July 25, 2006
By Ze’ev Maoz
There’s practically a holy consensus right now that the war in the North is a just war and that morality is on our side. The bitter truth must be said: this holy consensus is based on short-range selective memory, an introverted worldview, and double standards.
This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy, whose sole purpose is extortion. That is not to say that morality and justice are on Hezbollah’s side. Most certainly not. But the fact that Hezbollah “started it” when it kidnapped soldiers from across an international border does not even begin to tilt the scales of justice toward our side.
Let’s start with a few facts. We invaded a sovereign state, and occupied its capital in 1982. In the process of this occupation, we dropped several tons of bombs from the air, ground and sea, while wounding and killing thousands of civilians. Approximately 14,000 civilians were killed between June and September of 1982, according to a conservative estimate. The majority of these civilians had nothing to do with the PLO, which provided the official pretext for the war.
In Operations Accountability and Grapes of Wrath, we caused the mass flight of about 500,000 refugees from southern Lebanon on each occasion. There are no exact data on the number of casualties in these operations, but one can recall that in Operation Grapes of Wrath, we bombed a shelter in the village of Kafr Kana which killed 103 civilians. The bombing may have been accidental, but that did not make the operation any more moral.
On July 28, 1989, we kidnapped Sheikh Obeid, and on May 12, 1994, we kidnapped Mustafa Dirani, who had captured Ron Arad. Israel held these two people and another 20-odd Lebanese detainees without trial, as “negotiating chips.” That which is permissible to us is, of course, forbidden to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah crossed a border that is recognized by the international community. That is true. What we are forgetting is that ever since our withdrawal from Lebanon, the Israel Air Force has conducted photo-surveillance sorties on a daily basis in Lebanese airspace. While these flights caused no casualties, border violations are border violations. Here too, morality is not on our side.
So much for the history of morality. Now, let’s consider current affairs. What exactly is the difference between launching Katyushas into civilian population centers in Israel and the Israel Air Force bombing population centers in south Beirut, Tyre, Sidon and Tripoli? The IDF has fired thousands of shells into south Lebanon villages, alleging that Hezbollah men are concealed among the civilian population. Approximately 25 Israeli civilians have been killed as a result of Katyusha missiles to date. The number of dead in Lebanon, the vast majority comprised of civilians who have nothing to do with Hezbollah, is more than 300.
Worse yet, bombing infrastructure targets such as power stations, bridges and other civil facilities turns the entire Lebanese civilian population into a victim and hostage, even if we are not physically harming civilians. The use of bombings to achieve a diplomatic goal – namely, coercing the Lebanese government into implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1559 – is an attempt at political blackmail, and no less than the kidnapping of IDF soldiers by Hezbollah is the aim of bringing about a prisoner exchange.
There is a propaganda aspect to this war, and it involves a competition as to who is more miserable. Each side tries to persuade the world that it is more miserable. As in every propaganda campaign, the use of information is selective, distorted and self-righteous. If we want to base our information (or shall we call it propaganda?) policy on the assumption that the international environment is going to buy the dubious merchandise that we are selling, be it out of ignorance or hypocrisy, then fine. But in terms of our own national soul searching, we owe ourselves to confront the bitter truth – maybe we will win this conflict on the military field, maybe we will make some diplomatic gains, but on the moral plane, we have no advantage, and we have no special status.
The writer is a professor of political science at Tel Aviv university.