Lebanon War Question and Answer

by Stephen R. Shalom

[originally published on ZNet, August 07, 2006; links updated and typos corrected July 25, 2014]

Doesn't Israel have the right to defend itself?

One has the right to self-defense if one is not oneself guilty of aggression. So, for example, the Soviet Union could not invoke self-defense when its occupation troops in Afghanistan were attacked by Afghan mujahideen. Instead, it ought to have withdrawn its troops. Likewise, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is illegal and unjust and Israel can't claim self-defense when Palestinians struggle by legitimate means to end the occupation. The proper Israeli response to such Palestinian actions is not self-defense, but full withdrawal from the occupied territories.

The situation with Lebanon is different; whereas in Palestine, Israel was engaged in an ongoing aggression, in Lebanon the Israeli violations of Lebanese rights prior to July 12, 2006, were far less substantial, and less immediate.

But even when a country's own prior acts aren't contributory causes of an attack, international law places various limitations on the right of self-defense to that attack.

One limitation is that the right of self-defense is meant to give nations the right to take measures to repel an armed attack until the UN Security Council can act to stop the aggression. If an enemy's tanks are hurtling toward your capital city, any delay in responding would mean further losses and further harm. In the case of the Hezbollah raid across the Israeli border on July 12, 2006, the act of aggression took place and was over; it was not an ongoing aggression to which any delay in responding would have meant additional harm to Israel. Once the immediate danger is over, international law requires that victims of aggression bring their cases to the Security Council for action.

Of course, the Security Council is not always able to act. But the main obstacle to Security Council action has generally been the veto wielded by Washington on behalf of Israel.

A second requirement of international law is that acts taken in self-defense must be proportionate to the offense.

But, to quote Representative Jerrold L. Nadler of New York, 'Since when should a response to aggression and murder be proportionate?'[1] Or, since when does the side which starts a war get to decide how it will be fought?

Wouldn't we consider it disproportionate if the police bombed an apartment building in an effort to catch a murderer? Or to carpet bomb the area of a city which we thought (or knew) to be harboring the person or persons responsible for a murder? The requirement of proportionality makes good moral sense even when dealing with murderers.

Consider our reaction in an international case. India has been subject to many terrorist attacks. The latest train bombings in Mumbai may well be the work of home-grown terrorists radicalized by Hindu pogroms against Muslims. But probably some of the terrorist acts -- like the assault on the Indian parliament in New Dehli in December 2001 -- involved a Pakistani role. Should India have launched a major military assault on the jihadi training camps in Pakistan, not to mention a broader assault throughout Pakistan, killing numerous civilians and destroying the country's infrastructure? Anyone concerned about world peace would surely have urged India to refrain from such an action. Starting a war that would lead to massive numbers of deaths in response to a far smaller-scale provocation would clearly have been disproportionate.[2]

Consider another example. In June 2006, the Lebanese government announced that it had broken an Israeli-run assassination team operating within Lebanon.[3] What would our reaction have been if the Lebanese government had responded to this Israeli aggression (assuming it was convincingly proved) by initiating air and missile strikes throughout Israel, killing hundreds of civilians, wrecking the civilian infrastructure, and driving more than a quarter of the population from their homes? Surely we would consider such a response by Beirut to be wholly disproportionate, even in the face of a clear provocation.

But can any country accept having rockets raining down on its citizens?

No country should have to suffer rockets raining down on its citizens. Nor should any country have to suffer far more lethal air raids and artillery shelling on its citizens, as Lebanon is suffering today. But in any event this Israeli war was not launched to stop Hezbollah rocket fire from Lebanon. That rocket fire was a response to the massive Israeli attack on Lebanon, including its power plants, its bridges and roads, its ports, its cities and villages.

Look at the timing. Here is the complete list of Katyusha and other rockets launched from Lebanon against civilian areas of Israel between May 2000, when Israel announced its withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and July 12, 2006, as derived from reports of the UN Secretary General based on reports from UN observers at the border.[4]

Rocket attacks on civilians from Lebanon, May 2000-July 12, 2006[a]

date number result responsibility
31 March 2002 3 no damage or casualties mentioned probably launched by Palestinians
2 April 2002 at least 1 no damage or casualties mentioned unknown elements
6 April 2002 4 5 civilians wounded in divided border village of Ghajar "suspected Palestinian shooters"
7 October 2003 3 2 landed in Lebanon killing a child; 1 landed in Israel causing no damage or casualties "unidentified elements"
7 June 2004 3-4 none hit Israel "unidentified elements presumed likely to be Palestinians"[b]
9 Oct. 2004 1 no casualties or property damage "generally believed to be Palestinian militants"
28 Oct. 2004 1 no casualties or property damage "generally believed to be Palestinian militants"
15 Nov. 2004 1 no casualties or property damage "generally believed to be Palestinian militants"
11 May 2005 1 property damage, no casualties "unidentified armed elements"
12 May 2005 2 "no impact reported by UNIFIL. While UNIFIL was unable to verify this claim, local residents reported hearing explosions." IDF[c] claimed Hezbollah responsible
25 Aug. 2005 2 no casualties Hezbollah denied responsibility; Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility
27 Dec. 2005 4 some damage, no casualties those responsible not identified, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's leader in Iraq claimed responsibility.
28 May 2006 a.m. at least 8 3 landed in IDF position, wounding one [unclear where others aimed; no other casualties or injuries mentioned] Hezbollah denied involve-ment. Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Lebanon initially claimed responsibility in retaliation for the killing of a leading member in Lebanon and his brother on 26 May. The claim was retracted later that day.[d]
28 May 2006 p.m. rocket fire no Israeli civilian casualties mentioned "unidentified armed elements fired small arms" wounding one IDF soldier. No claim of responsibility, and Hezbollah denied any involvement. The incident triggered a major exchange of fire. The IDF used air strikes, artillery, mortar, and tank fire, wounding two Lebanese civilians. Hezbollah "responded with rocket, mortar and small-arms fire."
12 July 2006 "several" none mentioned[e] Hezbollah, as part of a diversion for its cross-border abduction operation

a. The reports mention several instances when the Lebanese government or the UN observers discovered and disarmed Katyushas: March 2005, June 2005, Dec. 30, 2005.
b. In response, Israel attacked sites of the Palestinian group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command.
c. Israeli Defense Forces. Of course, as with the U.S. Department of Defense, whether the Israeli armed forces are engaged in offense or defense is an empirical matter and not something to be determined based on the word "defense" in their title.
d. In response, Israel attacked sites of the Palestinian group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command. The Jerusalem Post reported that "The apparent pretext for the May 28 attacks was the decision by Islamic Jihad to blame Israel for the assassination of one of its leaders in Sidon two days earlier."[5] The Lebanese government claimed to have the confession of a leading member of an assassination ring established by Israel.[6]
e. The Israeli military claimed that several civilians were wounded.[7]

This table makes a number of points clear. First, Not a single Israeli civilian was killed by a rocket from Lebanon from May 2000 to July 12, 2006. And second, until May 28, 2006, there was not a single confirmed rocket fired at civilians by Hezbollah. (True, in some of the cases where the responsible party was unidentified, it might have been Hezbollah, but that's inconsistent with the group's usual policy of proudly taking responsibility for its attacks.) Often the perpetrators were Palestinians, responding to events in Palestine (for example, the bloody Israeli offensive on the West Bank in Spring 2002).

On May 28, 2006, during the exchange of fire between the Israeli military and Hezbollah in which two Lebanese but no Israeli civilians were injured, Israeli civilians in the north were ordered by the IDF "to take to the safety of bomb shelters -- some so out of use that it was difficult to locate the keys."[8]

So this war can hardly be justified as a war to stop Hezbollah from launching Katyushas against Israeli civilians. Moreover, the simplest way for Israel to stop the rockets that are now hitting its population is to accept a ceasefire. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has declared that his organization would stop firing its rockets if Israel stopped its air-raids.[9]

Are you comparing Hezbollah's indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, where the intention is to kill civilians, with Israel's attacks on military targets where sometimes civilians are unintentionally and regrettably killed?

It is a war crime to fire rockets, as Hezbollah is doing, at civilian targets. But this is not the only war crime, nor the war crime with the greatest civilian toll.< p/>

It is worth thinking about why we categorize Hezbollah's rocket attacks as war crimes. What if Hezbollah had announced that they were aiming at military targets (which surely exist in northern Israel, including within cities[10])? As Amnesty International notes,[11] even if the rocket strikes were aimed at military targets "they would be indiscriminate attacks, given the nature of the weapons used" and hence war crimes. Now even though Israeli weapons are far more accurate than the Hezbollah rockets, they are by no means surgical. Of the more than 600 reported Lebanese war deaths by July 28, a majority have been women and children[12]; UNICEF estimates that more than a third have been children.[13] So, we can conclude that "given the nature of the weapons used" by the IDF, Israel is guilty of (at best) indiscriminate attacks, and hence war crimes.

Hezbollah rockets sometimes contain ball bearings which are designed to increase the harm to human beings.[14] Israel has used artillery-fired cluster munitions in populated areas.[15] Both of these are likely war crimes, the only significant difference being that the latter probably have had far more lethal consequences.

Here is what Human Rights Watch concluded on the basis of extensive on-the-ground research:

"This report documents serious violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war) by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Lebanon between July 12 and July 27, 2006, as well as the July 30 attack in Qana. During this period, the IDF killed an estimated 400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, and that number climbed to over 500 by the time this report went to print. The Israeli government claims it is taking all possible measures to minimize civilian harm, but the cases documented here reveal a systematic failure by the IDF to distinguish between combatants and civilians.

"Since the start of the conflict, Israeli forces have consistently launched artillery and air attacks with limited or dubious military gain but excessive civilian cost. In dozens of attacks, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparent military target. In some cases, the timing and intensity of the attack, the absence of a military target, as well as return strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians.


"By consistently failing to distinguish between combatants and civilians, Israel has violated one of the most fundamental tenets of the laws of war: the duty to carry out attacks on only military targets. The pattern of attacks during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon suggests that the failures cannot be explained or dismissed as mere accidents; the extent of the pattern and the seriousness of the consequences indicate the commission of war crimes."[16]

But doesn't Hezbollah place its fighters and its weapons amid civilians, making Hezbollah -- and not Israel -- responsible for any civilian deaths?

International humanitarian law is quite clear that while it is a violation of the laws of war to intermingle military activity with civilians, the other side is still under an obligation to minimize harm to civilians. This is common sense: if a criminal was firing on police from an apartment building, would the police be justified in calling in air strikes to level the building? Of course the criminal was behaving improperly, but this hardly justifies the authorities in disregarding the welfare of the population.

But there are three further points to note. First, the Israeli claim of Hezbollah using civilians as shields is overstated. As Human Rights Watch reported,

"The Israeli government claims that it targets only Hezbollah, and that fighters from the group are using civilians as human shields, thereby placing them at risk. Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack. Hezbollah occasionally did store weapons in or near civilian homes and fighters placed rocket launchers within populated areas or near U.N. observers, which are serious violations of the laws of war because they violate the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties. However, those cases do not justify the IDF's extensive use of indiscriminate force which has cost so many civilian lives. In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack."[17]

Second, the broad Israeli definition of military targets makes an intermingling of military and civilian activity inevitable. Israel defines as legitimate targets the private residences of Hezbollah political leaders; these, not surprisingly, are located in residential areas. (By similar logic, Hezbollah would be justified in targeting the residential sectors of Tel Aviv where Israeli politicians live.) Israel defines as legitimate targets Hezbollah political offices -- recall that Hezbollah is and has been a legal political party in Lebanon, with members of parliament, and two members of the cabinet. Israel defines Hezbollah's TV station as a legitimate military target

Third, Israel has been directly and intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure, which has caused an immense humanitarian crisis. Sometimes there is the pretense that such attacks are militarily necessary, but often the truth has been acknowledged. Israeli army chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, for example, warned that if the abducted soldiers were not returned, the IDF "would target infrastructure and 'turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years.'"[18] The Israeli offensive, said Halutz, "was open-ended. 'Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that,' he said."[19]

As Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, notes,

"International humanitarian law permits attacks on infrastructure only if it is making an effective military contribution, and the military benefits of its destruction outweigh the civilian costs. That case is difficult, if not impossible, to make for the extensive attacks on electrical facilities, bridges and roadways throughout the country."[20]

The International Crisis Group reports that Israel has targeted

"economic infrastructure bearing little or no relation to Hizbollah; the airport (far more than necessary to meet any reasonable military goal); Beirut's entire southern suburb (far beyond Hizbollah's infrastructure); the ports of Beirut and Jounieh (in Christian territory); industrial plants; bridges leading to the south (presumably in order to cut it off, interfere with Hizbollah's resupply, prevent militants from moving the Israeli captives around and alienate the local population, but all this at enormous humanitarian cost); [and] the army, including check points in Christian areas (highly questionable since the army has stayed out of the conflict, avoided using its anti-aircraft capacity despite the onslaught, focused on maintaining domestic law and order and, above all, remains the only instrument capable of extending the state's authority over the country as a whole).[21]

Israeli attacks on fuel supplies have forced the closing of hospitals; attacks on roads have interfered with delivering urgently-needed humanitarian aid:

"Getting emergency United Nations humanitarian aid to the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese displaced by the worsening conflict became even harder today after the UN said that Israeli shelling had severed the vital supply route between Syria and Beirut, as well as forcing the cancellation of all but one convoy to the devastated south of the country."[22]

But didn't Israel provide warning to Lebanese civilians?

Warnings to civilians are proper, but do not absolve Israel of responsibility for war crimes.

First, as the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights has pointed out,

"Many people are simply unable to leave southern Lebanon because they have no transport, because roads have been destroyed, because they are ill or elderly, because they must care for others who are physically unable to make the journey, or because they simply have no where else to go."[23]

And given that Israel has conducted bombing raids throughout the country -- 33 farm workers were killed in a single raid in the northeast of the country on August 4[24] -- many might despair of ever reaching safety.

Second, warnings do not entitle combatants to declare areas free fire zones, where anything goes. As Roth notes, if failure to heed warnings justified the creation of free fire zones, "Palestinian militant groups might 'warn' all settlers to leave Israeli settlements and then be justified in treating as legitimate targets those who remained."[25]
And, we might add, it would mean that if Hezbollah warned all civilians to leave northern Israel, then it would be justified in blanketing the area with Katyushas.

Despite the clear legal prohibition against doing so, Israeli officials have announced that they are treating sections of Lebanon precisely as free fire zones -- even though many non-combatants still remain there.[26]

Are you saying that the Israeli-Lebanese border was quiet for the past six years?

No, it wasn't. There were several different border problems.

Israeli warplanes routinely violated Lebanese airspace, often intentionally flying low over cities so as to create sonic booms that terrified the population. In some of his bi-annual reports, the Secretary General referred to almost daily incursions by the Israeli Air Force, in others he noted that "overflights by jets, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles or drones were numerous and particularly intrusive and provocative."

Sometimes Hezbullah responded to these Israeli overflights with anti-aircraft fire, sometimes after a delay, and the shells landed across the border. The UN repeatedly called for Israel to stop its flights and for Hezbollah to stop its anti-aircraft fire, noting that violations by one side did not justify violations by the other. Both sides continued. In June 2002 Hezbollah anti-aircraft fire wounded two Israeli civilians, and on August 10, 2003, killed a teenage boy and injured four other civilians. Hezbollah stopped anti-aircraft fire in mid-2004, but the Israeli overflights, often with their sonic booms over populated areas, continued, despite UN protests.

The main border problem, however, involved the Shebaa farms, a small piece of territory, 1.6 square miles in size. When Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon in May 2000, it held on to the Shebaa farms, claiming that this was part of the Golan Heights area of Syria which Israel occupied in 1967 and therefore unrelated to the withdrawal from Lebanon. The Lebanese government, however, maintains that the Shebaa farms belong to Lebanon, not Syria, and therefore the Israeli withdrawal was not complete. Hezbollah declared its intention to continue its struggle to liberate all of Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation. Over the past six years Hezbollah frequently attacked IDF forces in the Shebaa farms area, eliciting sharp Israeli reprisals against Hezbollah positions.

Hasn't the UN Security Council ruled that the Shebaa Farms area does not belong to Lebanon and that Israel has fully withdrawn from Lebanese territory? Hasn't the issue of the Shebaa farms just been concocted by Hezbollah to justify its continued attacks on Israel?

The Security Council had indeed ruled that Israel's May 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon was complete, and Hezbollah may well be exploiting the Shebaa farms issue in order to improve its domestic position in Lebanon. But it is not the case that Hezbollah invented the issue.

Israeli analyst Asher Kaufman[27] found that when Lebanon and Syria were both controlled by France,

"French maps located the Shebaa farms within Syrian territory. In practice, however, the residents of the area continued to consider themselves part of Lebanon. They paid taxes to Lebanon and conducted all their legal and administrative affairs in Hasbaya and Marj 'Ayun, rather than in Quneitra, the contiguous Syrian regional capital. French officers who served in the region noticed this anomaly and reported to the High Commission in Beirut on the discrepancy between maps and de facto practice, and suggested amending the maps so they would correspond with local practice. However, nothing was done to resolve the matter, neither by France, nor by the Syrian or Lebanese governments."

Kaufman notes that "from the early 1950s to 1967, Syria physically took control over the region of the Shebaa farms, imposing a de facto reality on what previously was no more than imperfectly drawn French maps," but

"Syrian and Lebanese border residents continued to live their lives for the most part disregarding the artificial and unmarked borderline. The farmers of the Shebaa farms had free access to their lands and it mattered very little to them whose sovereignty their private property was under. The Israeli occupation in 1967, however, created a reality in which, for the first time, access to their land was limited at first and finally prohibited."

For the Lebanese, the Shebaa farms was an issue before April 2000. This could be seen

"in the list of demands Lebanon compiled in preparation for a possible peace accord with Israel. The withdrawal from Lebanon was at the center of Israeli public debate for years. Lebanon could not remain indifferent to these developments and indeed Lebanese specialists made lists of territorial, financial and other demands from Israel. One of the numerous accusations put forth by Lebanese border specialists was that Israel intended to annex the Shebaa farms even if it withdrew from South Lebanon and that the Lebanese government must therefore prepare for such a step and assert its rights over the area. The Lebanese government, however, made it an official Lebanese claim only on May 4, 2000, demonstrating again its unprofessional handling of the matter."

When the UN made its determination in 2000 based on historical maps that the Shebaa farms were not Lebanese, the documents in Paris archives showing that French officers on the scene had recommended revising the maps to conform to local practice had not yet been discovered (by Kaufman). But with their discovery in 2002, the Lebanese case for the Shebaa Farms was much stronger.[28]

Israel's UN ambassador Dan Gillerman has stated that "Lebanon had said it wanted the Shebaa Farms back -- they should ask the Syrians to give back, since Israel could not give Lebanon back something that was not Israel's."[29] But Lebanon has asked the Syrians, who have verbally agreed that the territory belongs to Lebanon. Of course, Syria can't transfer the land to Lebanon because it is occupied by Israel, part of the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel conquered in 1967 and formally annexed in 1981 (leading to a unanimous Security Council resolution calling the annexation null and void[30]).

In the past few days, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proposed that as part of a settlement of the current crisis Israel turn the Shebaa farms over to the Lebanese government as a good will gesture.[31] But here's the crucial point: if this piece of land could be returned to Lebanon today, it could have been returned to Lebanon at any earlier point. Had Israel announced at any time between 2002 and 2005 that, as a confidence-building step toward peace it was turning the area over to Lebanon, they would have removed one of the main incendiary issues between the two countries. Given that Israel's claim to the Shebaa farms is zero (at best the territory has been taken from Syria), given that the land is strategically insignificant, and given the moral claim of the Lebanese farmers separated from their land, it is hard to see why this would not have been preferable to the escalating tensions on the border.

There are, of course, other issues as well between Israel and Lebanon. Israel has refused to turn over all the maps showing the location of landmines it had placed in southern Lebanon, which have continued to kill and maim Lebanese farmers. And Israel still holds some Lebanese prisoners,[32] which encourages Hezbollah to take hostages to trade for them. Indeed, Hezbollah "had called 2006 'the year of retrieving the prisoners' and, for many months, Hassan Nasrallah had publicly proclaimed the movement's intention of seizing soldiers for the purpose of a prisoner exchange. In November 2005, he spoke of the 'duty to capture Israeli soldiers and swap them for the Arab prisoners in Israel.'"[33]

But aren't the Lebanese prisoners still in Israel guilty of horrible atrocities? Why should these people be released?

The most famous of the Lebanese prisoners, Samir Quntar, has been jailed since 1979. He is charged with killing several civilians, including a child, in cold blood.[34] However, many IDF soldiers, and their leaders, are also guilty of awful war crimes. (Yes, the nature of the crimes are different, given the weapons of each side: Where Quntar is charged with killing several civilians face to face, the IDF kills hundreds of civilians from a distance. Both are war crimes.) In a just world all those guilty of crimes would be appropriately punished, but it is hard to reject a prisoner exchange that might reduce tensions with the claim that one side alone is guilty of crimes.

One can understand a reluctance to exchange prisoners for those who have been kidnapped just for the purpose of serving as bargaining chips. But Israel does not oppose such hostage-taking on principle (though it is contrary to international law). Rather, Israel opposes it when others do it, but it has engaged in the practice itself, on a vast scale with respect to Palestinians (including in June 2006 a third of the Palestinian cabinet and many legislators[35]), but also with Lebanese.[36]

How can there ever be peace as long as Hezbollah retains its arms? Hasn't the Security Council demanded that all militia groups in Lebanon be disarmed?

Security Council resolution 1559 called on all Lebanese militias to disarm. Hezbollah has refused to do so and, given the terrible history of civil war in the country, the Lebanese government is disinclined to force them to do so. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has said that Hezbollah is a resistance organization and not a militia and thus doesn't fall under the purview of 1559.[37]

Some Israeli apologists have argued that the current war is simply Israel's effort to enforce 1559 on Hezbollah. But nothing in 1559 authorizes individual states to take it upon themselves to enforce the resolution. And to Lebanese who saw their country occupied by Israel for 22 years in flagrant violation of Security Council resolution 425, not to mention all the other resolutions that Israel continues to disregard,[38] nothing could be more hypocritical than Israel claiming to enforce UN resolutions.

Having private armed groups in a society is clearly a problem. The question is, how best to address the problem. The key is to remove those conditions that provide Hezbollah with a justification for keeping its weapons, namely, the need to defend itself and the country against Israel. Thus, the worst strategy is an Israeli attack on Lebanon. If there were no Shebaa farms issue, no prisoners issue, no Israeli overflights issue, no landmines issue, it would be much harder for Hezbollah to justify holding on to its weapons. Before the abduction of the Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006, the Lebanese government made clear that what was keeping it from deploying its troops all the way to the border was the absence of a comprehensive peace with Israel, and that the obstacles to achieving such a peace were these very issues, none of which involved serious costs to Israel.[39]

Hezbollah has achieved great popularity among Lebanon's Shia population for its social welfare programs and in Lebanon as a whole for the major role it played in ending the long Israeli occupation. Without the Zionist bogeyman -- a role that Israel has played to perfection -- Lebanon's Shia community might return from adhering in its majority to Hezbollah's socially-reactionary, fundamentalist agenda, to the progressive politics that a substantial portion of it once supported.[40]

You are assuming that if Israel acts nice, everyone will accept it. Isn't Israel surrounded by implacable enemies who want to see it destroyed? Isn't anti-Semitism rife in the region?

It's true that repairing bilateral relations with Lebanon won't be easy. Israel will never be able to normalize its relations with any of its neighbors until it resolves the Palestinian issue. This issue persists not because of implacable hatreds but because of Israel's refusal to offer minimal justice to Palestinians.[41] And Israel's refusal in this regard is made possible by the diplomatic, military, and economic support of the United States government.

When a nation calling itself "the Jewish state" oppresses people, it is not surprising that the victims tend to develop a hatred of Jews. This equating of Israel's crimes and all Jews is of course unwarranted, and one way to mitigate this unfortunate association is for Jews to forthrightly criticize Israeli wrongdoing. Blanket endorsement of Israeli crimes by non-Israeli Jews just confirms the anti-Semites in their stereotypes. Anti-Semitism has become much more pronounced in the Middle East in recent years. But the solution is not to drop bombs on everyone. (Some will immediately reply, "so you want us to go quietly to the gas chambers?" as if the two choices in the world are behaving like sheep or behaving like ogres.) Instead Israel has to offer Palestinians a real, independent, viable state.

But didn't Israel withdraw from Gaza as the first step in giving the Palestinians a state?

No. The "Gaza disengagement" was designed to relieve Israel of the need to directly rule over this densely populated mass of impoverished Palestinians, while retaining control over Gaza's airspace, its coast, and its borders, thus turning it into a gigantic prison; at the same time, Israel aims to take over the best land and resources of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with non-contiguous pieces of territory with no hope of a viable national existence. Living conditions in Gaza were desperate -- with an 65-75 percent poverty rate and a 35-40 percent unemployment rate -- even before Israel decided to destroy Gaza's only electrical plant and arrest many of its elected leaders in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, which followed the Israeli kidnapping of two Palestinians,[42] and before that the killing of many Palestinian civilians[43] and the withholding of the Palestinians' tax revenues to cause economic strangulation.[44]

Neither in Gaza nor in Lebanon will the iron fist bring justice. When the director of Israeli military intelligence declared in 2003, "Better Palestinian mothers should cry and not Jewish mothers"[45] he was expressing a view not only deeply immoral, but tragically ineffective, for the result of such brutal policies is likely to be weeping by Lebanese, Palestinians, and Israelis alike. And in this volatile region, with Israel's nuclear arsenal and who knows whose chemical weapons, there is the danger that the spiral of conflict will result in utter catastrophe.


1. Clyde Haberman, "At Israel Rally, A Word Fails," New York Times, July 18, 2006, p. B1.

2. Of course, Pakistan has nuclear weapons and so an Indian attack might lead to a nuclear cataclysm. Presumably, however, that's not the only reason we would urge restraint on India.

3. UPI, "Israeli intel network discovered in Lebanon," June 13, 2006.

4. Rockets fired at "IDF positions" are excluded from this list of attacks on civilians. Compiled from the following Security Council documents: S/2000/718, 20 July 2000; S/2000/1049, 31 Oct. 2000; S/2001/66, 22 Jan. 2001; S/2001/423 , 30 Apr. 2001; S/2001/714, 20 July 2001; S/2002/55, 16 Jan. 2002; S/2002/746, 12 July 2002; S/2003/38, 14 Jan. 2003; S/2003/728, 23 July 2003; S/2004/50, 20 Jan. 2004; S/2004/572, 21 July 2004; S/2004/572.Add.1, 21 July 2004; S/2005/36, 20 Jan. 2005; S/2005/460*, 21 July 2005; S/2006/26, 18 Jan. 2006; and S/2006/560, 21 July 2006.

5. Liat Collins, "Not so quiet on the northern front," Jerusalem Post, June 1, 2006, p. 5.

6. See UPI, "Israeli intel network discovered in Lebanon," June 13, 2006; Associated Press, "Lebanon accuses Israeli air force of detonating car bomb that killed Palestinian militants," June 16, 2006; "Lebanese Army Issues Statement On 'Terrorist Network Working For' Israel," Lebanese National News Agency website, Beirut, in Arabic 13 June 2006 (BBC Monitoring International Reports, July 4, 2006). Israel denied involvement in the assassination, but "Israel rarely acknowledges action outside Israel and the territories." Steven Erlanger, "Lebanon: Car Blast Kills Jihad Official," New York Times, May 27, 2006, p. A2.

7. Greg Myre and Steven Erlanger, "Clashes Spread to Lebanon as Hezbollah Raids Israel," New York Times, July 13, 2006, p. A1.

8. Liat Collins, "Not so quiet on the northern front," Jerusalem Post, June 1, 2006, p. 5.

9. Edward Cody, "Hezbollah Threatens Tel Aviv; Chief's Statement Clarifies Strategy," Washington Post, Aug. 4, 2006, p. A13.

10. Jonathan Cook writes that there are hundreds of "military installations next to or inside Israel's northern communities. Some distance from Nazareth, for example, Israel has built a large weapons factory virtually on top of an Arab town -- so close to it, in fact, that the factory's perimeter fence is only a few metres from the main building of the local junior school." (Jonathan Cook, "Israel, not Hizbullah, is putting civilians in danger on both sides of the border," Counterpunch, August 3, 2006.)

11. Amnesty International, Israel/Lebanon: Israel And Hizbullah Must Spare Civilians. Obligations under international humanitarian law of the parties to the conflict in Israel and Lebanon, AI Index: MDE 15/070/2006, 26 July 2006.

12. Statement of Jan Egeland, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, to the United Nations Security Council on the Humanitarian Situation in the Middle East, New York, 28 July 2006.

13. Statement of UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, 30 July 2006.

14. Human Rights Watch, "Lebanon: Hezbollah Rocket Attacks on Haifa Designed to Kill Civilians," July 18, 2006.

15. Human Rights Watch, "Israeli Cluster Munitions Hit Civilians in Lebanon," July 24, 2006.

16. Human Rights Watch, Fatal Strikes Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon, August 2006, Volume 18, No. 3 (E), p. 3.

17. Human Rights Watch, Fatal Strikes, p. 3.

18. Donald Macintyre, "Israel launches ferocious assault on Lebanon after capture of troops," The Independent (London), July 13, 2006, p. 4.

19. Stephen Farrell, "Our aim is to win -- nothing is safe, Israeli chiefs declare," The Times (London), July 14, 2006.

20. Kenneth Roth, "Fog of War Is No Cover for Causing Civilian Deaths," Forward, August 4, 2006.

21. International Crisis Group, Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: Climbing Out Of The Abyss, Middle East Report N°57, 25 July 2006, p. 14.

22. UN Press Office, "No time to lose, UN warns as emergency aid supplies to Lebanon cut off by shelling," August 4, 2006.

23. UN Press Release, "High Commissioner for Human Rights condemns killings of civilians in Qana, South Lebanon," 31 July 2006.

24. Rory McCarthy et al., "Warning of aid crisis after Israelis hit highway: Bombs kill 33 farm workers in Beka'a valley in one of war's deadliest strikes," Guardian, August 5, 2006, p. 16.

25. Roth, "Fog of War."

26. For example, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said regarding the border region, "we will continue to fire against anyone who enters the designated strip." Greg Myre and Helene Cooper, "Israel Plans to Occupy Strip Inside Lebanon," New York Times, July 25, 2006.

27. See Asher Kaufman, "Understanding the Shebaa Farms dispute," Palestine Israel Journal, Vol.11 No.1 2004.

28. See Akiva Eldar, "Too Late for Their Own Good," Ha'aretz, July 9, 2002.

29. "Immediate, Comprehensive Ceasefire Needed in Lebanon Prior to Political Discussion, Acting Foreign Minister Tells Security Council," Security Council SC/8796, UN Department of Public Information, report on Security Council 5503rd Meeting (PM) 31 July 2006.

30. UN SC Resolution 497, 17 Dec. 1981.

31. Jonathan Pearlman, "Disputed plot may be key to Lebanon settlement," Sydney Morning Herald, August 3, 2006.

32. Most sources refer to two or three Lebanese prisoners, but the Jerusalem Post lists four: see Khaled Abu Toameh, "Palestinian prisoners' families demand they be part of any deal," Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2006.

33. International Crisis Group, Climbing Out Of The Abyss, p. 10.

34. Those who defend him as a hero argue that he was aiming to attack a military facility, though they elide the question of how the civilians died. See "Free Samir Kuntar the Longest-Held Lebanese Detainee in the Israeli Prisons."

35. Anne Barnard and Sa'id Ghazali, "Israelis Arrest Hamas Official; Dozens Held In Bid To Free Soldier," Boston Globe, June 30, 2006, p. A1.

36. See Arik Diamant, "Hundreds of Palestinian 'suspects' have been kidnapped from their homes and will never stand trial," Yediot Aharanot, July 5, 2006. In April 2000, the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed the holding of people as bargaining chips, but the practice continued. See Human Rights Watch, "Background Briefing: Israel's Proposed 'Imprisonment of Combatants not Entitled to Prisoner of War Status Law

37. Orly Halpern and Nicholas Blanford, "A Second Front Opens for Israel," Christian Science Monitor, July 13, 2006, p. 1.

38. Security Council resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967 and the basis for peace in the region, is perhaps the most important of the resolutions Israel has ignored. But there is a long list of others. Here is a sampling:

Selected UN Security Council Resolutions on the Middle East
[Note: the United States either voted for or abstained on every one of these resolutions]
252 (1968), 267 (1969), 298 (1971), 476 (1980), 478 (1980) calls on Israel to rescind its annexation of Jerusalem
262 (1968) condemns Israel's attack on Beirut's civilian airport
270 (1969) condemns Israeli air attacks on villages in southern Lebanon
279 (1970), 285 (1970), 313 (1972) demands the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon
280 (1970) deplores Israeli failure to abide by resolutions 262 and 270; condemning Israeli attacks on Lebanon
316 (1972) deplores Israeli attacks on Lebanon and calls for the immediate release of "all Syrian and Lebanese military and security personnel abducted by Israeli armed forces on 21 June 1972 on Lebanese territory"
317 (1972) deplores Israeli abduction of Syrian and Lebanese soldiers in Lebanon and calls for their immediate return
332 (1973) condemns Israeli attacks on Lebanon and calls upon Israel to desist
337 (1973) condemns Israel for seizing a Lebanese airliner from Lebanese airspace
347 (1974) condemns Israeli violation of Lebanese sovereignty and calls upon Israel to refrain from such actions
446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980) calls upon Israel to cease its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories
468 (1980), 469 (1980), 484 (1980) calls upon Israel to rescind its deportation of elected Palestinian leaders
497 (1981) calls upon Israel to rescind its annexation of the Golan Heights
515 (1982) demands Israel lift its blockade of Beirut so urgent needs of the civilian population can be met
520 (1982) condemns Israeli incursions into Beirut
592 (1986) deplores Israeli opening fire on defenseless students in occupied territories
605 (1987) deplores Israeli firing on defenseless civilians
607 (1988), 608 (1988), 636 (1989), 641 (1989), 681 (1990), 694 (1991), 726 (1992), 799 (1992) calls on Israel to refrain from and rescind deportations of Palestinian civilians
The texts of all these resolutions are available on the Security Council" website.

39. See, for example, S/2006/26, 18 Jan. 2006, paragraph 18, and S/2006/560, 21 July 2006, paragraph 15, and the remarks of Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, in the verbatim record of the Security Council meeting of April 21, 2006, S/PV.5417.

40. See the comments of Gilbert Achcar on these matters: "The Middle East in Flames," ZNet, August 4, 2006.

41. For background on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, see Stephen R. Shalom, "Background to the Israel-Palestine Conflict," Z Magazine, May 2002.

42. Ken Ellingwood, "2 Palestinians Held in Israel's First Arrest Raid in Gaza Since Pullout," Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2006, p. A20.

43. See the statistics compiled by B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.

44. John Murphy, "Israel acts to cut off Hamas; Tax transfer is halted; Olmert urges nations to cease financial aid," Baltimore Sun, p. 1A. In May, Israel agreed to release about 5 percent of the funds to medical aid groups. Ken Ellingwood, "Israel to Give Some Funds to Palestinians," Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2006, p. A11.

45. Major General Aharon Ze'evi (Farkash) quoted in Gideon Levy, "The IDF's chorus of incitement," Ha'aretz, 26 October 2003.