Violence only begets further violence.
Perhaps the oldest of human truisms, this sad bit of wisdom seems unknown--or worse, willfully ignored--in Israel's response to Hezbollah attacks across the Israel/Lebanon border. Israel's determination to bomb the entire country of Lebanon back 20 years deserves to be condemned not only for the huge toll the campaign is taking on Lebanon's civilian population, but also because this war will only perpetuate the hatred for Israel present in much of the Arab world. Israeli attacks on civilian centers, regardless of how many warning leaflets are distributed beforehand, will only ensure new generations of Lebanese take up arms in future conflicts.
Israel knows this, but rather than seek conflict resolution or open negotiations for a prisoner exchange--as happened in 2004 after Hezbollah kidnapped an Israeli businessman and killed three soldiers--the Jewish state has opted to exercise its military superiority. The object is to take away Hezbollah's ability to wage any kind of attack or defense, regardless of the civilian toll. The logic is clear, albeit ghastly, and it explains why Israel has abandoned a proportional response to the Hezbollah rocket attacks in favour of flattening, and likely occupying, southern Lebanon.
Diplomats met in Rome this week to discuss a ceasefire, though with U.S. opposition and a complete lack of representation from Hezbollah, the talks invariably failed.
Some facts bear reminding:
• The damage Israel is inflicting on Lebanon is roughly ten times that caused by Hezbollah. The latest death toll on the Israeli side is around 40 dead, while in Lebanon nearly 400 have been killed. In fact, according to an al-Jazeera report, an Israeli air force commander was quoted on Israeli army radio as saying the standing order is to destroy 10 apartment buildings in Beirut for every rocket fired into Israel.
• Hezbollah openly advocates for the destruction of Israel, has ruthlessly murdered Israeli civilians in the past, and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Canada among a handful of others, though the U.K. only deems the military wing as a terrorist group. In some ways they may be more correct. Hezbollah performs all the actions a government should in southern Lebanon. They maintain several schools, hospitals and clinics, a social assistance program, a news organization and have been instrumental in the reconstruction process (now set back by Israeli bombardment) needed after the Lebanese civil war and previous Israeli occupation.
• Both sides are likely guilty of war crimes. Both have attacked United Nations observers. Both have targeted civilians, including children and ambulances.
• Though the impetus for the recent violence is often given as Hezbollah's unprovoked kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, events cannot be simplified to that degree. The Hezbollah attack was inextricably linked to the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier this month. That, in turn, was in response to a Palestinian raid into Israel, which was based on a rocket attack that killed a Palestinian family of 8 picnicking at a beach. Blame is not easily laid in a region marked with countless conflicts and retaliations, and trying to trace the blame can go on ad infinitum, right back to the creation of the state of Israel.
History aside, Israel apologists claim proportionality has nothing to do with this debate, noting it is Hezbollah that bases it's operations in civilian centers. While Hezbollah tactics cannot be defended and the group must share blame for civilian deaths, more should be expected of the region's only liberal democratic state. Israel has long enjoyed the support of the West, and more specifically, unprecedented military support from the U.S. The justification has always been built around the notion that Israel is the lone sane power in a troubled region, a beacon of democratic possibility and western values for the rest of the Middle East.
However, Israel's response has been anything but sane. Visiting retaliation tenfold all over Lebanon for the actions of the military wing of a single political party is not representative of Western values. It is cruel, and arguably illegal.
Now with the diplomatic process stalled in Rome, Israel is predicting weeks of further bombing. Only a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations and upheld by international law can prevent further escalation. But with Canada supporting Israel's actions and the U.S. blocking the ceasefire, Lebanon will be further reduced to rubble, and Israel may move in to reoccupy the south. The rocket attacks on Israel will diminish as Lebanon is devastated, but the violence will continue. More Muslims will flock to the banner of Hezbollah or other groups wishing to retaliate for the destruction in Lebanon. Israel will retaliate, then the Muslims. The violence will continue.