With a script seemingly derived from a testosterone-laced, big-budget action film, Israel has gone on a full scale assault against Lebanon following Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers last week. In the time since the soldiers were captured, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have proceeded to systematically destroy the infrastructure of Lebanon by destroying bridges, power plants, manufacturing facilities, communications networks, fuel stations, roads, homes, seaports, and airports. The World Health Organization estimates that over 900,000 Lebanese civilians are currently displaced from their homes, having been strewn amidst the enormous piles of wreckage that used to be Lebanon. Moreover, at least 200 innocent Lebanese civilians have been killed, and many more have been injured. Israel has justified their position based upon the idea that they have the right to defend themselves from terrorist attacks, and it’s obvious to anyone with a brain that any sovereign country has that right. However, it is clear that Israel is not the slightest bit concerned with the return of their soldiers, as they have done everything within their power to ensure complete dysfunction in Lebanon—a situation that plays directly into the hands of Hezbollah, and does absolutely nothing to ensure the release of their soldiers. Ehud Olmert is using this opportunity to prove his masculinity and might to a population who was already weary of a leader that has not distinguished himself through war, and he has remained steadfast in the resolution that Israel does not negotiate with Hezbollah. This sounds great, except for the fact that Israel has previously negotiated—successfully—with Hezbollah in order to trade Lebanese prisoners for the bodies of slain IDF soldiers. The sentiment in Israel right now could best be summed up in an opinion column published in Ha’aretz on July 19th entitled “Take a deep breath.” In this brief article, Yoel Marcus cuts to the chase when he says that Israelis “should be grateful to Hezbollah for giving us this ‘window of opportunity’ to launch an offensive.” If only Ehud Olmert was that openly honest with his rationale for launching a full scale assault on a civilian population.
Israel has an atrocious track record of violations of the Geneva conventions and they are currently engaged in a battle of de-contextualization as far as publicizing their actions. We should not ignore the larger context of what is supposedly at stake in the recent attacks on both Lebanon and Gaza: there are three, count em’ three soldiers, who have been kidnapped by Hezbollah and Hamas. No one in the Western world bats an eye when Israel randomly drops mortar shells on civilian areas in Gaza or the West bank, and people in the United States don’t even acknowledge Lebanese news as part of their media agenda. Yet the capture of three soldiers—not civilians—has set off a wave of support for Israel as if the longevity of the country depends upon it. Personally, I’ve got no love for either Hezbollah or Hamas, and I understand the need for countries to protect themselves from terrorist attacks. But let’s be serious here…Israel’s claims to self-defense in these matters is about a justifiable as someone burning down an elementary school because a kid on the playground threw a rock at their car. Israel sets all the rules, they have all the weapons, they have all of the support, and they have the ability to shamelessly play the role of both victim and oppressor.
With regards to the situation in Gaza, Israel has been engaged in policies of collective punishment, harassment, and violence against Palestinians since 1948 and it has only gotten worse since they have illegally occupied Palestinian lands since 1967. They have bulldozed tens of thousands of homes, killed thousands of civilians, destroyed hundreds of acres of olive trees, and arrogantly declared absolute rights to the water from Palestinian reservoirs. More relevantly, Israel has a habit of kidnapping Palestinians and/or imprisoning them for extended periods without trial, without consultation from lawyers, and without reprieve from torture (in many cases). According to Addameer—a Palestinian, non-profit prisoners’ support and human rights organization—estimates that there have been over 650,000 Palestinians detained by Israel since the occupation that began in 1967 (including roughly 40% of the total male Palestinian population). It is possible that this estimate is high, but one can also look to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, who provides statistics on detention from the IDF and Israeli Prison Service (IPS). They indicate that "thousands of Palestinians have been held in administrative detention for periods ranging from six months to several years." In addition to adults, there have been thousands of children arrested by the IDF--many of whom were arrested for throwing rocks, and some of whom remain in custody. Radhi al-Juraayi, the Palestinian Deputy Minister of Prisoners, puts the current estimate of Palestinian prisoners over 7200, including 64 democratically-elected Palestinian officials. However, it is unclear how many Palestinians are currently detained due to the fact that organizations like B'Tselem (who have lower estimates) have to now request information about prisoners through the Law on Freedom of Information, and they also have to rely upon the IDF and IPS for accuracy in these statistics.
In the United States, where the rate of African-Americans and Latinos arrested far exceeds the number of whites, we have terms to describe this condition. We call it racism. We call it deplorable. We cry out for reform and structural change. But when it comes to the situation for prisoners in Israel, we generally keep our mouths shut. Out of the fear of being labeled anti-Semitic (even if we are Jews), we keep our mouths shut despite the fact that our wallets speak on our behalf—with millions of our tax dollars being spent each year on Israeli planes, guns, missiles, and tanks. We feel like we’re not entitled to be critical, despite the fact that some of the most radical and violent Israeli emigrants were born and bred in our country. Most of all, we are fed ideologically-laden half-truths about the Israeli occupation while our federal government continually vetoes UN resolutions that attempt to enforce international law.
As for the situation in the Middle East, we will continue to watch the news as Israel uses U.S. manufactured weapons to destroy Gaza, the Lebanese infrastructure, and any hope that Lebanon has for creating a strong government that is capable of reining in Hezbollah. Furthermore, both the Palestinians and the Lebanese will cry out for help in their time of need, and Hezbollah and Hamas will be right there to offer support and retribution. It seems inevitable that the Bush administration will continue on their typical course of vetoing UN resolutions that condemn Israel, and they will continue to keep Americans in the dark about the context of the current invasions. Sadly, most Americans will happily sit on the sidelines, or cozily nestled in their air-conditioned bubbles, while the fires burn, the windows break, and the buildings crumble.
Hezbollah and Hamas are by no means innocent, nor are they necessarily justified in their actions. However, equating the capture of three Israelis to the systematic repression, incarceration, occupation, exploitation, and violence faced by Palestinians and Lebanese civilians every day, is repulsive.
We should be outraged.
Zack Furness is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team.