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UNITED FOR PEACE OF PIERCE COUNTY

"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."

ON LEBANON

July 20, 2006

We call for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the dangerously escalating violence in Lebanon, Israel, and the Gaza Strip. We also call on Americans to demand fairer reporting from the mainstream media, support for international law from our elected officials, and a decent respect to the opinions of mankind from their fellow citizens.

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli patrol along the northern border of Israel, killing three IDF soldiers and seizing two others. The Jerusalem Post described the events that day as follows: "In a meticulously-planned attack by the Hezbollah, terrorists infiltrated into Israel early Wednesday morning and fired anti-tank rockets at an IDF patrol along the western border near Zarit, killing three soldiers and abducting another two. Later a tank, sent in to search for the abducted troops, drove over a large explosive device. Four soldiers were killed. Under heavy fire, IDF troops entered Lebanon to retrieve the bodies of the four soldiers who died in the tank attack. An eighth soldier, part of the search-and-rescue team, was killed in ensuing clashes with the Hezbollah."

Responding to the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denied that the episode was a terrorist attack. Instead, he declared that the attack was an act of war against the nation of Lebanon, saying: "This morning's events are not a terror attack, but the act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation." He said that Israel's response would be "restrained but very, very, very painful."

Since July 12, the Israeli military has unleashed an extraordinary and devastating barrage of violence on Lebanon. Hezbollah, for its part, has declared "open war" with Israel and has increased its attacks. One week later, Lee Keath of the Associated Press reported that 330 persons have died in Lebanon and 31 Israelis have been killed. The United Nations estimates that about 500,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon. Damage to Lebanon's infrastructure is said to exceed $2 billion. Israel has conducted a "relentless bombardment" that has "destroyed roads, bridges, and other supply routes," and has also disabled the Beirut airport. Today, July 20, a ground offensive is reported to be likely: "Pitched battles raged between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters on the border Thursday, and Israel warned hundreds of thousands of people to flee southern Lebanon 'immediately,' preparing for a likely ground offensive to set up a buffer zone." There appears to be no prospect for an early end to the mayhem: though "U.N. chief Kofi Annan warned of a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and called for an immediate cease-fire," he also "admitted 'serious obstacles' stand in the way of even easing the violence. Annan denounced Israel for 'excessive use of force' and Hezbollah for holding 'an entire nation hostage' with its rocket attacks and snatching of two Israeli soldiers last week."

Most of the international community has denounced the use of disproportionate force by Israel as illegitimate. Today the New York Times reported that the U.N.'s top human rights official, Louise Arbour, the former justice of Canada's Supreme Court who is the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, said that Israeli officials could be liable for war crimes. "Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians," she said. "Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable. International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligation to protect civilians during hostilities. This obligation is also expressed in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity. International law demands accountability. The scale of the killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control."

The United States, however, is supporting Israel. Though the White House denies that the U.S. is "cooperating" in the offensive, on July 16 the Washingon Post reported that "senior Israeli and U.S. officials" say that Israel and the U.S. are pursuing a common, concerted, "longer-term" strategy which "is likely to include several weeks of precision bombing in Lebanon." An immediate target is Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah since Israel assassinated his predecessor fourteen years ago, with the longer-term aim being what the Post described as the strangulation of "the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and Iran." Whereas in 1996 the American secretary of state engaged in a week of shuttle diplomacy to broker a cease-fire that ended 16 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, this time U.S. diplomacy is unengaged. The Post reported that diplomacy "is not a viable option to end the current conflict, U.S. officials say. With its diplomacy redefined by the war on terrorism, the Bush administration has opted for a course that plays out on the battlefield." A senior Israel official "said it was 'way, way premature' to consider an end to hostilities. 'There is no sense to have a cease-fire without a fundamental change,' he said. 'That change is to make sure the explosiveness of the situation cannot carry over to the future. That means neutralizing Hezbollah's capabilities.'"

But observers are predicting that Israel's military solution to the problem of Hezbollah will not work. The Financial Times of London reported today that the likely result will be a further radicalization of Lebanon's Shiite population, where Hezbollah is popular: "'The Shia will never forgive the Israelis for this,' said Abdo Saad of the Beirut Center for Research and Information that carries out surveys in Lebanon. Mr. Abdo did an ad hoc poll of the mood among Shia displaced by the fighting and said that they were 'defiant.'" In an interview Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, predicted that Israel's offensive would only increase support for Hezbollah: "The mentality of using force has proved it doesn’t yield results in Lebanon . . . If you carry on doing the same thing excessively you get the opposite effect." As a condition for a cease-fire, Israel is demanding both the return of its captured soldiers and the occupation of southern Lebanon by the Lebanese army, which reporter Roula Khalaf said is impracticable because "the prime minister’s ability to control Hezbollah’s military wing—said to be stronger than the army—is constrained."

Where will it end? Like many who have followed the slowly brewing confrontation with Iran, we fear the eagerness of the Bush administration to connect the new Mideast war to Iran . Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times reported: "That it has become the received wisdom in the U.S. that Iran was directing Hezbollah to deflect international pressure on Tehran's nuclear program is testimony to the Bush administration's ability to dominate the discourse in the mainstream media." In fact, there is no evidence of this, and Hezbollah's action is more likely to have been a response to the massive violations of international law and human decency that had been occurring in previous weeks in Gaza (and which continue). The Financial Times quotes four experts on the question who deny that Iran is likely to be, or can even conceivably be, the cause of Hezbollah's actions. Since the eagerness of the Bush administration and mainstream media to blame Iran raises the chances of a direct conflict between Iran and the U.S., they are acting in a highly irresponsible fashion.

As for most Americans, they are unaware of the full measure of what is taking place. Today Marc J. Sirois, the managing editor of the Beirut-based Daily Star, wrote: "The vast majority of Western media reports do not accurately portray the fact that the vast majority of the dead are civilians, most of them women and children. A Reuters dispatch this week described Israel's choice of targets as 'puzzling,' but for the most part Western television viewers, newspaper readers, and Web surfers are reading highly sanitized versions of the news, spun in such a way as to dilute the brutality of the Israeli onslaught and especially to ensure that blame is placed squarely on Lebanon in general and Hezbollah in particular." He accused the editors of American newspapers of "biased reporting that portrays the Jewish state as weak when it is very strong, moderate when it is frequently extremist, democratic when it is often theocratic, liberal when it is commonly draconian." In the case of the BBC and CNN, for example, Sirois wrote: "With few exceptions, their reports are filed by reporters standing in the relatively safe and comfortable confines of Downtown Beirut, the picturesque showcase of Lebanon's now-aborted recovery from its 1975-90 Civil War. There has been no damage in this part of the city thus far (although there are concerns that that step in the escalation process is rapidly approaching), so the very background is highly misleading about what is happening. Just a few kilometers away in Beirut's Dahiyeh Junubiyyeh (southern suburbs), Israeli air strikes and naval gunfire have reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble." These areas are targeted, he wrote, "[b]ecause they are populated primarily by the impoverished and largely disenfranchised Shiites who make up Hezbollah's constituency. Multiple ironies are at work here. For one thing, the Dahiyeh's 500,000-strong population consists largely of Shiites from the South Lebanon who have fled successive waves of Israeli 'retribution' (i.e. collective punishment). When Palestinian militias attacked northern Israel from South Lebanon in the 1970s, one of Israel's answers was indiscriminate bombardment. This drove tens of thousands of local villagers to Beirut, where they established the Dahiyeh. For another, when Israel first invaded Lebanon in 1978 (not 1982, as typically reported in the Western media), many Shiites greeted them with rose petals. Life under the de facto rule of unruly Palestinian militias had not been easy, so despite the damage and casualties inflicted by Israeli ripostes, it was commonly believed that Israeli occupation might not be so bad. Then came 1982, when the Israelis rolled all the way to Beirut after promising Washington that they meant only to establish a 25-kilometer 'buffer zone.' The carnage in the South was horrific, and the ensuing occupation included measures like the dismissal of local village elders in favor of appointed stooges and provocations timed to coincide with sensitive religious dates. The Shiites revolted, and Hezbollah was born. Subsequent spasm[s] of violence (the worst in 1985 and 1996), usually caused by tit-for-tat exchanges between Hezbollah and the Israeli military that spun out of control, displaced more and more Shiites, filling the Dahiyeh with an understandably resentful generation of young men determined to run no more. All of this goes unmentioned on CNN. Its idea of 'balance' is to make sure that each report about a new massacre of innocents in Lebanon is aired alongside one about civilian injuries or deaths from Hezbollah rocket strikes, even if the incident is 36 hours old. Only rarely do the reports in question mention that while the Dahiyeh is for all intents and purposes a giant refugee camp, northern Israel and the nearby settlements in occupied Palestine are prosperous areas with a substantial contingent of immigrants from places like the United States and Canada, many of whom voluntarily live illegally on occupied Palestinian land. Hezbollah's decision to snatch two Israeli soldiers evinced poor judgment and even worse timing, but the Israeli response has been out of all proportion to the original incident. The numbers speak for themselves. As of Wednesday evening, Israeli attacks had killed at least 292 civilians in Lebanon, while Hezbollah rockets had killed 13 noncombatants in the Jewish state. Lebanon has approximately 3.5 million people. On a per-capita basis, that means that as of Wednesday, the rough equivalent of 9/11 has happened every day here for eight days."

We agree with that while Hezbollah's July 12 border raid was unacceptable, the unacceptability of Israel's massive attack on the nation cannot be justified by it and is of an altogether different order of magnitude. The toll in innocent human life, human suffering, and social and economic devastation is out of all proportion, and we regard the campaign presently under way to be in violation of international law. We are appalled that on Tuesday the United States Senate voted unanimously urging the president “to continue fully supporting Israel as Israel exercises its right of self-defense in Lebanon and Gaza," and that today the United States House of Representatives approved a resolution by a vote of 410-8 saying that it "reaffirms its steadfast support for the state of Israel" while praising Israel for minimizing the loss of civilians in its military assault on Lebanon.

We call for an immediate cease-fire. We also call on Americans to demand fairer reporting from the mainstream media, support for international law from our elected officials, and a decent respect to the opinions of mankind from their fellow citizens.

UNITED FOR PEACE OF PIERCE COUNTY

"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."