A Sky News newscaster, interviewing British Foreign
Secretary Margaret Beckett on Sunday, July 30, demanded an answer to this paraphrased
question: if indeed Israel had precise intelligence that a Hezbollah operative
was present in the village of Qana, in South Lebanon, how could it possibly
fail to realize that the area was also crowded with civilians?
The question was prompted by Beckett�s insistence that while
Israeli attacks that victimize uncountable civilians -- like that in Qana which
killed scores, mostly children -- were "appalling", they resulted
from tactical errors, and were never deliberate. In fact, she referred to the
"apparent deliberate targeting" --as described by UN secretary Kofi
Annan -- of the UN peacekeepers compound in South Lebanon and the killing of
four unarmed observers, as a "mistake."
In effect, Israel is hardly accused -- at least in the
Western narrative of the Middle East crisis, as exemplified in media coverage
and political discourse -- of deliberately targeting civilians, even among
those who are daring enough to describe Israel�s response to Hezbollah�s
"provocation" -- the alleged capturing of two Israeli soldiers on
July 12 -- as "disproportionate."
Israel often acknowledges -- with "regret" -- the
high civilian tolls of its war; sometimes it goes as far as apologizing for
such unintended "mistakes." The Israeli government however is adamant
that it will continue to carry out such attacks; that it�s those who "hide
among the civilian population" which deserve the blame, not Israel; that
neither Hezbollah nor Palestinian resistance groups seem to care much for the
life of Israeli civilians, while Israel does care for Palestinian and Lebanese
civilians. In fact, and ironically, according to various Israeli politicians
and media pundits, one of Israel�s objectives is to liberate its neighbors from
the suffocating grip of terrorists. An objective journalist is expected
to highlight both narratives, without pointing out the fallacies of one or the
Such "objectivity" has served Israel well, since
facts on the ground are hardly consistent with its claims.
For example, out of nearly 4,000 Palestinians killed during
the Second Palestinian Uprising -- in the last five years -- the overwhelming
majority have been civilians, many of whom are children. Such figures are also
mirrored in much of the damage inflicted by Israel�s military machine against
Palestinians in the Occupied Territories: the great majority of the wounded,
the destroyed infrastructure, the confiscated land, the razed orchards, the
bulldozed homes, etc., have been overwhelmingly civilian.
Wednesday, July 26, was hardly a diversion from that norm,
as 29 Palestinian civilians, many of whom were children as young as a few
months old, were killed in northern Gaza, all in the span of 24 hours.
As of today, including the Qana onslaught, the number of
Lebanese civilians confirmed dead has crossed the 750 mark; more than one third
of them are children, according to UN counts. Likewise, the destroyed Lebanese
infrastructure, not only in Hezbollah�s strongholds in the south, but across
Lebanon were built primarily for the benefit of the civilian population.
The handy excuse that Hezbollah and Hamas fighters launch
their rockets at Israel from civilian areas, no longer suffices. There is yet
to be one shred of evidence, one video or bit of satellite footage -- at least
in the ongoing war in Lebanon -- that confirms such an allegation. In fact, it
seems imprudent for Hezbollah�s fighters to expose their operations to Israel�s
informers, while they can safely fire from the numerous orchards dotting the
south region and quickly redeploy elsewhere.
Concurrently, the "unintended mistakes" theory,
promulgated by Israel�s apologists -- read the Bush administration, among
others -- is utterly inconsistent with claims promoted by Israel and its
apologists that Israel is the "most moral army in the world", and
that Israel uses the most advanced war technology to avoid harming civilians.
These allegations cannot all be accurate, all at once. If
Israel is indeed very "moral," then why does its army continue to
repeat the same "unintended mistakes," over and over again, for
decades? Is it possible that the killing and wounding of tens of thousands of
Palestinian and Lebanese civilians as a result of those "unintended
mistakes" didn�t induce a very moral army to reexamine its tactics and adopt
a decisive change in military policy?
Wouldn�t that be the "moral" thing to do? (Note
that the small village of Qana was bombed by the Israeli air force in 1996, as
civilians were seeking shelter in a UN compound, killing over 100 people,
including many children and UN peacekeepers.)
The second claim, that Israel strives to obtain high-tech
(American) weapon technology to minimize civilian casualties, is also
fraudulent. Once again, the numbers indicate the precise antithesis; denoting
that either the "fifth strongest army in the world" is so horribly
inept, that most of its military strikes result in blunders, or that the
killing of civilians is in reality part and parcel of Israel�s military
strategy. This latter assertion, in my opinion, is the true objective; but why?
Israeli officials may parrot to the media that Hezbollah
(like Hamas) is an outsider force that holds no legal legitimacy, and that its
true strength arises from its terrorist links to Iran and Syria. Conversely,
Israeli conduct on the ground gives evidence to a different conviction:
punishing the true party -- ordinary Lebanese -- that provide Hezbollah with
the needed support to sustain such costly military confrontations with Israel,
or ordinary Palestinians who elected Hamas to power.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas are homegrown; there should be
little contention over this. But they cannot be scrutinized divorced from their
immediate surroundings: Hezbollah emerged as a result of Israel�s frequent
bloodbaths in Lebanon and its members are comprised primarily of victims of
Israel�s past wars, while Hamas sprung, originally with Israel's support, from
Palestinian refugee camps in the Occupied Territories and has been sustained
with the support of the poorest segments of the population.
Whatever strategic alliance they hold outside -- Iran, Syria
or whomever else that is willing to acknowledge their right to fight Israel --
is out of a desperate need for a safe haven, financial assistance and a
Israel knows well that "destroying" Hezbollah and
Hamas is a losing battle -- they�ve tried this time and again, and have failed
with each attempt. What is needed now is a concerted effort to deprive the
leadership of these movements with the popular support that placed Hamas at the
helm of the Palestinian political equation and elected Hezbollah to the
The Israeli tactics, however, are reaping a conflicting
outcome, as both Hezbollah and Hamas are emerging more powerful than ever
before, widely viewed as the only defenders of Lebanon and Palestine, as
conventional Arab governments have finally declared, and without reservation,
their military impotence and political bankruptcy.
Regardless of its media utterances, Israel has committed yet
another colossal strategic error, comparable in magnitude and consequence to
the American debacle in Iraq. Indeed, both governments are fighting two
impossible wars, where civilians are killed with extraordinary
Baroud is a US author and journalist, currently based in London. His recent
book, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People�s
Struggle," is available at BarnesAndNoble.com
and Amazon.com. He is also the Editor-in-Chief
of the Palestine Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.