Yves Shefner in Israel at War 2006

Life in Haifa and north of Israel during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Terrible tragedy at Qana -where should the rage be directed?


Thanks to Die Muräne from Switzerland for comments expressing impatience with Israel. I really am glad to hear your opinions of all shades. Early this morning an Israeli attack on Qana, a small Lebanese town near the border with Israel, killed over 40 people. So far, reports say that over 27 bodies of children have been pulled from the rubble. The story is that the building hit was storing Hezbollah assets. Tragically, women and their handicapped children gathered together in the building so that it would be easier to care for the children.

How it played out in the news
Israeli spokesmen expressed deep regret at the loss of life, especially that of children, and had the air force known that the building was full of children, the mission would have been aborted. I know I cried when I saw the pictures of limp children being carried in the arms of Red Cross rescuers, and I must admit that now, I too wonder if Israel can continue this way. I know most Israelis are crying about this tragedy. One cannot be a parent in Israel and not cry at the loss of innocent children. I wish there was some way we could show our solidarity with the poor innocent victims. I wish Israel would do more in the way of humanitarian efforts, in parallel to conducting the war. - whether the Lebanese hate us or not, whether they want to kill us or not. I don't care. We must remain faithful to humane ideals. At least if we are forced into this war, then we should be doing everything we can to help those who must necessarily suffer. I know it won't hurt us to do so proactively. It is not enough to allow a few red cross truck through. The IDF must also take on some relief efforts.

Israeli IDF spokesmen stated that Arabic language pamphlets were distributed to residents throughout the region instructing them to leave or risk injury in the hostilities. Reports by soldiers fighting at Bint Jbeil who asked local people why they did not leave, say that Hezbollah forced them to stay behind. Lebanese and Arab spokesmen claim that Israel has bombed the bridges and roads making it impossible for people to leave. The journalists claim that the people have no money to travel and support themselves in other places and prefer to stay in a familiar area with their livestock.

This morning, CNN and Sky News journalists were asking an Israeli spokesman if he was afraid of war crimes trials after the conflict. I was outraged that they did not see that Hezbollah must obviously be putting people in harms way. Period. End of discussion. This is the most cynical manipulation and slaughter of a weak population by a terrorist group. Just look at the terrorist formula (used by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others): Place a rocket launcher near women and children (schools, hospitals, apartment buildings) and then fire. If Israel attacks and innocents die, the terrorists win the propaganda war and the international community pressures Israel to stop. If Israel holds back, then its own population comes under fire. Either way Israel loses. Where is the outrage at this war crime of the first degree? Why aren't Hezbollah spokesmen being asked if they are afraid of war crimes?

Israel said it would investigate the tragedy quickly because this is not the moral code of Israel or the IDF, and it owes first itself an answer, and also to the international community, as to why this happened.

Today, Jack Straw, former foreign secretary to Tony Blair, announced after 3 weeks, that Israel's response was exaggerated. Please note all: Jack Straw was recently demoted by Prime Minister Blair and has a large Muslim constituency in his home riding - two very strong motivations to revolt against his boss and come out against Israel. This was a self-serving statement that seeks political profit from the poor Lebanese children and is not helpful in changing the situation on the ground for the people of Israel or Lebanon.

In recent discussions I've had with two friends of mine who have strong pacifist (called leftist on the Israeli political spectrum), both wondered if Israel's response should have been much more restrained. Then perhaps, Hezbollah would not have started their barrage of rockets. They feel that we are strengthening Hezbollah within the Arab world; this is undoubtedly true according to all reports. Even the positions of so called 'friendly' nations like Egypt and Jordan have shifted. They started off by blaming Hezbollah for starting the conflict, now they are blaming Israel. I presume that after today, this trend will escalate. For every one hundred or one thousand minds they turn one or two will become militant.

Tommy Lapid former head to the secular Shinui (Change) party, talking on Fox News was asked about Israel losing the support of the international community. Visibly angry, as Tommy often is, he said (I'm paraphrasing)"As long as Jews are losing, the international community loves us. Then you will be glad to build orphanages for Jewish children in London", he said, referring to Britain's taking in of Jewish children during the holocaust. But when Jews are attacked and fight for their right to exist and live in their own country, the world turns against us!" Tommy, it's not just us, the world just loves the underdog in every conflict.

People in the West are swayed by the mere numbers of deaths without understanding the realities and say the response is exaggerated. The fact that seven times more Lebanese have died means to people that Israel's reaction is disproportionate. This position falsely assumes (and strongly so implies to those watching and trying to make up their minds on the issue) that Israel's goal in this operation is revenge or to teach Arab extremists a lesson. That is not the case. Retrieving the captured soldiers, either through direct military action or through setting the stage militarily to negotiate the release is the goal. But even that goal has taken a back seat to the goal of disarming Hezbollah. This goal has recently been downgraded to weakening them (and at this rate, soon to be adjusted to just giving them a good kick in the shins) and the threat of 8-10 thousand more of their rockets being aimed at us.

Media must maintain moral parity
This is truly the moral dilemma of kill or be killed for which there is no happy answer. But there is no doubt that Hezbollah shares most of the blame for starting this conflict, and for making cannon fodder of the weakest, poorest people, and most helpless people - handicapped children and their mothers. To their credit, journalists, for the first time in my memory of the media covering terrorist conflicts, do actually mention that innocents are put in harm's way - but the impression I get is that it is also quickly dismissed by them. It must be so obvious to them that terrorists are barbaric and liars and commit atrocities and there is no one for them to even address this issue to - they can melt away into the population while Israel, as a legitimate society has to have it's defenders smeared with implications that what they are doing is a war crime. It is time that the media maintained a single moral standard for all parties in this conflict, on not one for terrorists and one for Israel. I think that will keep make Israel's response look more proportionate.

The fallout
This incident is similar to another campaign in Lebanon some years ago (I think it was in 1996) where Israelis accidentally bombed a shelter housing hundreds of innocent civilians killing more than 100 people. The incident caused an outcry and led to International pressure that stopped Israel's operations. Today's tragedy at Qana may have the same effect. Prime Minister Siniora has already cancelled his planned visit with Condoleezza Rice due to the tragedy and has temporarily derailed the diplomatic efforts.

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