Monday, July 31, 2006


Medieval fresco from Lebanon

I've waited a bit to touch this topic. I find it almost to frustrating and depressing to address. Steve sponsered an interesting conversation about it on his blog, and I would just like to add to the comment I left there, especially centering on the question why I consider the Israeli response disporportionate:

1) The Israeli attacks have killed over 500 people and displaced three-quarters of a million people from their homes. In a population of under four million, this is about one-fifth of the inhabitants of the country. This is catastrophic.

2) Many of the targets seem to be attacked (in the most generous interpretation of what's going on) with anything but surgical precision. In the past few days we have seen the appalling massacre of civilians, many of them children, at Qana, a bombing of a UN Post, and an attack on a Lebanese military jeep by an unmanned drone that killed a soldier and wounded three others. In the latter case, and Israeli Army spokeswoman says they thought a Hezbollah militant was inside the jeep, but that afterwards, an "investigation later revealed that an officer and soldiers from the Lebanese army were hit, and they were not the target of the attack. Therefore the army expresses regret about the event."

In the case of the Qana attack, the Israeli government claimed that it had warned the residents of the village to leave before the attack. Leaving is a difficult proposition for many Lebanese, given the current refugee crisis, the difficulty of traveling for the poor, and the fact that Israel has attacked people trying to leave conflictive areas. It is hard to conclude that Israel makes eny effort whatsoever to spare civilian lives in this military operation.

3) Israel's attacks have not been limited to strikes on Hezbollah, but have included attacks on Lebanese infrastructure. One bombing of a power plant near Beruit has resulted in a catastrophic oil slick. It is very difficult to argue that what we are witnessing is only a military operation against a terrorist organization and not a war against an entire country.

Meanwhile, the government of my own country has fought any attempts to call for a cease-fire and continues to speed up bomb deliveries to Israel. This is not surprising, since the Bush administration's first instict in any conflict seems to be to react militarily. I am afraid, however, that Israel is not helping its own security in the long run. They are only creating an unstable Lebanon where poverty and hopelessness and memories of massacres incubate in slums where the only alternative offered will be that of extremism. The operation may reduce Hezbollah's operational abilities in the short term, but at a great cost.

Like I said, very depressing and frustrating. I lament the deaths of the Israelis who have been struck by Hezbollah's missles just as I lament the death and destruction suffered by the Lebanese. Still, I can imagine nothing coming out of this new war except more brutal suffering for everybody involved.


crystal said...

I agree with all you've written here ... and it is depressing.

Sandalstraps said...


This is exactly why I haven't written anything about this "conflict." I simply can't stomach it.

As I have often reminded people, for a war to be justified under the classical form of Just War Theory, it must not only have a just cause, but it must also have limited conduct. Limited conduct requires that any military response, no matter how just in cause, must be proportional and must treat civilian lives with the utmost respect. Morally speaking, when choosing between the lives of one's own soldiers or one's enemy's civilians, one must side with the lives of the civilians. This is because, while soldiers are legitimate military targets, civilians are not.

I understand that the changing nature of war makes it more and more difficult to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, and that Hezbollah's deplorable strategy of launching rockets from populated areas places civilian lives at even greater risk. But I still see no sign that Israel is taking any steps to avoid inexcusable amounts of civilian casualties. Frankly their strategy is far too much like the American strategy of "strategic" and "surgical" bombing; dishonest euphamisms attempting to sterilize massive death from the sky.

There is something fundamentally immoral about these bombing runs, no matter who is doing it or why. Either the technology isn't anywhere near perfect, or militaries are simply far too comfortable with an unacceptable margin for error; especially considering how many innocent people are killed by such "errors."

Jeff said...

Liam and Straps,

Good comments. You know, the more I think about the references in Steve’s post to the comments made by David on the Treppenwitz blog, the more it occurs to me that it may be reflective of a problem with a mind-set and attitude held by too many Israelis today. David tells the story of the navy sailor (meant to represent Israel) who is small, fit, compact, slow to anger, but self-disciplined and brutally, mercilessly efficient and precise in his reaction when he has been pushed too far by a bully. He will not stop his just punishment until he has completely broken down and humiliated his tormentor. His adversary, the big blustering marine (meant to represent the Arab) is full of bravado, bloated, bullying, blustering, and turns into a whimpering coward once the fight begins in earnest… He tries to weasel his way out of the fight, hoping for someone to rescue him rather than be forced to apologize and admit he was wrong. The problem with this metaphor is that it is almost 40 years out of date, if it was ever accurate at all. I suppose it is a relic of the 1967 war, but by this point it this theory of inherent superiority has become an anachronism and a very dangerous way for Israelis to think. We can despise Hezbollah all we like, but they are not afraid to fight. Too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart. Decades of brutality, humiliation, and fundamentalism have produced a cult of death worship in which Israel’s adversaries just don’t care anymore. The situation is not at all like it was in 1967 or even 1973. As the gunmen and bombers of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al qaeda all say, “We love death more than you (America and Israel) love life.”

As Christians, we are taught to be hopeful, that we must always hold on to hope, but as I look at the sheer level of absolute, vitrolic, unshakeable hatred that has captured this region, I am tempted to despair that there is no way to halt a conflagration. In terms of alignments and alliances, politics and sheer demographics, I am really starting to wonder if Israel is going to be able to survive as a state. Israel hasn’t a single friend outside of the US, and we are losing our friends as well. It’s getting harder and harder for me to see how any of this ends well, and when it ends, I don’t see how the conflagration doesn’t go nuclear. I pray that I’m wrong about what I am despairing of.