Monday, July 31, 2006

Beirut dispatch

Here is the latest dispatch from Marion in Beirut. Firstly it deals with the tragic airstrikes on Qana where over 50 civilians were killed, many of whom were children. Israel's strongest defenders have tried to explain the killings as Hezbollah's responsibility for operating close to civilians to gain shelter from them, some even more unsavourly blame the victims for not leaving the village as the Israelis warned. Leaving aside the very real fears that civilians in Lebanon have about moving after numerous refugee and humanitarian convoys have been struck causing many deaths, this argument seems as morally reprehensible blaming the people of Haifa or other northern Israeli towns, killed by hundreds of Hezbollah rockets that have been falling on Israel daily, for their own fate by saying "you should have left. Can't you see there's a war on?" You could perhaps argue that Hezbollah are purely targetting civilians, whilst the IDF is trying to hit military targets, but at best that only means they are callously indifferent about killing non-combatants. Better but not by much. Marion's report follow:

Once upon a time in the south of Lebanon, there was a joyful wedding in the village called Qana. Jesus Christ was amongst the guest and this I where he performed the miracle of turning the water into wine. This village’s name was written in the Bible thousands years ago, but it is written also in the history of Lebanon. But this time not as a joyful village celebrating a wedding and drinking red wine. But sadly as a village where the ground has been watered with blood and where the walls still recalled the screams of the injured and the shouts of the people who lost their beloved ones.

In 1996 during “Operation Grapes of Wrath” (remember the name Grapes) hundreds of Lebanese citizens were killed when Israeli artillery fire hit a UN camp where they were sheltering. In 2006, precisely this morning, the same thing happened once again. I wonder is there any relation between the red wine miracle at that wedding thousands of years ago and this mass killing in more recent times named after grapes? If the red wine at that wedding was made by a miracle from God, then is this blood from the murdered children and women now a curse from the Devil? Has the Devil been jealous of this happy village from long ago and got his revenge by turning it into a village of sorrow?

As a reaction to the brutal murder of the citizens in Qana today, thousands of people gathered in rage around the UN building in downtown Beirut, which is located next to the “Banks street” in the centre where I drive every day to work. The scenes on TV showed their anger and their frustration at seeing the UN hopeless, unable to find a way to bring about a ceasefire, a way to find some peace for this country.

I look back in time, and for many years now, Lebanon has been living a “false peace” with Israel. There were war times then there were ceasefires agreements, which only delayed the wars to later years. It looks like a vicious circle with no way out. If this war ends now with a ceasefire, Hizballah will still have its weapons and in the future there is good possibility of a clash in the south with Israel again. Then once again Lebanon will be back in this vicious circle.

There is a part of Lebanese society who believed this war might clip Hizballah’s wings that have lately been growing so strong. But then again they also wondered, what if Hizballah comes out winning? There is fear the Shiites may then run the country, or that Syria (and also Iran) will be back interfering in Lebanon’s economy and politics in the same way that it was for many years until it withdrew from Lebanon in 2005. However these people who do not want Hizballah still do not like Israel and blame it for ruining the country.

And talking of ruining the country; in addition to the billions of dollars worth of damage done to Lebanon’s infrastructure, the killing of more than 600 Lebanese so far, the displacement of hundred thousands of citizens from their homes, the blockading of the country by blocking the airport and harbours, there is now the pollution of Lebanese 80 kms of coastline from Saida in the south to Chiqqa in the north.

Sadly, around 15 000 tons of oil have spilled into the Mediterranean after the bombing of fuel depots south of Beirut in the early days of the war. It will not only take millions of dollars to purify the sea, but also will poison the fish and result in a big crisis for all Lebanese fishermen for a long time. The Ministry of Environment has urged the Lebanese to stay away from the seashore and beaches.

On Saturday, Hassan Nassrallah showed up once again on TV. His voice was trembling a little. The last couple of times he has appeared he only spoke of Islam. As a reaction, particularly Christian Lebanese felt threatened and insulted by his ignoring them as part of this nation. This time, somewhat surprisingly, he addressed himself specifically to the Christian community calling them as important as Muslims in the country and talking of Jesus Christ. He also thanked Christians and Sunnis and Druzes for opening their homes and their schools to the Shiites refugees from the south. He assured viewers that Hizballah’s victory will be a victory for all the country and not only for the Shiites and he asked all Lebanese religions to support him and be united in this war. By his words, he was attempting to placate the fears of those Lebanese who fear a new Shiite dominated-Lebanon, assuring them that this would not happen. He said that Hizballah needed the other religions’ blessings in order to go on with the fighting.

He also addressed himself to his soldiers in a beautiful and respectful way. I must say here, despite the many Lebanese blame him for this war and want Hizballah disarmed, virtually all agree how strong this person is as a charismatic leader – defying Israeli pressure. Also in his speech he agreed with the government’s proposals to reach a ceasefire. Central to these would be the redrawing of Lebanese territory, which means the Shebaa Farms issue; also deploying the Lebanese army across the whole country; Israel giving Lebanon a map showing where it has planted mines; and an exchange of prisoners. Most Lebanese regarded Nassrallah’s comment as a positive on the matter to a future disarming of Hizballah.

Yet despite these positive developments Hizballah is not ready to unilaterally stop fighting and so Israel will persist in attacking Lebanon and more innocent people will die. When will this nightmare stop? Will it ever stop? It is well known that every story that begins with "once upon a time" should end with the following "and they all lived happily ever after". Do you think dear reader, that there will come a day when Israel and Lebanon's story of conflict will have a happy ending? I shall leave the answer to your imagination.

Marion A.J. Beirut, 30 July 2006.


KGS said...

Any sovereign states' immediate consideration and priority, is to those for whom they are responsponsible for, to ensuring the safety of their citizens, ..first.

This was not a war of Israel's choosing, but of Hezbollah's, and while tragic as it is, the Hezbollah are responsible for any civilian deaths that result from the hostilities.

That the building in question collapsed 7 hrs. later after it was hit, is reason enough to wait before making any condmenations and unfactual statements. That Hezbollah has been using both the UN and the Lebanese civilian community as human shields, is a matter of record, and condemnable as a war crime.

That Israel has indeed warned that village a few days before the attack is the limit a state's abilities during a time of war. The UN did not condemn its own mission in Mogadishu where over 500 Somalis died during a 18-24hr. period, so neither should Israel's operations that according to retired Canadian maj-gen Mackenzie (vet from UN Bosnia operations):

"Please don't think me as being cavalier about life here, because I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, but with the amount of fire power that's gone into Lebanon over the last couple of weeks, the death toll is unbelievably low in accordance to the delivery of that fire power., which means that the targets are being selected pretty darn closely. Beirut is not being flattened, nor is it being bombarded. "

Evacuation of Lebanese civilians who have been warned days in advance to leave, are the responsibility of the Hezbollah. They have to ensure the safety of their own people, that they have chosen to set up military ops within public sectors while vacant areas are abundant, its the fault of the HEZBOLLAH...not Israel.

I place no blame on Israel, as I would not on the allied forces during WWII for softening up the surrounding areas of Normandy and Calais in preperation for D-Day.

I believe its wrong and a cheap shot to revert to a numbers game, while one side cynically uses every known despictable measure to ensure maximal casualties from its own people, which is indisputable.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Read the NYT article I linked KGS, it discusses the IDF queries about when the building collapsed, but they have differing eyewitness testimony. And I will say again that telling civilians they should have left an area when many have been killed and injured by Israeli fire whilst evacuating is ridiculous. The Israeli's could have agreed on times to open evacuation corridors and the like when military operations would have halted, but they have not and ambulances as well as cars and vans full of civilians fleeing have been hit, as have humanitarian convoys such as the Australian one going the other way. There is plenty of blame to spread round.

KGS said...

I'll grant you that convoys have been hit ect., but when it comes to allowing ones enemy time enough to scurry from the region, I can't imagine such a scenario happening during the Allied advance into Germany.

There are things like presendence, and while some scenarios could come close to your optimum consideration, I would wager that most would not.

The Hezbollah is responsible for getting people outof harms way, not Israel. That is the price one pays for intitiating anact of war. Its highly cynical to place the blame on Israel, who has been warning the public in earnest, while allowing passage away from areas under fire, in spite of the fact it allows the Hezbollah exploitation of the situation.

When it comes to vehicles being under fire, so are Israeli personnel from friendly fire situations...shit happens. Regardless of what Israel does or doesn't do, there will always be room for criticism, but the intentional target of civilians, because they are civilians is a bogus claim being made by many.

This recent incident, like the UN station shelling shows just how easy it is to jump to conclusions. Not that you are, we just happen to disagree on just how far a state should go when at war, in helping the enemy due to civilians being in the area.

By your analysis (at least it appears as much) the Allied forces should have deliverd a notice to Berlin and waited anumpteenth number of days in order for the city to be evacuated before it bombed the hell out of it.

Give the Israelis that much, that they are indeed concentrating their enormous fire power in controlled and measured ways. At least the Canadian maj-gen believes that they are.

KGS said...

Hi Toby,
One more thought. Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions clearly state that:

"The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."

International law expert Yoram Dinstein Yoram states:

"Should civilian casualties ensue from an attempt to shield combatants or a military objective, the ultimate responsibility lies with the belligerent placing innocent civilians at risk."

I happen to agree.

Anonymous said...

toby, hi,
could you please say, if possible of course, what happened to Marion? Where is she now?