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Reading David Hirst’s Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East, I’ve come across a passage that highlights other manifestations of Israel’s “purity of arms” in Lebanon aside from the mass slaughter of civilians (Hirst cites 20,000 fatalities, primarily civilian, in the 1982 invasion alone).
The passage discusses the “mess [that] confronted 1,500 US Marines, when, returning to Lebanon along with the rest of the ‘multi-national’ force [in September 1982], they took up position at Beirut international airport”. The Multinational Force, which had in August been tasked with overseeing the withdrawal from the country of the PLO, had itself prematurely withdrawn and was now being redeployed following the massacre of several thousand civilians at Sabra and Shatila by Lebanese Phalangists overseen by the IDF.
Hirst describes the scene at the airport:
“[The Marines’] first task there had been to remove the stinking mounds of excrement that, as in so many other places in the country, adorned just about everything, floors, elevators, chairs, desks and drawers. The Marines got the message. This, they quickly understood, was a ‘house-warming present’ from the Israeli soldiers whose place they were taking; it was their way of venting their spleen on those ‘Arab-loving’ American allies of theirs, who had bought all that Arab ‘propaganda’ about Sabra and Shatila, the Beirut blitz, and the iniquity of a nation that had done such things. Less disgusting, but decidedly more dangerous, was their other gift: the countless cluster bomblets, golfball-sized, which they had strewn the length and breadth of the airport buildings”.
I first learned of an intriguing excursion known as “The Ultimate Mission to Israel” in 2009 while perusing an article on the website of the Jerusalem Post.
The article, which outlined Israel’s sudden concern for the fate of UNIFIL despite its repeated targeting of UN personnel and institutions in Lebanon, cited Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as warning that—in the event of a significant gain by Hezbollah in the upcoming Lebanese elections—Israel would no longer “feel the restraints it did in 2006 about attacking Lebanese infrastructure”.
Barak refrained from explaining how the 2006 destruction of much of Lebanon, including apartment complexes, milk factories, bridges, children in the backs of pickup trucks, and approximately 1200 other people qualified as infrastructural restraint. I was distracted from pondering the issue myself by a large advertisement featuring soaring warplanes in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen.
Clicking on the planes, I arrived at an invitation to “explore Israel’s struggle for survival” via the weeklong Ultimate Mission to Israel, which focused on closer-to-home infrastructural threats to the Jewish state. The itinerary included such activities as:
- briefings by Mossad officials.
- an inside tour of the IAF targeted killings unit.
- attendance at a military trial of “Hamas terrorists”.
- a “live exhibition of penetration raids in Arab territory”.
- a barbecue.
Five years ago, Israel waged a 34-day war on Lebanon that resulted in the elimination of approximately 1200 persons in the targeted country, most of them civilians, as well as 43 Israeli civilians.
In a July 2006 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Harvard Law School’s resident piranha Alan Dershowitz placed the term “collective punishment” in quotation marks and announced the need for a “continuum of civilianality” to determine just how civilian Arab civilians were.
Two-year-olds, for example, are established as falling on the “more innocent” side of the continuum, while Dershowitz explains that “[t]here is also a difference between a civilian who merely favors or even votes for a terrorist group and one who provides financial or other material support for terrorism.”
Voting and other forms of support for “a terrorist group” are of course presumably facilitated when said group is an official political party represented in the Lebanese government. Dershowitz’s categorization of “civilian” as an “increasingly meaningless word” meanwhile does not prevent him from employing the words “terrorism” and “terrorists” no less than 12 times in his brief piece.
Why Dershowitz bothers making distinctions between various levels of civilianality becomes even less clear with his announcement that
Hezbollah and Hamas militants… are difficult to distinguish from those ‘civilians’ who recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and teenagers to play important roles in their attacks.
The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.”
A curious article on the English language website of the Israel Defense Forces, entitled “A conversation with soldiers who stopped Nakba events”, begins with the following summary—in bold—of Nakba Day protests near Ramallah:
Throwing televisions, refrigerators, large stones, burning tires and more, Palestinian protestors didn’t hold rioting against IDF forces in the events of Nakba Day. Four combat soldiers and one officer in a special unit stationed in the area tell the story of what it all looked like up close”.
The placement of the term “didn’t” in the first sentence would suggest that, even though Palestinian protesters were allegedly throwing the various items listed, they were not in fact rioting. What exactly happened becomes even more unclear in the body of the article when one of the soldiers announces:
We didn’t have refrigerators thrown at us.”
Al Jazeera reported yesterday that judges and lawyers at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), ostensibly established to prosecute the perpetrators of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, “have begun discussions on how to define the crime of ‘terrorism’ as listed in a draft indictment”.
According to the Al Jazeera website:
International lawyers have wrangled for years without arriving at a single definition for the crime of terrorism, but prosecutors and defence lawyers at the tribunal agreed on Monday to apply the definition as stated in Lebanese law, which the tribunal already uses.
‘There is no reason to go further and create an overarching, worldwide, universal definition,’ Iain Morley, a lawyer for the prosecution, said.
During the course of yesterday’s U.S. State Department daily press briefing, Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley used the word “stability” 14 times and the word “instability” 4 times in his discussion of the collapse of the Lebanese government following the resignation of 11 ministers. The ministers resigned in opposition to the politicization of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon tasked with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, which Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has pointed out is more concerned with investigating some groups than others.
An excerpt from Crowley’s discourse:
We’re working with the Lebanese Government and other partners who share our interest in stability and justice for Lebanon, including France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt, on next steps that will protect the work of the tribunal and help to achieve stability in the Lebanon. We encourage all Lebanese to work together to avoid threats and actions that could cause instability and to enable the governing coalition to serve the interest of the Lebanese people in justice, stability, and peace. Hezbollah is presenting a false choice for Lebanon of justice or stability. We think that Lebanon deserves both”.
Last month on a farm outside a small Texas town, I encountered an Israeli in his twenties who overheard me say that I had been to Lebanon and who mischievously remarked that he had also “been, but not been”.
I asked him what year his non-trip had occurred and if it had perhaps been military in nature. A year or two after the Israeli withdrawal, he said–he could not remember–and yes.
His companion, a Texan unacquainted with the tradition of subtle Israeli visits to neighbors, asked if he had liked the food.
The Israeli changed the subject to cell phone photographs of himself with scantily outfitted American females and shared his latest philosophy on life, which was that one must create love in everything one does. My latest philosophy is that continued Israeli lovemaking in Lebanon is not compatible with the term “withdrawal”.