Lebanon and the Future of the Antiwar Movment

by SHARON SMITH

Israel’s indiscriminate-yet thoroughly systematic-slaughter of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians should be a moment of truth for the U.S. left. The fact that "about 55 percent of all casualties at the Beirut Government University Hospital are children of 15 years or less," according to journalist Dahr Jamail, should dispel any myth that Israel’s latest incursions are acts of "self defense" as Israel’s many apologists claim.

The Bush administration’s rush shipment last weekend of precision bombs to aid Israel’s onslaught should be a wake-up call for those on the U.S. left who purport to follow antiwar principles yet until now have failed to take a clear stand against Israeli manifestations of the U.S.’ so-called war on terror.

To do so requires acknowledging that the U.S.’ wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were meant as mere stepping stones in a strategic plan aimed at establishing U.S.-and Israeli-dominance over the entire Middle East. With the U.S. occupation of Iraq rapidly spinning out of control and descending into bloody civil war, Israel is providing an alternate route toward achieving those shared goals-for U.S. domination over the Middle East ensures Israel’s domination as well.

Look no further than the mainstream media to verify this revelation. As the Washington Post argued on July 16, "For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East, U.S. officials say."

Realizing this goal requires crushing Arab organizations fighting for self-determination in Gaza and Lebanon.

Acknowledging this simple fact, however, also requires finally admitting the crucial role played by Israel as the U.S.’ historic regional partner in enforcing its Middle East policy. The Arab leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, despite their subservience to U.S. imperialism, remain despotic leaders who could easily meet the same fate as Iran’s Shah in 1979. Israel remains the U.S.’ only "reliable" imperial partner.

Yet United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the largest national antiwar coalition, argued in a July 18 "action alert," "We condemn Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli civilians, and we condemn the Israeli assault in Gaza and Lebanon." The statement repeated the mainstream media’s depiction of Israel’s assault as a response to Hezbollah’s seizure of Israeli soldiers and firing rockets into Israel, which UFPJ called "irresponsible acts". Echoing liberal commentators, UFPJ criticized Israel for its "disproportionate" response-as if Hezbollah started the conflict and Israel is guilty only of over-reacting.

Israel: U.S. watchdog

In reality, the conflict is many decades old and is intricately tied to Israel’s historic role as the U.S.’ watch dog/attack dog in the Middle East. This latest episode began when Israel launched an assault on Gaza-and Hezbollah responded by launching a raid, in nothing more than a common border skirmish. Israel then launched missiles into Lebanon-and only then did Hezbollah launch rockets.

This incident merely provided Israel with the excuse for a major assault on Lebanon. Israel’s ridiculous claim that it is attacking Lebanon to get its soldiers back is belied by the fact that Hezbollah has repeatedly offered to exchange the two Israeli soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel (a common practice in the past)-but Israel has refused. Israel has no interest in a prisoner exchange because the captured soldiers provide the excuse for unleashing its full military might against Hezbollah.

In reality, Israel has had a plan in place for well over a year to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself to launch a military attack on Lebanon by air, land and sea, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the Chronicle, "In a sense, the preparation began in May 2000, immediately after the Israeli withdrawal By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board."

Israel’s goal was clearly articulated on July 22-by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who stated that the United States opposes a ceasefire until Hezbollah has been destroyed as a significant fighting force in Southern Lebanon. "I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante," Rice scoffed at her press conference.

Democrats have been equally vocal cheerleaders for Israel, taking turns with Republicans at pro-Israel rallies across the country over the last week. At one such rally, Sen. Hillary Clinton condemned the "unwarranted, unprovoked attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsors" and called them "the new totalitarians of the 21st century." At a San Francisco rally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein ranted that Israel is "fighting for its very existence." She called the Hezbollah raid, and the June 25 raid by three Palestinian militant groups that killed two Israeli soldiers and captured a third, "clear acts of war" by terrorists.

These accusations are absurd. Palestinians democratically elected the resistance movement Hamas to lead their government earlier this year. Israel invaded and occupied Southern Lebanon in 1982-the last of its troops pulling out only in 2000. Hezbollah gained its legitimacy as a resistance movement by finally driving Israel out of Lebanon, after 18 years of occupation. And Israel has been seeking the opportunity for revenge ever since.

The violence of an occupying force cannot be equated with the resistance of an occupied population, as if both sides are equally responsible for the bloodshed.

There can be no equivocation on this issue among those who profess to be for peace and against war. There is no symmetry in this conflict, and to pretend so is to obscure and distort what is really taking place in Lebanon and Gaza today. This attack on Lebanon is an extension of the U.S. war on Iraq. It is therefore astonishing that the dominant organizations of the U.S. antiwar movement are acting as though this is a sideshow-"even-handedly" condemning both sides.

Antiwar revival

But Israel’s own barbarism has forced its role as attack dog for U.S. imperialism to the front and center of the antiwar movement. And over the last two weeks, the antiwar movement is reviving on a principled basis, despite the gaping absence of its largest national coalition.

Ten thousand came out to protest Israel’s war on Lebanon and Palestine in Dearborn, Michigan last week. Two thousand came out on a weekday afternoon earlier in New York City. Four thousand came out in Chicago on Saturday. One thousand came out in Boston. In each case, the demonstrators were predominantly Arabs and Muslims.

Moreover, the connection between the U.S. war on Iraq and Israel’s war on Lebanon and Palestine were repeatedly made clear-at the Chicago protest, for example, with chants such as "Free, free Palestine; free, free Lebanon; free, free Iraq;" "Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine!" and "No justice no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East!"

For these directly affected immigrant communities, no hand-wringing debate is needed to support genuine resistance against U.S. or Israeli war and occupation, as there is in the mainstream peace movement.

The weakness of the U.S. antiwar movement toward Israeli war crimes is not a temporary aberration but a long-standing and shameful phenomenon. As left-wing journalist Laura Flanders observed, "On June 12, 1982, American activists massed in New York City to call for peace and nuclear disarmament. But the Central Park rally made no mention of the week’s own bombing-Israel’s then defense minister, Ariel Sharon, had just sent Israeli forces into Lebanon two days earlier.

"But while we rallied, U.S. jets flown by Israeli pilots dropped bombs on Palestinian refugees and men, women and children in Lebanon. The 1982 invasion led to the massacre of over 1,000 Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila … A message sent then might have saved a generation of Palestinians and Israelis from 20 years of occupation, fury and fear."

The stakes are even higher now, as the U.S. has made the Middle East the testing ground for its global domination. There are principles-and thousands of civilian lives-at stake again, today.

SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: sharon@internationalsocialist.org





 

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