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Sol Salbe: Middle East Round-Up

From this morning’s Daily Briefings column: This morning Sol Salbe gives some first impressions of the War on Two Fronts in the Middle East. As Sol says himself he is merely touching the surface. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice he is being overwhelmed with material but he will try to provide us soon with a guide to the major news stories in the Middle East.

Middle East Round-Up

By Sol Salbe

In among the tens of thousands of words being written at the moment on Middle East fighting there lurks some obvious home truths. In a letter to today’s Sydney Morning Herald Dennis Shakesheff managed to condense it into three sentences: “I think most observers would agree that Israel's response to the Palestinians' recent provocation is disproportionate. Yet one can't help but be struck by the stupidity of it. Can anyone think of a case in history when a people has been bombed into submission?” If you add Lebanon/Lebanese to the equation you just about got it all in a nutshell.

Yet there are details and some of which are important. There are also other home truths. Have you noticed how little coverage is there in the Australian media of what’s happening in Gaza? Ditto for the much vaunted Israeli media. There is very little coverage and that’s precisely the way Israel likes it. Which media organisation is going to waste their reporters on Gaza when there is so much action further north? [Beside a ripped up superhighway is more camera friendly than a piddly bridge over a wadi.] The IDF and the Israeli Foreign Ministry love it. Being free to operate without pesky foreign (and Israeli) reporters is definitely their preference. But don’t be lulled into thinking that tranquillity reigns in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reports that 92 Palestinians killed and 326 injured in last ten days of Israeli attacks on Gaza. Even if their figures are not 100 per cent accurate [the figures provided by B’Tselem the Israeli human rights organisation are usually slightly lower] it’s still an indication of some horrible killings and many civilians dead.

To be fair another report from the same source has been dismissed as incorrect. Aljazeera reported “Palestinian medics said on Tuesday that patients treated in Shifa hospital in Gaza and bodies at the mortuary presented unusual burns, raising concerns that Israel was using chemical weapons.” Israeli left-wing activist Judith (Yehudith) Harel, who cannot be accused of too much sympathy to the IDF, has reported that “the representatives of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza said that they visited Gaza hospitals, inquired about the matter and found no evidence to the truth of these allegations.” [Direct e-mail message.]

But the big action over the past week has been in Lebanon. One or two Israel critics have already remarked sarcastically how well Ehud Olmert’s policy of not negotiating a prisoner exchange with the Palestinian “terrorists”has been working. Olmert contended that negotiations would lead to copycat operations.

Cynicism aside, again there are some home truths to be told. Unwise as it may have been the Palestinians to attack Gilad Shalit’s tank, at least the besieged Palestinians could make a legal case for their attack. No such reasoning could possibly be provided by Hezbollah. Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon and while the Sheba farm is disputed this attack was a long way away from there.

Much has been made by Hezbollah and its supporters of the solidarity with the Palestinians aspect. Superficially such argument may seem to have some merit. Many people around the world have felt moved by the David and Goliath battle in Gaza. Why shouldn’t Lebanese come to the aid of Palestinians, they ask. But for Hezbollah this was just a cynical manoeuvre. This operation was planned for its own reasons five months ago. Nobody slammed Hezbollah’s’pretensions better than Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist whose writings on the plight of the Palestinian in Haaretz have made his name a generic term for being pro-Palestinian: “In Lebanon, the situation is more complicated. There is no Israeli occupation and no justification for provoking Israel. If Hezbollah is so worried about its Palestinian brethren, it should have first of all done something for the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in camps in Lebanon in conditions that are just as bad as those under the Israeli occupation, before it grabbed soldiers in their name.”

Just in case anyone thinks that Levy has changed sides this is how he starts his article: “Every neighborhood has one, a loudmouth bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger. He's insulted? He'll pull out a knife. Spat in the face? He'll draw a gun. Hit? He'll pull out a machine gun. Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction! It's not that he's not feared, but nobody really appreciates him. The real appreciation is for the strong who don't immediately use their strength. Regrettably, the Israel Defense Forces once again looks like the neighborhood bully. A soldier was abducted in Gaza? All of Gaza will pay. Eight soldiers are killed and two abducted to Lebanon? All of Lebanon will pay. One and only one language is spoken by Israel, the language of force.”

And this how he concludes; “Israel once again is not distinguishing between a justified war against Hezbollah and an unjust and unwise war against the Lebanese nation. The camouflage concealing the war's real goals was ripped off by this defense minister, who says what he means: ‘Nasrallah is going to get it so bad that he will never forget the name Amir Peretz,’ he bragged, like a typical bully. Now at least we know that Israel went to war so that the name Amir Peretz is never forgotten. It's the war for the perpetuation of the name Peretz and the blurring of [Chief-of-Staff] Dan Halutz's failures. And to hell with the cost.”

Levy’s choice of the neighbourhood bully analogy has had some resonance. For some reason the more fundamentalist Israeli supporters have been conducting an e-mail campaign forwarding Bob Dylan's “Neighbourhood’s Bully” song around. One wonder’s what Dylan’s current views on the subject are? [The fundamentalists have also been campaigning to get people to vote for their side on Sky and other polls – for some strange reason the lobbying I have received so far has been from the pro-Israeli side only (I normally get both).]

Levy is not the only Israeli opposed to the war. One must be honest and admit that the vast majority of even left-wing and pro-peace Israelis have fallen in behind their government. It helps when the Defence Minister is a member of the ostensibly pro-peace faction of the Labour party and one of the most admired former leaders of Peace now is also in the ministry. [Peace now has decided not to take any political action during the war.] But there are some who still speak out.

Probably the most forthright of these has been Yigal Sarena. The writer is not one of the usual suspects. A Google search will indicate you that there are more references to him emanating from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs than from any other source. The IMFA puts out a daily report of the leading articles in the Israeli media in which Sarena is often mentioned. For him this was “a most unnecessary war.” Writing in the country’s most popular newspaper he stated:

“It has always appeared to me that in war, wisdom comes after the fact. After the destruction and the mourning. Afterwards, summation reports appear to outline just how stupid we were, books are written about all the mistakes we made, and about just how we allowed ourselves to be dragged into a trap it will take 10 or 20 years to extricate ourselves from. Gaza and Lebanon are traps we return to periodically. The cemeteries I visit each year on Memorial Day to visit my friends' graves – Tzupar, Tziki, Ori and Mintz – are full of casualties from Gaza and Lebanon…The crushing of Beirut and the destruction of Nahariya will be the most unnecessary war we've ever fought. Every thing that happens could have been predicted and prevented, if only we'd had experienced politicians to act alongside restrained Americans. This is a war that has quickly disintegrated due to armed militias and a strong army, hurt and seething for revenge and lacking all stops. We pulled out of Gaza unilaterally and left Gaza a wasteland. I have visited Gaza many times since the pullout and send the hell of hunger, the misery. It is a pressure cooker with no release valve. ’A cat pushed into a corner becomes a panther,’ goes the Arab saying. The miserable Gaza panther fires its annoying tin-can Qassams as a call of poverty from those choking, those who lack answers.”

Another journalist, Benny Ziffer, literary editor of Haaretz sounded more like a cross between a biblical prophet warning the people of Israel of their misdeeds and a calm commentator in front of his computer: (my translation)

“It’s been the usual practice to accuse the residents of [the well-off] north Tel-Aviv of being detached from reality. I think the opposite is true: those who have lost their tether to reality are those who hysterically demand to ‘sock it to them’, as if the IDF has not been doing precisely that anyhow for weeks without any connections to Hezbollah’s actions. ‘These ‘activists’ lack of touch with reality is expressed in the way they fail to connect that incident in the north to the horrors being inflicted by the IDF in Gaza for a not inconsiderable time. Only yesterday we heard of a mother and seven children from Gaza who have swept of the face of the earth. But we, as usual, can only take pity on ourselves and the grandmother and her grandchild who were killed by the Hezbollah bombing in Miron. There are victims on both sides and the stronger we respond, the stronger they will, without end…. Olmert and Peretz think that they are following Sharon’s path when they order the destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure and insane bombing campaigns that kill civilians. For heaven’s sake in what way do they make us any different from Hezbollah? And Peretz, that Peretz of the Peace Now movement and his slogans, looks to me like a puppet whose strings are being pulled by the IDF. And look how exited he is about his new role.”

Sol Salbe/The Daily Briefing


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