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August 2, 2006

Day 21 (Israel vs Hezbollah)

hands:War.jpgn A painting by Besie of a skeletal sketch of a person, their heart, and hands all in red and black, hanging in the Is-tar-ik Cafe in Istanbul

My friend Yasser has just sent his self-described "fourth apocalyptic email in three weeks."

I blogged earlier, including some of the resources he sent, and a few days later I wrote more on my personal view.

My concern with Yasser's framing is its one-sidedness. I AGREE, emphatically, that the violence needs to end, but arguing that only one side needs to cease actually adds fuel to the fire. Hezbollah's tactics also need to come under scrutiny.

With Yasser, and Naomi Klein (see her letter), I urge anyone who can to support the efforts of the Saniyeh Relief Center in Beirut. But - as we publicly engage the horrors of this war - those of us who fashion ourselves intellectuals concerned with social justice cannot afford the luxury of an "obvious" villain or victim.

How do we break out of the dialectic? If we can't find a way, who will?

Yasser included an article, A World in Love with Death by Eduardo Galleano (who I think is great). Unfortunately, in the linked article above his claims and associations go too far: the UN is not the US even though the US plays with it like a toy), civilian death in wartime is a fact of every war not just Israel's vs Hezbullah. This is kind of rhetoric is simply sloppy. Galeano is right that the Europeans cast their own problem (their own internalized anti-semitism) out of western Europe and into the Middle East but the Arab nations need to stop using this as an excuse to position Palestianians at the constant brink of rage of devastation. The Jewish people are from there just as much as any Arab or Persian ethnic group.

[The Lebanon Forces link above is from planetary movement, which also included a link to irrepressable.info from Amnesty International (go there, sign the pledge before a key international meeting this upcoming November: "I believe the Internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression").]

This opinion piece from the NYTimes, Lebanon’s Force for Good recalls a previous diplomatic effort that worked.

Posted by Steph at August 2, 2006 7:28 AM


I have had the pleasure of having met Stephanie a couple of times and I respect her intellect and her politics – I would just like to express my own (personal) opinion of the matter at hand.

I think that dialectic is not something to be dismissed: logical and calm (as calm as possible, given the circumstances) overview of the situation should be pursued with the aim of actually coming to one or more conclusions, and hopefully potential solutions. The problem is that, as Yasser correctly pointed out, U.S. “mainstream racist media” consistently excludes critical and obvious information regarding those who oppose its interests and those of its client state. The constant minimization or utter lack of reporting the murders and other crimes caused by Israel isn’t a footnote, but a defining fact of the conflict. The U.S. population is given a view of the matter that always presumes the righteous intent of Israel, and a view of those it subjugates as backwards at best, and inhuman at worst.

The fact that people are referring to the Lebanese population as a “side” in this debate shows how skewed it has become: the 2 sides engaged in battle are Israel and Hezbollah. The Lebanese population, and even its government, are simply victims. Unlike the state of Israel, the state of Lebanon didn’t fire a shot at anyone. The Lebanese government did not invade Israel, nor are they shelling civilians.

One might even argue that there aren’t 2 “sides” fighting at all – the IDF created Hezbollah through its invasion of Lebanon 25 years ago; right now the progenitor and its creation are basically battling it out in an unfortunately poignant case of “chickens coming home to roost”. The Lebanese are hostage to this situation, and are bearing the huge brunt of the retaliation.

The comparison of the Lebanese population and the Israeli population is utterly lacking in parity: the latter has been oppressing the former for quite some time. The former never authorized an attack on the latter, whereas the Israeli people live in an oft-proclaimed democracy that is shelling Lebanon with an approval rating of 80%.

The issue, as I understand it, is not that Hezbollah shouldn’t cease its attacks on civilians, but: first; that no one has any control over what the hell Hezbollah is doing (save a refrain from aggression by Israel), whereas we – the U.S. – could stop the destruction reigning down upon Lebanon tomorrow. And second; that the damage that Israel is inflicting is, evident to the entire world, a punitive and overwhelming retaliation against civilians, those trying to save those civilians, and even military observers. Not only is Israel behaving far more criminally than Hezbollah, but the scale of these crimes is an order of magnitude greater. Furthermore, that Hezbollah’s proposal of not targeting civilians was just rejected out of hand by the Israeli government also demonstrates the disparity of the two combatant entities.

But the most significant difference between Hezbollah and the Israeli military is that one is fighting for liberation from the other. To compare the two also lacks in parity. However immoral the actions of Hezbollah, they are the oppressed fighting the oppressor. Given that our government (for the non-international students reading this) is the cause and enabler of this oppression, it is wildly irresponsible for us to criticize the actions of those we oppress unless we are acting forthrightly to reign in our own terrorist state. Just as our criticisms of the ANC’s resistance to the apartheid state, or Vietnamese resistance to the U.S., or any criticism of a resistance movement against an occupying country should be made if and only after we have both recognized and acted against the immorality of the occupier - so should it be in this case.

What I am trying to state, in a long-winded way, is that facts matter. It is not good enough for free and privileged people to blame both “sides”, particularly when the quality, character, and responsibility of the sides are radically disparate. Even more disturbing about recent events - that we have to wait until the oppressing state suffers casualties before we make impassioned appeals for calm, while the oppressed have suffered torture, kidnapping (on a scale of literally 9,000 to 1), and murder on a daily basis - is indicative of the deep indoctrination and deep racism which plagues our country. I recognize that it is wrong for Hezbollah to target and kill civilians. But it is more so in Israel’s case, both in aim and scale. The only role, at the moment, that Americans should focus on is first: to stand in solidarity with oppressed peoples against their oppressors, and second: how we can diminish and account for our role as the primary perpetrator of this evil that has gone on for too long.

Posted by: Jeff Napolitano at August 7, 2006 2:11 PM

Dear Steph,

Thanks for writing back. I must say that I can't disagree more with your email. To refute your logic Frantz Fanon comes first to mind: the violence used by the colonized cannot be compared to the one used by the colonizers. the first is legitimate, the other is unethical. The problem with mainstream media is that they reverse this logic: if you have power (i.e. western, white, 'civilized', look-like-us, neoliberal) then you have our full support. Furthermore to support your argument you mention 'the ouwet front'. I suggest you read an interesting book by Robert Fisk (Piety the Nation) about the Lebanese civil war. The current aggression on Lebanon is not new and should be read with a historical perspective. For the NYT and CNN (not to mention the conservative news outlets) history starts on July 12th. What happened in this region for the past 100 years doesn't matter!! The 'Ouwet Front' for example is behind the killing of at least 2000 palestinians civilians in the famous Sabra and Chatila masacre in 1982. The members of the Ouwet used to kill
people on check points after looking at their ID (If they are Muslims they are killed, if they are Christians they are told "God bless you"). Their website is pure Israeli propaganda. You also refer to an article about the 'diplomatic effort' written by a person who probably killed Lebanese people. He is not a 'neutral' journalist. Finally I don't understand why you say: "The Jewish
people are from there just as much as any Arab or Persian ethnic group." I never mentioned Jewish people in my emails, I am talking about a racist
political movement called Zionism. They are very very very different things. In case you didn't know there are Jewish MPs in the Iranian parliament, there are Jews living in Syria and who would never leave, there are Palestinian Jews
who were killed by the Israeli soldiers in 1989 because they were against the Israeli occupation. In other words, I suggest we don't conflate criticism against Israel and stupid, racist and antisemitic comments.

I would love to talk to you once you're back from your trip.

In solidarity,

Posted by: Yasser Munif at August 8, 2006 5:09 AM

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