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The American Guilt

BY NASIM ZEHRA / 26 July 2006

WE ARE Witnessing real-time killing machines at work and the effect is almost surreal. It seems as though the world is no more safe today than when the Nazis and the Fascists were at work.

Whatever the justifications, deliberate posturing by Israel and Hezbollah have fanned mayhem. And an inertia of global proportions condones Lebanese and Israeli deaths and the colossal destruction in Lebanon.

Innocent civilians fleeing to safety are being hit by Israeli bombs and missiles. Nearly 400 Lebanese have been killed and almost a million rendered homeless. In Israel too, Hezbollah’s retaliatory rockets have spelt death for innocent civilians.

This mindless killing of innocent citizens is condemnable. As Israeli bombs and missiles rain carnage on Lebanon, the world’s major powers are stuck on Hezbollah’s provocation. The capture of two Israeli soldiers and the subsequent death of six more as they entered Lebanon to free their compatriots has been widely accepted as justification for Israel’s relentless air, sea and air attacks and blockades. There are major holes in this justification.

One, that there are10,000 Palestinian and Arab prisoners, mostly civilians, in Israeli jails and that there is no way legal or political intervention could secure their release. The world doesn’t care though.

Two, stonewalled by Israel’s intransigence on the prisoners’ issue, the Hezbollah militia devised its own method of buying freedom for Lebanese prisoners — capture Israeli soldiers, swap them for Lebanese prisoners. And it worked.

Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak both opted for swap arrangements. For example, in January 2004, Israel released about 400 Lebanese and Arab prisoners while Hezbollah returned a reserve Israeli colonel and the bodies of three soldiers under a German-brokered agreement.

Three, Israel was intent on destroying the Hezbollah at an opportune moment. Israeli’s military strategists have been claiming that Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal has been growing. Zvi Shtauber, former head of Strategic Planning for Israel’s armed forces and now head of Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv told the Economist (July 22-28), "It was clear we couldn’t live with the missiles...the question was when to do it."

Israel opted to employ the capture of soldiers as a pretext to remove what it had concluded was a threat to its security. In search of security, Israel resorted to State terrorism in Lebanon! However, with language play, it now seeks to play down the scale and consequences of its horrendous actions.

Israel chooses to call it pin-point incursions, "limited strikes." Media reports tell another story... Israeli bombs and rockets battering innocent children and women. Instead of engagement and compromise, killing and decimating the opponent has been a key element of Israel’s security strategy. Palestinian and Lebanese guerilla leadership is routinely assassinated, often with "collateral damage," that accounts for innoncent civilians.

On July 23, BBC reported that Jan Egeland, the chief of UN Emergency Relief, expressed shocked that "block after block" of buildings in Southern Beirut had been levelled by Israel’s bombings.  Egeland said Israel’s "disproportionate response" was a "violation of international humanitarian law." Contesting Israel’s repeated statements that it was allowing safe access to humanitarian groups, he said: "So far, Israel has not given us access."

The large-scale destruction of roads, bridges and trucks will make aid distribution difficult even when Israel allows ships to dock at the Beirut port. The world has facilitated Israel’s continuing crime. As always, the muted Arab and Muslim response are inconsequential.

The UN’s early murmurs against a disproportionate response were initially ignored. Led by the United States, the international community has given Israel a carte blanche to do whatever Israel considers necessary to promote its security. This was conveyed by the mild-worded G-8 summit statement.

Ironically, Israel presents the sorry picture of a security-starved nuclear-state. It is not held to any accountability; it is not expected to abide by any international norms laid down for inter-State relations. Washington has emerged as the core accomplice in Israel’s devastating and illegal war on Lebanon. It gave Tel Aviv the green light to continue the bombings.

Bush has defended Israel’s battering of Lebanon. It is Israel’s right to act in "self-defense," he says. Washington okays Israel’s attempt to seek security by inflicting mayhem on another people. Surely, this is disservice to a close friend. Yet it continues.

The attempt to discuss the Lebanon situation in the UNSC was vetoed by the US. The US Congress, both the House and the Senate, passed resolutions supporting Israeli action. The US is reportedly rushing precision-guided bombs to Israel. By preventing any concrete action taken at the UN to censure Israel’s war on Lebanon, Washington has ensured that Israel can continue the illegal one-sided war unfettered.

In handling the Lebanon crisis, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is at her weakest. About Israel’s relentless bombing and land attacks killing hundreds of Lebanese civilians, displacing half a million-plus and reducing parts of Lebanon to rubble, she says it signifies "the birth pangs of a new Middle East and, whatever we do, we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one".

Rice’s words would make for parody, if the backdrop wasn’t unstoppable blood-spilling in a region stretching from Afghanistan to Palestine. Another Rice statement that "a ceasefire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo" conveys Washington’s position that the problem with the "staus quo" is the presence of an armed Hezbollah.

History tells differently. The primary problem with the status quo is the unresolved Palestinian problem. This truth gets drowned in the ballot logic. For the Bush administration a fair and swift settlement of the Palestinian issue is not a priority policy concern. If Washington has talked of a two-State solution, it has certainly not worked judiciously to make it happen. Taking punitive action against groups and states it has dangerously labelled as terrorism-related would be more like it.

In giving Israel the green signal to destroy Lebanon, Washington erroneously believes that Israel’s military might will wipe out Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic extremism, help take punitive measures against Iran and Syria, structure Lebanese politics according to Israel’s security needs and drive fear into Palestinian hearts.

This is hubris. It is sheer stubbornness that makes Washington believe that military force, the very policy tool that has produced a disaster in Iraq will produce success in Lebanon and Palestine.

America’s promise of a brave new Middle East is increasingly being reduced to a ghastly joke. The list of blunders is endless. The Iraq invasion, based on untruth, has turned Iraq into a death zone. No less than dozens of Iraqis are now dying daily. Yes daily. The US has lost 2,000 of its own men too. In Afghanistan, the New York Times has finally conceded, all is not well. It’s more than Pakistan mischief, there are problems within Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, all these American operations are costing the US army more than just the lives of America’s best men. Its honour is taking a battering. The gruesome stories of some US soldiers torturing prisoners, many of them innocent, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanomo Bay just don’t end. It turns out that ‘Project Democracy’ in the Middle East too has gone sour.

Washington welcomed the first democratically elected government in the region, the Palestinian government, with sanctions and censures. Lebanon, the other country with a democratic government, is being pulverized by Washington’s key ally.

In the Middle East, Washington’s proverbial "ostrich with its head in the sand" attitude will solve nothing. No matter what their problems, countries including Syria and Iran and groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban will have to be engaged. They constitute part of the current reality. Washington will ignore them at its own peril.

Similarly, in Palestine, there is no substitute for a just solution. A nuclear-armed highly militarized Israel, a "pacified" Arab elite and a Palestinian people under constant siege can only provided the illusion of a "solution."

Diplomacy was forsaken by the US for the use of force. How many more blunders will it take the US to realize that its ways are wrong. Banishing and vanquishing governments, political groups and militias doesn’t work. Engagement, adjustment and compromise are ways towards genuine multilateral security. Nothing else will work. The road to Israeli security runs through the creation of a legitimate Palestinian homeland.

Nasim Zehra is a fellow of Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass. and Adjunct professor at SAIS Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC 

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