Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday 28 August 2006

Unparalleled moral standards

The Jerusalem Post reports (courtesy, as usual, of the indefatigable Tom Feeley of ICH),

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has called on Israel to reevaluate its military rules of war in light of Hizbullah's "unconscionable use of civilians, hospitals, ambulances, mosques and the like as human shields, cannon fodder and weapons of asymmetric warfare."

…Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, … said that …the IDF may have unnecessarily endangered its forces out of moral considerations.

"Like Jews everywhere, we as members of the RCA have always admired the unparalleled moral standards of Israel's armed forces in their military engagements, including sensitivity to the suffering of civilians and other innocents who find themselves caught up in the entanglements of war," said the RCA statement. …

According to Herring, the new combat realities of fighting an enemy that uses its own civilians as human shields dictate a rethinking of IDF military ethics.

…The RCA's delicate criticism of IDF morality was echoed by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed and Rabbi Tzefania Drori of Kiryat Shmona. …

"Our corrupt military morality, which tells us that our soldiers must endanger their lives to protect enemy civilians, is the reason we lost the war," said Eliyahu.

"Anti-Semites demand that we use Christian morality while our enemies act like barbarians," said Drori, accusing the IDF of adopting "Christian morality" as its own.

Three weeks ago, Rabbi Dov Lior announced in the name of the Yesha Council of Rabbis that "when our enemies hold a baby in one hand and shoot at us with the other, or when missiles are purposely aimed at civilian populations in the Land of Israel in blatant disregard for moral criteria, we are obligated to act according to Jewish morality, which dictates that 'he who gets up to kill you, get up yourself and kill him first.'"

"There are no innocent parties in a time of war," he continued. "Rather, one must battle a bellicose city until it is captured. All types of Christian morality weaken the spirit of our army and our nation and cost us the lives of our soldiers and citizens."

My understanding is that there is indeed a Talmudic principle of the rodef ‘pursuer’, which sanctions preemptive actions. The unparalleled moral standards of the Israeli military, however, take this a few steps further - If you can imagine anyone threatening your interests in any way, pre-emptively obliterate them and anyone else who happens to be around at the time and might get in the way.

The principle has doubtless been subject to a millennium of interpretation and commentary. For example, an article by Rabbi Jill Jacobs asserts,

Even as rabbinic law commands the killing of the rodef, this mandate, like the laws of war and punishment, comes with restrictions. Before killing a rodef, one must be certain that this person actually intends to murder, and may even need to verify that the rodef understands the implications of this crime (Talmud, Yoma 85b and Talmud, Sanhedrin 72b). Furthermore, one must do the least harm necessary to stop the rodef from murdering. Thus, one who kills a rodef when breaking a limb would have sufficed is liable for capital punishment (Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a).

And of course, unparalleled moral standards do not prevent the Israeli military from siting its headquarters in a densely populated area of Tel Aviv, or its munitions factories and stores among civilians. And all the other atrocities we have witnessed over the last 58 years and more.

Unparalleled moral standards also apparently sanction violation of the ceasefire whose terms were so favourable to Israel, as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said after the cabinet decision to accept them, but apparently not to comply with them. As Jonathon Cook wrote a few days ago:

In fact, this was no simple “clash” during an intelligence-gathering mission, as early reports in the Israeli media made clear before the official story was established. Israeli special forces launched the covert operation to capture a Hizbullah leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yazbak, way beyond the Litani River, the northern extent of Israel’s supposed “buffer zone”. The hit squad were disguised not only as Arabs -- a regular ploy by units called “mistarvim” -- but as Lebanese soldiers driving in Lebanese army vehicles. When their cover was blown, Hizbullah opened fire, killing one Israeli and wounding two more in a fierce gun battle.

…It is difficult to see how this operation could be characterized as “defensive” except in the language employed by Israel’s army -- which, after all, is misleadingly known as the Israel Defence Forces. UN Resolution 1701, the legal basis of the ceasefire, calls on Israel to halt “all offensive military operations”. How much more offensive could the operation be?

The question keeps arising of whether the ceasefire will hold. This can only mean, ‘will Hizballah abide by the ceasefire’, because Israel has already violated the limp ‘offensive operations’ clause that was supposed to have applied to it. UNSC 1701 was arrived at through such a corrupt and cynical process without consultation with Hizballah, which everyone asserts is one of the chief protagonists, that they would be well within their rights to ignore it. And then there is the little matter of the continuing Israeli occupation, permitted, up to a point, by 1701. Why would Hizballah, or any Lebanese, accept this infringement of their sovereignty, much less tolerate thousands of yobbos armed to the teeth stomping around their communities? As for UNIFIL, under 1701, it becomes a proxy occupation force and is in principle fair game. Under 1701 or any imaginable scenario, UNIFIL could never deploy on the Israeli side of the Blue Line. Their task is to disarm the defenders and it is unthinkable that the aggressor should be disarmed. The answer of course is that any hint of defence or retaliation on Hizballah’s part would reset the clock, becoming the provocation for entirely justified Israeli ‘self defence’ that the ‘international community’ would applaud. Unparallelled moral double standards, but who’s counting?

Tuesday 15 August 2006

Without provocation

Writing about Israeli racism, ‘Fighting Jim Crow in Israel’, Mike Whitney, makes some useful points. But he seems to believe that ‘Nations, like people, can change their behavior if they see it is in their own best interests.’ This is unnecessarily naïve. Israel needs to change more than its behaviour. The very racism he identifies in Israeli behaviour arises directly from the racism that underlies the entire Zionist project. In advocating ‘move towards an integrated, multi-ethnic society’, he implicitly rejects this, but offers no more by way of a strategy than ‘Israel should consider the same path that every other democratic, pluralistic society has taken; tear down the walls, amend the laws so that everyone’s rights are respected equally’. As if! And he doesn’t even mention the refugees – one of the central issues that needs to be addressed before justice, and the potential for peace, will come to Palestine.

In his latest brilliant diatribe against the execrable Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Professor of Torture, Norman Finkelstein aptly quotes Hitler’s Commissar Order:

In the fight against Bolshevism it must not be expected that the enemy will act in accordance with the principles of humanity or international law - any attitude of consideration or regard for international law in respect of these persons is an error.

As Finkelstein emphasises, this has an uncannily familiar ring to it. Now, ‘we’ are ‘facing an unprecedented threat’ requiring ‘us’ to dispense with any consideration of civilians in waging ‘war’ against it.

I’m delighted to be able to report that the eminent Robert Fisk shares my scepticism about the Heathrow gatorade terrorism plot, although he doesn’t mention November’s US mid term elections as a factor:

And I'm sure it's quite by chance that the lads in blue chose yesterday - with anger at Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara's shameful failure over Lebanon at its peak - to save the world. After all, it's scarcely three years since the other great Terror Plot had British armoured vehicles surrounding Heathrow on the very day - again quite by chance, of course - that hundreds of thousands of Britons were demonstrating against Lord Blair's intended invasion of Iraq.

He also has intelligent things to say about anti Muslim racism, the terror he and other Beirut residents have been experiencing for over a month, and the real causes of the retail terrorism that the ‘war on terror’ aims to eradicate, or exacerbate, through wholesale terror.

Ha’aretz reports that, in response to accusations by the Palestnian Israeli legal association:

In reference to the incident in Qana, in which many Lebanese civilians were killed in an Israel Air Force strike on a heavily populated building, [attorney Nick] Kaufman [who was the prosecutor at the international former Yugoslavia trial, which ruled, "The international community must not tolerate such crimes, no matter where they may be perpetrated, no matter who the perpetrators are and no matter what the reasons for them may be.”] says that the killing was apparently inadvertent. "It was not malicious, not intentional and not impulsive. This was not a criminal action," he said.

According to Kaufman, there have been instances reminiscent of the current situation in Lebanon that have not been considered in violation of international law, such as the current U.S. military operation in Iraq.

Can’t quibble with that. A perfect illustration that ‘international law’ does not apply to actions, but to actors, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Further to the last post, here is a link to part two of the Shaoul article on the Israeli ‘peace movement’ on WSWS.

There’s been a lot of intelligent commentary on UNSC 1701, but one aspect that nothing I’ve seen so far has touch upon is in Article 6, which:

Calls on the international community to take immediate steps to extend its financial and humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, including through facilitating the safe return of displaced persons and, under the authority of the government of Lebanon, reopening airports and harbors, consistent with paragraphs 14 and 15, and calls on it also to consider further assistance in the future to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Lebanon.

Now how does it come to pass that anyone could envisage that it is the responsibility of ‘the international community’, that is, taxpaying grunts around the world, to clean up the mess that Israel made? I suppose US taxpayers footed the bill for the planes and ordnance, and paid for Bush and Rice and Bolton to prevent a timely ceasefire, and underwrote the people who either directed or approved Israel to cause the damage, so they ought to contribute something to the cleanup. But surely the Israelis must bear some responsibility?

For a moving and insightful commentary, Azmi Bishara writes in al Ahram, ‘The peoples of the world are divided into the haves and have-nots of F-15s and F-16s.’

Last night Sam Bahour sent around this timely reminder on his ePalestine list:

“I want to make it clear: This morning’s events were not a terrorist attack but the action of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason and without provocation. The Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a member, is trying to undermine regional stability. Lebanon is responsible and Lebanon will bear the consequences of its actions.” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, July 12, 2006

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s NYT providing a blow by blow account of the negotiations leading to UNSC1701. It suggests that the deal on the final wording arose from US concern about Israel losing the war:

As evidence of how committed the United States had become to the notion that an Israeli military victory was no longer an option, Ms. Rice and other administration officials posed pointed questions to the Israelis about the likely consequences of an intensified military push.

While omitting passages referring to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the drafters still wanted

to give the force the power that France, the United States and Israel felt it needed to keep Hezbollah from reoccupying southern Lebanon.

But southern Lebanon is where Hizballah were born and raised and have always lived. Why shouldn’t they occupy it? Unless of course, ethnic cleansing is the name of the game.

I heard last night that the ceasefire was holding, at the same time as they reported that Israeli troops had killed one ‘Hisballah fighter’ who was threatening them. It was probably just some poor guy coming to give them a cake or something.

Robert Fisk is predicting that the ceasefire will not last:

But if the ceasefire collapses, as seems certain, neither the Israelis nor the Americans appear to have any plans to escape the consequences. The US saw this war as an opportunity to humble Hizbollah's Iranian and Syrian sponsors but already it seems as if the tables have been turned. The Israeli military appears to be efficient at destroying bridges, power stations, gas stations and apartment blocks--but signally inefficient in crushing the "terrorist" army they swore to liquidate.

"The Lebanese government is our address for every problem or violation of the [ceasefire] agreement," Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said yesterday, as if realising the truce would not hold.

And that, of course, provides yet another excuse for Israel to attack the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon.

I have often wondered when reading George Lakoff whether he is actually aware of the ‘frames’ he is using himself. It seemed implausible, but my inclination was to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite his weird notion that the Democratic party was, or could become, if they framed their policies correctly, a progressive force. Robert Jensen shares my concern in his review of Lakoff’s latest book:

Ironically, Lakoff's new book -- Whose Freedom? The Battle over America's Most Important Idea -- demonstrates that problem all too well. His worldview seems to keep him from the very critical self-reflection that he counsels for liberal/progressive people.

Information Clearing House posted an interesting piece by Antony D’Amato this morning dissecting UNSC1701.

OP1. Calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations;

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah has called this provision unfair: it only bars "offensive" military operations by Israel while prohibiting "all" Hezbollah attacks. Yet this is what lawyers would call a distinction without a difference. So long as Hezbollah ceases all attacks, Israel would not have any justification for offensive or defensive operations.

The problem with this analysis is that the distinction does make a difference. Israel claims that its devastation of Lebanon over the last month was entirely defensive. Indeed, I’m not aware of any military action Israel has ever engaged in, whether against neighbouring states or against the Palestinians under their occupation, that was anything other than defensive in character. This is patently rubbish, as anyone can attest. But when push comes to shove, it will be up to the US, in the guise of John Bolton who will determine whether Israel has violated the letter or the spirit of 1701, and I don’t think there is any doubt how that will swing. Meanwhile, Hizballah is banned from taking any military action whatsoever against the Israeli troops occupying their country. So go figure.

D’Amato considers article OP6, calling on ‘the international community’ to clean up Israel’s mess, ‘A sound humanitarian provision to which no one could object.’ Well, maybe not quite no one, as noted above.

He anticipates that OP8, which creates a ‘security zone’ from the Blue Line to the Litani, will be an ‘economic bonanza’ for the region. That must be why they decided to create it on Lebanese territory, rather than on the Israeli side of the line! He goes on to envisage, ‘Not only will displaced Lebanese civilians return to the area, but Palestinian refugees might also emigrate there to take up the many jobs that will be created.’ So it will also assist in the Israeli ambition to transfer the Palestinians out of Palestine.

And finally, today’s Times reports:

The Lebanese war also raises even more serious questions, suggests Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis, about the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Israel respected the international border with Lebanon as verified by the United Nations, and it was Hezbollah that violated the border. “If international borders mean nothing,” Mr. Feldman asked, “why should the Israeli public support a withdrawal from the West Bank to create a Palestinian state?”

Preserving the idea of a two-state solution is one reason Mr. Olmert went to war, Mr. Feldman said. And it is one reason the Security Council acted as strongly as it did to defend the integrity of the international border and mandate an expanded United Nations force to protect it. But whether Israelis will trust those guarantees is yet another open question.

In NYT parlance, apparently, daily flights across the border with sonic booms over populated areas for a period of years constitutes respect for the border. Steven Erlanger may be right to assert that Olmert’s objective was to preserve the idea of a two state solution, but surely everything he’s said and done shows that he will go to any length to avoid the idea becoming a reality. In any case, creating a sectarian non Jewish state alongside the sectarian Jewish state has never been a solution to anything.

Monday 14 August 2006

Reductio ad absurdum

I seem to be falling behind, and as I will be on the road for the next several weeks, this situation is likely to persist. A few days ago, I received a link to this analysis by Michel Chossudovsky ("Triple Alliance": The US, Turkey, Israel and the War on Lebanon). The paper was in my view much too long and didn’t really contribute much, but concludes with an interesting approach to ‘international law’, which I interpreted as a reductio ad absurdum argument, although I’m not at all confident it was intended that way.

Worth reading however, is ‘War now, peace later: Israel’s doves line up behind war Part one’ By Jean Shaoul in the 12 August WSWS. I’m looking forward to part 2.

Last night while subjecting myself to CNN, there was a long interview with Israeli ambassador to the US, Daniel Ayalon. I could hardly believe how cynical and mendacious he was. When asked whether he thought Hizb'allah would abide by the ceasefire, and he went on about how you couldn’t trust people who…and went on to spin a buch of crap about alleged Hizballah atrocities. Until, that is, they broadcast FM Tzipi Livni’s statement on the Israeli cabinet’s ‘acceptance of the UNSC resolution. She blathered on about how they would never consider a prisoner swap and effectively said that while the cabinet accepted the resolution, they weren’t about to comply with it in any meaningful sense, even though Israeli officials had drafted it and it was very advantageous to Israel. It was amazing how self righteous Ayalon and Livni sounded about how important it was to ensure that every UN resolution was implemented to the letter. CNN is a real education. Meanwhile, they've been dropping as many bombs as they can on Beirut before the ceasefire takes effect in what was then about 16 hours' time – now about half an hour off. It’s a funny way to prepare for a ceasefire. I'm not optimistic. Hizb'allah says they'll go on fighting until the last Israeli soldier leaves, apparently, and Israel says it will only fire in self defence. But then, when has Israeli ever done anything that was not in self defence?

A friend wrote the other day:

In your True to Form article, you say:

And they have united the Arab ‘street’ across the Middle East, undermining the Sunni-Shi’a split and threatening the ‘moderate’ Arab monarchies and dictatorships beloved of the US. You’d almost think these were unintended consequences. But can they really be so stupid as not to have anticipated these outcomes?

All the evidence I've seen indicates that Israel didn't anticipate things to fall out this way. The military promised the Government that it would all be over in days, and the Government promised Bush it would, too. What they got, however, was a war against an opponent who knew how to fight & had the arms to take out some of Israel's high price-tag equipment.

They definitely weren't bargaining on losing an F16, or on losing 15 tanks on Thursday 10 August alone.

From what I understand, Bush is ropeable with Olmert, and the press are full of stories about the backbiting going on in Israel about this developing disaster. And make no mistake - this war is a disaster for Israel. The illusion of invincibility generated by the 6 Day War & the Yom Kippur War has been blown to smithereens. There will now be a lot more pressure for a faction of "realists" to emerge amongst the Zionists, people who recognise that Israel cannot be a new Sparta, and who decide that a deal of some sort with the Palestinians is a necessity. The longer this war goes on, the greater the repurcussions will be. Unless Israel suffers even more serious military setbacks, however, the fallout probably won't be seen until afterwards.

In Solidarity,


"Who was that?" "Oh, just a bloke I met."

And here is my response:

As for the substance of your comment, there have been reports that the Israeli military has been planning just such a 'retalliation' ever since Hizb'allah evicted them in 2000 and that this specific campaign was planned over a year ago and divulged in confidence to the US government and even the media and has been simulated and trained for. That plan is purported to have been for a campaign of several weeks' duration. If so, then I don't think it is correct that they expected it to be over in days, although media reports at the time, before the existence of the plan became public knowledge, certainly suggested that.

That said, I'm sure you're right that the steadfastness of the resistance has taken a lot of people by surprise. As I've written somewhere recently, probably in this blog, I consider it imprudent to underestimate the adversary's intelligence. So I tend to operate on the assumption that they have thoroughly thought things through and that whatever the actual turn of events, it is a scenario they have considered and planned for, if only as a contingency. So what surprises me is that to all appearances, Israel's brilliant military planners are on the back foot and were not ready at all for the entirely predictable eventualities.

Unfortunately, the pan Arab uprising that looked like a real possibility a few weeks ago has not happened yet and with the passage of time, I think the likelihood is fading. I'd like to think another Qana or the like might be the last straw, but the bombing of the civilian convoy near Sidon the other night doesn't seem to have triggered anything.

The realistic Zionists know that a Jewish majority cannot be maintained in "Israel proper', much less in the expanded Israel they yearn for, over the long term. If there were a just resolution of the refugees' plight, a Jewish majority would not be sustainable even over the short term. That's what they mean when they speak of the right of return leading to 'national suicide' - with a non Jewish majority, the Jewish state cannot survive.

For a Zionist - for someone who believes that a sectarian Jewish state in Palestine has 'a right to exist' as such - this has certain consequences. A couple of years ago, in an interview in Ha’aretz, prominent revisionist historian, Benny Morris, who was among the first to document the ethnic cleansing that lies at the heart of the Jewish state, was honest enough to enunciate these:

…this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country - the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion - rather than a partial one - he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.

If the end of the story turns out to be a gloomy one for the Jews, it will be because Ben-Gurion did not complete the transfer in 1948. Because he left a large and volatile demographic reserve in the West Bank and Gaza and within Israel itself.

The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb…They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then…If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified.

Obviously, this is not the kind of realist you are talking about. My point is that this is what reality entails for those intent on the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Maybe you define Zionist differently?

The suggestion that ‘a deal of some sort with the Palestinians is a necessity’ opens a bit of a can of worms. Since the Oslo fiasco in 1993, ‘the Palestinians’ has always been taken to denote the corrupt, morally and financially bankrupt, quisling Palestinian Authority. But, just like a real state, the PA doesn’t even represent its own constituency. And just like Israel, it purports to, but absolutely does not, represent the diaspora.

In my view, the election of a Hamas led government in January had the potential to address at least in part the corruption and the quisling nature of the PA, but I think the Israelis have now rendered that moot. Hamas might have even considered the needs of the refugees in a way that the old Fatah PA never did. But that is not the same as representing them. They don’t even get to vote in PA elections, much less have any real sway over the PA’s actions. In any case, I think you will agree that the right to return is not negotiable. In principle, if rights of this kind have any meaning, they are individual rights, so nobody can negotiate them away on behalf of each individual refugee. Furthermore, if you believe that a right is inalienable, even the individuals who ‘possess’ them can’t negotiate over them.

There can never be peace without justice. And in this situation justice transparently entails redress for the refugees, including the right of return, which would at least erode the Jewish majority as an immediate consequence and certainly terminate the Jewish majority in due course, if not immediately. So even if the existence of a sectarian Jewish state in some distorted way could be seen as consistent with justice, there is no way it can survive what justice requires.

Leaving aside the substance of ‘a deal of some sort with the Palestinians’, the question arises of who will endorse any deal negotiated with, say, the PA? Would there be a global referendum that all Palestinians can participate in? If so, how could you be sure that nobody was disenfranchised? Would it be good enough just to canvass the views of those living in the camps? If not, in what sense would the deal be with the Palestinians, other than in the restricted and meaningless sense of the PA?

To cut to the chase, it seems to me that anyone who is realistic about their Zionism ultimately has to agree with Morris that ‘it was a mistake to think that it would be possible to establish a tranquil state here that lives in harmony with its surroundings… We are doomed to live by the sword.’ In other words, a new Sparta is precisely what a ‘realistic’ Zionism means.

Morris envisaged circumstances in which he thought it would become acceptable to complete the expulsion of 1948:

If we find ourselves with atomic weapons around us, or if there is a general Arab attack on us and a situation of warfare on the front with Arabs in the rear shooting at convoys on their way to the front, acts of expulsion will be entirely reasonable. They may even be essential.

Sometimes I think that Israel’s most recent wave of bombings and shellings, particularly in the wake of the media construction of an ‘Iranian nuclear threat’, is an attempt to manufacture a situation where they can justify further ethnic cleansing to themselves.

A NYT editorial the other day opined:

The resolution that the Council finally passed last night will have to be put into effect as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and must lead to a lasting political solution that can avoid future conflicts. That will require more than just an immediate halt to hostilities by both sides and an early withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. It will also require the dispatch of an international military force with sufficient authority and firepower to guarantee that there can be no repeat of the Hezbollah provocations that set off this destructive conflict.

As hard as it will be to seal the border against Hezbollah infiltrations into Israel, that will not be enough. Hezbollah has rockets that can be fired from deep inside Lebanon at targets deep inside Israel. These must be stopped as well, ideally by the full disarmament of Hezbollah that the Security Council first called for in 2004.

Obviously, it is Hizballah that must be fully disarmed, in accordance with the UNSC’s dictates. One of the problems with the UN is that its membership is national states. ‘Non state actors’, like Hizballah, simply do not have standing. It is illegitimate for them to defend themselves or others, even where the state that claims jurisdiction does not possess the inclination or the capacity to do so, or as in the case of Lebanon, either the capacity or the inclination. The UN can pass judgement on a non state actor, provided that the US agrees, but the subject of the judgement has no say, no defence, no representation. By the same token, it doesn’t appear to occur to the UN, or most of the commentators, that the party that really needs comprehensive disarmament is the aggressor.

Washington, which rightly stood by Israel but wrongly refused to call for a cease-fire or engage in meaningful diplomacy with Syria, also paid a price that could further complicate problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. A rapid and effective follow-through on yesterday’s resolution could make up for some of these losses. Anything less will only compound the damage already done.

The real issue, as always, is problems for the US in its humanitarian work.

And on ‘The London Plot’, the NYT again:

Here is what we want to do in the wake of the arrests in Britain. We want to understand as much as possible about what terrorists were planning. To talk about airport security and how to make it better. To celebrate what worked in the British investigation and discuss how to push these efforts farther. It would be a blessed moment in modern American history if we could do that without turning this into a political game plan.

Now I’m going to be doing a lot of flying over the next few weeks and I don’t welcome the inconvenience of increased ‘security’ at the airports. I am not as distressed as some people I’ve been corresponding with about checking the laptop. But when you’re moving for a period of years, you really need the cabin baggage to stay under the 20kg checked baggage limit. None of the coverage I’ve seen has mentioned whether the airlines are relaxing their checked baggage weight limits to compensate when they insist you check your cabin baggage.

As for security, I’d feel a lot more secure if, for example, the US withdrew its troops from Iraq and stopped sending bunker busters and daisy cutters to Israel.

And speaking of daisy cutters, the Times reports:

State Department officials “are discussing whether or not there needs to be a block on this sale because of the past history and because of the current circumstances,” said the senior official, adding that it was likely that Israel will get the rockets, but will be told to be “be careful.”

Everybody knows that these cluster munitions contain a lot of duds that lie around until some child wanders along and picks them up, losing an arm, or an eye, or a life. As Israel has almost exclusively targeted civilians and civilian areas, why would anyone trust them with such stuff, unless, of course, Arab lives have no value.

Saturday 12 August 2006

Charles Glass on Hizbullah

Charles Glass has a very perceptive and informative article on Hizb’allah in the London Review of Books. I just wanted to draw it to your attention. I felt it enhanced my understanding of the situation in Lebanon.

Barak announced that Israel would pull out in an orderly fashion in July 2000, provided that Lebanon agreed to certain conditions. The Lebanese government, urged by Hizbullah, rejected these conditions and demanded full Israeli withdrawal in accordance with UN Resolutions 425 and 426 of 1978. Barak abandoned Lebanon two months ahead of schedule, suddenly and without advance warning, on 23 May 2000. His SLA clients and other Lebanese who had worked for the occupation over the previous 22 years were caught off guard. A few escaped into Israel, but most remained. UN personnel made urgent appeals for help to avert a massacre by Hizbullah. Hizbullah went in, but nothing happened.

Friday 11 August 2006

A healthy boil

I love the NY Times. It always keeps my blood at a healthy boil.

In an article curiously entitled, ‘Left or Right, Israelis Are Pro-War’, the other day Steven Erlanger wrote:

Even the bulk of the Israeli left feels that way. There is no real peace camp in Israel right now, says Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary general of Peace Now, which has pressed hard for a deal with the Palestinians and on June 22, before this Lebanon war, called for a halt to air raids over the Gaza Strip. “We’re a left-wing Zionist movement, and we believe that Israel has the legitimate right to defend itself,” Mr. Oppenheimer said. “We’re not pacifists. Unlike in Gaza or the West Bank, Israel isn’t occupying Lebanese territory or trying to control the lives of Lebanese. The only occupier there is Hezbollah, and Israel is trying to defend itself.”

…The real debate, he said, “is whether this is the right time to stop the fighting and get a good agreement that accomplishes our goals, or do we have to keep hitting Hezbollah harder in order to get a good agreement.”

In this debate, too, he said, Peace Now “is together with the mainstream of Israelis.” On Wednesday, he said, Peace Now will publish an advertisement — not calling on the government to stop the war, but to “take seriously” the new Lebanese offer to deploy its army to the south.

I have no idea where Erlanger came by the idea that Peace Now is in any way associated with the left, as understood on Planet Earth, but even if he missed the oxymoronic ‘left-wing Zionist’ remark, surely he should have twigged from their position on the ruthless attack on Lebanon that there is no connection. In case his misrepresentation wasn't glaringly obvious, he points out later in the same article:

There have been weekly demonstrations against the war from smaller, more pacifist groups, but they have rarely drawn more than a few hundred supporters.

So at least there are a few Israelis who take being on the left a little more seriously than Peace Now. Oppenheimer makes it clear that Peace Now’s goals are the same ‘our goals’ as the Israeli warmongers’ – at a minimum, to render Lebanon a defenseless client state and consolidate Israel’s position as a perpetual threat to everyone in the neighbourhood.

Similarly, Yossi Beilin, the leader of the dovish Meretz Party, said the left must hold to the principle that the Jewish people have the right to “a democratic and secure state.” In an opinion column in Haaretz, he wrote that the war in both Gaza and Lebanon to secure the release of captured Israeli soldiers is legitimate, “but that is not reason enough to support all aspects of the war,” including the government’s falling “into the trap set by Hezbollah of an extended war of attrition.”

It’s a funny thing about those Israeli doves. They are indistinguishable from hawks, except they can’t tell left from right.

True to form

The NY Times, true to form, continues its Israeli spin. It is worth noting that this is supposed to be coverage, not an opinion piece.


Aid Crisis Worsens as Israel Pounds Southern Lebanon By JOHN KIFNER

Published: August 9, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 8 — A humanitarian crisis deepened across Lebanon on Tuesday as fighting continued to rage between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerrillas along the border, amid indications that Israel was preparing for a major escalation.

‘Fighting continued to rage’ alright, but the humanitarian crisis arises from the bombing and shelling the Israelis are inflicting much more than from the ‘fighting’ on the ground. It might be worth mentioning, if the article aimed to be honest, that Israel’s carpet bombing of southern Lebanon and explicit declaration of a fee fire zone south of the Litani are a serious violation of the laws of war. There can no longer be any doubt that Israel is either deliberately targeting civilians, or is so grossly and consistently incompetent in aiming their precision guided ordnance as to amount to the same thing.

In Tyre, the besieged major city in the south, leaflets fluttered down warning that any car on the roads south of the Litani River could be hit.

“Every vehicle, whatever its nature, which travels south of the Litani will be bombed on suspicion of transporting rockets and arms for the terrorists,” said the leaflets, addressed to the people of Lebanon and signed “State of Israel.”

You’d think that honesty would require the Times to mention at this point how Tyre came to be besieged and that a warning of this kind doesn’t relieve the perpetrator of responsibility. Nasrullah has warned residents of northern Israel that they are in danger from falling Katyushas. But that hasn’t removed the opprobrium for firing them.

The United Nations, as well as the Red Cross and other aid groups, said they were unable to move convoys to the villages around Tyre to deliver supplies or even dig out bodies buried under rubble.

‘Unable to move convoys’? Why would that be? Could be out of petrol, of course, since there’s little left in besieged Lebanon. But actually, it’s because Israel has decreed everything that moves a legitimate target. Some people think that humanitarian aid is protected and that combatants are required to facilitate its passage. Unless it’s Israel.

In Israel, where public and political pressure is mounting over the stalled campaign, after four weeks of conflict, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said he had ordered contingency plans for a bigger ground offensive when the Security Cabinet meets on Wednesday to consider widening the war.

“I have instructed all the I.D.F. commanders to prepare for an operation aimed at taking over launching areas and reduce as much as possible Hezbollah’s rocket launching capability,” he said, using the initials for the Israeli Defense Forces.

“If we see that the diplomatic efforts do not yield the results we expect, we will have to do it ourselves,’’ he added, referring to efforts at the United Nations, led by the United States and France, for a cease-fire resolution.

The only effort the US is putting in at the UN is precisely to preclude a ceasefire.

But with both combatants locked in what each sees as a struggle for survival, it seemed unlikely that a Security Council resolution would have any immediate effect.

Israel has enunciated its desire to wipe out Hizb’allah. Hizb’allah says it wants Israel to release prisoners. But each sees the conflict ‘as a struggle for survival’. So they each have equally pressing and legitimate grounds for continuing to fight. Hizb’allah may or may not have crossed the Blue Line to capture the Israeli POWs, but it doesn’t actually matter, as that kind of violation of territorial integrity has been occurring in both directions since Hizb’allah routed the Israeli occupation in 2000. It is Israeli that has actually invaded in force and is currently occupying territory, which makes most, if not all, Hizb’allah attacks legitimate defense and all Israeli attacks offensive. But Israel ‘sees’ it as a struggle for survival, so they can do as they please.

The last I heard, France’s position was that it would lead an international force once there was a ceasefire and a political settlement in place. Israel, as reported below, ‘would leave only on the arrival of an international force’. Sounds like an impasse to me.

In New York on Tuesday, an Arab League delegation told members of the Security Council that the draft resolution to halt hostilities would only worsen the crisis, because it did not demand an immediate Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

An immediate Israeli withdrawal. What an unreasonable demand! Fancy suggesting that the aggressor withdraw as part of a peace plan!

“What is happening will sow the seeds of hatred and extremism in the area, and provide a pretext for those who feel that the international community is taking sides,’’ said Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar.

I confess that I have not mastered the intricacies of Diplomese, but when the ‘international community’ demands, in the words of the draft resolution, ‘the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations’[emphasis added], when all Israeli operations are by definition defensive, why would ‘those who feel that the international community is taking sides’ require a pretext? one side, the defenders, disarm.

Why would we need a pretext when the international community further calls for ’ the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed and security forces and of UN mandated international forces deployed in this area’, but not for the disarmament of an equivalent area south of the Blue Line?

Why would we need a pretext when the international community ‘require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state’, whose armed forces have shown themselves perfectly capable of resisting bombardment and invasion. If the international community were not taking sides, wouldn’t they demand, at least, disarmament of the aggressor?

As for the seeds of hatred and extremism, weren’t they sown when the Zionists decided they needed to have a Jewish majority in Palestine for their racist ethnocracy and accordingly ethnically cleansed the area in 1948?

A senior Bush administration official said he did not see Israel agreeing to a resolution that would call for an immediate withdrawal. Under the current draft, they would leave only on the arrival of an international force, which would be created by a second resolution that would also address political dimensions of the problems, including the disarming of Hezbollah.

In 1991, the international community, which never wants to be seen taking sides, called for the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Iraq didn’t agree, but that didn’t stop the Security Council from taking decisions, and taking sides.

But the official, requesting anonymity to discuss administration strategy, said the United States saw a plan announced Monday by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon, which would send 15,000 Lebanese troops to the south, as something that could be written into the resolution to win Arab support.

Winning Arab support is important; not interfering with Israeli military and geopolitical objectives is much more important; saving Lebanese lives is irrelevant

“If the way this ends is deployment of the Lebanese armed forces to the blue line,” he said, referring to the Israeli border, “that would mean that the government of Lebanon was the one who would work with the Israelis to withdraw. It’s one piece of the puzzle that would help to stabilize Lebanon.”

As if! Obviously Israel needs the help of the Lebanese government to withdraw. They couldn’t turn their tanks around and just drive away without somebody’s help, after all. And a stable Lebanon is the whole objective, that’s why the international community has stood by and watched as Israeli aggression forced over 25% of Lebanon’s alleged population from their homes, the most effective stabilizing strategy known to humankind.

Below this, moreover, there is another text. What the Times and its anonymous official source mean by stability is a state of affairs where the Lebanese ruling class, in cahoots with ‘western’ interests, can continue to exploit and oppress the huge majority of ordinary Lebanese unhindered.

There are a couple of things we have Israel to thank for. They have succeeded in uniting the Lebanese across the ‘sectarian divisions’ that have traditionally plagued the country. And they have united the Arab ‘street’ across the Middle East, undermining the Sunni-Shi’a split and threatening the ‘moderate’ Arab monarchies and dictatorships beloved of the US. You’d almost think these were unintended consequences. But can they really be so stupid as not to have anticipated these outcomes?

Meanwhile, in an unusual move Israeli observers suggested was a prelude to heavy combat, the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz of the air force, named his deputy, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, as his personal representative to supervise the fighting in Lebanon. The bypassing of the Israeli ground commander, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, led Israeli television news Tuesday night, with a Channel One reporter, Yoav Limor, saying “the failure is that of the army.” He described General Kaplinsky as “a winning officer” who was sent north to deliver victory.

In the fighting Tuesday, an Israeli airstrike killed 13 people in the Shiite village of Al Ghaziye. Other airstrikes hit the south — about 40 raids in a score of locations — and transportation routes to the east in the mostly Shiite Bekaa Valley.

The Israeli military said three soldiers were killed and eight wounded in the ground fighting on Tuesday. Much of the fighting was centered around Bint Jbail, which was a Hezbollah stronghold a few miles north of the border. Illustrating the tenacity of the fighting, it is an area Israel said it seized weeks ago.

In Beirut, explosions sounded Tuesday night in the heavily Shiite slum districts on the city’s southern edge. Hezbollah fired more than 150 rockets into northern Israel, injuring several people.

‘Explosions sounded’, but no harm done, and of course nobody was responsible, and even if they were, they didn’t mean any harm. But the 150 Hizb’allah rockets…now someone was responsible for firing them, and actual ‘people’ were injured, not Lebanese, not Shi’i, not Hizb’allah supporters, who are all fair game.

[An Israeli strike on a Palestinian refugee camp, Ain el Hilwe, in south Lebanon killed at least one person, medics said early Wednesday, according to Reuters.]

With all of the major highways now cut and with a naval blockade off the coast, gasoline and fuel for generating electricity were running short. With rationing, there is enough fuel for five more days of electricity, a Lebanese government official estimated Tuesday, putting hospitals, already overwhelmed with the wounded, in particular peril.

It sounds like a natural disaster. Again, roads are cut, and there’s even a naval blockade. I wonder how that could have happened.

International aid workers said the situation was particularly dire throughout the south, because convoys could not reach Tyre, nor venture from there to the outlying villages.

This is exactly the kind of verbiage found in reports after last October’s earthquake in Kashmir.

“South of the Litani is off,” said Khaled Mansour, the chief United Nations spokesman in Lebanon, indicating that the agency’s aid convoys had been halted because the last bridge over the Litani River north of Tyre had been blown up.

The United Nations World Food Program has stopped deliveries of food to southern villages because of the danger on the roads, said a spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume.

The World Health Organization warned that if fuel is not delivered soon, 60 percent of the hospitals in Lebanon will “simply cease to function.”

More disaster coverage. There’s danger on the roads, but no cause for the danger. The last bridge ‘had been blown up’. The passive voice is so useful when your objective is not to identify the agent.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Jad Mouawad from Beirut, Warren Hoge from the United Nations, Sabrina Tavernise from Tyre, Lebanon, and Greg Myre from Jerusalem.

Obviously, it takes five journalists to construct a cover up like this. They are all complicit in Israel’s crimes against humanity. But then, as China Mieville wrote recently, ‘International law has always been complicit with imperialism.’

Terrorists foiled!

The most significant terrorist threat since 9/11. Red alert. Nipped in the bud. Peak of the tourist season. US carriers targeted.

I had a look at CNN and BBC world today and the terror scare has virtually banished coverage of Lebanon. Isn’t that convenient? Just like Lebanon shoved Gaza off the radar, and Gaza displaced coverage of the West Bank. So, is it real? Or is it just a convenient excuse to distract attention from the birth pangs of the New Middle East? The talking heads and the presenters all look so solemn and concerned.

Anyone aiming to massacre a lot of civilians would know that bringing down an airliner will definitely kill about 500. So, if there were just the 21 arrested, each on a separate plane, they could dispatch 10,500 or so. But if you really wanted to do a great deal of damage while conserving resources, you might think that a terrorist scare that brought tens of thousands to a major airport two hours earlier than usual, standing around going through enhanced security checks would provide a suitable opportunity. If there’s anything real about this, then I guess the antiterrorist authorities are in on it.

It’s a really nice touch making parents take a sip of their babies’ formula, just in case. It sends the message, ‘We know these terrorist bastards, and they are so cruel and cynical, that they would sacrifice their babies in pursuit of their dastardly aims.' If they are going to die anyway, wouldn’t they just grit their teeth and sip the formula.

Of course the great thing about foiling a terrorist attack is that you send all the cops running around everywhere looking like they’re doing something important in the public interest and nobody will ever know whether it was really going to happen, because it was foiled, after all, thank goodness.

But maybe the terrorists just want to cripple the US airline industry, as the pundits are predicting would have happened? Probably they have stock in Qantas or something?

Wednesday 9 August 2006

Trying times

Just about every day, I’ve been getting something like this via the Ha’aretz and Forward mailing lists.

Dear Friend,

These are trying times for Israel. After weeks of relentless attacks on communities in northern Israel, thousands of people are traumatized, thousands have been forced from their homes, and thousands sit daily in bomb shelters. With cities under attack, suppliers are unwilling to deliver food and all businesses, including grocery stores and supermarkets, are closed due to war. Families sitting in bomb shelters are hungry and have neither the funds nor the capabilities to purchase food.

For friends of Israel who are far from the front-lines, today you can make a difference to those under attack!

Whether it is one meal or hundred meals, please help purchase food for those who desperately count on your support.

Best wishes for a peaceful summer,

Abraham Israel

It sure is tough being an Israeli in these trying times. Still, with near 90% of Israeli Jews cheering on the bombs and missiles, it’s hard to sypathise. If they would just emerge from their bunkers in their millions and march on Jerusalem demanding an end to the slaughter in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank, they could stop it. Just like that. But it appears that this is the kind of life they have chosen for themselves, growling and snapping and often enough biting any Arab who happens to be in the vicinity. A creature like that really ought to be put down before it causes any more damage. Unfortunately, the US, in the guise of the SPCA, won’t hear a word said against the poor demented cur, while feeding the beast to bloating on a strict diet of nutritious morsels like bunker busters. Bur clearly human beings can’t live by bombs alone.

Speaking of dogs, the humanitarian population of northern Israel have left their beloved pets to their own devices, as reported in today’s Ha’aretz:

Thousands of dogs have been abandoned. The cats have lost their food supply and simply die. The dogs are helpless, they can't even jump onto the garbage containers.

Unlike their Lebanese counterparts, the Israeli dogs don’t even have babies’ femurs to gnaw on and assuage their hunger.

Lessons learned

Meanwhile, In Ha’aretz, Yoel Marcus has learned his lesson from the devastation of Lebanon:

By now, it is clear this war is not about Lebanon. Hezbollah is not a local terrorist organization but an operative arm of Iran, Syria, Al-Qaida and the instigators of the attack on the Twin Towers. Israel is not just safeguarding Kiryat Shmona, Hadera and maybe Tel Aviv. It has been forced to become a partner in the war on fire-and-brimstone Islamic fundamentalism and what Bush calls the "axis of evil" in this part of the world.

So let's leave the critiques and the armchair commentary until after the war and face reality. Reality is that we need to take a deep breath and strike Hezbollah with everything we've got, on land and air, until we neutralize it as a military force on our border. It is important to achieve the upper hand by cease-fire time. We have to show them that "Little Satan" has big teeth.

I guess that about says it all.

Palestinian diaspora

This morning I noticed an interesting article on ZNet, entitled ‘Palestinian Diaspora Is Cause of Conflict’ by Gary Olson, ‘chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA’.

The plight of the refugees, some of whom have been living in squalid refugee camps for 58 years, is central to the issue of Palestine and I was very pleased to see someone raise it. The last two paragraphs of the article, however, prompted me to write to Professor Olson.

Dear Professor Olson,

Thank you for raising the little discussed issue of the Nakba and the Palestinian diaspora, which I found at

In this context, it was a little surprising to read, ‘There are courageous and highly principled dissenters in Israel who do not have a moral blind spot where their government is concerned.’ While this is certainly the case, I think it would have been useful to note that even among those dissenters, very few indeed have relinquished their moral blind spot when it comes the founding principles of Zionism and Israel’s ‘right to exist’ as a Jewish state.

You go on to write, ‘The solution is to end the Israeli occupation and face up to the fundemental 1948 issues’. As I think the earlier paragraphs make abundantly clear, foremost among the fundamental 1948 issues is the refugees’ right of return. Israel has insisted that it can never countenance implementation of UN General Assembly resolution 194, much less just redress for the refugees, as it would eventuate in ‘national suicide’. I believe they intend this to be interpreted in terms of their mantra, widely internalized and assumed by the media, that ‘the Arabs want to drive all the Jews into the sea’. But at a more mundane level, what it means is that an influx of returning refugees and their descendants would undermine the project of establishing a Jewish majority, and this is one of the few areas where I concur with their view. I depart from them, however, in evaluating this prospect. Specifically, if justice for the refugees spells the end of a sectarian Jewish colonial settler state intended to act and in reality acting as a bastion of European imperialism in the Middle East, that would benefit everybody, not least those condemned to live with the racism at the heart of Zionism.

Clearly, among the steps that will inevitably form part of a lasting solution are those you specify, ‘Palestinian land occupied in 1967 must be relinquished, the Apartheid Wall dismantled, some 9,800 kidnapped Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails released, Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah must be freed’.

But you go on to write, ‘a fair division of Jerusalem negotiated and equal rights for all recognized at an international conference.’ A division of Jerusalem suggests that it be divided between two (or more?) jurisdictions. I gather from this that you envisage some kind of partition of Mandatory Palestine into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. In my view, a truly economically and politically viable state comprising the West Bank and Gaza has never been feasible for a number of reasons, particularly the impossibility of securing the corridor between the two enclaves from Israeli interference. But more importantly, a just solution to the refugee crisis precludes the existence of a Jewish state, as I argued just now.

Regarding Jerusalem itself, even the 1947 partition resolution, a poorly thought out concept in principle and a downright atrocity in light of the disastrous partition of India just three months earlier, provided, ‘The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.’ That has always struck me as the most sensible aspect of 181 and probably remains a fairly good idea.

In light of the consistent failure of international conferences, including the UNGA and the UNSC, to guarantee anything resembling equal rights for all, it’s not clear that the one proposed in your piece will contribute to a resolution.

Tuesday 8 August 2006

'A right way to help Israel'

A week ago, I got an automated email from advising that their bots had detected that my blog was spam and a human being would review and unlock my blog within one working day. Four days later, I got another automated email advising that my blog had been unlocked. It wasn't true and blogger has declined to answer my emails, so here I am.

The purpose of this blog is to document my reactions to what I read and other stuff I'm thinking about. I might put accounts of my adventures here, or I might put them elsewhere. I intend to upload my previous blog entires, stale though they may be, over the next few days, along with more current stuff. As I am currently relying on a bodgy dial up connection and will be travelling of the next few weeks, posts could become sporadic, but I'll do my best to keep it current and hope that things will settle down in October.

Meanwhile, here is my reaction to a NY Times editorial from 29 July:

Today’s Times had a doozy of an editorial. Anybody would be forgiven for needing reminding that the mainstream media pride themselves on their fairness and balance.


A Right Way to Help Israel

Published: July 29, 2006

There is a difference between justified and smart. Israel’s airstrikes against Hezbollah targets are legitimate so long as Hezbollah wages war against Israel and operates outside the control of the Lebanese government. But the air campaign is now doing Israel more harm than good.

Now I’m no expert on the laws of war, but my understanding is that the UN Charter provides for:

the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. (Article 51)

Now I am still awaiting conclusive evidence that Hizb’allah took those two Israeli soldiers prisoner on the Israeli side of the border. If they did, then presumably that would constitute ‘an armed attack’ in the terms of the Charter. If not, then Israeli has no claim that its response was legitimate.

On the contrary, Israel’s attacks throughout Lebanon would then provide the Lebanese government grounds to react. Hizb’allah is not a state actor, so the UN Charter accords it no rights in this context. This reflects one of the fundamental failings of the whole concept of the UN – only nation states are represented and have granted themselves rights denied to other instrumentalities which may in fact be more representative of actual people than the state with jurisdiction over the relevant territory. This may be the case in Lebanon.

But even if it was legitimate to respond, the legitimacy would certainly be constrained to the ‘Hexbollah targets’ the Times speaks of. Of course in reality, Israel has not restricted itself to striking at carefully identified targets. They have lashed out at clearly marked civilian targets, including, of course, a UN observation post, which they shelled and rocketed for hours, despite pleas to desist.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this paragraph is that the Times is expressing concern about what will do Israel good or harm. They don’t bother offering their sage advice to Hizb’allah, or to Lebanon.

A better answer to the Hezbollah problem would be an immediate cease-fire, paving the way for an international force to patrol Lebanon’s southern border. That is what Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, was pushing for in Washington yesterday, and there were signs that President Bush may be finally coming around.

It is of course Hizb’allah that is the problem. There is no question of Israel being a problem to anyone, notwithstanding its well established and well deserved reputation as a rogue state that acquires territory by conquest, subjects the indigenous population to permanent military occupation, and violates every guideline for the behaviour of occupying powers in the Geneva conventions, not to mention all the UN Security Council resolutions.

An international force, the Times opines, should patrol Lebanon’s southern border. It would never occur to the Times, the UN, Tory Blain, or anyone in their right mind to send an international force to patrol Israel’s northern border, if there was one, that is, and prevent Israeli incursions across it.

The Turkish paper Milliyet was purported to have claimed this morning that a large number of British troops were massing in Cyprus, presumably in preparation to participate in this force. But this brings us back to the attack on the UN.

On this occasion, unlike the previous one, where a Ghanaian UNIFIL soldier was murdered in his home with the rest of his family, at least Mr Annan grew sufficient spine to object, and even accuse Israeli of targeting the installation deliberately. It does him no credit, however, to have accepted Israel’s cynical apology. Just as on the beach in Gaza all those weeks ago, they were just lobbing shells, but never meant to do anyone any harm.

For more than two weeks, Mr. Bush has been playing for time, declining to join calls for an immediate cease-fire so that Israel can continue its military actions. Israel and the administration are right to argue that a cease-fire alone cannot provide a lasting solution. But if Washington is now prepared to exercise diplomatic leadership on behalf of Israel’s security, rather than simply run interference for Israel’s military operations, a cease-fire now could become the first step to a more lasting solution.

Did I miss something? I thought the point of an immediate ceasefire was to minimize harm to the Lebanese civilian population, who are bearing the brunt of Israel’s wanton attacks and will continue to bear it for years to come, while they dig up their relatives’ remains, rebuild their demolished infrastructure, and clean their beaches. The green sea turtles, however, may never recover from the oil spills, nor the ancient forests burning out of control. The Lebanese may have to redesign their flag – a pile of ashes, perhaps, to replace the cedar. No doubt it would provide some relief to the Israelis scurrying to Eilat or down in their bunkers, as well.

The lasting solution, if any, would come about through diplomacy exercised in the calm of the ceasefire. But of course a lasting solution to anything in the Middle East is hardly likely to eventuate as long as Israel perches on its edge, noisily rattling its nukes.

‘There’s no peace without justice’, the saying goes. And it’s not just because oppressed people will never give up fighting until they get justice. It’s also because peace without justice isn’t really peace, unless it’s the peace of the grave.

I will reserve my thoughts on what justice would entail in this context for another post.

The glaring flaw in the administration’s logic is that there is no way that even weeks of Israeli airstrikes can eliminate more than a fraction of the 12,000 rockets Hezbollah is believed to have in Lebanon. And more weeks of television screens filled with Lebanese casualties, refugees and destruction would be a propaganda bonanza for the Hezbollahs and the Hamases, and a mounting political problem for the Arab world’s most moderate and pro-Western governments. Whatever a major Israeli ground offensive might achieve in military terms would have far too steep a political and diplomatic cost. Israel’s 18-year occupation of Lebanon brought no lasting gains, and few Israelis are eager for a repeat.

It goes without saying that whenever people suffer and the tv cameras capture it, ‘the Hezbollahs’, whoever they are – presumably anybody ‘we’ don’t like, at the moment, enjoy the good press it gives them. It’s irrelevant to the Times that the people are suffering. What’s important is the cost to the perpetrator. It’s quite possible, however, that ‘the Hezbollahs’, like normal people, actually care more about the real effects than on the media coverage.

It’s worth mentioning that it matters a great deal what it is that goes without saying. For example, if I were to say something like, ‘Fred’s phone works, but mine is stuffed’, it would be because I feel I can safely assume that you know what it is of mine that is stuffed. It’s ‘old information’ that you already know from earlier in the sentence.

But sometimes the old information has a source outside the sentence altogether. ‘Common sense’ and other widespread assumptions can insinuate themselves into a discourse unnoticed. Manipulating the addressee’s view of a situation through what is left unsaid is actually one of the most subtle and insidious forms of propaganda.

What is needed, as almost everyone now agrees, is a strong international force, including well-armed units from NATO countries, to move into southern Lebanon as quickly as possible. Its mission would be to disarm Hezbollah in accordance with U.N. resolutions, thereby reasserting the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and preventing further attacks against Israel. An immediate internationally imposed cease-fire would spare Lebanese civilians from further suffering.

All of a sudden the Times is concerned about the sovereignty of the Lebanese government, which doesn’t seem to have been a significant issue during the 18 years of direct Israeli military occupation. Obviously, the primary function of the well armed force is to disarm Hizb’allah and to prevent ‘further attacks against Israel’. Again it goes without saying that Israel poses no threat to the Lebanese, notwithstanding the current ongoing attacks and a long history of contempt for the sovereignty of the Lebanese government and the wellbeing of the Lebanese people within living memory.

Yesterday, there were some encouraging signs of movement in this direction, with Mr. Bush sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the Middle East for the weekend and calling for a multinational force to be dispatched quickly. A United Nations meeting to discuss such a force has now been moved up to Monday.

As soon as Monday! Only three weeks into the bombing! Just imagine the UN Security Council sitting on its hands for three weeks following, say, a Syrian attack on Israel.

The pressure for bringing in an international force should now be coming from American diplomacy, not Israeli airstrikes. If Washington is about to come off the diplomatic sidelines to which it has foolishly consigned itself for the past two weeks, it will discover a real opportunity to help Israel’s security, America’s international image and pro-Western Arab governments.

And those are the things that count. Two paragraphs back, the Times shed crocodile tears for the suffering of Lebanese civilians. But now their true colours shine through. Lebanese security, much less Palestinian security or Iraqi or Iranian security, is not even on the agenda. Anyway, what’s another couple of days of bombing and shelling and missile strikes against ‘Hezbollah targets’ that just happen to be Red Cross vehicles, UN peacekeepers, and civilians fleeing under instruction from the invaders.

As for America’s image, I’m not sure there is any way to restore it, but if Mr Bush wanted to try, he could start by sacking the cabinet and the vice president, then resigning himself. Obviously it wouldn’t do to leave Mr Cheney and his henchpersons there to run the show. He could end the military and other aid to Israel and shred his ‘signing statements’ and… Oh, and he could bring the troops home from Iraq, too. But then I guess he’s not really all that concerned about ‘America’s international image’.

Pro western Arab governments look like needing all the help they can get. The people they are busy oppressing under US tutelage may have finally had enough. Boy would I like to see the Saudi monarchy and their ilk get their just deserts!