Sunday, July 30, 2006

Questions in Qana

In all the talk of civilian casualties of Lebanon, it occurs to me to wonder just what percentage of the dead was complicit in Hezbollah attacks on Israel. And I don’t even just mean the kind of mundane, everyday support you get by just showing up for the rallies and chanting “Death to Israel”. How do you differentiate between civilian and military targets when the civilians are storing Katyusha rockets in the baby’s room? The distinction, needless to say, becomes a little blurred.

Consider this scenario. If you’re a Hezbollah fighter, and you’re about to launch a rocket attack or two (or 150, as in Qana), it makes sense to do so from a crowded residential neighborhood (video, pictures) from where you can quickly melt in with the rest of the population. The logic is compelling. If you’re lucky, you’ll kill some Jews, and if the Zionists retaliate you can be sure the international community will have a thing or two to say, and the worst that can happen is that you’ve hastened the dispatch of a few more martyrs to Allah, while conveniently saving your own skin. But you can be sure that nowhere in all this will the international community point the finger at you, or fault you in a U.N. resolution for using civilians as human shields and failing to identify yourself properly as a combatant by wearing civilian clothes.

The EU will be pretty certain to condemn Israel because they favor a strategy of craven pandering to the oil cabal. And while America might be counted on to veto any one-sided resolutions at the U.N., and maybe send a furtive shipment of arms or two, its public defense of Israel will always be somewhat muted so as not to imperil the delicate internal balancing act of fragile allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the usual cohort of so-called “moderate” Arab states (which in common parlance simply means “run by illegitimate regimes less radically Islamist than the people”). The international “community”, usually so fractious as to give lie to the name, is united on one point: it's Israel's fault.

Now imagine you’re a foreign correspondent and you’ve managed to get yourself a plum assignment in the Middle East. Granted, it’s probably not as restful as a stint in one of the foreign capitals of Europe, but it sure beats Sudan or Somalia, where the locals might be dying in far greater numbers but the amenities aren’t nearly as pleasant and you can’t drink the water. For you, it’s more or less effortless to write dispatches accusing Israel of war atrocities while lying by the pool at the King David, say, or sipping Turkish coffee in a Beirut café in one of the Christian neighborhoods that haven’t seen any real fallout from the war. There will be no consequences to you. You won’t get your press badge revoked by Israel or be denied access to ministerial press conferences. You can, in short, rest easy in the certainty that the Israeli government is fairly toothless in this regard. (Compare and contrast with the PA, here and here).

Meanwhile in the southern strongholds of Hezbollah, the most you can hope for is a brisk tour of some of the carnage (“And over here to your right, you’ll notice a pile of rubble that used to be a self-evidently non-military target. Nothing more to see here. Let’s move it along.”) and if you don’t ooh and aah in a sufficiently deferential manner then there goes your future access to the zone, and you might as well call it a day and book the next flight home. Just ask CNN’s Nic Robertson - he’ll tell you.

It’s not like there are a whole lot of non-military options for Israel. Short of renouncing their right to exist, digging mass graves, and flinging themselves in, I’m not sure how Israelis can placate those who want to obliterate them off the map. The spectacle of “peace” protestors turned violent is not particularly edifying in this regard; nor is the Hezbollah second-in-command belatedly calling for “peace” (as in a recent Reuters report which has since been extensively edited) calculated to give one much room for hope. I wonder why it wasn’t so important to have “peace” when Hezbollah was lobbing missiles over into Israel. Where was the sudden burning impulse for “peace” during the six years Hezbollah was stockpiling weapons and preparing for war?

No, Israel only ever has two choices: be massacred, and the court of public opinion is with you, or defend yourself, and be massacred in the court of public opinion. Hezbollah and Hamas can flout the Geneva Conventions left and right, using civilians and UN aid workers as human shields, denying ICRC access to kidnapped soldiers, and dressing in civilian clothing, but they can be sure the international community will look with an indulgent eye on their transgressions. International law, it seems, has special significance only insofar as it applies to Israel.


solo2wings said...


I know I am your uncle and of course would be biased, but you do write beautifully. I chose that word because you have full control of the English language and bring forth your ideas in logical sequence.
This could be your second career.
F. Jack Shasha

Anonymous said...

Your blog was sent to us by a friend in Montréal. In reference to Israel being “massacred in the court of public opinion”, you accurately point out that this will be the case regardless of what Israel does -- save allowing themselves to be annihilated (then they would get great press!) That being the case, I pray that Israel has the resolve to see this thing through. This is a war, plain and simple. In war, innocent people die even if they are not deliberately put in harms way, as is the case in Lebanon. If Israel doesn’t finish the job by whatever means necessary, then the consequences will be grave indeed.

sharon said...

Dear Anonymous,

I quite agree. Israel must be the perceived as well as the actual victor in this conflict. If not, then added to the existing threat posed by Hezbollah will be the existential one posed by all the surrounding Muslim countries glorying in this sign of Israel's weakness.