Saturday, August 19, 2006

Charles Glass on the recent unpleasantness

Last night on NPR I listened to a discussion of what to name this most recent war. Names are important because they carry big meanings in little words. Names, like viruses, can mass-brand images and political implications in a way that erudite doctoral theses can never accomplish. What we now refer to as the Civil War was at the time variously referred to as Mr. Lincoln's War, The Rebellion, and later The War Between the States or The War of Northern Aggression. The Second Lebanon War seems to be in the running for what just happened, although Arab references also refer to it as the Sixth Israeli War. Oh well...

Charles Glass is a new name for me so I had to look it up. He seems to be a clear-headed spokesman for the Palestinian cause. I say this not to condemn him but simply by way of background. This is from an article a couple of weeks ago. Notice the designations used for the war.

Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert has come clean with added objectives for Operation Untitled. On 15 July, his spokeswoman Miri Eisen told Agence France Presse, "The Prime Minister is prepared to finish our operations in Lebanon if Hezbollah releases our two soldiers, stops its rocket fire and if the Lebanese Government decides to implement UN Security Council resolution 1559."The resolution requires the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. That means Hizballah, because the other militias disarmed under Syrian pressure years ago. Hizballah claimed however that its armed wing was a resistance movement - the only one capable of protecting south Lebanon from Israeli attack - and not a militia. On 21 July, another spokesman added a new Israeli shopping item, "One of the conditions for a ceasefire is that Hezbollah no longer receives arms supplies from Iran and Syria once it is enforced." As Operation Save the High Command annihilated Lebanon's post-war infrastructure - the airport, roads, bridges, army bases, clinics, telecommunications networks and lots of houses - without achieving anything, Ohlmert added a new condition: a NATO force in south Lebanon to stop Hizballah from hitting Israel. How about a force in north Israel to protect Lebanon?

This will go on and on. When Operation Get-Even ends, the respite may last a year or so. There will be other crises, other kidnappings by both sides, other murders, other wars. And it will not stop until Israel makes peace on terms that the Palestinians and Israel's neighbors have said they will accept: enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the end of Israeli land confiscations in the West Bank. If you think the land grab is over, ask the Palestinians whose property is fenced off and seized for the Israeli settlers almost daily. If you think Israel is content to leave the natives alone to get along with it, ask the Bedouin of the Negev desert (who serve in the Israeli army and have been loyal citizens) about the creative deployment of the Monsanto-manufactured herbicide Roundup Ready to destroy their crops so they will abandon their ancestral lands once and for all. Goat by goat, dunum by dunum, the old Zionist adage went, the settlers redeem the land. As the Arabs lost their goats and their dunums of land, they got bullets and bombs.

I find his observations compelling. There are, as they say, two sides to every argument. Only by trying to look through the eyes of an enemy can one ever hope to come to any kind of reconcilliation. Easier said than done, of course.

Take a look at this morning's read from the London Review of Books (H/T 3 Quarks). In a fairly short piece he provides a cliff notes version of the rise of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Looking back six years he says...

Like Israel’s previous enemies, Hizbullah relies on the weapons of the weak: car bombs, ambushes, occasional flurries of small rockets and suicide bombers. The difference is that it uses them intelligently, in conjunction with an uncompromising political programme. Against Israel’s thousand dead on the Lebanese field, Hizbullah gave up 1276 ‘martyrs’. That is the closest any Arab group has ever come to parity in casualties with Israel. The PLO usually lost hundreds of dead commandos to Israel’s tens, and Hamas has seen most of its leaders assassinated and thousands of its cadres captured with little to show for it. Hizbullah’s achievement, perhaps ironically for a religious party headed by men in turbans, is that it belongs to the modern age. It videotaped its ambushes of Israeli convoys for broadcast the same evening. It captured Israeli soldiers and made Israel give up hundreds of prisoners to get them back. It used stage-set cardboard boulders that blew up when Israeli patrols passed. It flew drones over Israel to take reconnaissance photographs – just as the Israelis did in Lebanon. It had a website that was short on traditional Arab bombast and long on facts. If Israelis had faced an enemy like Hizbullah in 1948, the outcome of its War of Independence might have been different. Israel, whose military respect Hizbullah, is well aware of this.


Hizbullah’s unspectacular showing in the first post-Syrian parliamentary elections was largely due to changes in electoral law but may also be traced in part to its perceived pro-Syrian stance. Now, Israel has rescued Hizbullah and made its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, not only the most popular man in Lebanon – but in the whole Arab world. An opinion poll commissioned by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information found that 80 per cent of Lebanese Christians supported Hizbullah; the figure for other communities was even higher. It was not insignificant that, when false reports came in that Hizbullah had sunk a second Israeli warship, the area that fired the loudest celebratory shots in the air was Ashrafieh, the heart of Christian East Beirut. Unlike in 1982, when it could rely on some of the Christian militias, Israel now has no friends in Lebanon.

Israel misjudged Lebanon’s response to its assaults, just as Hizbullah misjudged Israeli opinion. Firing its rockets into Israel did not, as it may have planned, divide Israelis and make them call for an end to the war. Israelis, like the Lebanese, rallied to their fighters in a contest that is taking on life and death proportions for both countries. Unlike Israel, which has repeatedly played out the same failed scenario in Lebanon since its first attack on Beirut in 1968, Hizbullah has a history of learning from its mistakes. Seeing the Israeli response to his rocket bombardment of Haifa and Netanya in the north, Nasrallah has not carried out his threat to send rockets as far as Tel Aviv. He now says he will do this only if Israel targets the centre of Beirut.
If the UN had any power, or the United States exercised its power responsibly, there would have been an unconditional ceasefire weeks ago and an exchange of prisoners. The Middle East could then have awaited the next crisis. Crises will inevitably recur until the Palestine problem is solved. But Lebanon would not have been demolished, hundreds of people would not have died and the hatred between Lebanese and Israelis would not have become so bitter.

Unlike a lot of writing, this is a fact-filled summary that organizes known events in a compelling manner. He makes no secret of his sympathies as he drives home point after point. Like it or not, I find what he says to be compelling. I'm getting older, so I had to read through what he said twice before I understood what he was driving at. And having come to an understanding, I don't especially like it. But I also don't have any good arguments to refute it.

Before I leave this morning's post, I want to link to another one from over a year ago that still has something to say that I want repeated. There seems to be no shortage of conflicts to write about from the Middle East, and this one was from a different Israeli front. Jonathan Edelstein's remarks are worth noting, but my own at the time are what I want to say again.

Most people I know could not explain the difference between the PLO and the PA, even though they read and hear the terms used all the time. The media tosses around terms like Hamas, Hizbollah, Baath, PLO and Insurgent as though readers know exactly what those terms mean. Most readers, unfortunately, skim over such terms and regard them as a string of synonyms. We haven't progressed too far from the day when a critical mass of our population spoke of a Yellow Peril as carelessly as they might talk about the hurricane season.

The face of peace is not a pretty sight. The face of peace is covered with blood and scar tissue. As it peeks out from the ruins of a conflict, the face of peace is not a kissable visage. People turn away in disgust because they don't want to look at the twisted and broken image they see. After all, it felt so good to be at war. So right. So satisfying. This peace thing is hard to endure.

I hate to say it but the death of Arafat was the beginning of peace. Somebody has to worry about taking away the garbage and stewarding everyday affairs of running the country. This is the hard lesson that Hamas seems to be learning.
Here we are over a year later, and it is Hezbollah, not Hamas, we are
discussing. And guess what? They seem to have been learning exactly what they
needed to learn to climb the ladder of everyday governance. All the
reports of organized recovery, cleanup and rebuilding are a breathtaking
surprise to most observers, although I don't hear anybody saying so.

To the South in Hamas-Land there is relative calm. There are murmurings of a "unity government." It is a fragile hope, but isn't peace always a fragile hope between periods of misery?

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