In a state established on a founding myth — that the native Palestinian population left of their own accord rather than that they were ethnically cleansed — and in one that seeks its legitimacy through a host of other lies, such as that the occupation of the West Bank is benign and that Gaza’s has ended, deception becomes a political way of life. And so it is in the “relative calm” that has followed Israel’s month-long pounding of Lebanon, a calm in which Israelis may no longer be dying but the Lebanese most assuredly are as explosions of US-made cluster bombs greet the south’s returning refugees and the anonymous residents of Gaza perish by the dozens each and every week under the relentless and indiscriminate strikes of the Israeli air force while the rest slowly starve in their open-air prison.
Late last month, a fortnight into Israel’s war against Lebanon, the Hebrew media published a story that passed observers by. Scientists in Haifa, according to the report, have developed a “missile-trapping” steel net that can shield buildings from rocket attacks. The Israeli government, it claimed , would be able to use the net to protect vital infrastructure — oil refineries, hospitals, military installations, and public offices — while private citizens could buy a net to protect their own homes. The fact that the government and scientists are seriously investing their hopes in such schemes tells us more about Israel’s vision of the “new Middle East” than acres of analysis.
As soon as the guns fell silent on the battlefields of South Lebanon Monday, the knives came out: Israel is in for a lengthy period of bloodletting among its political and military classes following the army’s failure to inflict serious damage on the Lebanese militia Hizbullah in a month-long confrontation. Ehud Olmert, the recently elected prime minister who had hoped to prove that despite his lack of military experience he could fill the shoes of his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, is a certain victim. Although he may cling to power for some time, the question is not whether he will fall but when. Few in Israel appear convinced that the terms of the UN-brokered ceasefire — pushing Hizbullah back from the border and replacing it with an international peace-keeping force and Lebanese troops — were worth the cost in blood or that they will ever be properly implemented.
During Israel’s war against the people of Lebanon, our media, politicians and diplomats have colluded with the aggressors by distracting us with irrelevancies, by concocting controversies, and by framing the language of diplomacy. In the fragile truce that is currently holding while Lebanon waits for Israel to withdraw, we are simply getting more of the same. One example of the many distractions during the war that neatly reveals their true purpose is the “faked Reuters photograph” affair. The supposed scandal of a Lebanese photographer tampering with a picture to add and darken smoke from an Israeli missile attack — to little or no effect, it should be noted — has not only been decried by activists on Zionist websites but amplified by mainstream commentators into a debate about whether we can trust the images of this war.
It occurred to me as I watched the story unfolding on my TV of a suspected plot by a group of at least 20 British Muslims to blow up planes between the UK and America that the course of my life and that of the alleged “terrorists” may have run in parallel in more ways than one. Like a number of them, I am originally from High Wycombe, one of the non-descript commuter towns that ring London. As aerial shots wheeled above the tiled roof of a semi-detached house there, I briefly thought I was looking at my mother’s home. But doubtless my and their lives have diverged in numerous ways. According to news reports, the suspects are probably Pakistani, a large “immigrant” community that has settled in many corners of Britain, including High Wycombe and Birmingham, a grey metropolis in the country’s centre where at least some of the arrested men are believed to have been born.
A reader recently emailed to ask if anyone else was suggesting, as I have done, that Hizbullah’s rocket fire may not be quite as indiscriminate or maliciously targeted at Israeli civilians as is commonly assumed. I had to admit that I have been ploughing a lonely furrow on this one. Still, that is no reason in itself to join everyone else, even if the consensus includes every mainstream commentator as well as groups such as Human Rights Watch. First, let us get my argument straight. I have not claimed that Hizbullah targets only military sites or that it never aims at civilians. According to the Israeli army, more than 3,300 rockets have hit Israel over the past four weeks. How can I know, or even claim to know, where all those rockets have landed, or know what the Hizbullah operatives who fired each rocket intended to hit? I have never made such claims.
If there were any remaining illusions about the purpose of Israel’s war against Lebanon, the draft United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a “cessation of major hostilities” published at the weekend should finally dispel them. This entirely one-sided document was drafted, the Hebrew-language media have reported, with close Israeli involvement. The top adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, talked through the resolution with the US and French teams, while the Israeli Foreign Ministry had its man alongside John Bolton [yet another of Israel’s men, Eds ] at the UN building in New York. The only thing preventing Israeli officials from jumping up and down with glee, according Aluf Benn of the daily Haaretz newspaper, was the fear that “demonstrated Israeli enthusiasm for the draft could influence support among Security Council members, who could demand a change in wording that may adversely affect Israel.”
Seconds after the air raid siren fell silent, it came. A deep rumble shook windows and doors and made the earth tremble. This was nothing like the familiar crump of a Katyusha rocket. At the weekend Hizbullah fired for the first time what it calls a Khaibar missile into Israel, creating a deep crater and setting fire to woodland outside Nazareth. According to reports in the Israeli media, the shell was packed with 100 kilogrammes of explosives. The missile can apparently reach up to 90 kilometres; given that Nazareth is only a third of that distance from the border, it was probably fired from deep inside Lebanon.
Here are some interesting points raised this week by a leading commentator and published in a respected daily newspaper: “The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert embeds his soldiers in Israeli communities, next to schools, beside hospitals, close to welfare centres, ensuring that any Israeli target is also a civilian target. This is the practice the UN’s Jan Egeland had in mind when he lambasted Israel’s ‘cowardly blending … among women and children’. It may be cowardly, but in the new warfare it also makes macabre sense. For this is a propaganda war as much as a shooting one, and in such a conflict to lose civilians on your own side represents a kind of victory.”
Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens have largely lined up on opposite sides. Polls show as many as 90 per cent of the country’s Jews back further attacks on Lebanon to crush the Shiite militia Hizbullah. There have been no equivalent surveys of Arab opinion inside Israel, but straw polls by Arab radio stations reveal that 70 per cent of listeners favour Hizbullah, or the very least believe Israel is waging a war of aggression. The first cracks in the Jewish consensus over the war have been visible in the past few days too, with a spate of protests across Israel — still small at this stage but attended by both Jews and Arabs — to oppose the fighting.