Tuesday, July 25, 2006

25-Jul-06: An open letter to Lebanon's friends

There are thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocent Lebanese victims of the latest phase of this ongoing war. The Arafat War (variously called, misleadingly, the Second Intifada and the Palestinian Uprising) which began in September 2000 is only the latest chapter in a continuing century-long war of terror directed at the Jewish national revival in what is now called Israel. We call our blog "This Ongoing War" in recognition of that depressing truth.

Allow us please to state the main part of that para one more time. We don't want the message to be lost.

There are thousands of innocent Lebanese victims. Many deaths, many maimings and permanent injuries. The destruction of quiet, civilized lives and life. This is a truth which media talking-heads, analysts, editors, cartoonists, journalists, politicians, humanitarian activists, photographers, racist rabble-rousers, Islamic men of religion and others want the world to understand.

On behalf of the world, I'm hereby saying it: we understand, we get it, we know. Now, let's try to make sense of what it means so that we can all move ahead by asking this question:

Does it mean that Lebanon is therefore right? Does it mean that Israel, undoubtedly the party doing the shooting at Lebanon, is wrong?

Yes, if you believe right-vs-wrong is a function of who's suffering more. If this is how you feel, you're in safe company. There is a very, very large number of opinion-formers who think and speak this way.

But if the numbers (ten to one, as we write, meaning some 390 Lebanese are reported to be dead, versus 37 Israelis so far) are going to be your moral guide, allow us to draw your attention to some overlooked or little-appreciated aspects of that viewpoint:
  • Hezbullah is thoroughly integrated inside Lebanese society. Their missiles are fired from within Lebanese villages. This has been the case for six years at least.
  • Until May 2000, Israel and friendly Lebanese forces controlled the far-south of Lebanon. This ended with a unilateral Israeli decision to take a chance for peace. Our prime minister at the time was Ehud Barak. On 24th May 2000, he said: "From now on, the government of Lebanon is accountable for what takes place within its territory, and the Lebanese and Syrian governments are responsible for preventing acts of terror or aggression against Israel, which is from today deployed within its borders."
  • The Israeli leader's words were ignored. What happened in that region from that day onwards was decided by Lebanon and its leadership. They decided to do nothing when Hezbullah began a six-year uninterrupted process of filling every basement and crevice with deadly weaponry, all of it pointed at Israeli towns, cities and homes. Lebanon's government with its police and army and moral righteousness could have stopped Hezbullah. Instead they invited it into the Lebanese government where it now sits. You can say Lebanon is weak, impotent, out-numbered. But you can't ignore the Lebanese leadership's culpability in what followed.
  • Newspaper articles like "On the Frontline, Historic Tyre is Paying the Price of Conflict", distributed in the past two days by the Agence France Press newsagency, are typical of the shallowness and history-ignorant thinking that proliferate this week. Tyre's suffering is real, but where is it mentioned - other than in the Israeli media - that Tyre has served for the past six years, up to and including today, as Hezbullah's massive arsenal of civilian-targetting missiles and other weapons of terror? This cannot be an irrelevant aspect of such an important story. So why is it so consistently ignored?
  • We can't vouch for its accuracy but there is a report, familiar-sounding in this part of the world, of how Hezbullah treats its Lebanese brothers and sisters. "I can confirm this report also. A Lebanese friend has told me that family members are trapped in a village close to the border and are being prevented from leaving by Hizbollah fighters who are setting up rocket positions around the village. Her uncles' words were 'we are waiting for death'. They are terrified of retaliatory Israeli strikes, but can do nothing when threatened by armed guerillas." Source: Live from an Israeli Bunker
  • Israel's pre-eminent and widely quoted military journalist, Zeev Schiff, writes: "In one known case, a bomb struck a basement and killed those inside. Later, it turned out that of the 32 casualties, mostly dead, 11 were armed Hezbollah militants. The basement served Hezbollah and civilians that sought cover. In the current fighting there is no alternative but to convince the citizens of the city to leave, and make it easy to do so. But it is unclear whether Hezbollah will allow the evacuation of civilians from Tyre."
  • Yes, we know you might view this as misleading Israeli propaganda. But if there's going to be uncritical reporting of horror stories from unconfirmed (and largely unconfirmable) Lebanese sources, please acknowledge that there are reports from usually respected Israeli sources that throw light on an entirely different way of viewing things. Or else admit that you're not going to do this, and tell us why.
  • For what it's worth, those words of Zeev Schiff's above were published 36 hours ago, and are directly quoted in not a single news source (according to Google News) other than Haaretz. Given that Schiff has been routinely quoted very widely over decades in many of the world's leading papers, this is extraordinary.
  • At a slightly more abstract, philosophical level, there's a wonderful essay in yesterday's New York Times. It's entitled "He Who Cast the First Stone Probably Didn't" and takes an analytical look at your viewpoint, i.e. that when someone attacks you, it's alright to hit back, just not too hard. If you read nothing else today, read Daniel Gilbert's essay and don't be put off by his being a professor of psychology at Harvard.
  • There are plenty of Lebanese who are appalled at what Lebanese tolerance for the Hezbullah insanity has done to their country. This for instance from a Lebanese blogger: "Curse you Hezbollah to hell and back! For all this destruction, for all this death! No it is not Israel fault! It is your own! Curse you!"
  • We are parents of a child who was murdered in cold-blood by Hamas terrorists. Our daughter was not caught in any cross-fire; she was not collateral damage. She and the others murdered that day five years ago were the target. So we know the central truth that most Israelis have learned. The terrorist enemy is hard to identify. If only they wore badges identifying themselves as practitioners of barbarism. But they don't. This means that when you fight them, as you absolutely must, you run risks of harming the innocent. There is no other way. You must try to be moral and selective - as we believe Israel does - but you must never lose sight of this reality: if you do not stop them, their incomprehensible determination to destroy will bring unbearable pain and suffering on their targets.
Even if all of this fails to move you, we want you to know our conclusion. If our side needs to be bleeding at least as much as the people on the other side before we win your support and understanding, then we will forego that privilege. And we express our utter contempt for your relativistic, statistics-driven morality.

Through no desire to be at war, and for no strategic reason that anyone can identify, Israel is suffering greatly. (16 missiles have struck Haifa this morning already.) The source of that suffering is Hezbollah. The suffering will continue until Hezbollah is physically unable to go on. No one, other than the victims of Hezbollah, can or will stop them.

The Lebanese people and their leadership are either part of the problem or part of the solution. There is no other way.


Anonymous said...

I do understand what you say. Heaven knows, you have every right to describe the situation in the terms you have.

I hate terrorism. I hated the IRA particularly for laying a bomb under the train my daughter took to go to school - nothing happened, it was found, but there wasn't any warning as they claimed there would be.

I'm sure sixty years ago I would have hated Menachem Begin and the Irgun gang for their killing of 90 people in the King David Hotel, for their hanging of the two British sargeants. They called off their planned bombing capaign in London because the British withdrew before it could start.

But today in Britain there is no anti-Irish feeling, and the Irish don't hate the British. That's because the response to the terrorist campaign was kept within reasonable limits.

There was a very moving call for hrlp on tonight's Channel4 News here from a Lebanese woman whose husband and baby had been killed by the Israelis. It's her call I think most people here will respond to, not that of those in Israel who want to destroy her country.

David McDougall

Whispering_Jack said...

Mr. McDougall,

I feel great sympathy for the Lebanese woman whose baby was killed but it's not the people of Israel who were targetting her or her child or who are responsible for this and many other unfortunate deaths and I'm sorry that you don't understand this.

As Jan Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian chief said yesterday (albeit only once he was safely out of Beirut) it was Hezbollah which in a cowardly manner blended itself in among Lebanese civilians that has caused the deaths of hundreds during two weeks of cross-border violence with Israel.

If you read the lips of Hezbollah's leaders they have no regard to the safety of civilians on either side of the border and that's why men and women of true goodwill everywhere on the face of this earth should be condemning them and not the Israelis.

Anonymous said...

Some food for thought McDougall.

1. Begin's Irgun was not part of the mainstream of Jewish resistance to British occupation of Palestine. The Haganah which later became the IDF actually took strong action (including the use of force) against the Irgun before the State was established. If you're implying that Israel was borne out of terrorism or that the King David Hotel bombing was representative of the Jewish people in the same way Hamas and Fatah represent the Palestinians or that Hezbollah represents the Sh'ites of South Lebanon, you're wrong.

2. The British response to the IRA terrorist campaign was kept "within reasonable limits".

How would you compare the IRA's terrorist campaign with that of Hezbollah? Did the IRA rain 200 lethal missiles a day on England for two weeks?


What would you English have regarded as a "reasonable response" had they done so?

What were the IRA's demands?

Did they threaten to annihilate the English people and dismantle their country?

Had they done so, would that have affected the "reasonability" of any response"?

You're not really comparing apples with apples at all McDougall are you?

3. Sadly, the world we live in is full of sick people and the response of many of your countrymen to the current crisis truly appalls me particulalry in light of what happened in London 12 months ago.

Gharqad Tree said...

Mr McDougall,

Obviously, no person of goodwill could fail to respond to the plight of a woman whose baby has been killed. But while your emotional response to this 'call for help' is understandable, it is also irrational, for the following reasons.

Firstly, you say she is calling for help; fine, but what help? If by 'help', you mean that Israel should stop its attack and allow Hezbollah to regroup, in order that it might, with a few months of re-arming, be at liberty once more to attack and kill Israeli children, then that is clearly irrational.

Secondly, if you are getting your entire perspective from Channel 4 News, then I'm sure you understand that you are hearing a somewhat unbalanced message, one that sites such as this struggle to counter. When it comes to calls for help for murdered children, who has answered Israel's calls? What has the UN or the international community done to prevent atrocities such as the Sbarro Pizza Restaurant slaughter? Nothing, beyond routine condemnations of Israel and exculpations of Palestinian moral responsibility.

Children on both sides are dying, Mr McDougall, but it is neither rational nor fair-minded for someone who claims to loathe terrorism to claim that 'most people here' respond to emotional anti-Israeli news reporting which all but ignores the true nature of the war Israel faces on more than front.

I am British. I hate the IRA as much as you do (though I am from a Northern Irish Catholic background), and I hate ETA, Hamas, Hezbollah, and many others. The sight of a woman lamenting the terrible loss of her child does not change the rationality of MY morality, anymore than the loss of an innocent German infant 60 years ago would have made me question the legitimacy or morality of the struggle against another form of fascism.

Emotional responses are human, but if we lose our ability to combine emotion with reason, we are in trouble.

Anonymous said...

I see the picture of Malki, and I wonder if I have anything useful to say. How would I feel if I were you? As you do, I'm sure.

But I do feel as someone who really wishes for the survival and prosperity of Israel that it has dramatically lost the moral high ground it held, say, thirty years ago.

David McDougall