The Human Factor
Even the notoriously noncommittal Kofi Annan must have been surprised when a journalist questioned his credentials for refereeing the current Mideast free-for-all.
At a press conference in Rome after the failed Middle East peacekeeping talks, an English-speaking journalist drove hard at Mr Annan. Didn't the UN secretary-general think that his condemnation of Israel for deliberately bombing the UN position undermined his qualifications to be an honest broker in the conflict?
Annan pointed out that the questioner misquoted him. He did not say "deliberate bombing" but "apparently deliberate bombing".
It was a little hard to understand why the questioner chose to tackle Annan on that point, since it had been clear for some time that there was no question that Israel had bombed the UN outpost after having been warned several times that they were firing perilously close to the UN position.
In fact, Israel's commander in the field, who could see the UN position, was warned at least 10 times, at least six of those times by an Irish member of the UNIFIL team. And when Israel finally destroyed the post, it was done by way of a bomb and a precision-guided missile. If that doesn't sound at least like an "apparently deliberate" act I can't imagine what could.
Israel's frustration is showingThe plan was to teach its enemies a short, sharp lesson, to castrate Hezbollah and to punish the Lebanese for allowing 'terrorists' to hijack their country. Even the Lebanese government seemed to agree at the beginning of the conflict. It might be a good thing to discipline Hezbollah, it suggested. But that soon turned to something else.
The Lebanese prime minister and foreign minister were soon saying that Hezbollah were Lebanese, patriotically defending their homeland. In fact, Hezbollah is a party and is included in the Lebanese Cabinet. The turnaround in attitude came when it became clear that far from being taught a short, sharp lesson, Hezbollah was fulfilling its promise to surprise Israel and the world.
In two weeks of relentless bombardment, the Israeli incursion has still not got past first base in Lebanon, and on Wednesday, at Bint Jabayl, a town they said they had surrounded, if not captured, the Israel Defence Force suffered a brutal setback, losing nine troops and many more wounded in intense fighting. The Israelis have admitted losing 33 soldiers; Hezbollah have said they have lost 35.
The Israelis have said that their assault was precisely aimed at Hezbollah assets, not at the civilian population. Clearly, civilian losses included 600 people (according to the Lebanese government), about 200 of them children; 5,000 homes, one toilet paper factory, one bottle factory and 150 other businesses. Nearly one million Lebanese have been driven from their homes.
By Thursday afternoon, a partial list of other important Lebanese assets destroyed by Israel included: The Beirut Lighthouse and the ports of Beirut, Tripoli and Jounieh; three dams, two power stations and one sewage plant; 62 bridges, 22 gas stations, 72 road overpasses, and 600 kilometres of road.
In the realm of communications, Hezbollah's Al Manar TV station was one of two TV stations destroyed, along with two mobile phone networks.
And finally, in addition to this impressive list of presumably military targets, we must add one military airport, two civil airports, four radar installations and one army barrack.
According to ReliefWeb:
"As of July 26, WHO reported . more than 1,267 people are injured. The conflict has affected an estimated 800,000 people, including internally displaced, individuals under siege, refugees, and asylum seekers.The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 45 per cent of the displaced population are children. Approximately half of them - about 125,000 - are living in 587 schools and shelters and are in urgent need of water storage and tankers, improved sanitation, and health kits.
"OCHA estimated that 710,000 people have fled their homes, and the majority are now located in Beirut, Tyre, Sidon, the Chouf mountains, and the Alea region. Although the majority of displaced are staying with relatives and friends, approximately 125,000 are staying in schools and public institutions in Lebanon, and 150,000 have crossed the border into Syria. According to international media reports, remaining residents in southern Lebanon cannot leave due to ongoing attacks and damaged infrastructure."
UNICEF says: "....the insecure situation, especially in southern Lebanon, has severely restricted UNICEF's ability to reach the affected population outside of Beirut. UNICEF joins the rest of the UN family in its call for safe corridors for the delivery of aid to all affected children."
Israel's security Cabinet decided to step up its air campaign against Lebanon on Thursday, but said it would not expand its ground offensive after the death of nine of its soldiers in fighting for Bint Jabayl the day before.
The Beirut Daily Star reports: "According to Elias Hanna, a researcher of military affairs, the decision to limit the ground campaigns was made because "Israelis are traumatised by their negative experience during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982."
"They are afraid of suffering more losses in every village they try to conquer," Hanna added.
The researcher said internal political calculations are also affecting Israel's military strategy.
"The ruling coalition includes the conservative Likud Party, which is constantly trying to prove that the withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000 was a mistake in the first place," Hanna said. The Israeli daily Haaretz said Israeli consensus over a large-scale offensive in Lebanon is beginning to "crack".
"...critics are starting to say the government launched the offensive hastily, with no exit strategy, and many fear the country is again being dragged into a quagmire across its northern border."
The truth is that Israel has got itself into an unholy mess from which it has no easy exit. Since its initial strategy seemed to be based on an easy, lossless victory, a sort of war college setpiece, driving back Hezbollah to its caves, the fact that they have taken nearly two weeks to make any impression in their ground offensive frightens many Israelis. Rockets are still hitting Haifa and there is no progress on the ground in Lebanon. The script was not supposed to be going this way.
Israel is now in a position where 'winning' seems implausible, and anything less will look suspiciously like defeat. Too many IDF soldiers are being killed and the Israeli nation does not want to accept massive casualties.
Having totally destabilised the Hamas government of Palestine, Lebanon seemed a nice bit of icing to add to that cake. Israel, the script went, would then be able, from a position of strength, to impose its solutions on the rest of the Middle East, backed by its invincible partner, the United States.
They felt so confident that they spoke of enforcing UN resolution 1559 demanding the surrender of Lebanon and the disarmament of Hezbollah. This demand is especially poignant, when it is remembered that Israel has, for 50 years, defied scores of UN Security Council resolutions about the settlement of the Palestinian question and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Israeli calculus was based on the doctrines of Ariel Sharon - who saw no reason to obey any law which did not suit him - and a long line of Israeli statesmen who have nibbled away at Palestinian rights and Palestinian property without fear of successful challenge.
This all depended on Arab armies which would fire a few rounds in the air and then retreat, honour satisfied. Hezbollah, it turns out, is made of sterner stuff. But Hezbollah should not have taken Israel by surprise. It was that organisation after all, which drove the Israelis to vacate Lebanon 20 years ago after Sharon's bloody and unsuccessful attempt to settle Palestine by way of Lebanon.
This time the defeat will be more easily visible on a larger stage, particularly because the United States and Israel have postured so grandly and played their cards so badly.
It was clear, as some Arab commentators have said, that the mere kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers was not the real reason for the start of these hostilities. Soldiers have been kidnapped before and exchanged for prisoners kidnapped by Israel. The original kidnapping was, after all, an attempt to pressure Israel into returning several hundred civilians, including dozens of women and children, held by Israel without charge.
Somehow, the Western Press, in reporting the Palestine conflict, finds it difficult to see Palestinian grievances as real and substantial. They proclaim the illegitimate expression of the grievances but ignore the legitimate grievances themselves. Israel's arrogant kidnapping of several Hamas Cabinet ministers was meant to teach a lesson - a lesson perilously close to the dictum stated some years ago by a Jewish rabbi at the funeral of a Jewish terrorist named Dr Baruch Goldstein.
Goldstein walked into a mosque in Jerusalem with a machine-gun and killed 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 others before he was torn to pieces by the congregation. At his funeral the rabbi, one Yacov Perin, declared "One million Arab lives are not worth a Jewish fingernail".
Western commentators and the Israeli government, echoed by Ms Condoleezza Rice and her president, suggest that the real problem is the support of terrorists by Syria and Iran. In calling for the enforcement of the UN resolution it does not seem to have crossed their minds that there are other, even more relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.
Whether the Israelis and the US Press believe so or not, the UN resolutions were not anti-semitic, nor anti-Zionist, nor anti-Jewish, but were the world's sincere attempts to deliver justice to both sides - to people who have been holding the sharp end of the stick ever since Joshua smote the Amalekites and the Amorites, David smote the Philistines, and the Romans smote the Jews.
The problem is that the Israelis, grievously wronged by European peoples, cannot believe that they can live peacefully and occupy the same general space as any other people. It is an exaggeration to describe the attitude of the Zionists as believing that the Bible is a title to Palestinian real estate, but the behaviour of Ehud Olmert and those Israelis who follow him make it seem very much that way. Olmert is reported to have said he would drive Palestinians mad with sonic booms.
Olmert and many, but not all his predecessors, have behaved as if might is right, that facts on the ground are tantamount to eternal truths. Which is why some 'democrats' were so surprised that the Palestinians, given a chance at democracy, elected Hamas to be their government, and that the Lebanese have now been radicalised, not by Hezbollah, but by the Israel Defence Force. It does not seem to matter that Hamas are Palestinians and Hezbollah are Lebanese, legitimate expressions of their people, not imported from anywhere else.
There is, of course, another difficulty. To attempt to separate Hamas from Palestine and Hezbollah from Lebanon on the ground that they are terrorists would require the dismemberment of the countries. The "Terrorists" have become integral with the populations because they express the terrible grievances of the people.
Many Israelis over the years have realised that you cannot impose peace through war and injustice. Wise Israelis and others have been pointing out for years that every Israeli victory seems to produce a new and larger crop of enemies. The process seems endless.
If we were to calculate the suffering, the number of lives lost and destroyed on all sides, the amount of treasure and culture lost, we would be appalled, horrified, struck dumb, perhaps. It seems acceptable in small doses, until we realise how corroded our souls have become and how much of our civilisations we have thrown into the trash along with the truth.
Any attempt to tell the truth in this conflict is almost immediately denounced as anti-semitic or pro-terrorist and invites violence of one sort or another. But the much larger violences which are ignored by propaganda are likely to be apocalyptic in scale when they do happen, and are inevitable unless we begin to face facts and tell ourselves the truth.
I cannot do my duty to my friend by telling him the lies he wants to hear. If I do that, I am setting him up for his enemy.