Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Pity the nation

Bylining AP, Ha’aretz reported last week ‘that the Israel Defense Forces has handed over data on cluster bombs fired during the 2006 war’, confirming their moral purity. After all, legend has it that the US still hasn’t provided maps of their landmines in Vietnam more than three decades down the track.

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Cluster bomblets gathered to be destroyed by de-miners in Tyre, southern Lebanon. Israel fired over four million bomblets during last year's war, according to the UN [IRIN caption]

And in case you were entertaining any lingering doubts, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported in December 2007 that no less an authority than

Israel's military advocate-general, Brig-Gen Avihai Mendelblit, has said the military's use of cluster munitions during the conflict in Lebanon in 2006 was in accordance with international humanitarian law. Human rights groups and the UN had previously condemned the use of the bombs.

The " majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas", but in some cases the military hit residential areas, responding to rocket attacks by Hezbollah. In Maroon a-Ras, the bombs were used to "allow the evacuation" of Israeli soldiers.


In August 2006, Jan Egeland, then the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, had harshly condemned Israel's use of cluster bombs, calling it "shocking and completely immoral."

"Ninety percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution," he said, adding that populated areas, such as homes and agricultural land were now covered with unexploded bomblets.

Last Thursday, IRIN reported

Coming nearly three years after the war ended, despite repeated requests by the UN, Lebanon and other governments, the move was met with little cheer by the Lebanese authorities.

Since the end of hostilities in 2006, 40 Lebanese have been killed by unexploded ordnance and a further 300 injured, many left permanently disabled.

Photo: Dina Debbas/IRIN

Marwa, an 11-year-old from Aita Shaab in southern Lebanon, receiving treatment last year for injuries stemming from a cluster bomblet that exploded while she was playing with it [IRIN caption]

Diplomatically neglecting to mention the three years between the requests and the delivery of the maps, the Ha’aretz article reports, ‘The move follows UN and Lebanese calls for information that could help eliminate the threat...’

Unfortunately, it takes more than maps to demine Southern Lebanon.

Deminers in south Lebanon clearing hundreds of thousands of unexploded Israeli-dropped cluster bomb sub-munitions will lose two thirds of their teams this year unless a drastic funding shortfall is addressed.

...with 20 demining teams working in Lebanon clearing 800 square metres per working day, clearing the remaining 12 million square metres of affected land will take over eight years to finish...

Having started the year with 26 demining teams, plus five from UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, the number of teams will fall to just nine plus UNIFIL by the end of the year, according to figures from the Lebanon Mine Action Centre (LMAC), which has recently been absorbed into the Lebanese Army's demining division.

As always, it goes without saying that it’s The International Community that is left to pick up the tab for cleaning Israel’s mess.

So it’s beginning to look like it will be more than another eight years before it’s safe for kids to play and farmers to cultivate their land, assuming, that is, that Israel doesn’t drop any more over that period. We know that the US made an emergency shipment to Israel as the war on Lebanon had depleted their existing supply.

In February 2007, Dianne Feinstein introduced her Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, which banned sales of cluster munitions with a failure rate exceeding 1%. But never mind, at least it’s not the reported 40% of the older models. This past February, Ms Feinstein reintroduced her bill, which now languishes in committee. So there’s no major impediment to Israel importing more vintage bombs, and even if it ever passes, with up to 2000 ‘submunitions’ in each cluster bomb, we’d still end up with 20 little landmines scattered around each bomb site.


  1. In fact, the unexploded bomblets have killed at least 13 demining personel, in addition to several dozen civilians. See here.

    But it's all unintended, mine you. Sorry, mind you.

  2. Robert Fisk's book Pity the Nation was a scathing indictment of every political faction in the Lebanese wars from the mid-70s to the early 90s (although some got off somewhat more lightly than others - I think he had a special hatred for the Phalange). The title was from a poem by Lebanese poet Kahil Gibran, who was castigating his own country:

    Of course, the violence of Israel was one of the biggest targets of Fisk's book. The level of violence used by Israel in its 1982 invasion & subsequent occupation was significantly greater than in the 2006 war.

    What many observers don't realise is that the high level of violence Israel uses in its wars, and especially the disproportionate violence in its most recent wars, derives from Israel's weakness, not its strength.

    The 1982 invasion of Lebanon & subsequent occupation demonstrated how little tolerance there is in Israel for suffering casualties in its aggressive wars. Subsequently, Israeli military action has been designed (though not always executed) to minimise Israeli casualties through the application of overwhelming force to the enemy.

    It is notable, therefore, that the military objectives of Israel in its recent wars have been very limited and even those were not achieved. I think the inexorable rise of the ultra-Right in Israel is a product of a reluctance to recognise the military & political dead end which Israel is now in. It can flail around & do untold damage, but it can't solve its problem.

    Something's gotta give, but I can't predict exactly what or even approximately when.

  3. Thanks for your comments, comrades.

    You’re right, Ibrahim, a quick search reveals that at least one Belgian and one British deminer have fallen to the bomblets, and they couldn’t have been included among the ‘40 Lebanese’ mentioned in that IRIN article. I should have brought it up.

    If truth be told, I still haven’t read Fisk’s Pity the nation and it’s not my top priority, either. I just thought the title fit the content. I wasn’t thinking about Gibran. I read a lot of Gibran when I was a kid, but don’t recollect that one, oddly enough. Now that I’ve read it, though, I have to agree with one of the commenters on the post that Gibran probably didn’t intend it to be specifically about Lebanon. Certainly, I read it as more generally applicable, and from what I remember of Gibran, it seems more plausible. Curiously, I’d have expected you to read it that way, too.

    Israel’s military objectives in the 2006 Lebanon war and in the recent Gaza pogrom did not start out as limited as you suggest, although the propagandists later moderated them. The aim of Operation ‘Just Reward’ was initially reported to be to demolish Hizb’allah. Similarly with ‘Cast Lead’.

    Still, it’s a fair point that the IOF doesn’t appear to be what it used to be. They reckon manning checkpoints, bulldozing houses and olive groves, and shooting kids takes its toll on a fighting force.

    It turns out that it’s not just through overwhelming force that Israel protects its soldiers. There’s a very interesting article on ZNet by Muhammad Ali Khalidi about the IOF’s fabled ‘purity of arms’, which I may do a post about.
    To cut to the chase, two Israeli ‘philosophers’ have developed a doctrine that makes targeting of soldiers in combat terrorism and ‘enemy’ civilians into combatants, with a view to enhancing Israeli soldiers’ safety. Geneva, Schmeneva – one Jewish fingernail is worth a million Arabs, after all.

  4. The bit that made me think he was speaking about Lebanon specifically was the last line:

    Pity the nation divided into into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.Fisk's book, which I had only just finished reading a couple of days before Ernie's post, displays his liberal/pacifist leanings, but this is not as much of a handicap as it is in his more recent book, The Great War for Civilisation. He put Gibran's poem as a frontispiece and many parts of it come to mind as one reads the book.

    There's a bio of Gibran on Wikipedia:

    Something that was news to me is that the entry makes it clear he was a nationalist for Greater Syria, as distinct from both Lebanon & the Arabs generally. Given the later political dominance of the Phalange amongst the Lebanese Maronites, his position is interesting.

    His Greater Syrian nationalism gives a clear perspective on the last line, as Greater Syria had been carved up into four pieces by France & Britain under the auspices of the gang of thieves known as the League of Nations. It also applies in spades, however, to Lebanon itself.

  5. When you wrote '...castigating his own country', I assumed you meant Lebanon. Sorry about that. In light of the information about his Syrian nationalism, your hypothesis seems more plausible. Still, Syria was not the only part of the Ottoman Empire split up by the Sykes-Picot treaty.

    On a lighter note, look what I found! Lawrence Ferlinghetti's parody:

    (After Khalil Gibran)
    Pity the nation whose people are sheep
    And whose shepherds mislead them
    Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
    Whose sages are silenced
    And whose bigots rule the airwaves
    Pity the nation that raises not its voice
    Except to praise conquerers
    And acclaim the bully as hero
    And aims to rule the world
    By force and by torture
    Pity the nation that knows
    No other language but its own
    And no other culture but its own
    Pity the nation whose breath is money
    And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
    Pity the nation oh pity the people
    who allow their rights to erode
    and their freedoms to be washed away
    My country, tears of thee
    Sweet land of liberty!

    I think it's an improvement.