April marked the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Qana, when Israeli Defense Forces poured shells onto a UN peacekeepers’ base where more than 800 Lebanese civilians had taken shelter. The shells killed 106 people and, according to some accounts, resulted in the sacking of UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali for releasing a report that showed that the IDF shelling was no accident.
A decade later, the Qana massacre all seems forgotten. But Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon and on Hamas in Gaza appear to be a replay of the 1996 military campaign known as Operation Grapes of Wrath. Then as now, civilians are caught in the crossfire between Israel and its enemies. Then as now, the attacks seem designed to demonstrate Israel’s toughness for a domestic audience. Then as now, there are calls to the United Nations for an international force to quell the conflict.
Israeli leaders have become accustomed to the impunity that superpower support has given them. To use bombs supplied by Washington to destroy the Gaza power station that US taxpayers have insured to the tune of almost $50 million is the very definition of chutzpah.
There have been some changes in the world since 1996, one of them being the International Criminal Court. Ironically, if it were not for the baleful influence of Damascus, Lebanon would probably have signed and ratified the ICC treaty–which would have considerably disrupted the vacation plans of the Israeli Cabinet and military commanders now engaged in making thousands of Lebanese homeless–and a considerable number lifeless. They would have been subject to international arrest warrants and a quick trip to The Hague.
It is true that Hezbollah and the Hamas factions that are rocketing civilians are also breaking international law, but no more so than the rockets and bombs from Israeli helicopters eviscerating families on the beaches of Gaza and in the apartments of Beirut.
Only the most meager special pleading could describe Israel’s counter-blast at Lebanese civilians, not to mention the ongoing attacks in Gaza, as a legitimate or proportionate response. Since the invocation of Israel guarantees a free pass in much of the Western world, it may be useful to substitute different terms.
Imagine if the British had been buzzing Dublin Castle to show their displeasure with the Irish Republican Army, whose political wing is, after all, represented in the Irish Dail. The IRA kidnap some British soldiers. In return, London blockades Ireland, shells and strafes the area closest to the Northern Ireland border, bombs Shannon and Dublin airports, knocks out roads, power stations and gas stations, in between sending in snatch squads to kill and kidnap Irish citizens and politicians it considers connected to the IRA. And in between London threatens Rome, because after all the IRA are Roman Catholics, and Boston and New York, because after all that is where the IRA were getting their money.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush and the European Union would have supported such a measured response to “terror.” Like hell they would.
Luckily for all, the British finally bit the bullet and sat down with the “terrorists”; both parts of Ireland are much more peaceful for it. And by the way, London did not insist that the IRA recognize that it was right that Northern Ireland was established, nor that it should forever be a safe homeland for Irish Protestants. Almost as bad as the illegality of the Israeli assaults is their irrationality. To begin with, a massively indiscriminate attack like this is hardly the best way to persuade Gilad Shalit’s captors to show mercy.