It’s beginning to play out like a broken record. History is repeating itself in the Middle East.
In May 2000, in accordance with various United Nations resolutions, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, an area it had occupied since the late 1970s. The group known as Hezbollah, Arabic for “Party of God,” is credited for forcing Israel’s withdrawal with its continuous attacks.
These past six years have seen much activity on the border between Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah began to use old Israeli installations in south Lebanon to launch rockets into northern Israel. The group claims that, because Israel continues to occupy the Shebaa Farms region – internationally recognized as a part of Syria – further attacks remain justified.
To begin the current outburst of violence, Hezbollah took Israeli soldiers captive in order to trade them for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. This is reminiscent of October 2000, when three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped on the Israeli side of the border. Four years later, Israel released hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the three soldiers’ bodies and the release of an Israeli businessman.
These events have served as a prelude to the current crisis. Let there be no mistake: This is Hezbollah’s war. Its attack over the border of Israel sparked the latest violence and was an act of war. Backed by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah’s purpose is no longer to liberate, but to oppress and kill. By attacking soldiers within the internationally recognized borders of Israel, it has invited the wrath of the most powerful army in the Middle East. And rightfully so.
But Hezbollah’s infraction does not give Israel a blank check to bomb and shell indiscriminately. More than 300 Lebanese civilians have died as a result of Israeli attacks. The large-scale bombing of Lebanon is meant as to destroy as much of Hezbollah as possible. Not only is such a strategy dangerous, it is also well-placed in historical precedent. This is the same reasoning that led not just to the occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1970s, but to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Prolonged occupation is hazardous to Israel and devastating to the Palestinians and the Lebanese.
The results may end up just the same. In 1982, Israel responded to Palestinian Liberation Organization attacks by bombing and invading Beirut. Beirut was nearly destroyed and Christian Phalangist forces massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila. Israel had the power to stop them but did not. While the Israeli Defense Force has indicated that a long-term occupation of Lebanon is not the goal, simply bombing will not remove Hezbollah from Lebanon. Unless Lebanon and other nations help, Hezbollah’s terror will persist.
At this point, the Lebanese government has been unable to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which requires the disbanding of Hezbollah. Apparently, U.N. resolutions are only important when Hezbollah wants to use them as a propaganda tool against Israel.
Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, has suggested a new strategy: a multinational force to patrol the border, similar to the forces deployed during the war in Kosovo. He writes: “It is time that The World of Order got its act together. This is not Israel’s fight alone – and if you really want to see a ‘disproportional’ Israeli response, just keep leaving Israel to fight this war alone. Then you will see some real craziness.”
Friedman may be on to something. By Israel fighting Hezbollah alone, scores of civilians have been and will continue to be killed. This, of course, is unacceptable. A multinational force – not the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which was basically non-existent on the border – will create accountability in a war while reducing such casualties. In the meantime, negotiations to return Israeli hostages, as much an insult to pride as they may be, could be the most peaceful way out of the conflict.
Though criticisms of Israel’s policy in this war are warranted, demanding that Israel not respond is just foolish. Dan Sieradski, editor in chief of the popular progressive Jewish blogs Jewschool and Orthodox Anarchist, while condemning Israel for killing Lebanese civilians, writes, “The world condemns Israel for its disproportionate use of force, yet it provides absolutely no alternatives. What are we supposed to do here? Pack up seven million people and go . where?”
Israel has a right to defend itself. But no one, from Israel and Hezbollah to Iran, Lebanon, Syria or the United States has the right to dismiss the sanctity of human life, as was the rule in all past wars. That’s one regard in which we cannot allow history to repeat itself.
Goldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.