Forget the 50 Civilians


On Monday, July 17, 2006, journalist Herman Grech of The Times of Malta interviewed the outgoing Israeli Ambassador to Malta Ehud Gol at the end of his five-year term (“Don’t pass judgement on us”). The interview was published five days after Israel began its attack on Lebanon, “ostensibly” to free two of its soldiers who were “captured by Hizbullah in a stunningly sophisticated military operation,” as the independent Palestinian analyst Omar Barghouti put it, (1) at the Lebanese-Israeli border. Right from the start of its bombing spree in Lebanon, many saw the Israeli military’s “deliberate, gradual massacre of innocent Lebanese civilians as a tactic to erode Hizbullah’s public support.” (2)

But when he was interviewed, Ambassador Ehud Gol claimed that Israel’s military response was “less than proportionate.” His Maltese interviewer confronted him with some figures: “Is it justified,” he asked “to respond to kidnaps by launching air strikes against Beirut airport, imposing a naval blockade, and reprisals that have killed over 50 civilians, including 10 children?” Ambassador Gol played cynical: “Forget the 50 civilians. Who told you 50 civilians have been killed?” The international media is reporting these figures, retorted the journalist. “So what? You’re a journalist. Do you think that everything reported is the truth?” Mr. Gol wasn’t happy with this line of questioning.

Like every journalist worth their salt, Mr. Grech pushed on: “So do you actually think that no civilians have been killed in the Israeli attacks?” The Israeli military, replied Mr. Gol, was “targeting terrorists who take advantage of our moral values and hide among civilians.” Then he gave an example. “Yesterday on TV I heard one report saying a family of 10 was killed, the other saying eight, and another 12. Maybe it was only one person. Maybe it was a family of six Hizbollah people. But ultimately the terrorists will use civilians to their advantage. They will launch rockets from heavily populated areas and we limit ourselves by not reacting immediately. We deal with vicious people that don’t act to your codes. You’re part of the Western world and you will never understand their codes.”

His comments can at best be described as unfortunate. “Dawn air strikes on south Lebanon on 13 July 2006 claimed the lives of at least 44 civilians, including over 15 children, and wounded over 100. Israel bombed bridges linking the north and south of the country and all three runways of Beirut’s commercial airport. The Israeli army’s Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, promised that “nothing is safe in [Lebanon], as simple as that.” Many peace and justice activists, but also many journalists would argue that “Operation Just Reward” is a campaign of collective punishment and excessive use of force similar to what the Palestinian territories have suffered for decades.

The Maltese activist and University lecturer Vince Caruana was one of those who wrote to The Times of Malta (“False proportionality,” July 20, 2006) to challenge Mr. Gol’s assertions and cynicism with regard to civilian casualties. Caruana spoke of how Israel’s ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip, an unacceptable form of collective punishment, is producing a dire shortage of water, food, medicine, and electricity; of how Israel is deliberately destroying the civilian infrastructure in Gaza; of how children are being psychologically harmed by the systematic, round-the-clock use of sonic booms – resulting in panic attacks, sleep disturbances, bedwetting and other detrimental effects.

Reuven Abarjel, co-founder of the Israeli Black Panthers, and Smadar Lavie, Professor of Anthropology and Mizrahi Feminist Activist, trace the tragic events that are unfolding in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel today back to the landslide victory of Hamas in the democratic Palestinian legislative elections on January 25, 2006. Immediately after that victory, Israel’s general attorney, Menny Mazouz, started exploring the legal procedures to jail the movement’s leadership. Soon the Israeli military started executing the Gazan leadership of the movement by air strikes, killing scores of Palestinian civilians in the process. Then, on June 24, the Israelis entered the Gaza strip and kidnapped two Hamas men. The day after, Hamas responded by capturing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, which in turn led to the “Operation Summer Rains” military campaign which aimed to inflict “large-scale destruction and to press for Shalit’s release.” On 12 July, Hizbollah captured two more Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, in the Lebanese border zone. From then on, write Reuven Abarjel and Smadar Lavie, Israel’s “Operation Adequate Pay” “has been inflicting heinous carnage and destruction all over Lebanon.” (3)

Halim Wannous, a Lebanese Maronite Christian who has been living in Malta for the past 30 years, told the Malta Today that the West should be ashamed of itself for abandoning Lebanon and allowing Israel to get away with murder. He disagreed with the abduction of Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah. After freeing Lebanon of the Israeli occupation, the Lebanese expected Hizbollah to give up their arms.” But Halim also disagreed with those who brand the movement as a terrorist one. “The majority of the Lebanese do not consider them as terrorists. At least within Lebanon they have never behaved as terrorists. They have always acted as a resistance group who freed southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. If Hizbollah are terrorists then what are the Israelis?” (4)

“Israel is exposing a unified, nationalistic face,” wrote Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz; it is “sinking into a strident, nationalistic atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything.” Levy sees an intensification of “the insensitivity and blindness that characterized Israeli society in recent years,” and in the meantime, “the left has once again lost its way, wrapped in silence or ‘admitting mistakes.'” (5) Levy believes that “Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds” but “with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hizbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. […] The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it. (6)

One of the results of this tragic, absurd war on Lebanon is that some people in high places within the State of Israel may realize that nothing in the Middle East will ever be solved if Israel relies solely on it’s overwhelming military might. Israel will never achieve peace and security without a just settlement through political means. This is definitely not to underestimate the threats that the State of Israel faces, but these threats only increase when Israel abuses of its military might as it is doing, quite consciously, in Lebanon and Gaza. There can be no longterm military solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, and this must have been clear for a very long time to everyone, both to the Israelis and to the Palestinians and other Arabs. The problems of the Middle East, as Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire has states, can only be solved through “dialogue and negotiations.”

Writing a couple of days after the interview with Ambassador Gol, Benjamin Barthe argued in Le Monde that the Israeli military was facing an unhappy dilemma: continuing the air campaign of destroying Lebanon’s infrastracture and bombing civilian targets would inevitably erode the support it was enjoying from Western governments; and launching a ground offensive against Hizbullah would expose the Israeli army to a repeat of the “catastrophic scenario at the end of the 1990s, faced by an enemy whose ardour had increased tenfold because of its renewed aura as ‘liberator.'” (7) In both cases, wrote Benjamin Barthe, the Israeli army risks failing to reach the two targets set by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for this military operation: freeing the two captured soldiers and pushing Hizbullah onto the other side of the Litani river, 20km north of the Lebanese frontier with Israel. Events seem to have proved Barthe right, because as the Israeli military continues to pound its neighbour, and southern Lebanon in particular, Hizbollah continues to launch its rockets on military and civilian targets, that is on innocent people in their homes, schools, hospitals, strengthing the aura of invincibility it has gained over the years and rekindling the illusion among a permanently besieged and humiliated Palestinian population that firing rockets is the only way out of the hell of Occupation.

Call for Immediate Israeli Ceasefire

The Northern Irish 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire issued a statement on 21st July with a call for an immediate Israeli ceasefire and for Israel to enter peace talks with President Abbas and Palestinian political representatives. Coming from someone who knows something about armed conflict and the permanent scars that it leaves on aggressors and victims, her statement is categorical and refuses to walk the convenient, ineffective middle path:

“I join my voice,” she said from Belfast, “with millions of people around the world, calling on Israel to cease immediately its military assault on the people of Lebanon, and to enter talks with Palestinian representatives on an equitable and just resolution to the conflict with Palestine. The Israeli occupation, and reoccupation of Gaza, the building of an apartheid wall, the continuing administrative detention of hundreds of Palestinian citizens, the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and the Israeli longtime refusal to enter into serious dialogue with Palestinian Reps. to find a peaceful solution, is at the root of the ongoing violence against the people of Israel. Where hope of a peaceful solution is not offered by the Israeli Government, despair and violence increases.”

Mairead Corrigan Maguire called on the International Community to “insist that Israel abide by International Law and enter serious negotiations with all parties to the conflict.” But she also noted that Israeli State violence will not be solved by more violence, and she therefore called on “Hizbollah and Hamas, or whoever holds them, to release at once the captured Israeli soldiers, held in violation of international law, and to cease immediately their violence and rocket attacks on the people of Israel, and use nonviolence resistance in their rightful demand for justice for the Palestinian people.”

It has been argued that although some, or perhaps many Palestinians see Hizbullah’s
audacious military operation on 12th July as an act that has “taken the heat off Gaza for a while,” as a friend in Occupied Palestine told me recently, many in the Arab world would argue that Hizbullah also had other reasons to provoke Israel that go beyond the sixty-year tragedy of the Palestinian people. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad of The Guardian interviewed Hizbullah fighters south of Tyre. they see the latest conflict as a war of survival not only for Hizbullah but for the whole Shia community. “If Israel comes out victorious from this conflict,” they told the journalist, “this will be a victory for the Sunnis and they will take the Shia community back in history dozens of years to the time when we were only allowed to work as garbage collectors in this country. The Shia will all die before letting this happen again.” (8)

Although he is aware of the movement’s own interests, Uri Avnery believes that Hizbullah “would not have started this vicious circle of violence, if the Palestinians had not called for help. Either from cool calculation, or from true moral outrage, or from both – Nasrallah rushed to the rescue of beleaguered Palestine.” But what is also clear to Avnery is that “No real solution will be achieved, because there is no treatment of the root of the matter: the Palestinian problem.”

Breaking the Palestinians by devastating brutal force

It is always, inevitably, back to the Occupation of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinians refugees. Israel will deal with every new threat, be it the PLO, Arafat, Hamas, Hizbullah, but it sees its own unlawful acts as defensive acts and continues to refuse to face up to the fact that the Occupation of Palestine is illegal and unjust, as the United Nations established many years ago, and that it has to to respect the rights of Palestinian refugees. Tanya Reinhart, a lecturer in linguistics, media and cultural studies at Tel Aviv University and the University of Utrecht, expresses this tragic situation eloquently: “Since ending the occupation is the one thing Israel is not willing to consider, the option promoted by the army is breaking the Palestinians by devastating brutal force. They should be starved, bombarded, terrorized with sonic booms for months, until they understand that rebelling is futile, and accepting prison life is their only hope for staying alive. Their elected political system, institutions and police should be destroyed. In Israel’s vision, Gaza should be ruled by gangs collaborating with the prison wards. (9)

Former Palestinian negotiator and member of St Antony’s College, Oxford, Ahmad Samih Khalidi estimates that 650,000 acts of imprisonment have taken place since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, and that 9,000 Palestinians are currently in
Israel’s jails. (10) Against the harsh background of a brutal Occupation, however Israel’s latest adventure ends, Ahmad Samih Khalidi predicts that “it will not produce greater
sympathy and understanding between west and east, or a downturn in extremism. Indeed the most likely outcome is that a new wave of virulent and possibly unconventional anti-western terrorism may well crash against this and other shores. We will all – Israelis, Arabs and westerners – suffer as a result. (11)

Peace and quiet in the Middle East require three things according to Rami G. Khouri, and military action is not one of them: “Arabs and Israelis must be treated equally; both domestically and internationally the rule of law must define the actions of governments and all members of society; and the core conflict between Palestine and Israel must be resolved in a fair, legal and sustainable manner.” (12)

A Non-Violent boycott to End a Violent Occupation

On another Monday, two weeks after the interview with Ambassador Gol appeared in Malta, veteran European NGO workers write to us at 1.52 in the morning from Gaza. It’s the last of a tragic string of emails. “Israel continues its mad, systematic destruction of Gaza. Today, within two hours, helicopters bombed two more houses, one in Saftawi, the other in Beit Hanoun in the North. The second attack was preceded by a telephone call with a recorded message warning the family to move out of their home within two hours.” This is their latest game. “Nine houses have been destroyed in four days using this system. After less than half an hour, the Israeli Occupation Forces bombed the police station of Al-Sara’ya. We don’t yet know whether there were any victims.”

And yet, many Israelis cannot understand why a boycott of Israel, and more precisely a boycott of institutions that support the Occupation, is the only way a just and hopefully lasting peace can be achieved. Perhaps it is because they don’t see the Occupation as the root cause of the woes in the Middle East of today; their main concern is Israel’s daily struggle for survival in a region they perceive as ruled by fanatics and fundamentalists. What, perhaps, they do not see is that there can never be peace without justice ­ and the Occupation and plight of the Palestinian refugees is grossly unjust.

An international boycott will vindicate and strengthen those who are working for a just and peaceful end to the Occupation. It will certainly alienate many Israelis who will feel doubly wronged, by “terrorism” and a “boycott,” but perhaps it will also force them to question what they have been told by the powers-that-be and prompt them to at least consider the reasons why the international community, including many well-known figures of undisputed good will and judgement, is subjecting them to a boycott. Perhaps the boycott will also prompt the State of Israel to reconsider the rights, or lack of rights, of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

In the meantime, Staff Sergeant Itzik Shabbat, a 28-year-old TV producer became the first Israeli conscientious objector of the Lebanon 2006 war. “I know people will attack me and ask how could I not take part in this war when Qassams are falling on my hometown and Katyushas on the towns in the north,” he told Ha’aretz. “In my opinion, only this type of opposition that I’ve chosen will put an end to the madness that is going on now and will shatter the false feeling that the entire home front supports this unnecessary war that is based on deceptive considerations.” Ha’aretz also reported that Shabbat, considered an outstanding commander, also refused to serve in the territories and sat in prison for 28 days. He was one of the signatories to the petition of the refusal movement, Courage to Refuse. “However he says that his present decision is not connected with the need to relieve a unit in the territories but rather with his opposition to the war in Lebanon. The larger Yesh Gvul movement started by opposing the 1982 Lebanon war and only later the territories, too.” (13)

The Palestinian boycott campaigner Omar Barghouti argues that “Arab civil society ought to struggle to further spread the reach and depth of the growing, progressive movement advocating a boycott of Israel, similar to that applied to apartheid South Africa. Ultimately, only such a morally sound, non-violent form of resistance can produce sustainable and practical pressures that can hold Israel to account and therefore give just peace a chance.” (14)

Three weeks after Barghouti published his article, a Tel Aviv University poll showed 93 per cent of Israelis believed the campaign in Lebanon was justified, and 91 per cent backed the air strikes even if they destroyed Lebanese infrastructure and inflicted suffering on civilians. (15) That was more than 1000 deaths and one million refugees after the start of the bombing campaign and invasion of Lebanon.

This is not a foiled attempt to wreak havoc. This is havoc being wreaked before our eyes. While we speak and write.

ADRIAN GRIMA lectures in Maltese Literature at the University of Malta. He can be reached at:


1. Omar Barghouti, “A New Middle East is Born: But not exactly the one Shimon Peres had in mind,” Electronic Lebanon, 19 July 2006, accessed on 20 July 2006,

2. Barghouti, “A New Middle East is Born.”

3. Reuven Abarjel and Smadar Lavie, “Another Act in the Mizrahi-Palestinian Tragedy,” The Electronic Intifada, 24 July 2006.

4. James Debono, “‘You are destroying my country,’ Halim’s desperate words,” MaltaToday, 23 July 2006. Accessed on 31 July 2006.

5. “Days of darkness,”

6. Gideon Levy, “Stop now, immediately,” Ha’aretz.

7. Benjamin Barthe, “La résistance du Hezbollah provoque un débat en Israël,” Le Monde Article paru dans l’édition du 20.07.06. 19.07.06 on the electronic edition. “S’il opte pour une opération terrestre dans l’espoir de provoquer la déroute du Hezbollah, il s’expose à revivre le scénario catastrophe de la fin des années 1990, face à un ennemi dont l’ardeur sera décuplée par son aura renouvelée de ‘libérateur.'”

8. “As the shells fall around them, Hizbullah men await the Israelis,” Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. Saturday July 29, 2006 The Guardian. .


10. Ahmad Samih Khalidi, “If Israel has the right to use force in self defence, so do its neighbours,” The Guardian, July 18, 2006.

11. Ahmad Samih Khalidi.

12. Rami G. Khouri, “Back to Beirut, ready to defy Israel,” The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon, July 19, 2006.

13. Lily Galili, “Fighting in Lebanon produces its first conscientious objector,” Ha’aretz (19/07/2006)

14. Barghouti, “A New Middle East is Born.”

15. Reuters, “Israel expands war,” The Times (Malta), Thursday, August 10, 2006.