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On the Face on the war and stuff

August 23, 2006

Lisa Goldman of brilliant Israeli blog On the Face had an exchange about a week ago on the BBC’s Have Your Say with Lebanese blogger Rania of Siege of Lebanon.The whole thing deserves a close read, but Lisa’s final contribution is worth excerpting in full:

Dear Rania,

The only thing that you and I agree on is that negotiations are preferrable to war. Other than that, I found your response to be puzzling and disingenuous.

You say that Israel should stop oppressing the Palestinians. Well, in Israel there are 1.2 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. The deputy mayor of Haifa is Palestinian; his name is Walid Hamis and he is a member of the Balad party. When my friend was taken to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital after a minor accident, the neurologist who treated him was named Dr. Firas and he was a Christian Palestinian from Nazareth. In Israel there are Palestinian members of parliament, Palestinian professors, journalists, lawyers and actors, high tech workers and businessmen.The stars of Paradise Now, Ali Suleiman and Kais Nashef, are Israeli citizens who studied at Beit Zvi, Israel’s most prestigious acting school.

There are also Palestinians who are active members of the Israeli Open House, the gay and lesbian group. I have met and interviewed Palestinian gays who ran away from the West Bank, where their relatives threatened to kill them simply for their sexual orientation, and found refuge in Israel, which is an open, liberal and secular society.

All the Palestinians who live in Israel (I am not talking about the West Bank, which is occupied territory) are fully enfranchised citizens. Yes, they do face social discrimination. And yes, I do think that discrimination is very wrong. But a Palestinian who experiences discrimination in Israel can fight through the court system. What recourse does a Palestinian living in Lebanon have if he is faced with discrimination?

Is it not true that Palestinians who came to Lebanon in 1948 are inegible for Lebanese citizenship? Is it not true that Palestinians who are classified as refugees are not allowed to practice law or medicine in Lebanon? According to my Palestinian friends, many Palestinians live in squalid refugee camps and the Lebanese government does not allow them to better their lives by doing something as basic as renovating their homes. And finally, Lebanese Christians massacred Palestinians in Lebanon on several occasions in the 1970s and 1980s. So, what have the Lebanese people ever done for the Palestinians? And what in the world does Hezbollah, a Shi’a organization, have to do with the Palestinians, who are Sunni and Christian? I fail to see the connection.

When the Israeli Air Force bombed Dahiyeh and various Hezbollah villages in southern Lebanon during the first two days of the conflict, many Lebanese Christian and Sunni bloggers were quite happy. Some of them told me so directly. They did not even consider Dahiyeh to be part of Beirut, but rather an ugly, frightening place they were forced to pass on their way to and from the airport. They wanted to get rid of Hezbollah and they hoped that Israel would do the job for them. They changed their minds when the bombardments expanded into other areas of Lebanon. And yet, while I see that southern Lebanon has indeed been severely damaged, I cannot help noticing that Ashrafiyeh and other neighbourhood of West and East Beirut look completely intact when I watch the BBC World Service, Al Arabiyya and LBC broadcasts from Beirut.

On July 12, Hezbollah guerillas entered Israeli sovereign territory and attacked a group of Israeli reserve soldiers who were patrolling the border. They killed eight of them and kidnapped two. At the same time, Hezbollah launched hundred of missiles on Israeli civilian targets.

I would like to emphasise very strongly that the Hezbollah bombardment of northern Israel began before the Israeli military response, on the morning the soldiers were kidnapped. Hezbollah continued to launch up to 200 missiles per day at Israel for the duration of the war. Their targets in Israel were exclusively civilian. I was there, and I experienced that bombardment. Hezbollah never even pretended that they were aiming for military targets. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians were forced to live underground or flee south. Arab, Druze and Jewish civilians were killed; the missiles did not discriminate between them. Some of the Arabs and Druze who were killed have family in Lebanon. Huge tracts of forest have been burned to the ground. Houses, lives and businesses have been destroyed.

Like the Lebanese, Israelis will rebuild. Life will go on. But the long-term damage is another story. Israelis dream of living in peace. We sing about peace and we write poems about peace. Do the supporters of Hezbollah write poems about peace? And look how far away peace seems to be now! Look how much damage has been done to relations between Israel and Lebanon. I keep on asking myself why, why, why. You can sit there and say that Israel did this and Israel did that, but let us be honest: if Hezbollah had not attacked Israel – not once, but on many occasions – then there would have been no Israeli military actions in Lebanon.

I write this not to enter into a contest of “who suffered more.” I hate the victimization narrative and I do not think there is a prize for suffering. I also wonder if Lebanese would be satisfied if more Israeli civilians had been killed, because that is the way it sounds. The way I see it, we all suffered and the source of our suffering is Hezbollah. I feel equal sympathy for Israeli and Lebanese civilians, for the damage done to both our countries.

And frankly it is beyond my ability to comprehend why a female academic at a secular university would support a fundamentalist religious organization that believes in full implementation of Shari’a in place of civil law.

Israel and Lebanon have no territorial dispute. The border between the two countries is internationally recognized by the United Nations. The July 12 incident was the catalyst for the Israeli military response, not the reason. The goal of the military response was not to rescue the two kidnapped soldiers, since everyone knew that could not be accomplished by military action, but to stop Hezbollah from continuing its attacks on Israel. The undisputed fact is that Hezbollah has attacked Israelis on many occasions since the withdrawal of 2000.

In October 2000, nearly six months after Israel withdrew completely from Lebanese territory, Hezbollah guerillas kidnapped three Israeli soldiers from inside Israeli territory. Their names were Adi Avyitan, Binyamin Avraham and Omar Sawaid. No information was ever released to their families about their whereabouts or their physicial condition. In fact they were dead, but Hezbollah did not have the decency to inform the families via the Red Cross. The bodies of the three men were returned three years later in a prisoner swap.

In February 2005 Hezbollah bombarded Al Ghajar, an Alawite village that is located inside Israeli sovereign territory. The residents of the village are Israeli citizens. Hezbollah guerillas tried to enter the village dressed in UNIFIL uniforms, driving a UN vehicle, in order to kidnap some of those Alawite Israeli citizens. Then Hezbollah bombarded Al Ghajar so fiercely that the children were screaming in terror on the phone to their parents, who were working in nearby Kiryat Shmona. I heard them; the phone calls were played on the nightly news broadcast.

Over the past six years Kiryat Shmona has been bombarded on many occasions by katyusha rockets launched by Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.

Israel did not respond militarily to any of these incidents. The incident of July 12 was simply the last straw. The Israeli consensus was in favour of the military response not because anyone wanted to see Lebanese civilians hurt, but rather because they felt that Israel needed to protect its citizens from Hezbollah’s constant attacks. Israelis do not have any dispute with the Lebanse government and I have not heard one Israeli express anything but sadness regarding the Lebanese civilians who were killed.

Hassan Nasrallah was educated in Iran. His movement is armed by Iran and has very close ties with that country. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran and supporter of Nasrallah, has said several times over the past year that Israel should be wiped off the map. I have watched many of Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches and I have heard him call Israel “Palestine.” If he does not even recognize the name of my country, and if he launches missiles at my country’s civilian areas with no provocation, then in my eyes that means that Nasrallah does not accept Israel’s right to exist and he wishes to destroy it.

You can argue with Israel’s military tactics, no problem. I have been very critical of my government’s military actions over the last month. But the undeniable fact is that Hezbollah has chosen Israel as its enemy for absolutely no reason. There are no Shi’a living in Israel. Israel does not occupy any Lebanese territory. Hezbollah provoked this attack, and they should take responsibility for the destruction they have brought upon Lebanon. Your anger is misdirected: you should be angry at Hezbollah, not Israel.

Yours,
Lisa

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