OPINTON

Take a number. It’s open season on Israel.

BARBARA AMIEL August 7 2006
OPINTON

Take a number. It’s open season on Israel.

BARBARA AMIEL August 7 2006

Take a number. It’s open season on Israel.

OPINTON

BARBARA AMIEL

So much ink and airtime leaves one just bloggin’ along trying to make sense after yet another dispatch from CNN and various al-Jazeera acolytes.

Once the two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah and the Katyushas unleashed, what exactly could Israel have done differently from what it has done? No one has any suggestion apart from the truism that Israel has a right to defend itself. Except, it seems, Israel has a right to defend itself only so long as it does nothing.

A country fighting with only a fraction of its true force in order to minimize civilian deaths, as Israel appears to do, risks losing both the war and the propaganda war. It can be accused of turning Lebanon into a charnel house while achieving only limited battlefield success. No doubt the dead and injured civilians include Hezbollah members, but I have no idea if eliminating them is causing more harm to Hezbollah than to Israel.

When the enemy places soldiers and weapons within civilian areas and sometimes right inside civilian homes—giving new meaning to the notion of the kids playing war games—you can defeat them only by a massive land invasion or by reducing the entire area to rubble. Israel’s critics are vocal but all they have on offer is the chimera of a ceasefire and an international force to police it. The international community has been unable to enforce the 2004 UN Security Council resolution 1559 to disarm Hezbollah. The UNIFIL force in the region has proved utterly useless as have all previous “peacekeeping” missions in the Middle East.

Israel, less than 60 years old with only 6.4 million people, appears to soak up most of the world’s moral outrage at the expense of many worse situations unremarked. The inaugural session in Geneva last month of the newly constituted United Nations Human

Rights Council spent its time focused on “Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.” Never mind violations in Darfur, China, Zimbabwe, etc. Iran’s delegation included Saeed Mortazavi—a wry touch. Mortazavi is Iran’s prosecutor general, implicated in torture and illegal detentions. Iranian-Canadian photojoumalist Zahra Kazemi died while in his custody. There were no international warrants for his arrest in Geneva when he checked in as there would have been had toothless Augusto Pinochet shown up. Or comatose Ariel Sharon. At least, if Canada’s own Louise Arbour had her way.

But then, Israel is the mother of all Rorschach ink blots when it comes to the UN. The only country created by a vote of UN members as opposed to merely being admitted by them, it remains the only one that has no permanent membership in any of the world’s groupings. The Asian bloc, which includes Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, won’t let it in. The Western European and Others bloc finally gave it temporary status in 2000, but that membership is a temporary visa to be renewed every four years—rather like a Turkish worker in Germany.

Speaking of Louise Arbour, she has been issuing press releases and muttering darkly about Israeli military and political commanders bombing “sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the [unjustifiable] killing of innocent civilians.” Such people might, she says, have a “personal criminal responsibility.” If Madame Arbour were running a restaurant in Trois-Pistoles, “Pepsi et frites. Le duo parfait,” her moral fog wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, she is the UN’s high commissioner for human rights. I suppose she should be congratulated for beating the odds. Normally, people who can’t tell the difference between the intentional and the accidental are streamlined into non-academic careers at a fairly early age. Only a minority become Supreme Court justices or heads of human rights offices.

One shouldn’t be a crybaby and raise the spectre of anti-Semitism in easygoing Canada, but I find it intriguing that some FrenchCanadian radio broadcasters commenting on the dispute refer to “les Juifs” rather than “les Israéliens.” Broadcasters of all sorts are problematic, though. The BBC has been trying to keep its petticoats clean after giving

the game away as correspondent Barbara Plett covering Arafat’s departure from Ramallah told viewers, “When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose from his ruined compound, I started to cry.” More like, don’t cry for me, Palestine. Few people get Nobel Peace Prizes for warmongering and theft.

But in spite of all its effort, the BBC has practically gone native. While its newscasters aren’t yet wearing Lawrence of Arabia headgear, their camels are at the ready. BBC broadcaster Fergal Keane, known for his “humane” take on events, gave viewers a minidocumentary this week with vivid footage of horrifyingly maimed children in Lebanon together with his commentary attributing the suffering to a “Red Cross ambulance fired at by an Israeli missile.” Any BBC newscast on the situation could play happily on al-Jazeera—and probably does.

Ultimately, all the rockets Hezbollah has been hoarding must be there to use against

whoever blocks its design—which is power. If we could stop looking under beds for Israeli war criminals, we could focus on what this is all about: whether the Middle East will be under the primary influence of Iran or the West—neither of which are Arab powers.

Arab countries seem unable to run their own affairs. Nature abhors a vacuum and this vacuum has a lot going for it in other ways. The region is swimming in oil and the people are largely literate—indeed if anything, a bit too taken by poetry. The result is a hugely valuable, un-staked claim that attracts predators. Iran has its heart set on recovering the empire of Xerxes but unlike the legend of the biblical KingXerxes (a.k.a. Ahasuerus), this time round there’s no Esther to save the Israelites. M