[News] Kathy Kelly - Israel's "Proportionate Response"

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 21 12:38:11 EDT 2006


August 21 , 2006

Measured Amid the Wreckage

Israel's "Proportionate Response"



Upon arrival in Beirut in early August, 2006, 
Michael Birmingham met Abu Mustafa. Michael is an 
Irish citizen who has worked with Voices 
campaigns for several years. Abu Mustafa is a kindly Lebanese cab driver.

Having fled his home in the Dahiya neighborhood 
which was being heavily bombed, Abu Mustafa was 
living in his car. Abu Mustafa joked that he 
sometimes went back to his home in the already 
evacuated area of the Dahiya, just to take a 
shower or sometimes a proper nap. His family was 
living with relatives in a safer area. Toward the 
end of the war, Israeli bombs blasted buildings 
quite near his home. He tore out of the suburb in 
his cab and made that his home until we met him 
again on August 15th. hundreds of people, 
including parents walking hand in hand with 
toddlers, process silently along streets lined by 
wreckage. Even the small children looked extremely sad and grim.

Before the “Shock and Awe” bombing of Iraq in 
2003, a contingent of peace activists living in 
Baghdad hung huge banners at various locales 
stating, “To bomb this place would be a war crime.”

On Dahiya’s streets, we saw the sequel, banners 
that said “Made in the U.S.A.” in Arabic and 
English, detailing U.S. complicity in 
manufacturing and shipping the weapons that 
demolished homes, gas stations, shopping malls, 
overpasses, clinics, the town square, 
.block after block of ruin.

On the fourth floor of a five-story apartment 
building, a father and his daughters scooped up 
successive loads of broken glass and pitched them 
onto the sidewalk below. They called out a 
warning before each load came crashing down. You have to start somewhere.

On August 17 and 18, two men, both named Mohammed 
and both in their twenties, took Michael, Ramzi 
Kysia, Farah Mokhtarazedei, and me to towns and 
villages south of the Litani River. In each of 
the towns we visited, we saw appalling wreckage. 
Nowhere could we see military targets.

In Sriefa, the town center was almost completely 
destroyed. Residents told us that five or six 
F-16s bombed the area on July 19th, destroying 
ten houses, many of them three story buildings. 
We stared at the rubble, spotting household 
items, - a child’s high chair, a weaving loom, a toy plastic television.
Neighbors had buried nine corpses in shallow 
graves when it was too dangerous to be outside 
for any length of time. On the outskirts of 
Sriefa, as a handful of women and youngsters 
watched, workers exhumed the bodies and placed 
them in plastic body bags which were then wrapped 
in green shrouds and laid in wooden coffins. 
Workers sealed the lids and then wrapped the 
coffins in flags. These slain men were 
communists. The flags bore dual symbols for 
Lebanon and the Lebanese communist party.

Later, we watched a long funeral procession pass, 
carrying 25 of the 40 people killed in Sriefa. 
Uniformed men, marching, led the procession. 
Women followed, clutching one another in grief, 
next boys bearing flags, and finally the 
coffin-bearing vans, each with pictures of the 
brothers, fathers, and sons that would be buried.

Abbas Najdi stopped to talk with us on a street 
in Sriefa and then invited us to his home. During 
the bombing, his wife and children left Sriefa, 
but Abu Abbas, age 78, decided to stay. He wanted 
to watch over his home and the family’s sole 
source of income, the “tabac” which was carefully 
stored in a shed below the second story where 
they lived. Fortunately, he had decided to sleep 
on the ground floor during the first night of 
bombing. The back part of his home, their 
sleeping room, took a direct hit. Debris from a 
collapsing building across the street blocked the 
Najdi family’s front door, trapping Abu Abbas 
inside for two days. Neighbors eventually freed 
him. Abu Abbas’s left leg was injured by flying 
glass, but he felt very lucky to have survived at 
all. Unluckily, his entire tabac crop was burnt, 
the harvest of one year’s labor.

Before we left the Najdi family, one of the 
daughters, Zainab Najdi, a University student, 
stood to say goodbye and then laughed. "My pants 
are falling down," she explained, still graceful 
as she pulled them up. "I am 'daifah'” --the 
Arabic word for thin or weak. Her loose clothes 
disguised how thin she is, but when we embraced, 
I could nearly encircle her waist with my hands.

On the morning of the 18th, explosions awakened 
us. I thought the cease fire had ended. Our hosts 
reassured us that the Lebanese army was blowing 
up explosives. In the garden outside the home 
where we stayed, the local Hezbollah municipal 
leader spotted three unexploded cluster bombs. We 
had nearly driven over two cluster bombs lying on 
the road the previous day. The sound of each 
blast destroying hideous bombs was oddly 
comforting. You have to start somewhere.

Many people we talk to in Lebanon understand that 
the majority of Israelis urged their government 
to fight this war once it began. Did the 
proponents of war, in Israel, understand that 
there is no sign of a military target in the 
villages of southern Lebanon where homes, 
schools, clinics, grocery stores and children’s 
playgrounds have been destroyed?

On August 18th, Anthony Cordesman published a 
working draft of a report called “Preliminary 
Lessons of Israeli-Hezbollah War.” I read 
excerpts of it in commentary written by Helena 
Cobban. Cordesman, a seasoned military 
strategist, writing about the Israeli Air Force 
bombardment of Lebanon, remarks that “the air 
campaign continued to escalate against targets 
that often were completely valid but that 
sometimes involved high levels of collateral 
damage and very uncertain tactical and military 
effect. The end result was to give the impression 
Israel was not providing a proportionate 
response, an impression compounded by ineffective 
(and often unintelligible) efforts to explain IAF actions to the media.

I honestly don’t understand. Why is a target 
completely valid if it involved high levels of 
collateral damage, that is to say high levels of 
civilians who are maimed and killed, of civilian 
infrastructure ruined, of families rendered 
homeless, penniless, jobless and hungry? 
Cordesman states that there was uncertain 
tactical and military effect. Before completing 
the draft, I wish that Mr. Cordesman could stand 
for just five minutes at one intersection in the 
small city of Bint Jbail. He would see certain 
usage of conventional military weapons used 
against a civilian population. He would see 
certain evidence of a war crime. Turn in one 
direction and you see the remains of a school 
building, some desks and chairs still aligned in 
careful rows, visible because a whole side of the 
building is demolished. In another direction, a 
damaged stadium. Next to it, a field where 30 
rockets killed a flock of sheep. One man managed 
a chuckle, telling us that 2 million dollars was 
spent to kill these sheep, that these must have 
been the most costly sheep in all of Lebanon. On 
the 27th and 28th of July, 100 bombs fell between 
two mosques in Bint Jbail within 11 minutes. At 
one point, the Israelis bombed for 11 hours 
straight. Then there was a break and they bombed 
for 21 hours until most of the town was completely destroyed.

It’s estimated that about 60,000 people lived in Bint Jbail.
Of what military value, as a target, is a school, 
an entire block of residences, a town square, a 
favorite swimming hole? Why is it strategically 
valuable to drop many hundreds of cluster bombs 
that fall in gardens and along roadsides between small farming villages?

The residents of Bint Jbail and other southern 
Lebanese cities as well as those who lived in the 
Dahiya and in Baalbeck had jobs, homes, and basic 
securities just a little over a month ago. Now, 
billions of euros and other currencies, along 
with ingenuity, resources, talents, will be 
directed toward aid and recovery. Such aid might 
have been helping relieve suffering elsewhere in 
the world had this war not “escalated.”

Both legally and rationally, you cannot say 
“everyone living there is Hezbollah. You can’t 
just walk away from the appalling damage and say, 
they were warned. Or can you? Can a state get 
away with it, backed up by other world bodies?

If that’s the case, then ordinary people bear a 
grave responsibility to demand that leaders own 
up to war crimes. Yes, finding a proportionate 
response to war crimes when so much power is 
concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer 
people, many of them reckless and dangerous 
leaders of the United States and Israel, is a 
daunting task. But let’s think of the people 
finding courage to return and rebuild, let’s 
think of those trying to demine and clear out the 
cluster bombs, let’s think of the parents trying 
to help children orient themselves to a vastly 
insecure world. With them, we might acknowledge, you have to start somewhere.

Kathy Kelly is a co-coordinator of 
<http://www.vcnv.org>Voices in the Wilderness. 
Her book, Other Lands Have Dreams, is published 
by CounterPunch/AK Press. She can be reached at: 
<mailto:kathy at vcnv.org>kathy at vcnv.org

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