A Sky News newscaster, interviewing British Foreign
Secretary Margaret Beckett on Sunday July 30, demanded an answer to this paraphrased
question: if indeed Israel had precise intelligence that a Hezbollah operative
was present in the village of Qana, in southern Lebanon, how could it possibly
fail to realize that the area was also crowded with civilians?
The question was prompted by Beckett's insistence that while Israeli attacks
that victimize uncountable civilians – like that in Qana, which killed scores,
mostly children – were "appalling," they resulted from tactical errors,
and were never deliberate. In fact, she referred to the "apparently deliberate
targeting" – as described by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – of the UN peacekeepers'
compound in southern Lebanon and the killing of four unarmed observers as a
In effect, Israel is hardly accused – at least in the Western narrative of
the Middle East crisis, as exemplified in media coverage and political discourse
– of deliberately targeting civilians, even among those who are daring enough
to describe Israel's response to Hezbollah's "provocation" (the capturing of
two Israeli soldiers on July 12) as "disproportionate."
Israel often acknowledges – with "regret" – the high civilian toll of its war;
sometimes it goes as far as apologizing for such unintended "mistakes." The
Israeli government, however, is adamant that it will continue to carry out such
attacks; that it's those who "hide among the civilian population" who deserve
the blame, not Israel; that neither Hezbollah nor Palestinian resistance groups
seem to care much for the life of Israeli civilians, while Israel does care
for Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. In fact, and ironically, according to
various Israeli politicians and media pundits, one of Israel's objectives is
to liberate its neighbors from the suffocating grip of terrorists. An objective
journalist is expected to highlight both narratives, without pointing out the
fallacies of one or the other.
Such "objectivity" has served Israel well, since facts on the ground are hardly
consistent with its claims.
For example, out of nearly 4,000 Palestinians killed during the Second Palestinian
Uprising – in the last five years – the overwhelming majority have been civilians,
many of whom are children. Such figures are also mirrored in much of the damage
inflicted by Israel's military machine against Palestinians in the Occupied
Territories: the great majority of the wounded, the destroyed infrastructure,
the confiscated land, the razed orchards, the bulldozed homes, etc., have been
overwhelmingly civilian. Wednesday July 26 was hardly a deviation from that
norm, as 29 Palestinian civilians, many of whom were children as young as a
few months old, were killed in northern Gaza, all in the span of 24 hours.
As of today, including the Qana onslaught, the number of Lebanese civilians
confirmed dead has crossed the 700 mark; more than one third of them are children,
according to UN counts. Likewise, the destroyed Lebanese infrastructure, not
only in Hezbollah's strongholds in the south but across Lebanon, were built
primarily for the benefit of the civilian population.
The handy excuse that Hezbollah and Hamas fighters launch their rockets at
Israel from civilian areas no longer suffices. There is yet to be one shred
of evidence, one video or bit of satellite footage – at least in the ongoing
war in Lebanon – that confirms such an allegation. In fact, it seems imprudent
for Hezbollah's fighters to expose their operations to Israel's informers, while
they can safely fire from the numerous orchards dotting the south and quickly
Concurrently, the "unintended mistakes" theory, promulgated by Israel's apologists
– read the Bush administration, among others – is utterly inconsistent with
claims promoted by Israel and its apologists that Israel is the "most moral
army in the world," and that Israel uses the most advanced war technology
to avoid harming civilians.
These allegations cannot all be accurate, all at once. If Israel is indeed
very "moral," then why does its army continue to repeat the same "unintended
mistakes," over and over again, for decades? Is it possible that the killing
and wounding of tens of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians as a
result of those "unintended mistakes" didn't induce a very moral army to reexamine
its tactics and adopt a decisive change in military policy?
Wouldn't that be the "moral" thing to do? (Note that the small village of Qana
was bombed by the Israeli air force in 1996 as civilians were seeking shelter
in a UN compound, killing over 100 people, including many children and UN peacekeepers.)
The second claim, that Israel strives to obtain high-tech (American) weapon
technology to minimize civilian casualties, is also fraudulent. Once again,
the numbers indicate the precise antithesis, denoting that either the "fifth
strongest army in the world" is so horribly inept that most of its military
strikes result in blunders, or that the killing of civilians is in reality part
and parcel of Israel's military strategy. This latter assertion, in my opinion,
is the truth, but why?
Israeli officials may parrot to the media that Hezbollah (like Hamas) is an
outsider force that holds no legal legitimacy, and that its true strength arises
from its terrorist links to Iran and Syria. Conversely, Israeli conduct on the
ground gives evidence of a different conviction: punishing the true party –
ordinary Lebanese – that provides Hezbollah with the needed support to sustain
such costly military confrontations with Israel (or in Gaza, punishing the ordinary
Palestinians who elected Hamas to power).
Both Hezbollah and Hamas are homegrown; there should be little contention over
this. But they cannot be scrutinized divorced from their immediate surroundings:
Hezbollah emerged as a result of Israel's frequent bloodbaths in Lebanon, and
its members are primarily victims of Israel's past wars, while Hamas sprang
from Palestinian refugee camps in the Occupied Territories and has been sustained
with the support of the poorest segments of the population.
Whatever strategic alliance they hold outside – Iran, Syria, or whoever else
is willing to acknowledge their right to fight Israel – is out of a desperate
need for a safe haven, financial assistance, and a political platform.
Israel knows well that "destroying" Hezbollah and Hamas is a losing battle
– they've tried this time and again, and have failed with each attempt. What
is needed now is a concerted effort to deprive the leadership of these movements
with the popular support that placed Hamas at the helm of the Palestinian political
equation and elected Hezbollah to the Lebanese parliament.
The Israeli tactics, however, are reaping a conflicting outcome, as both Hezbollah
and Hamas are emerging more powerful than ever before, widely viewed as the
only defenders of Lebanon and Palestine, as conventional Arab governments have
finally declared, and without reservation, their military impotence and political
Regardless of its media utterances, Israel has committed yet another colossal
strategic error, comparable in magnitude and consequence to the American debacle
in Iraq. Indeed, both governments are fighting two impossible wars, where civilians
are killed with extraordinary "precision."