The toll of death and destruction continues to mount in Lebanon as Israeli aircraft drop ton after ton of US-supplied bombs and its gunships fire thousands of rounds at people and structures on the ground. Just before I began writing this, I read a recent statement made by the Israeli justice minister in which he said that anyone remaining in southern Lebanon will now be considered a terrorist and is therefore “fair game.” In other words, Israel is giving its troops permission to commit wholesale slaughter in that part of Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the official world sits by. Some wring their hands in anguish and others silently (or, in the case of Washington, rather loudly) cheer the Israeli forces on. Israel, who has never paid much attention to world opinion anyhow, is remaining true to form. After attacking a clearly marked and previously known United Nations post in southern Lebanon for more than six hours despite repeated requests to halt the attacks, the Israeli military finally destroyed the post and killed four UN observers. The observers were unarmed and essentially powerless in the face of the Israeli onslaught. Indeed, they were sitting ducks, to use the American parlance.
The attack and deaths at the UN post serve as a fitting metaphor for the situation the United Nations finds itself in when it comes to Israel and the United States. Due to its hierarchical construction and the undue weight given the individual member countries on the Security Council, even resolutions supported by an overwhelming majority of its member countries can be vetoed at Washington’s behest. This fact alone insures that Israel will never have to answer for its crimes as long as Washington remains its loyal ally. In essence, then, this means that Israel can do whatever it wants without fear of reprisal from the world community as embodied in the UN.
I was recently asked if I thought the UN had lost its credibility in the wake of its inability to take any decisive action against Israel in the wake of its current campaign in Lebanon. My answer to this question would have to be no. The United Nations didn’t lose its credibility on July 13, 2006 when Israel began its current war. It lost its credibility many years ago when it failed to enforce UN Resolution 242, which called for the”withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and the “[t]ermination of all claims or states of belligerency”. There are others who would argue that its credibility faded many years earlier.
As long as Israel can occupy lands that do not belong to it without UN sanctions or other repercussions, the UN will have no credibility. As long as Israel can steal peoples land from under their feet and resettle its own citizens in buildings that the Israeli government builds for them, the UN will have no credibility. As long as the Israeli military can attack civilian populations and kill them wantonly, the UN will have no credibility. As long as the government of Israel can produce and store nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction without any internationally sanctioned punishment while its neighbors are attacked and destroyed merely because they might have such weaponry, the UN will have no credibility.
Of course, its current failure to address the Israeli attacks on the civilian population of Israel only adds to that world body’s impotence. The toning down of Secretary General Annan’s original statements regarding the Israeli attack on the UN post is further proof of this phenomenon. For those not paying attention, Annan’s original statement called the attacks deliberate. Subsequent statements from the body backed down from this assertion. One assumes that this was due in part to US pressure, since even though Washington ignores UN resolutions at will, it continues to determine much of the direction the UN will take. Naturally, given that capital’s closeness to Tel Aviv (and their similarity of motives), this means that Israel rarely receives a rebuke for any of its actions, no matter how bellicose.
During the buildup to the US attack on Iraq, there were many in the world community who hoped that the UN would have some say in preventing that war. Conversely, there were many in the United States that hoped the UN would support the US endeavor, thereby providing Washington with a fig leaf to cover its aggression. As it turned out, neither scenario occurred and the US went to war anyhow. This meant that, although the UN did not have the power to stop a war that an aggressor was intent on starting, it was also unwilling to sanction such a war merely to provide a powerful member some legitimacy. In the case of Israel, however, even this principle does not seem to apply. The current situation in Lebanon proves this quite graphically. The ongoing situation in Gaza and the West Bank proves it even more.
Let’s go back to the attack on the UN post. Not only were the Israelis aware of the outpost, they were also asked to stop their shelling. Of course, these requests went unheeded. In press conferences following the event, various Israeli officials lampooned the UN and denied any knowledge of the post’s presence. In addition, they are insisting that the UN not be involved in the investigation of the event. If previous investigations are any indication, Israel will destroy any evidence that might point to its culpability and then continue on doing whatever it wishes. The UN has no answer to this arrogance.
If Israel re-occupies part of Lebanon, one wonders if the UN Security Council will insist that Tel Aviv follow Resolution 1559. This resolution, which was aimed at Hezbollah and Syria, commands all militias in Lebanon disarm and all foreign troops to leave the country. Although it was pushed through by France and the United States last year with unanimous support from the Security Council, it seems reasonable to assume that Israel will once again illuminate the UN’s powerlessness. Indeed, the current conversations between Washington and London (with Tel Aviv most likely in the conversation, too) illuminate that powerlessness by essentially affirming that the only ceasefire agreement the Security Council will approve is one written by the Washington-Tel Aviv-London axis. While decisions like this may lend credibility to the UN in those capitals, it does the opposite in most of the rest of the world.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: email@example.com
This article originally appeared in the Zaman Daily, Istanbul, Turkey.