Lebanon And Gaza: The Myth Of Israel’s Self Defence

THE Israeli and the western media has built the myth that the attacks on Gaza and later on the Lebanese population are a response by Israel to their one soldier being kidnapped by the Hamas on June 25 and two others being kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12. The occupation of Palestinian land and Arab lands, the ethnic cleansing of Arab population from Israel, an earlier 18-year long occupation of Southern Lebanon, imposition of an apartheid state in Israel and occupied territories, targeted assassinations of resistance leaders, the shelling of Gaza for a month before the capturing of the Israeli soldiers, continued presence in Israeli prisons of over 9,000 Palestinians and some
Lebanese, all of these are apparently not the cause of the current conflict. In this media war, only two dates are important – the date the Hamas captured an Israeli soldier, sitting in his tank and shelling Gaza and the other in which Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a bid for a prisoner swap. Once the two dates and incidents are established as the proximate cause, then at best, the argument that Kofi Annan has also echoed that though Israel has a right to self-defence, there is “disproportionate force” used. In this account of the War, the Israeli attacks on Lebanon is always coupled with Hezbollah using rockets against the Israeli civilian population: Israel’s savage aerial bombardment, which has reduced Lebanese infrastructure to rubble and killed about 1000 civilians, being somehow equal to these slightly improved second world war vintage Hezbollah rocket attacks that has killed about 30
Israeli civilians. The myth-making is so pervasive that every time either BBC or CNN talk about Israel’s barbaric attacks on the civilian population in the almost forgotten war in Gaza and now the more visible one in Lebanon, it also repeats all these myths.


Not only is the sequence a manufactured one, so is the language. Palestinians and Lebanese are always arrested or captured; Israeli soldiers are always kidnapped or abducted. One can go on. The United Nations Resolution 1559 in which Hezbollah was supposed to have been disarmed is mentioned time and again. No mention of the dozens of resolutions that Israel has violated including the resolution that mandated that Israel vacate its occupation of the West Bank, continued now for almost 40 years. In this calculus of violence and action-retaliation, the western media and governments have always echoed the Israeli line: Israel only retaliates; it is always “Arab terrorists” that
attack. The story – in this version of history – is one of a besieged Jewish state, never one of most powerful military machine in the West Asia, armed with more than 300 nuclear bombs.

Before we examine the current war in Lebanon, let us look at the Gaza kidnapping of an Israeli soldier that lead to bridges and its only power station being bombed. For a month before this incident, Israeli had been shelling Gaza, killing more than 30 civilians. One day before the attack on its soldiers, the alleged trigger, Israeli commandos kidnapped two Hamas activists from Gaza. Why the Hamas attack on its soldiers and kidnapping of one soldier should not be seen as retaliation for Israeli kidnapping is what the western media needs to answer. The Hamas did not attack a soft civilian target: they attacked a tank, which is a part of a force that has been shelling Gaza for a month, one of these shells being held responsible for the death of a family of seven, of which three were little children. The Israeli response to all this was not only flattening large parts of Gaza but also abducting 60 of leading Hamas representatives in the Palestinian Authority, including 20 ministers and members of parliament.

There is also the other myth –– that Israel withdrew from Gaza and has now been forced back due to this kidnapping” of its soldier. Israel controls all the entry and exit points for Gaza, has not allowed a seaport to be built there and also controls its air space. This – in international law and in view of United Nations – is occupation and Israel is still the occupying power in Gaza. Israel has used this control to starve the Gaza population of even food and
medicines, let alone allow other goods.

The wall Israel is building on the occupied West Bank, though declared illegal by the International Court of Justice, not only takes away some of the best lands of the West Bank but also encloses most of the aquifers there and therefore its water. Israel remains and plans to remain on West Bank as occupying power, with the Palestinian territories cut up into little pockets, with roads that only its Jewish settlers can travel, its best land almost all its water under control of the Jewish settlers and Israel. It is this apartheid vision of Palestinian Bantustans it is peddling as unilateral withdrawal and “peace”. A Palestinian “state” in which Palestinians will have to seek the permission of Israeli army every time it crosses from one little enclave to another, with no control over its own resources and under the gun of the Israeli state. All this, in the name of its security, dutifully echoed by the western media and governments. And if the Palestinians reject this vision of the “two state” solution, then Israel claims it has no partners for peace!

The Lebanon war is similarly clouded with Israeli myth making and complicity by western media and governments. Hezbollah is painted as a fundamentalist force, part of an international terror network that is incompatible with “western” values. The reality is that Hezbollah grew out of Israel’s 18-year long occupation of South Lebanon, initially as a loose grouping with an Islamic nationalist ideology and has now crystallised as a political party with both civil and military wings. It has currently 14 members in the 128-member Lebanese parliament and two inisters in the government. It is no longer a simple resistance group, which is what it started as. It is also a reflection of the
patchwork Lebanese nation state that emerged after the Second World War.

Lebanon was sliced off the Syrian western seaboard, with a strong Maronite Christian presence and built as a “confessional” state. This means each religious group was given a constitutional position and a set of powers “The original allocations, determined in 1943 in an unwritten National Pact between Maronite Christians and Sunni Muslims at the end of the French mandate, gave the most power to a Maronite Christian president and a Sunni Muslim prime minister, with the relatively powerless position of speaker of parliament going to a Shi’i Muslim.”(Lara Deeb; July 31, 2006 – Middle East Report Online, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero073106.html) These arrangements broke down during the late 70s and 80s leading to a civil war. “The Lebanese civil war came to an end in 1990, after the signing of the Ta’if Agreement in 1989. The Ta’if Agreement reasserted a variation of the National Pact, allotting greater power to the prime minister and increasing the number of Muslim seats in government. Yet while the actual numerical strength of confessional groups in Lebanon is sharply contested, conservative estimates note that by the end of the civil war, Shi’i Muslims made up at least one third of the population, making them the largest confessional community. Other estimates are much higher.” (Lara Deeb)


The Israeli 1978 invasion of Lebanon is not the subject here. But it is important to note that Hezbollah was able to inflict high casualties during its guerrilla war against Israeli occupation forces, finally forcing them to withdraw from
Lebanon. The issue here is not whether we agree with Hezbollah’s politics or its vision of an Islamic state. The key issue for us is in West Asia, where Israel is in occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands, how do we look at various
forms of resistance? And in this light, Hezbollah is very much a part of the Lebanese national resistance against Israeli occupation and aggression.

The current invasion of Lebanon is the third one Israel has conducted. The first one was in 1978, when it invaded Southern Lebanon, killing thousands and displacing 250,000 people. In 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon again seeking to install Bashir Gemayel as its president and throwing out PLO. After Bashir Gemayel was killed, Israeli army in collaboration with Phalangist militia of Gemayel, massacred thousands in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. It is widely accepted that these massacres had direct involvement of Ariel Sharon, the then Israeli defence minister. After this, Israel withdrew to Southern Lebanon, with the same arguments it is doing now: it needs a buffer zone for its security and continued its occupation for 18 long years. It is only after its casualties grew to more than 2,000 that it withdrew from Lebanon.

In 1996, in an attempt to crush the Lebanese resistance, Israel launched a similar 16-day blitz on Lebanon. This ended with the shelling of the UN compound in Kana and the death there of 106 civilians. An informal agreement – called the April Agreement – was drawn up in which both Israel and Hezbollah agreed not to attack civilian targets. This is important as it has been pointed out that Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli outpost, whatever its merits or demerits may be, does not violate this April agreement. Israel’s so-called response in which it has attacked the infrastructure and civilian population of Lebanon does. As a matter of record, the UN monitoring body in Southern Lebanon has found Israel to be 10 times more guilty of violations across the border (or Blue Line in the current War terminology) than Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has fired a few Katyushas in the last six years and has had a few border skirmishes. Before the current war, the total casualty count from this has been one death. The large-scale rocket barrage on Northern Israel started only after Israel’s aerial bombardment of Lebanon. Before this, it had largely respected the April agreement and played within these rules of the game. Israel has also fired and shelled across the border on numerous occasions. Therefore, to argue that Israel needs a special security zone free from Hezbollah while it has been the one that has attacked Lebanon thrice only shows the skewed nature of the current media discourse.


Israel has propounded the right to kill anyone and abduct anybody it considers a “terrorist”. In 1992, it assassinated Hassan Nasurallah’s predecessor, Sayyid ‘Abbas al-Musawi, along with his wife and 5 year-old son. In the view of Israeli state and the western media, any resistance to Israel is “terrorist” and therefore is legitimate target; however it does not recognise any of its own actions, including the massacres in Shatala and Sabra earlier, and more recently in Jenin, as criminal. By definition, others are terrorists if they use violence; and by definition Israel’s actions are always self-defence.

The question here is not to establish how Israel is a criminal state. The real question is why is such a state not considered a rogue or a pariah state? How can Israeli citizens support this continued occupation of Palestinian lands,
rally behind what the whole world sees as “collective punishment” of civilian population? It is the power of myths that the Israeli state and the western media have built that must be examined to understand this phenomenon.

For the first time Israel’s media campaign has been less successful. Partly because it is no longer able to control the copies and images that reporters are filing from Lebanon. In the occupied territories, Israel controls the news flow
completely: censorship laws allow only what it permits to flow to the rest of the world. And the western media is complicit with Israeli state in this cover up of truth. The other factor is the Internet: it is no longer possible to hide
the news. It appears all over the net, with blogs and other channels providing what the main news channels do not. And of course, there is Arab media, with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya less likely to accept Israel’s diktats.

ceasefire, Israel has declared a victory, as it believes it will get a UN military force to do what it could militarily not achieve. Whether any foreign force will do as Israel wants it to do is extremely doubtful. What is without doubt is that Israel failed in its military objectives. From the first day, its clear objective was the destruction of Hezbollah. That on the last day of the conflict, Hezbollah could fire more than 200 rockets shows that its immediate
target of destruction of Hezbollah (or degrading Hezbollah’s military strength severely) has failed. The second, though unannounced objective was that by inflicting collective punishment on the Lebanese population, it will sharpen the existing fault lines in Lebanese society and isolate the Hezbollah. This has not only failed, but in the Lebanese mind, it is Israel who is identified as the enemy and Hezbollah as a part of the Lebanese nation resisting Israeli aggression. However much Israeli government might try and claim victory, the fact remains that even in the Israeli media there are very few claims of victory.


In Hezbollah’s and in most Arab views, by its resistance and retaining its ability to fight, Hezbollah has won. For Hezbollah, winning was never the issue; not being defeated was. This has come at a very heavy cost indeed. But
nevertheless, the failure of the Israeli campaign to break the Hezbollah’s resistance also means shattering the myth of the invincible Israeli army. The repercussions of this are going to be very deep in West Asia. For the first time, Israel expects now diplomacy to give it what its military could not: peace and security for northern Israel.

The tragedy for the world is that the US still continues its equation of all Islamic resistance in West Asia as equivalent to Al Qaeda. In this view, the Saudi zealots it armed in Afghanistan are no different than the resistance fighters in Gaza and Lebanon. It not only has been compliant to Israel’s violation of international law in its continued occupation of Arab lands, it is now known to have been complicit in Israel’s assault on Lebanon. Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker has ripped off the cover of Hezbollah’s provocation. This was a campaign planned well in advance with full knowledge of the US. Ultimately, US provided the international cover including finally bailing Israel out, when it became clear that more time and troops would still not achieve Israel’s military objective. That this invasion has been planned long in advance was well known amongst the critics of the US. That it is now being echoed by US journalists of the stature of Hersh tells its own story. It is no longer possible to pretend that this costly war on Lebanon was fought for two soldiers, who still continue to be held by Hezbollah. The target was military destruction of Hezbollah, and as Hersh has pointed out, preparation of a similar campaign against Iran. The only problem is that if Israel, with its powerful military could not achieve its objective against a country with only 4 million people and against an irregular army, what chance does US have in taking on a country with the strategic depth of Iran and a population of 70 million? But to a Bush administration, all this may still carry no conviction. The world will have to wait and see what lesson the neo-cons have learnt in Washington.

Israel has already given notice that it regards this war to be unfinished. That means it plans for a fourth invasion of Lebanon or has no plans to leave at all. It might still wait for an US attack on Iran to hit again at Hezbollah. The fragile ceasefire is at best a stepping-stone for other diplomatic initiatives. But whether this will happen or Israel and the US will try for the same policies that have failed in Iraq and now Lebanon remains to be seen. There is no cure
for stupidity or insanity. Unfortunately for the world, the Bush policies show signs of both.