settlement), and one is always suspect of reports of Israel's Worst Day Yet ("just you wait", I think). Nevertheless, once you've got beyond the militaristic bravado and the stuff about Israel's Trials, propagandists working for Israel are certainly keen to downplay their strategic and tactical losses and play up their gains. Angry Arab has been keeping an eye on this. Here, he finds the Israelis, having claimed to have captured Marun ar-Ras (a tiny village in southern Lebanon) admit that they're still snuffing their lids there. Here he notes that the small town of Bint Jbeil, which was supposedly under Israeli control, was still the scene of fighting. Here he finds that the town is actually "controlled from the outside". Unto which: "Control from outside? How does that work? Like, can I control Poland from my California? Explain that to me, o brilliant Israeli propagandist."
If the Israelis aren't as good as ground combat as they might have thought they were (or if Hezbollah are better than they anticipated), one thing the IDF are proving exceptionally good at is killing more civilians. 600 dead now, which is quite an increase on the report of 390 from earlier in the week. Bear in mind that this has to be an undercount - there are bodies buried in rubble and dirt that even the Lebanese Health Minister, for all his efforts, will not have tracked down.
Meanwhile, how many times do we have to hear that this is a war about Israel's survival? Geras, whose disgusting blog I will not link to, has actually been puffing the alleged "existential threat" to Israel which has apparently been hanging over it since it was founded while at the same time denying any such threat to the Palestinians... US neoconservative Charles Krauthammer echoes this, bleating about "Israel withdrew from Gaza, yet Gaza made war, so what does that tell you?". Actually, the Chief Rabbi made similar claims at the pro-Israeli rally last week: "Israel is fighting today in Lebanon because six years ago it withdrew from Lebanon ... Israel is fighting today in Gaza because one year ago it withdrew from Gaza. And Israel discovered the terrible truth spoken by the late Mother Theresa - that no good deed goes unpunished." It's entirely appropriate that this pious bigot and hypocrite should cite a pious bigot and hypocrite like Mother Theresa, of course. Israel being forced out of Lebanon was a "good deed", as was the "formaldehyde" Israel infused into the "peace process" by making a temporary and tactical withdrawal from Gaza. And here is a Seattle "progressive" psychotherapist wringing her hands - she cares terribly about all the dead people, but feels 'we' must zap this "cancer" before "it kills us all". These clamorous, hysterical bigots will never cease to amaze me. The capacity for such outrageous sanctimony and vicarious self-pity in support of a brutally racist, expansionist state defies reason, argument and even satire. The Israeli public presumably holds hard to this line: 71% of them believe the army should use even more force, although the numbers believing they should continue until they've wiped out Hezbollah (ie committed genocide against Lebanese Shi'ites) has dropped ten points to 48%.
Finally, is the British government feeling the heat a little bit? Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's little noises about the US transporting bombs via Prestwick Airport were entirely superficial (they didn't fill in the correct forms or something), but it was indicative of the government's need to at least offer an appearance of some slight distance from the Bush administration. It yielded the sort of headlines in the liberal news programmes and newspapers that were required: "Margaret Beckett attacks US" was, I seem to remember, the improbable headline on Channel Four news. Similarly, Blair's called for a "ceasefire", reported in The Guardian today, is wholly cynical and based in large part about the threat to pro-Western Arab dictatorships and therefore one assumes to British business interests in the Middle East (the Euro-Meditteranean trading zone has undoubtedly been under considerable strain too, explaining some of the opposition to Israel's behaviour from EU governments). But the fact that the government is floating this story in the press is probably indicative of Blair's need to look like he tells Bush anything other than Bush wants to hear. All the more reason to keep the pressure on by protesting today.