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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 16th, 2006 - 01:09:19

Israel must pay the price
By Linda S, Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 16, 2006, 01:07

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My 87-year-old mother-in-law used to sit up in bed armed with a red plastic fly swat. The problem was the flies almost always got away while friends and family bore the brunt of her flaying around. Her accuracy was hampered by dimming sight but what excuse does Israel have?

It�s clear that Israel hasn�t played by the rules of war and what�s more a growing number of Israelis know it.

A panic-sounding host on Israel National Radio told his audience that Israel must win at all cost even if this means the death of Lebanese civilians. We can always try and explain ourselves to the international community when the conflict is over, he said.

But are we that gullible? How does Israel explain the bombing of clearly-marked Red Cross ambulances, convoys of refugees fleeing from southern Lebanon on Israel�s say-so, apartment blocks that are homes to countless civilians and a three-decade old UNIFIL border post?

And how does Israel justify its refusal to allow much needed aid to reach the south, a stance that was condemned in no uncertain terms by a Red Cross spokesman, who said he had never encountered such a situation anywhere in the world.

An Israeli-Arab legal association, Adalah, says Israel�s actions are war crimes according to precedents set by the International Court in The Hague.

Adalah has written to Israel�s attorney general quoting the following International Court ruling relating to crimes committed by the former Yugoslavia�s politicians and senior military personnel. �The acts of war carried out with disregard for international humanitarian law and in hatred of other people, the villages reduced to rubble, the houses and stables set on fire and destroyed, the people forced to abandon their homes, the lost and broken lives are unacceptable.�

In fact, Israel�s crimes have been on a much bigger scale, reducing not only villages to rubble but also major towns and a large area of the Lebanese capital.

Israel has also destroyed countless houses and is directly responsible for over one million Lebanese leaving their homes and heading north, where many are forced to camp out in parks.

When confronted with accusations that Israel is going after civilians, its spokespersons repeat the same mantra: Hezbollah is firing rockets from the midst of civilian populations.

First, this is unlikely to be true since Hezbollah does not trust civilians but even if in some cases it were, then why does Israel continually bomb the southern suburbs of Beirut? Hezbollah isn�t firing short-range Katushas from Beirut as it is too far away from northern Israel.

There is only one explanation for Israel�s barbarity -- revenge. It can�t swat Hezbollah so it is out to collectively punish the Lebanese people. Another war crime.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud explains Israel�s frustration. They can�t destroy Hezbollah fighters because they can�t find them, he said. That�s exactly right.

Israeli soldiers returning from the south Lebanon war zone have admitted it. They complain of an eerie silence during the day with not a soul to be seen. Then when they camp out at night or temporarily base themselves in an empty dwelling, they are invariably ambushed by Hezbollah guerrillas.

The Israelis call this a type of asymmetrical warfare, while Arab television networks describe it as a completely new type of combat style destined to go down in history.

One thing is sure: The top Israeli military brass didn�t expect it and don�t know how to deal with it. One month after the commencement of hostilities, Hezbollah rockets were still being launched from south of the Litani River, where Israel now has up to 40,000 troops.

This inability of the Israeli military to protect its citizens is shocking to most Israelis, who grew up believing their army was invincible.

Accusations are flying across the entire spectrum of Israeli society with most of it directed at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He is being blamed for thinking the war could be won by bombs alone and by dithering when advised to launch a massive ground offensive.

A column in the Israeli daily Ha�aretz by Ari Shavit, titled �Olmert Must Go,� reads: �Chutzpah has its limits. You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power.�

A poll in the same newspaper shows that support for the way that Olmert was conducting the conflict stands at a mere 48 percent, down from 75 percent four weeks ago.

But before we gloat, we should remember that Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing hawk who leads the Likud Party, is waiting in the wings hoping to capitalize on Olmert�s defeat and it is likely he�ll succeed. Israelis are concerned about two things, their country�s loss of deterrent power and the weakening of their strategic usefulness to the US.

They are correct on both counts.

Israel�s foes will no longer be overawed by its mythical reputation of indestructibility. After all, with all its planes, helicopters, bombs, missiles and tanks it could not succeed against a few thousand guerrillas.

And word has it the Bush administration is very disappointed at Israel�s inability to quash Hezbollah. What use is a strategic ally that is paid to the tune of over $3 billion a year if it can�t carry out instructions effectively?

And so their next prime minister is likely to be chosen for his hawkish stance.

Unlike several of my colleagues, I do not believe the truce will hold. As long as Israel digs in until the arrival of the Lebanese Army and a beefed-up UNIFIL a simple match could light up another conflagration.

The Israeli government and its generals should be prosecuted for crimes against civilians under the UN Charter Article 22 and be forced to make reparation for the willful destruction of Lebanese infrastructure.

Holding Israel to account is admittedly a political minefield, but it is one that the international community must not shirk.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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