Category Archives: News and Opinion

Is Israel using human shields?

I will preface this by saying that there is a lot I don’t know about, and I am genuinely interested in the answers. Unlike some other bloggers, I am not asking these to prove a point or be controversial for controversy’s sake. If you can shed a little light, or have questions of your own, please share them. This blog is about raising awareness of the world, and finding a glimmer of truth in the darkness of those who would rather be believed than be honest. Now on to what will inevitably cause me to be branded something by someone.

Last night, as I usually do before I go to sleep, I was watching TV. As I flipped between Hell’s kitchen, a couple different baseball games, and CNN’s “24 Hours of Death and Destruction,” I was struck by something very strange: the sound of outgoing shelling. Anderson Cooper was standing on a well lit street corner in a town in northern Israel. Every few seconds he was interrupted by another round of shelling. It sounded like the artillery battery was in the town, if not very close. So close in fact, I wondered if civilians would be in danger if Hezbollah attacked obviously military target. There were civilians in the town. A trailor full of farm workers drove by just as the show was ending.

I don’t know how close this obvious military target was to the village. I do know that this is a war of perception and public opinion as much as it a war of bullets, guns, and bombs.

Israel has used Hezbollah’s strategy of using human shields as a justification and excuse for the 900 dead Lebanese civilians. The Hezbollah rocket launchers are in civilian areas, and unfortunately there is collateral damage when these legitimate military targets are attacked. However, if that is Israel’s philosophy, what is the Israeli military doing so seemingly close to civilian areas. Why are they even allowing a situation when it could appear that they are putting their own people in danger, especially when Hezbollah’s notoriously difficult to aim rockets are taken into account.

The Israeli military should be far from civilian areas, and again maybe they are. The farther they are from civilian areas, the better. Hezbollah will have a smaller chance of hitting anything, and both the Israeli military and civilians will be in less danger. As long as the Israeli Military is based near civilian areas, both innocent Israeli’s, and what’s left of Israel’s support will be in even greater danger than they already are.

I could be wrong, and if I am let me know.

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As merciful as Katrina: Israeli warnings do little to protect civilian lives

Israel once again dropped leaflets today warning residents of south Beirut to evacuate before air-strikes resumed. The assumption is that anyone who does not leave is a member or ally of Hezbollah. As the botched Hurricane Katrina evacuation demonstrated, not everyone who wants to can leave.

The US is the richest country in the world, has an advanced transportation network of trains, airports, sea ports, highways, and advanced communication systems to aid any evacuation attempts. With all these advantages, tens of thousands of people were unable to leave New Orleans, and hundreds died because of it.

Lebanon is a poor country with an equally poor transportation system. Few Lebanese, especially those in the impoverished southern part of the country, have access to cars, and public transportation is practically non-existent. Under perfect conditions, many would be unable to leave their homes for safe areas. Couple this with Israel’s bombing of nearly all bridges and transportation routes out of southern Lebanon, and it is surprising that the civilian death toll is not higher. Now take into account that any large vehicles such as trucks and buses are targeted by Israeli air strikes because of their ability to carry rocket launchers in addition to fleeing civilians, and it becomes clear that Israel is at the very least not living up to its commitment to protect the lives of civilians. Israel is a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, which mandates certain protects for civilians including

No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed,” and “collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

Even after warning civilians to leave, Israel is unable to verify whether they have left.

IDF sources said the warning pamphlets the IAF disseminated to residents, calling on them to leave the area, were dropped several days before the strike, and not over the weekend.

The IAF does not have a way to verify whether villages have been vacated, or whether civilians remain hidden in bomb-shelters in locations otherwise believed to have been vacated, the sources said.

Paratroopers who fought in Bint Jbail last week said they noticed civilians hiding in the rubble while the fierce battle with Hezbollah militants was taking place.

It is possible for Israel to conduct a campaign of self defense against Hezbollah in accordance with International Law. In fact, doing so will result in a safer Israel and fewer civilians deaths on both sides. Despite weeks of air-strikes, Hezbollah has maintained its ability to attack Israel. Judging by the number of rockets and how far they have been fired into Israel, if anything, Hezbollah has gotten stronger. It is difficult for a conventional army to defeat a guerrilla army from the ground, but it is impossible from air. Israel has yet to report any Hezbollah deaths that are a result air-strikes, but has reported some modest successes from their ground campaign.

If Israel wants to achieve its stated goal of protecting its northern border and creating a buffer zone, it should have never engaged in its misguided air campaign. A focused ground campaign will disrupt Hezbollah’s attacks on northern Israel, and will go a long way to halt international criticism. Most importantly, civilians on both sides will be protected.

Hezbollah is committing war crimes, but Israel is committing war crimes in response. Protecting civilians is a just end, but the end does not justify the means.

Question of the Week

I sometimes wish there were a voicemail number at the United Nations, the White House, or any location where world leaders congregate that anyone in the world could call to make suggestions. Of course this would never happen for any number of reasons, not least of which is the practicality of the whole matter. Who would listen to the several million inane ideas each day while trying to identify the three or four that could make a difference? However, at the same time, with so many intractable conflicts around the world, maybe we should listen to the know-it-all college student or the single mom who has somehow brokered a peace deal between her two warring preteens. In the spirit of no idea being too stupid to consider,  I bring you this weeks question:

How would you solve the Hezbollah/Israel/Lebanon/Syria/Iran crisis? Leave your answers in the comment section.

Hope

What makes hope for peace in one region reasonable while hope for peace in another region seems naive? With elections completed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and fighting continues without end between Lebanon and Israel, it seems that a small step in the right direction is all one needs to maintain reasonable hope.

After 40 years without a democratic election the DR Congo faces the precarious task of accepting election results with 32 candidates. This is a feat that Mexico recently proved to be difficult among four candidates, and the United States has had problems with only three. Yet the election itself was remarkably uneventful. Candidates have stated they would follow ‘democratic means’ if they were unhappy with results and spokespersons for the country are ‘cautiously optimistic’. There is hope for peaceful democracy in the DR Congo.

On the other hand, Israel cannot follow through with a 48 hour promise. Weeks of continued fighting is expected. How many people think peace is unattainable? How many more children must die while others lose hope? If Israel can make one step in the right direction we might have reason for hope.

Hope builds upon hope. One move towards peace creates an expectation for peace. Nobody knows how the elections will end in the DR Congo, but perhaps their efforts to maintain peace will inspire much need hope around the world.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill

Evacuations Revealed Cosmopolitan Nature of the Old “New Lebanon”

Since the latest round of fighting in the Middle East began two weeks ago, tens of thousands of foreigners have been evacuated. Another few hundred thousand others, mostly guest workers and refugees from other war ravaged countries, have made Lebanon their home. Simply, Lebanon is a strange location for the newest front of the war on terror.

When one thinks of countries likely to be attacked to root out terrorism, one often thinks of places where Islamic extremists control the country, where mullahs approve all elected officials, if elections take place at all, and where law and order is carried out on the streets in the form of hangings and other executions without trial for crimes such as watching unapproved movies, showing too much skin while walking down the street, or cheering too loudly in a soccer stadium. Lebanon was everything that Islamic extremistshate.

Condoleeza Rice called this conflict the “birth pangs of the new Middle East”. She is a few years too late. Beirut was the capital of the new Middle East. It was a westernized tourist Mecca known as the “Paris of the Middle East”. After years of civil war, the various ethnic and religious groups were living in relative harmony, all part of the government. Compared to the other democratic experiments in the Middle East, it was an overwhelming success. Now it would be a minor miracle if the elected government remained relevant.

Lebanon was not perfect. Hezbollah obviously held too much power and refused to renounce violence. It was in the process of morphing into a legitimate political party and focusing more of its efforts on social services. Change was slow, but it was happening. As Lebanon continued to modernize, and as the Lebanese government gained power and resources, Hezbollah would have lost support. The capture of Israeli soldiers should have been seen as a growing pain of modernization, a desperate attempt by a group losing relevance to get back in the news. Instead, it may prove to be the death knell of the most successful Arab democracy.

The Middle East Cheat Sheet

Are you confused about the Middle East Conflict? If you have been paying attention, you should be. While I may not agree with everything here, and would tend to place more relationships in the “It’s complicated” category, this should at least keep your head from spinning for a few minutes.

The Picture of the Week


An internally-displaced Lebanese girl looks out of the window of the car in which she has fled from the south, in the mountain village of Qabr Chmoun, south of Beirut in Lebanon Sunday, July 23, 2006.