This blog relates to events covered in Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006.
As someone who has lived in Lebanon for fourteen years, eight of which were during Lebanon’s civil war, I am particularly sensitive to how conflicts are covered, especially those that involve Lebanon and Israel. I am also keenly aware that accusations of anti-Semitism are frequently used to silence any criticism of Israel. However, any criticism here against the State of Israel is directed at its political and military actions during the 2006 war, and not against Judaism. Hezbollah is an organic Shiite Lebanese political and military movement and any criticism against its behavior during the war is not against Shiite Islam or Islam in general. That said, since both Israel and Hezbollah are guilty of war crimes, it is reasonable and necessary to have an honest and frank discussion about their conduct and how the media covered it.
To begin, let me dispel several myths that distract from the facts.
Israel’s very existence was at stake. No, Israel’s existence was not at stake and has not been for decades, if it ever was. It has the second largest fleet of F-16s on the planet, second only to the US, and is the single largest recipient of US foreign aid since the early ‘70s, receiving over $3 billion annually, seventy-five percent of which must be spent to buy weapons from the US military industrial complex.
Perhaps a better question would be: Can Israel successfully invade another country such as Lebanon, conduct a conventional war against a homegrown guerrilla movement that knows the terrain like the back of its hand and win? No, chances are Israel would not win such a conflict unless it was willing to put thousands of its troops on the ground, something its military brass refuses to do.
Israel has the right to defend itself to maximum capacity against every Hezbollah infraction. Israel has the right to defend itself. No one disputes this fact, but proportionality is the issue here. The question of whether Israel’s use of force involved excessive harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure in relation to Israel’s legitimate military aims arises from the scale of Israel’s bombing campaign inside Lebanon. Lebanese civilian casualties were higher than Israeli civilian casualties by a ratio of twenty-five to one—clearly a disproportionate response to the capturing of two soldiers.
The war began because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. The capture was but a pretext to begin the military operation against Hezbollah that had been planned for some time. Abductions are a routine occurrence along the border. It is common practice not just for Hezbollah to abduct Israeli soldiers but for Israel to take innocent Lebanese.
Hezbollah deliberately targeted civilians. Hezbollah fired over four thousand Katyusha rockets into northern Israel, killing thirty-nine civilians, eighteen of whom were Israeli Arabs. However, only eight hundred of the four thousand rockets hit built-up areas, suggesting that Hezbollah was not trying to hit the center of Haifa and kill as many civilians as possible, but rather to strike the oil refinery, the naval docks and other military installations around Haifa. According to Human Rights Watch, Hezbollah’s rocket attack on the Haifa area was a war crime. This, therefore, means that Israel’s missile strikes and bombardments of Lebanon were also war crimes on the same or greater scale.
Israel was justified in dropping bombs where ordinary people lived because Hezbollah hid among the civilian population. Human Rights Watch could find no evidence to support Israel’s claim that Hezbollah hid among civilians. According to a July 2007 article in the Israeli daily, Haaretz,Israel’s military admitted that most of the rockets fired at Israel were from nature reserves and not from urban areas.
Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. The US, Israel, the Netherlands, Canada and the UK are the only countries that have classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. “Terrorist” is a useful rhetorical bludgeon that Israel and the US have wielded to outlaw or dehumanize radical or revolutionary groups. The PLO was labeled for years as a terrorist group just as Hamas and Hezbollah are now. Nelson Mandela was also labeled a terrorist. He remained on the US terrorist watch list until 2008.
These are excerpts from my book Tragedy in South Lebanon, Chapter Nine “The Media’s Coverage of the War: Myths versus Reality. Tragedy was nominated for best book of the year in the category of Political Science in 2008.
This book is available for purchase here.