Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Confronting the enemy

Sarah Karam is a senior from Beirut, Lebanon.

After almost a month of violence, the restoration of a nation once known as the French Riviera of the Middle East seems almost artificial. The Lebanese have awoken from their dream of golden beaches, extravagant nightclubs and countless tourists to Beirut’s living nightmare. Lebanon is facing an immediate humanitarian crisis and the damages to her infrastructure will take years to repair. But if the Lebanese have any hope of physically restoring their country, they have to address their social devastation first. An increasing number of Lebanese do not recognize Hezbollah for what they are: an illegitimate, hostile militia responsible for the destruction of a country and the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. Instead they laud Hezbollah as Lebanon’s protector and Nasrallah as their savior.

Many have asked me why the government has not taken a strong anti-Hezbollah line and how they have allowed terrorists to speak for a sovereign state. My initial reply was to make excuses for the Lebanese prime minister and the cabinet by pointing to the fragility of Lebanese society. A plurality of religious sects has lived together in nervous peace since the end of the Civil War in 1990; the one true uniting factor remaining a determination not to resume fighting. But the fighting has resumed whether they like it or not. All Lebanese are suffering because of the actions of a group of criminals supported and funded by Iran and Syria. Even the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, and many other politicians have cowardly sided with Hezbollah.

Rage towards Israel and relentless destruction from the skies is clouding the air of reason in Martyr’s Square. It is easy (and somewhat understandable) to curse Israel and America after witnessing a U.S.-made F-16 with a blue Star of David on the side blow up an apartment block, and being bombarded with constant TV images of children with missing limbs being pulled out of the rubble. But while the Lebanese people suffer and swear revenge on their southern neighbor, their true oppressor gazes on through thick spectacles and recites rhetoric against the “Zionist entity” from his bearded beak.

The violence needs to stop. But the more Israel invests in this war, the less likely that is. Olmert is damned if he halts military operations and damned if he doesn’t. Accepting a ceasefire before accomplishing the goal of seriously crippling Hezbollah will ensure Nasrallah and his sponsors declare victory over the “Zionist” entity’s war machine and undermine the entire operation, whereas steadily pounding Lebanon from the air and advancing on the ground will provoke intensifying anti-Israeli sentiment and more death on all sides.

The time has come for the furor surrounding the “Cedar Revolution” to be put to the test. Can the Lebanese see Hezbollah for what it really is? Their role as a “resistance” against the Israeli occupation has no bearing since the IDF’s pullout in 2000. Hezbollah and Nasrallah are aggressors. And not just against Israel but against all peace-loving Lebanese.

It should be made clear that just because I condemn Hezbollah, it does not mean that I condone Israel’s actions. Far too many civilians have been killed, especially children. It’s hard to figure out why a small bridge linking my grandmother’s Christian village to the rest of the country has been destroyed or the power station in Jiyyeh, causing an oil spill across the entire coastline. It is becoming increasingly easier to make the argument that one of the strategies of the IDF is to pressure the Lebanese government to act by collectively punishing a nation — completely unjustifiable. I believe that Israel, as a self-proclaimed moral nation, has a responsibility to help finance the rebuilding effort once/if Hezbollah is disarmed. After all, it is not Lebanon that is the target.

Many so-called “pro-Lebanese” reading this may label me as an Israeli sympathizer, anti-Muslim, etc. Call me whatever you want. But if Lebanon is to have any hope of rising from her misery, her people must confront Hezbollah and expel all militia groups, of whatever religion or political party, once and for all. Perhaps then the rehabilitation of Lebanon to a Middle Eastern oasis will not be a dream, but a reality.

A rebuttal: Intellectual honesty warranted in debate about Israel-Palestine conflict

Zaina Awad '09 is a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem. She writes in response to Neta Levanon's last post, continuing the online debate begun earlier.

In her latest blog entry, Neta writes that a bi-directional analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was missing from my response to her first post, "In defense of a compassionate Israel." She is correct: Such analysis was missing from my post, but simply because I wrote in response to her entry which also showed no sign of any such analysis. Let us not forget that in her first article, Neta chose to blame everyone but the "compassionate" Israelis for the failure of the Middle East peace process.

I, too, believe that a bi-directional analysis of this conflict is necessary, but the first step towards that goal is surely some kind of intellectual honesty and accountability about our history. Palestine was never “a land without people for a people without land,” as has been claimed, and the way in which 900,000 of the 1.3 million Arabs who lived in Palestine before the creation of the Jewish state suddenly disappeared on Israel’s birthday in 1948 simply cannot afford Israel’s supporters the “cleaner conscience” that Neta apparently clings to in her writing.

In order for the creation of the state of Israel, a homeland for the Jews, to succeed, the land it was built on needed to be emptied of any non-Jew living there. Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann, described this quest as "a miraculous clearing of the land, the miraculous simplification of Israel's task” — but these events were not so much miraculous as the result of a carefully executed plan (see David Hirst’s exhaustive research on this topic in The Gun and the Olive Branch). That plan was clearly articulated by Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, when he said that the goal of Zionism was to "spirit the penniless population [i.e., the Arabs of Palestine] across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country” (see T. Herzl’s Complete Diaries, Volume I, pg. 8). Herzl wanted to give Palestinians one of two options: They could either stay in their homes, unable to provide for their families because they were denied employment, or leave their homes and work in a different country.

Neta writes, "from the very onset of Jewish immigration to the region, prior even to 1900, the Jews acquired the land legally by purchasing it from Arab landowners." By 1929, Zionists owned only 6.6 percent of Palestinian land, part of which they did not purchase from the owners but came to them through land concessions from the British mandate administration (see William Polk’s research of British Mandate census reports in his book Backdrop to Tragedy). However, this quantity of land was wholly insufficient for the Zionist plan for a Jewish state. Neta states that the Palestinians should be blamed for the failure of the U.N. Partition Plan of 1948. What, then, are we to make of Plan Dalet, the Zionist blueprint for claiming through force and terror most or all of Palestine which began on April 1, 1948? Yigal Allon, an Israeli military leader at that time, described the strategy of Plan Dalet:

“I … gathered all of the Jewish Mukhtars … and asked them to whisper in the ears of some Arabs, that a great Jewish reinforcement has arrived in Galilee and that is it going to burn all of the villages of the Huleh. They should suggest to these Arabs, as their friends, to escape while there is still time. … The flight numbered myriads. The tactic reached its goal completely. … The wide areas were cleaned.” (See Hirst’s The Gun and the Olive Branch).

Neta also claims that “rumors” of Jewish massacres of Arabs were propagated not by Zionist entities but by the Arabs themselves. However, Erskine Childers, an Irish scholar who, in the 1950s and 1960s, conducted his own exhaustive investigation of radio monitor reports from BBC and the CIA, found no records of Arab nations calling for a Palestinian evacuation. In fact, he found the opposite, “repeated monitored record[s] of Arab appeals, even flat orders, to the civilians of Palestine to stay put” (see Christopher Hitchen’s reports on Childer’s research in his book Blaming the Victims).

The machinations of Plan Dalet began well before the British withdrawal and the date set by the U.N. for the creation of two separate states. The Deir Yassin massacre occurred on April 10, and other forced expulsions, were the reasons that Palestinians rejected the U.N. plan a few weeks later — a plan which completely ignored the demographic reality on the ground by giving 60 percent of the land to an immigrant group which constituted less than a third of the population.

Neta characterizes this attitude as the Palestinian “aversion to peace.” I give you this scenario: A stranger knocks down your door and kicks you out of your home. According to him, it is his home because his ancestors lived there thousands of years ago. But you hold the deed and the keys — you and your family live there. You take your case to the courts, and the judge rules that you have to give most of your home to that stranger. If you refused to settle for this, could anyone in their right mind accuse you of having an aversion to peace?

Neta also uses Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, a land it had occupied for 38 years and on which it built 13 illegal settlements, as evidence that Israel does want peace with the Palestinians. Israel did withdraw from Gaza, but it still maintains control over Gaza's borders and airspace. Israel has sealed Gaza off from the rest of the world; Gaza's residents cannot lead normal, prosperous lives under such conditions. Asking Gaza's residents to establish the grounds for a Palestinian state under such circumstances can be equated to tying up a man's arms and legs and ordering him to swim.

Furthermore, Neta's claim that there is no proof that Israel was responsible for the shelling of Gaza beach and the murder of seven members of the same family is nonsense. According to reports and interviews conducted by CNN, BBC, and the Guardian, a Pentagon military expert, after conducting research on the materials found at the scene as well as the injuries from which the victims died, stated that “the likelihood that the Ghalia family was killed by an explosive other than one of the shells fired by the Israeli army is remote." Israel's army may deny this, but forgive me for not being so naive as to believe them when they have committed and continue to commit such atrocities in the Palestinian territories.

Neta also wrote that she believes Palestinian schools do not teach their students about similar massacres committed by Palestinians. In my case, I did not get my information or opinions as the result of being brainwashed; in fact, I attended an international school in Jerusalem, not a Palestinian school. But I have lived here for 18 years, and I know what I and my family, who have lived here for centuries, have been through as a result of the creation of the state of Israel and the continued occupation of Palestinian territories.

When my father was a young teenager, a Zionist soldier ordered him to tell his family to leave Silwan, their village in Jerusalem. He told my father that the tanks were coming, warning him that if my family and the other villagers stayed in their homes, they would be killed. Even if Neta chooses not to believe me because of my suspect background or education, there are plenty of Israeli and Jewish scholars who have opened their eyes and spoken the truth (such as Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, and Noam Chomsky). Where does Neta's information come from?

As I have already stated, I agree that a bi-directional analysis is necessary on the parts of both Israelis and Palestinians. Neta accused me of not condemning Hamas' and Hezbollah's actions. While doing so, she merely admits the atrocities committed by the state of Israel — I hear no strong condemnation on her part. She makes it sound as if such acts were an unavoidable but forgettable part of Israel's past. She wrote that Israelis are taught about the Deir Yassin massacre as "an example of a tragedy and an event not to be repeated." But the Deir Yassin massacre was not an isolated event in Israeli history. Such massacres have been committed repeatedly by Israel and Israel persists in murdering Palestinians to this very day.

I am not proud of Hamas' and Hezbollah's actions during this conflict. As I said in my last post, I feel no happiness when I hear of suicide bombings and the deaths of Israeli civilians. I strongly condemn such acts, because I know that two wrongs do not make a right. I believe they are irresponsible, inhumane, and not at all conducive to peace.

Nevertheless, my condemnation of these acts is not enough, because the very root of the problem still exists. Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinian land, a blatant violation of several United Nations resolutions and every applicable international law, still exists. History proves that Israeli aggression leads to Palestinian retaliation. I agree with Albert Einstein, who in the 1930s wrote, “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state” (see R. Garaudy’s The Case of Israel: A Study of Political Zionism).

I am sure that Neta will respond to this post by again pointing a finger at me and blaming my attitude in this conflict for why peace still does not exist in the region. I have enough respect for her readers to hope that they will see these accusations for what they really are, an excuse for people like Neta to maintain her "cleaner conscience." If Neta remains unwilling even to try to see this conflict from a balanced perspective, she and I will just have to agree to disagree.