Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hezbollah's other war

Three distinct items provoke this post.

First, I went yesterday to a meeting of PDLA, where I met up with two blogging friends, Helen Wheels and Alicia. The President of PDLA is Marcy Winograd, as well as several other very powerful speakers from the Progressive Democrats around the LA area, were there. It was an honor to participate, as we worked through some significant issues. One of the first topics on the table was single-payer universal health care. It is insane that this country does not provide adequate health coverage, that millions of Americans cannot afford their medications, that health care has become the bastion of the very wealthy. We discussed election reform, and the debacle of the Diebold machines which. These machines use propriatary software, owned by a private company and developed by someone with 23 felony counts against him for fraud, which is beyond unconstitutional. And the discussion turned to the Middle East.

This meeting had a lot of Jewish Americans who, like me, are heartsick over what Israel's government has become. Also present was a gentleman who has a family connection to a town in Lebanon, which he fears he will never see. A motion was put forth to demand that the US stop sending arms and funds to Israel; the motion was changed to say Just as we condemn Syria for arming and supporting Hezbollah, we ask that the US stop funding and arming Israel. There was one abstention (me) because I personally cannot bear the weight of what is happening, and what we in America, have become.

The second item is two emails I received from family members. When I got home, I had an email from one of my cousins-in-law, which linked to a short film about the doctored Reuters photos coming out of Lebanon that make the violence appear worse than it is. The comment in her email said "we don't see doctored photos coming out of Israel." No, we don't. I could feel her fingers pointing at the other guy, blaming blaming and blaming. I get emails from her, and from a dear friend in Chicago who both support Israel blindly - and I understand their thinking. Without Israel, what will become of the Jews? I feel this to my bone marrow. But I also say this: Israel has lost her soul, this is not the country I once lived in.

Then, this morning, I had another email from another cousin that has a terrifying level of truth to it in its black humor:

Understanding the Media

A man in Paris saw a pit bull attacking a toddler.
He killed the pit bull and saved the child's life.
Reporters swarmed the fellow to cover the story....
"Tell us! What's your name? All Paris will love you!
Tomorrow's headline will be: 'Paris Hero Saves Girl from Vicious

The man said, "But I'm not from Paris."
Reporters: "That's OK. Then the whole of France will love you, and tomorrow's headline will read: 'French Hero Saves Girl from Vicious Dog!'"

The man said, "I'm not from France, either."
Reporters: "That's OK also. All Europe will love you. Tomorrow's
headlines will shout: 'Europe's Hero Saves Girl from Vicious Dog!'"

The man said, "I'm not from Europe, either."
Reporters: "So, where ARE you from?"
The man said, "I'm from Israel."
Reporters: "OK... Then tomorrow's headlines
will proclaim to the world:

'Vicious Jew Kills Family Pet!!!'"

The cousin who sent this to me shares my feelings about the need for an immediate cease fire, but, like me, recognizes this growning hatred of Jews - yes, Jews - internationally. I do not feel safe. I have the Bush Administration to thank for this.

The third item is an article from today's New York Times, Hezbollah's Other War, by Michael Young, who is the opinion editor of The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper published in Beirut, and a contributing editor at Reason magazine. The article begins:

One evening earlier this summer, Lebanon’s most popular satire show, ‘‘Bas Mat Watan,’’ broadcast a sketch showing an ‘‘interview’’ with Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader and secretary general. ‘‘Nasrallah’’ was asked whether his party would surrender its weapons. He answered that it would, but first several conditions had to be met: there was that woman in Australia, whose land was being encroached upon by Jewish neighbors; then there was the baker in the United States, whose bakery the Jews wanted to take over. The joke was obvious: there were an infinite number of reasons why Hezbollah would never agree to lay down its weapons and become one political party among others.

But it was the rapid reaction to the satiric sketch that sent the more disquieting message. That very night, angry supporters of Hezbollah closed the airport road with burning tires — a warning that they could block at will the main access point in and out of the country — and marched on mainly Sunni, Druse and Christian quarters in Beirut. In a Christian neighborhood, they clashed with the son of a former president and his comrades, and several youths were taken to hospital.

Young's article is long, but it focuses on the cynical manipulation of Lebanon by the radical Shi'ite para-government. Today, Lebanon lies in ruins. Lebanon has always been an open, tolerant, secular mix of Muslim, Christian and Druse. The Muslims were a mix of Sunni and Shi'ite. Hezbollah grew out of the Shi'ite Muslims:

Hezbollah’s dependence on Syria and dominance of local Shiite politics were long in the making. In the early 1980’s, the ‘‘Party of God’’ was a loose collection of shady militant groups organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and dedicated to fighting Israel. After vanquishing its Shiite rival, the Amal movement, in fierce street fights, Hezbollah established its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut. When the civil war ended in 1990, with Syria in effective control of the country, it was virtually the only armed group allowed to retain its weapons. The official rationale was that it needed those weapons to continue fighting Israel’s occupation of the south. But Syria had its own reasons to keep Hezbollah armed: as it negotiated with Israel for the return of the Golan Heights, the Assad regime wanted all the military leverage it could get.

Syria uses the Shi'ites (and Hezbollah) the same way the US uses Israel: as cannon fodder. Syria supplies arms and funds to Hezbollah, and the US supplies Israel. Israel believes she is defending herself against those who would wipe her off the map.

Even though Israel has focused her wanton and terrible attacks on primarily Shi'ite neighborhoods, leaving the Christian, Druze and Sunni areas mostly intact, the images out of Lebanon focus blame on Israel and Israel alone. But within Lebanon, depression among the Maronite Christians, Druze and Sunni Muslims has settled in, and those with the means to emigrate are doing so. There is anger at both Israel and Hezbollah, and there will be retribution. As one Hezbollah combatant recently told The Guardian: ‘‘The real battle is after the end of this war. We will have to settle score with the Lebanese politicians. We also have the best security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and we can reach any of those people who are speaking against us now. Let’s finish with the Israelis, and then we will settle scores later.’’

Young refers to the "hubris" of Hezbollah. What is happening within Lebanon is a fracturing of this once tolerant country. In a recent speech, Nasrallah said Hezbollah was fighting on behalf of all Lebanese - a slightly conciliatroy tone. With hundreds of thousands of his brethren displaced from their homes, with Lebanon already facing an estimated $2.5 billion in direct losses, with Hezbollah having alienated many of its countrymen, even as it has fired off its prize weapons in a war of little benefit, maybe Nasrallah saw something he hadn't earlier: that his party may not always be the only party to hold the weapons. Faced with his intransigence, unable to peacefully settle their differences with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s other communities will likely rearm. The result may be a return to civil war. And if that happens, nothing will put Lebanon — let alone liberal Lebanon — back together again.

And here we go: lines are drawn, sides are taken. Blame is assigned. Each side refuses to see the humanity of the other side. This is a struggle that is older than all of us, and who started this current bonfire is frankly irrelevant, although there is enough blame to go around to all sides. Now is the time to seek solutions, and solutions are not what the neo-conservatives want at all.

Daniel Levy, who was a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the Oslo and Taba talks and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative, writes in Ha'aretz In 1996 a group of then opposition U.S. policy agitators, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, presented a paper entitled A Clean Break:
A New Strategy for Securing the Realm
to incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The "clean break" was from the prevailing peace process, advocating that Israel pursue a combination of roll-back, destabilization and containment in the region, including striking at Syria and removing Saddam Hussein from power in favor of "Hashemite control in Iraq." The Israeli horse they backed then was not up to the task.

Ten years later, as Netanyahu languishes in the opposition, as head of a small Likud faction, Perle, Feith and their neoconservative friends have justifiably earned a reputation as awesome wielders of foreign-policy influence under George W. Bush. And Bush believes that force is the answer to most problems.

The key neocon protagonists, their think tanks and publications may be unfamiliar to many Israelis, but they are redefining the region we live in. This tight-knit group of "defense intellectuals" - centered around Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Elliott Abrams, Perle, Feith and others - were considered somewhat off-beat until they teamed up with hawkish well-connected Republicans like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Newt Gingrich, and with the emerging powerhouse of the Christian right. Their agenda was an aggressive unilateralist U.S. global supremacy, a radical vision of transformative regime-change democratization, with a fixation on the Middle East, an obsession with Iraq and an affinity to "old Likud" politics in Israel. Their extended moment in the sun arrived after 9/11.

Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich calling this a third world war to "defend civilization."

Meanwhile, the destruction in the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq) shows consistently that the neo-conservative agenda is not working at all. Levy writes "The sight this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem." The Bush Administration's agenda has cause more hatred against Americans, and Jews, making the world less safe. Yes, I am assigning blame. My finger points home.

Israel must reconsider her alliance with the Neoconservatives and the Christian Right if she is to survive. Again, Levy writes "The largest "pro-Israel" lobby day during this crisis was mobilized by Pastor John Hagee and his Christians United For Israel, a believer in Armageddon with all its implications for a rather particular end to the Jewish story. This is just asking to become the mother of all dumb, self-defeating and morally abhorrent alliances."

Israel has an opportunity to redirect American policy in the last two years of the Bush Administration. This may be difficult, as Israel has always relied on the US to put on the brakes. But now, Israel is 58 years of age. Israel now must be the rational country and stop the insanity without the influence of an outside source. Israel must find her soul, now, and define what it will be as a nation.

And we, in America, need to restore our own soul. We need to return to a nation that values human dignity, and act as a nation of peace.

Cross posted at My Left Wing.


Yoga Korunta said...

Diva Jood, thank you for speaking so informatively about the crisis in Lebanon. It's a situation many have sought to understand. Real courage will be needed to work towards peace.

You, Alicia, and Helen are the best, best, best!

robin andrea said...

I have said to my family and friends that Israel's greatest tragedy is that she has always been surrounded by enemies and that her only ally now is a nation headed by Geroge Bush. A different American president might have been able to make a difference. But as it is now, we have a leader who believes in the Rapture, who has oil in his veins, and whose mind-numbing ignorance is ushering in the end of days.

It is a tragedy. And yes, I think there are plenty of people who simply hate Jews, who look at the middle east and think if Israel didn't exist then everything would be just fine.

Musings from Myopia said...

Diva Jood, I appreciate your comments and share your sense of frustration and rage that the issues that COULD have been addressed have not. In my view, ultimately only people who truly understand that there is ABSOLUTELY NO LEGITIMATE REASON for this insanity will have any hope of resolving it. Neither Israel nor Hezzbollah nor anyone else can truly believe that the murder of innocent people can ever had legitimacy. I have hope, albeit very little, that this misery will come to an end, but I have very little confidence that there are any people who have sufficient humanist perspectives to make it happen. I can only hope I am dead wrong in my cynicism. I want so desperately to be wrong.

The Fat Lady Sings said...

Thanks for the information, my dear. You told me things I did not know. It’s important to have as much information as possible before rendering opinions. That's why I have refused to be baited into discussing the merits of either country. Mirror, Mirror was about bigotry; not a referendum on the Israeli/Lebanon/Hizbullah war. You should read the commentary my article received at Bring It On. The war seemed to be the only thing people wanted to discuss. I'm so sorry you’re being caught in the middle like this. I do have an inkling of how you feel. For years the IRA bombed the hell out of non-combatants in their war against England. I support a united Ireland - but not at the cost of so many innocent lives. It’s hard to watch something you love come apart at the seams.

sumo said...

I too learned things that I wasn't aware of. Thank you and I for one would be grateful to learn more if you so choose to share it.

Tina said...

Sadly, cannon fodder seems to be the view so many groups take in regards to their young men and women.

The rabid growing rightist movement in Israel that is foaming at the mouth right now to punish Olmert for not making this war even bloodier is absolutely no different than our War Fans, Couch Commandos, and bloodthirsty Neo-Cons who can't cheerlead enough bloodshed. And do we in America even get to see that there is a anti-war movement in Israel? Of course not. How many of us-- if we didn't read online internatl newspapers-- would even know that Olmert's own daughter Dana is vehemently against this war?

I hate that "we the people" (and that includes Americans, Israelis, Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, etc) are viewed in the same light as Henry Kissinger viewed military members: ""dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for foreign policy."

DivaJood said...

Yoga, thank you.

Robin Andrea, well said. If George Bush were my only ally, I might consider killing myself.

Musings, actually, Hezbollah does not believe that the people they kill are innocent. That is a key difference. The neocons who control both the US and Israel don't "worry" about the innocents because they have some kind of fancy politicalspeak about "collateral damage." Cynicism on all sides.

TFLS, Mirror Mirror was a powerful post, and I am glad to see it is on The Peace Train. I'll have a look at Bring it On today.

Sumo, I thank you.

Tina, Olmert served in the military, as all Israelis must serve. That service continues once a year well into their 40s. However, he was never a general. He's similar to Bush in that respect, in that it makes him a cowboy commando. But in my opinion, Israel must now stand up and say "NO MORE" to the US - not the other way around. Israel has to tell the Neocons that they will not be pawns in this dangerous chess game.

Pete's Blog said...


Your comprehensive post reflects how difficult the situation is.

While the US has long (and is) using Israel as a proxy I imagine many Israeli's cannot say "non" to the US given longterm Israel's long term:
- financial
- military ("cut price weapons and technology) and
- psychological
dependence on the US.


DivaJood said...

Pete, it is difficult. But I do believe that Israel has the capacity to stand up to the present neo-conservative government in the US and say no. I also believe that it has the capacity to say no to Olmert, who is as much a neo-conservative as is Bush.

Helen Wheels said...

WOW, DivaJood, how did I not get to this post 'til today??

So well said, so well-written. I also learned much. I don't know what else to say except GREAT post!!

Helen Wheels said...

Oh and thanks for the PDLA recap and not mentioning I sashayed into the meeting TWO HOURS late!!!!

DivaJood said...

Helen, happy to not mention that you were so fashionably late. Meanwhile, I got a call yesterday from Lauren about working on the Single Payer Health Care bills. I am so into that particular issue, I can't tell ya.