08/05/2006, 00.00
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Lebanon's nightmare of war: hostage to Israel and Hezbollah

by Samir Khalil Samir, sj
Israel's military reaction cannot beat terrorism; all it can do is increased hatred. Hezbollah's claims are unforgivable and are causing Lebanon's destruction. Christians are paying the highest price for the violence, as not even the international community seems ready to deal with the core issues of the Middle East crisis: a homeland for the Palestinians, security for Israel, a return to the borders set by the United Nations. Here is the analysis by Fr Samir Khalil, an Egyptian-born Jesuit; now a professor in Beirut.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A year and half ago Lebanon was reborn in a peaceful and joyful Intifada as people took to the streets and forced Syrian troops to pull out after 30 years of occupation. Today, the people of Lebanon is reliving once more the nightmare of war. The disenchantment is tremendous, rage and even hatred much greater.

A very good Christian woman who is far from being politicised wrote to me expressing great anger at Israel. Even though she is rock-solidly against Hezbollah, but with a million Lebanese on the run and means of communications in tatters, her hatred for the new invader has grown boundless. Tersely, she told me what she thought of the situation. "For two hostages, Israel has taken the whole of Lebanon hostage."

Someone else told me: "Instead of attacking its real enemies, Iran and Syria, Israel preferred to destroy an innocent and peaceful country because it is weak."

Even the soldier abducted by Hamas in Gaza has given Israel the pretext to bomb, demolish and destroy Gaza. In the name of security and survival, Israel seems to be throwing everything at its disposal at its neighbours in order to destroy them—all this with the backing of the most powerful countries in the world.

I would personally use all my strength to fight for the security of Israel, but I ask myself. Does Israel need security so much? Shouldn't its Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian neighbours get at least as much security?

A wrong and entirely disproportionate reaction

In three weeks almost a quarter of the Lebanese population was forced to flee. Nothing like it happened during the civil war. Israel's extreme blind violence has already killed 900 people and injured another 3,000, whilst suffering 64 dead, 24 of them civilians.

When Israel's reaction is said to be disproportionate it is just a statement of fact, not an emotional outburst. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "We want to uproot Hezbollah's terrorism". But was it necessary to destroy an entire country to get at Hezbollah. Was it necessary to destroy all of the main roads, the bridges, Beirut's recently renovated Rafik Hariri International Airport, the highway to Syria, the power station, three ports, a milk factory, etc., only because Hezbollah might have used them? If this is goes on, nothing will be left in Lebanon!

More to the point, how can terrorism be uprooted? The experience of the last five years has shown that the fight against terrorism cannot be pursued by military means alone. On the contrary, with the illegal invasion of Iraq terrorism has spread and proliferated. The roots of terrorism are not military, but ideological, cultural and some times spiritual. This is what must be uprooted.

Hezbollah's actions are unforgivable

I have never accepted Hezbollah's claim that it had a mission to defend the homeland; only the army has.

Hezbollah is the only armed militia left standing after the civil war ended in 1991. The party's position is unacceptable. The recent UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the demilitarisation of all armed groups in the country, must be implemented.

It is necessary to know a bit of Hezbollah's history to understand how much it is an anomaly.

Like other militias, Hezbollah emerged during the civil war, but unlike them, it was created in the wake of Israel's second invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Officially, it was founded on February 16, 1985, but in fact it was set up on November 22, 1982.  Its mission was to free the southern parts of the country—where many Shiites live—from the invader.

This is one of the essential factors that fuel Mideast Islamic terrorism: respond to the terrorism and the continuous attacks by the State of Israel, and above all its occupation of non-Israeli territories.

Israel's almost 40-year-old occupation of Palestine is one of the fundamental causes of Middle Eastern Islamic terrorism.

In the name of security Israel has engaged in expansionist wars to enlarge its territory. Comparing the territory assigned by the United Nations to Israel in 1947 to that of 1948-49, 1956 (attack against Egypt over Suez), 1967 (Six Day War), and today, it is clear that Israel has always increased its territory, doubling it. All this was done illegally, i.e. without the approval of the United Nations, the only international body that can give legitimacy to a nation.

At any rate, under occupation part of the population became galvanised by the idea of taking revenge against Israel (encouraged by false Islamic arguments) and at least initially backed and expressed sympathy for Hezbollah.

It must also be said that even if Hezbollah was right in provoking Israel (I don't think it was), its action was unforgivably stupid from a strategic point of view. Its provocation has resulted in hundreds of dead and above all in the destruction of the country which was rebuilding itself for the past 15 years from the ruins left by the civil war.

Lebanon is now nearly all destroyed. Reconstruction will require billions of euros and who knows how much time.

The one economic activity it had going for it was tourism. But tourists have now fled and no one knows when they will be back.

The country's situation is catastrophic. The population's morale is at its lowest.

The international community has abandoned Lebanon

The international community has always said that it was concerned about the fate of Lebanon. But what does that mean? In politics, deeds are what count.

Right now the UN and European proposal of sending an international force to guarantee a ceasefire is the one that makes most sense, but I am afraid that it will take a lot of time to be implemented.

Israel is bent on going ahead with its plans and claims the right to do so, backed by some powers, especially the United States, which has unconditionally lined up behind it.

In their own way, the G8 countries have justified the war by only criticising Israel's excessive use of force rather than condemning its action altogether.

The problem is not the excessive reaction but the reaction itself. No one has the right to use a pretext to make war. There is a qualitative difference between Hezbollah's provocation and a war that involves the use of air and naval power as well as tanks. Lebanon did not send in its army. On the contrary, the Lebanese government knew nothing of Hezbollah's actions. What is more, attacks by both sides in southern Lebanon were not something new. So why such a violent reaction this time?

Addressing the underlying problems and finding lasting solutions

Right now it is urgent and necessary to get a ceasefire and UN troops deployed. With a lot of difficulties the international community is trying to find ways to implement it. But it is really important to stop this unjustifiable war.

In a balanced statement, the Vatican secretary of State Cardinal Sodano said on July 14:

"As in the past, the Holy See also condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other. Indeed, a state's right to self-defence does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and gives assurances of its closeness to those people who have suffered so much in the defence of their own independence."

However, the war will start all over again at the first opportunity if there is no international multilateral solution (and not unilateral as was the case for Lebanon and Gaza) that recognises the rights of Israel and Palestine. The Pope said this to the diplomatic corps last January 9. In the Holy land, "the state of Israel has to be able to exist peacefully in conformity with the norms of international law; there, equally, the Palestinian population has to be able to develop serenely its own democratic institutions for a free and prosperous future."

Unfortunately, the international community seems to be distracted by other problems. Everyone is more concerned that whatever choices are made they do not impact one or the other party. It seems that in the end there is no desire to find a solution to the underlying problems.

This war might be stopped, but if no solution is found for the root causes, there will be another one soon, and then another.

We must have the courage to find a lasting solution. This problem has been going on for decades and it is like a cancer that is always mutating.

Any radical solution must be based on international law. This means implementing Resolution 242, which requires all parties to pull back to their internationally recognised boundaries, then Resolution 1559, which calls for the demilitarisation of all Lebanese militias (like Hezbollah's).  It also means that Arab states must recognise Israel within its international borders, and Israel must recognise its neighbouring states (Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria) within their own international borders. All sides will then be able to exchange ambassadors (let us not forget that Syria has never recognised Lebanon's international borders nor exchanged ambassadors). Only then shall peace be possible.

Lebanon's Christians

The Christian community is under shock. To the last man and woman, it was always in favour of the country's total independence and for this it has fought against Syria and paid a hefty price. With the exception of Hariri's assassination, since Syria's pullout last year, all murders involved Christian leaders.

Christians have always called for Hezbollah's disarmament, but because of Syria's influence have failed to achieve it. They know that as long as Hezbollah's armed militias are allowed to exist, the agreements and the authority of the state will be flouted—which is what happened.

Now they have to live with the bombs or find refuge in some other country. Then again Christians cannot find refuge in neighbouring countries because they are all Muslim. For many, safety is in Europe and America. But unlike those who do go to Muslim countries, when Christians opt for the West it is a one-way journey and few come back.

The situation is so terrible that, as the Maronite bishop of Jbeil said, "more than 70 per cent of Christians still living in Lebanon want to leave as soon as Beirut International Airport opens".

Our community will come out of this war even weaker, especially since terrorist violence is undeniably all by Islamic groups. Once again Christians are paying the highest price for Mideast violence.

At least one good thing has come out of this tragedy, namely the solidarity between Muslims and Christians. Outside aggression has brought together all of the nation's communities. Christians have opened their churches, monasteries and schools to the refugees, whoever they may be, whatever their religion. And this is a beautiful thing to witness.

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