Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 7 August 2006

Lebanon still burns as world watches

Lebanon faced another week of hell last week as Israel backed by the United States and Britain ignored continuing global demands for a ceasefire and intensified its ground and air strikes.   Some moves at the United Nations are expected to come this week, but many are concerned they will come too late to save this country from physical destruction.  


Another week went by and still there was no ceasefire as Israel intensified its attacks on Lebanon.  World outrage increased as more civilians were killed and buildings, bridges and factories were destroyed.

More than 900 Lebanese have been killed in over three weeks of Israeli bombardment, over 3,200 have been wounded and a million people or a quarter of the population have been displaced.  A third of the casualties were children under 12.

Following the killing of about 50 civilians sheltering in a building in Qana two weekends ago, over twenty civilians (mainly farm workers) were killed in another bombing raid last Friday.

Israel heavily bombed the capital Beirut, as well as other cities like Tyre, while 10,000 troops invaded Southern Lebanon, and the major routes linking Lebanon to Syria were destroyed.

The Organisation of Islamic Conference’s extended executive committee meeting in Putrajaya called on the UN Security Council to order an immediate unconditional ceasefire and asked the OIC countries to otherwise take the lead to convene a special UN General Assembly meeting, presumably to take a decision on the Lebanon crisis.

The OIC declaration also asked for a special session of the Human Rights Council and the Fourth Geneva Convention to discuss Israel’s violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws.  Malaysia, appointed to coordinate the OIC contact group on this crisis, will be in the thick of these diplomatic activities.

World opinion has rapidly turned against Israel and the United States that still refuses to get Israel to stop its brutal acts. Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair has earned the anger of his own cabinet and party colleagues by siding with these two, and now faces a revolt.

The Arab League’s Secretary-General Amr Mousa said the Israeli attacks are an attempt to demolish Lebanon completely, not to crush the Hezbollah threat.  But this Israeli “policy to destroy” Lebanon will fail.

“Surely, we all are aware of the US’s support for Israel. However, this support only contributes to intensifying the crisis. The US’s attitude hamstrings the United Nations Security Council. This support makes Israel more aggressive,” Mousa said.

The double standards in this war are astonishing.  Israeli leaders interviewed on TV are convinced of their country’s right to carpet-bomb Lebanon and to target civilians (and even UN personnel) in retaliation for Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers, and its rocket attacks on parts of Israel.

When the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah announced that it would target the Israeli capital Tel Aviv if Israel resumed its bombing of Beirut, the Israeli ambassador to the US told CNN that Hezbollah should “realize the consequences of doing something as unimaginable and crazy as that.”

A crude missile to be aimed at Tel Aviv is deemed “unimaginable and crazy”, but the wholesale bombing of Beirut and many other Lebanese cities has not only been “imaginable” but a constant reality which the world is witness to through TV. 

The Israeli leaders are maddened by the capture of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and by Palestinians, but there are 10,000 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

In Gaza, Israel also last week carried out intense attacks on Palestinians, resulting in many civilian deaths. The fighting in Gaza, which began June 25, had killed 175 Palestinians by last Thursday. 

Hezbollah last week offered a truce, saying that it would stop shelling Israel with its rockets if Israel stopped bombing Lebanon.  It is the Hezbollah claim that its missiles to Israel are a retaliation against Israel’s attacks on Lebanon.

Israel ignored the offer and instead intensified its punishing onslaught both on the ground and from the air. The Israeli actions have not only outraged the public worldwide but resulted in Arab leaders recognizing the fast rising reputation of Hezbollah.

According to a press report, Jordan's King Abdullah II warned that the fighting was causing a backlash against moderate Arab leaders and was strengthening the very radicals it was intended to destroy. "The Arab people see Hezbollah as a hero because it's fighting Israel's aggression," he said.

Human rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes. The US-based Human Rights Watch said that “Israel's military appears to have deliberately bombed civilians in Lebanon and some of its strikes constitute war crimes”.

It added that Israel's contention that Hezbollah fighters were hiding among Lebanese civilians did not justify its "systematic failure" to distinguish between civilians and combatants. "In some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.”

"The failures cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices,” said the group.  It added that in the many cases of civilian Lebanese deaths it investigated, the location of Hezbollah members or their weapons stores appeared to have no bearing on the areas attacked. "The image that Israel has promoted of such shielding as the cause of so high a civilian death toll is wrong.”

Oxford University academic Karma Nabulsi warned that the present Israeli attacks are “producing generations of refugees who will also resist.”

In an article in the Guardian, Nabulsi said that “Israel is seeking to cast itself as the victim even as it expels the people of Lebanon and Gaza from their homes.

“The US and Britain are claiming that no ceasefire is possible until there is an international force that will implement United Nations resolution 1559. Yet the Lebanese prime minister issued a seven-point plan, consistent with international law and agreed by all elected parties in Lebanon (including Hezbollah), that had as its first requirement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

“It is implementation of the dozens of UN resolutions that Israel has flouted for more than 50 years with protection from the US - and now from Britain - that will stop this conflict.

“Previous wars did not give Israel the security it claims to seek, and nor will this one…It is producing generations of refugees who will also resist.

“Israel has failed to understand that it cannot expel a people and call itself the victim; that it cannot conquer its neighbors and treat any and all resistance to that conquest as terrorism; that it cannot arm itself as a regional superpower and annihilate the institutional fabric of two peoples without incurring the fury of their children in the years that follow.”