Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Barking up the wrong tree in Israel and Lebanon

By Pamela K. Taylor

In the more or less calm aftermath of the Hezbollah-Israel war, both Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrullah and Israeli President Ehud Olmert have declared victory. Pundits are scrambling to assess the physical, psychological, social and moral wins and losses, with each side lamenting the other's strengths and bemoaning their own weaknesses.

The real question, however, should not be who won or lost, but how do we keep this kind of war from happening again? We should not accept the notion that the conflict between Israel and its neighbors will go on forever until one side or the other is destroyed. We cannot accept the callous taking of civilian lives in pursuit of political ends -- be they Israeli, Lebanese, or Palestinians lives, although clearly the Arabs have always suffer far greater losses. Nor should the wholesale destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure, or the starvation siege of the West Bank, largely unnoticed in the public eye once the fighting in Lebanon began, be considered business as usual.

The war was, despite all claims to the contrary, remarkably inconclusive. Hizbollah was not destroyed. In fact, many more Lebanese have now embraced Hizbollah because of its resistance to the overwhelmingly disproportionate Israeli response. Israel did not suddenly decide that its objectives are costing too much in terms of Israeli lives or materiel. They did not decide that the Israeli state should be dismantled and everyone should pack their bags and go back to their homelands.

In the end, the only thing achieved was an angry stalemate -- one in which both sides are more hardened in their hatred, their anger, their sense of outraged injustice, and fear of destruction at the hands of their enemies. The Western/Israeli demonization of Arabs, and by extension all Muslims, continues apace, with countless depictions of them as mindless, uber-violent and inhuman mad dogs. The Arab demonization of Israelis, and by extension all Jews, as callous, fascist descendants of monkeys and swine has only intensified.

Given this state of affairs, a repeat war, after each side has retired to lick its wounds and recoup, is not only likely, it is a near certainty.

How, then, can the world act to change the situation? The first is to acknowledge the essential humanity of each side. Israelis are not demons, nor are the Hizbollah fighters or Palestinians. Until we accept the value of every human life, white or brown, Jew or Muslim, it will be far too easy to dismiss horrific collateral damage and civilian loss of life as sad but unavoidable.

The second is to acknowledge the legitimate desires of each side to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on equal terms with their neighbors. Until a dignified, secure, life uncomplicated by excessive restrictions is assured for all in the region, conflict will continue.

The Arabs will have to compromise and accept the existence of Israel, and the Israelis will have to accept that the Palestinians have a legitimate right to their own existence, in their own lands, not as guests in someone else's state.

To this day, this proposition has not truly been accepted by either side. Until it is, we will have endless conflict. 60 years of open and simmering warfare should have taught us by now that neither side can be pounded into submission. As the US is learning in Iraq, subjugation of a people does not extinguish their innate drive to live a decent, self-determined life.

Third, it is time the global community said enough is enough. The UN needs to get involved. Individual countries should not be allowed to continue arming and financing one side or the other, and UN Peacekeepers should enforce a no-fire zone. Given the past 60 years of history, it is naive to think the two sides can come to amicable peace on their own, or even with peace brokers negotiating a deal. The international community will have to force a solution, much as a solution was forced upon the former Yugoslavia.

Until these things happen, it's going to be business as usual. Israel's demolition of Lebanon has not wiped out Hizbollah; it has strengthened support for the organization among the Lebanese people and created a cadre of new young wanna-be terrorists across the globe. Hizbollah's missile strikes have not weakened Isreal, but only maddened it like spurs egging on an enraged bronco. Nothing has changed, except attitudes, which have gotten worse. Until the rest of the world finds the spine to step in, there is no reason to believe things ever will change.

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