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PACBI-Abed & Berkani: Israel's assault on Lebanon harms democracy

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The Capital Times | August 4, 2006

Abed & Berkani: Israel's assault on Lebanon harms democracy

Condoleezza Rice recently referred to Israel's aerial bombardment of Lebanon as "the birth pangs of democracy in Middle East."

For Rice and her compatriots in the Bush administration, violence is the preferred engine of social change and "democracy" a euphemism for supine governments that subordinate the interests of their own people to those of U.S. political and economic elites.

Just as the lofty goal of "democratizing" Iraq required an orgy of "good" violence, ridding Lebanon of its "undemocratic" elements justifies Israel's brutal assault on the Lebanese people.

So far, 900 innocent people have perished, over 3,000 have been seriously wounded, close to a million displaced, and Lebanon's civilian infrastructure has been decimated. Israel and its apologists would have us believe that every one of these deaths is a "regrettable mistake," an unfortunate consequence of technological failure and faulty intelligence rather than a predictable outcome of aiming heavy weapons at civilian targets.

Then we were told that Hezbollah guerillas are operating in towns and villages, and so Israel can't be held responsible for the deaths of civilians in those areas. When dozens of refugees - many of them children - were crushed to death in Qana under a building that sustained a direct hit from American-supplied Israeli warplanes, there were no Hezbollah fighters among the dead and no military activity in the area, a fact admitted by Israeli authorities on Monday.

Whatever the real aims of Israel's U.S.-endorsed spasm of violence, it is surely not democracy.

When Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza elected a government prepared to defend their interests rather than to promote Israel's, the response was to impose crippling economic sanctions on the Palestinian population at large in the hope that widespread suffering and anger would eventually topple Hamas.

Democracy, alas, is only to be valued if the population being "tutored" in its virtues makes the "correct" choices.

Whether in Lebanon or Palestine, the historical reality is that Israel has never been interested in the promotion of unfettered democracy and its relentless use of violence has rarely - if ever - had anything to do with "self-defense."

Israel was born in a cataclysm of aggressive violence and it depends on violence for its continued existence as a decidedly intolerant parochially minded state. At times, it is necessary to find a pretext for its belligerent behavior, and this is what Hezbollah supplied when they killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two.

It makes for sardonic humor that Israel would like to be secure and immune from attack while it still occupies a part of Lebanon and a good chunk of Syria, while it proceeds with its policies of apartheid and colonization in historical Palestine, and while it holds close to 10,000 Palestinians and several thousand Lebanese in prison indefinitely, without trial.

Cross-border skirmishes and prisoner exchanges have been the norm since Israel withdrew from most of southern Lebanon in 2000, so a reasonable question to ask is "why now?"

The answer is the creation of a new strategic reality in the north, one that has been pursued relentlessly since 1948.

In 1982, as it went about destroying the PLO and creating an environment more "friendly" to its interests, Israel murdered 30,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Although state terrorism on this scale is meant to send a message about the futility of resisting the perpetrator's designs, it had the unintended effect of giving birth to Hezbollah, the only group to have ever forced Israel to relinquish its control of occupied territory.

The presence of Hezbollah on the northern border stands diametrically opposed to Israel's goal of a politically pliant and militarily weak Lebanon that will join the rest of the Arab states in their impotent acquiescence where the fate of the Palestinians is concerned.

It's no accident that innocent people and the infrastructure that supports their common life have been the primary targets of Israel's campaign. This is, after all, the most effective way of communicating what Israel requires of the Lebanese when they come to choose a government or consider whether or not to lend their support to factions involved in resistance activities.

What has now become abundantly clear is that European and Arab indifference will do little to blunt the effects of open and unconditional U.S. support for Israel. In such circumstances, the moral burden lies with ordinary people of conscience to play their part in the growing international campaign to boycott and culturally isolate the state of Israel.

At present, it is imperative to take the implements of violence out of the hands that have used them in such a cruel fashion. We can begin to work on this here and now, in our local community, by making sure that our institutions are not invested in the corporations that manufacture these weapons and make them available for Israel's use.

The sense of justice and sacrifice that made possible the abolition of slavery, the struggle for civil rights, and the campaign against apartheid in South Africa should inform our present efforts. After all, the very same freedoms are now at stake, and American citizens are uniquely placed to secure them for those whose circumstances are less fortunate.

Mohammed Abed is a Palestinian exile who lectures in the philosophy department at the UW-Madison. Karima Berkani is president of the Arab Student Organization at the UW-Madison.
Published: August 4, 2006

Posted on 05-08-2006

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