After the Israeli - Lebanon war: The New Middle East

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Marwa is a ten year old refugee from the village of Marwaheen in the south of Lebanon. Following an Israeli ultimatum Marwa’s family decided to flee. While driving away from the village the Israeli military fired on the pick up truck they were travelling in. Marwa recalls “The wind carried me far away, I woke up on the nearby rocks. Next to me, Mama and Mirna were sleeping. I went to them to wake them up but the plane saw me and came towards me so I ran away. My brother Wissam was hit in his leg and he could not reach me, he was hiding behind a rock and when the ambulance came he was waving to them to stop. Mirna was sleeping the whole time”. Marwa was sent to hospital for treatment for her burns and wounds. Her sister Mirna, 12, her brother Hadi, 5, and her mother Zahra, 51, were all killed (1)

State terror against civilians
 This is only one of thousands of stories of loss from the Lebanon, where the Israeli offensive has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 civilians, the wholesale destruction of vital infrastructure and the exodus of nearly a million refugees. Over the same period, although this was not as widely reported, the Israeli military continued its attacks on the Occupied Territories.

Thousands of shells were fired into the Gaza strip and there were numerous military incursions into the West Bank. Half of the 163 victims of these attacks were civilians (2). Just as in Lebanon, the military targeted the roads as well as the water and power stations. This has had a disastrous impact on an already desperately impoverished region. It prompted the chief representative of the UN aid agencies in Palestine to warn that, as a consequence of Israel’s attacks, Gaza was on the verge of a humanitarian crisis (3).

Although shocking, Israel’s actions in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories are not that surprising. Collective punishment and overwhelming military force targeting civilian populations, in direct contravention of international law and the Geneva conventions, is a well established Israeli military tactic.

The Israeli government has attempted to justify their assaults on Gaza and the Lebanon by arguing that it was acting in self-defence. However, it is important to note that the kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah in July was only one of hundreds of attacks carried out by both Lebanese and Israelis since 2000 along the border that separates the two countries (4). Also, while the kidnapping of an Israeli in Gaza by a faction of Hamas was undoubtedly a provocative act this needs to be understood in the context of an ongoing conflict where the assassination, abduction and imprisonment without trial of Palestinian activists by the Israelis is a regular occurrence.

Furthermore, the sheer scale of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the massive disparity in the numbers of Israeli casualties compared to Palestinian and Lebanese casualties suggests that Israel has other strategic aims than self-defence. The Israeli state is intent on punishing the people of Palestine and Lebanon for voting for and supporting Hamas and Hizbollah, and is clearly attempting to weaken the influence of Syria and Iran in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole.

The ‘war on terror’
 These are of course two of the main objectives of the Bush administration’s endless ‘war on terror’. Unsurprisingly, the US government did everything in its power to ensure that Israel was allowed to pursue these objectives unhindered. Members of the Bush administration made meaningless noises about providing humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese and reaffirmed their commitment in principle to a Palestinian state. However, the worth of such commitments can be judged by the fact, reported in the Times (5) that the US sold Israel US$120 million worth of jet fuel to assist in the bombing campaign against Lebanon, and agreed to a request by the Israeli government to speed up the shipment of high tech weaponry (6).

Tony Blair, despite a well rehearsed show of emotion and the odd lip tremor while discussing the crisis, proved anxious as ever to play his bit part in these bloody imperial dramas by allowing US military shipments bound for Israel to pass through the UK (7). While the US has always backed Israel, this clear fusing of Israeli militarism with the broader US attempt to ensure control over the region and its precious oil resources has profound implications both for the Middle East and the world.

The ‘new Middle East’?
 So, clearly the US has not exhausted its zeal for grand plans realised through the use of massive military power despite the complete unravelling of civil society in Iraq. On the contrary, US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice managed to muster enough optimism to discern something positive from events in the Middle East remarking “What we’re seeing here, in a sense, is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East” (8). In truth it is impossible to tell exactly what type of Middle East will emerge from the US backed Israeli offensives but there is scant evidence of something positive or even novel emerging from this mess.

In fact, Rice’s new’ Middle East is depressingly and wearyingly familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of imperialist interventions in the region. Just like those British and French colonialists who sat over maps a century ago redrawing boundaries across the Middle East, the US, the UK and the Israelis imagine they can shape a subcontinent regardless of the needs or desires of the majority of the people who live there.

This project for the ‘new’ Middle East means the same old imperial arrogance and disregard for life. It involves peddling the same old lies that acts of barbarism will somehow have a ‘civilising’ influence and bolster democracy and freedom. Ultimately this shimmering vision of a new Middle East relies on brutal stupidity and the mistaken belief that bombs dropped on the heads of the innocent through the bright, clean air amounts to a justifiable political strategy.

The growth of Islamism
 The only thing that is certain about this new Middle East is that Israel’s actions will strengthen and encourage the growth of the radical Islamist ideology that they claim they are seeking to eradicate. Historical experience in Ireland and further afield, and common sense, tells us that bombing civilians will only feed the anger and determination of those fighting against Israel and - short of genocide - Israel will not defeat Hamas or Hizbollah through a strategy that consists solely of military force.

On the contrary, the tenacious and well organised defence of southern Lebanon has increased the prestige of Hizbollah immeasurably right across the Middle East. Similarly, punishing Palestinians for electing Hamas will yield nothing but a greater determination to stand by that organisation.

Towards a just and democratic Middle East?
 Israel and the US have unleashed a whirlwind of violence in pursuit of their aims. The resistance to this project has come largely from groups inspired by the ideas of radical Islam and thus ‘the war on terror’ has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, bolstering exactly what it claims to be against. This is a tragedy for the Middle East not solely because of the appalling destruction of human life in the here and now but also because it makes a genuinely democratic just and free Middle East in the near future much less likely.

While radical Islam has given strength, unity and focus to the resistance, such backward political ideologies have no interest in developing a project of solidarity capable of overcoming the ethnic and religious divisions in the region. It is only with such a project focussed on overcoming the enormous disparities of wealth and power in the region that a force will emerge that is capable of confronting and beating US imperialism once and for all.

Hamas and Hizbollah, who have shown scant regard for the lives of civilians, have been openly anti-Semitic and subscribe to a reactionary social programme are not that force. Hizbollah looks to the authoritarian religious dictatorship in Iran – with it’s anti-trade union, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-alcohol laws – as a model.

On the other hand it is abundantly clear that the Israeli politicians who are working hand in hand with the hawks of the US government and who thrive on racism, paranoia and militarism offer no sort of future to their own citizens or the region as a whole.

For Irish people concerned with events in the Middle East there is a need to actively support those groups who are inspired by a vision of freedom and solidarity and are struggling for justice for all. It also means redoubling our efforts on our own doorstep to stop the US military’s use of Shannon and to continue highlighting and confronting those companies that benefit from the militarism and imperialism like Raytheon in Derry and firms such as Cement Roadstone who are profiting from building the apartheid-style ‘separation wall’ in Palestine.

1) First appeared in longer form in a blog from Lebanon written by Hanady Salaman
http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article5461.shtml

2) Figures taken from Israeli Human rights organisation B'tselem
www.btselem.org/english/firearms/20060808_Civilians_killed_in_Gaza.asp

3) Israeli newspaper Haaretz
www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=732995&contrassID=1&subCo...

4) Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,183928....html

5) Times
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13129-2293....html

6) New York Times
www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/world/middleeast/22military.html?ex=131122080...

7) Source the BBC
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5218036.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/52...82.st

8) Washington post
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/21/AR2006072100889...

9) The Palestine Centre
http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/images/informationbrief...D=163

 


From Workers Solidarity 93, Sept/Oct 2006

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