In Contempt

I’ve been blogging about the Bush Administration for just over four years. During that time it’s rare that a day has gone by without some fresh outrage or revelation to write about. But now the calamities are coming so fast my head is spinning. Several major, and dangerous, developments are happening all at once. It’s hard to keep up.

For the past few days I’ve not been following the latest developments on President Bush’s dismantling of the Constitution. I haven’t blogged about the situation in Iraq, which continues to deteriorate. (And the tours of duty by already overstressed troops have been extended, because President Weenie lacks the moral courage to call for a draft to fight his war. I’ve got a really good rant in me on that point.) I haven’t written much about the California heat wave (get used to it, folks). And then there’s the energy crisis, the shrinking middle class, and a host of other big red flags I have barely acknowledged recently.

Instead, I’ve been focused on Lebanon, with despair.

Here’s something I didn’t know. Simon Tisdall posts at The Guardian web site (emphasis added):

In the week preceding Hizbullah’s July 12 cross-border raid into Israel that sparked the Lebanon war, the UN security council was wrestling with a draft resolution on Gaza. Sponsored by Arab countries, it called for the unconditional release of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants on June 25, an end to the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, and a halt to Israel’s “disproportionate” military response that was killing and injuring dozens of Palestinian civilians.

In the event, the US vetoed the Gaza resolution on the grounds that it was “unbalanced” and, ironically in the light of subsequent events, would have exacerbated regional tensions. John Bolton, the US ambassador, said the draft “places demands on one side of the Middle East conflict but not the other”. In a taste of things to come, Britain abstained from voting.

The security council’s failure during the period beginning June 25 to offer even a statement of concern about events in Gaza is one possible reason why Hizbullah took the incendiary action it did on July 12, capturing two more Israeli soldiers and killing several others. The Lebanese Shia militia doubtless had other motives, too. But it appeared determined to stand up for the Palestinians when the international community was evidently unwilling or unable to do so.

The council’s subsequent record as the Lebanon war has unfolded in all its unchecked barbarity has been even less edifying. It has been effectively sidelined as the US has repeatedly disrupted collective attempts to achieve an immediate halt to the violence. Efforts by the French council presidency to gather support for a ceasefire resolution have made scant progress in the face of ongoing US obstruction.

In writing about the Lebanon crisis many of us, me included, feel obligated to attempt balance: “Israel has a right to defend itself, but …”; “Hezbollah provoked this aggression, but. …” I was in high school during the Six Day War, and I remember when Jerusalem was united under Israeli control, and like most Americans I thought this was grand. I was a senior at the University of Missouri when Palestinian terrorists murdered the Israeli Olympic wrestling team in Munich, and like most Americans I was heartbroken and angry. (I remember a large part of the student body showed up at the Hillel Center for a memorial service; I went with my two roommates, who were Catholic and Southern Baptist.) Before that time I was barely aware of the Palestinians; they did not make a good first impression. The next year Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, touching off the Yom Kippur War. Like most Americans I was angry with the Muslim nations determined to destroy Israel. Like most Americans I admired Prime Minister Golda Meir.

In those days more of my attention was given to Vietnam and Watergate, of course, plus the usual messiness of my so-called life. By the time Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon I had a handful of a baby girl to deal with and wasn’t paying attention to international affairs. And until very recently I had not blogged much at all about Israel and the Palestinians. As I wrote a few days ago, “I don’t pay as much attention to the Israeli-Palestinian situation as I should; after all these years, it’s become background noise to me, I’m sorry to say.”

I wasn’t paying attention this year, when this happened:

Less than a year after its disengagement from Gaza, Israel has become deeply re-engaged, in a sharp escalation of fighting that could ignite a third intifada. The proximate cause was a Palestinian guerrilla attack against an Israeli army base, in which two soldiers were killed and one was taken prisoner. In response Israel launched a furious assault on the entire population of Gaza, destroying its only energy plant, which left 700,000 people without power, and seizing more than two dozen Hamas elected officials. Israel’s leading liberal daily, Ha’aretz, warned that “the government is losing its reason…arresting people to use as bargaining chips is the act of a gang, not of a state.” Amnesty International condemned the attacks against civilian infrastructure as a war crime, and the UN’s Relief and Works Agency warned that Gaza is “on the brink of a public health disaster.”

In an exercise of selective memory, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns defended Israel, saying, “Let’s remember who started this. It was the outrageous actions of Hamas in violating Israel’s sovereignty, in taking the soldier hostage.” In fact, the current cycle of violence was set off by weeks of Israeli shellings that culminated in the killing of eight Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach. On a deeper level, the violence arises from the Israeli strategy of unilateralism, in which even the pretense of negotiations is abandoned and Israel alone decides its final borders, while maintaining control over the territories through closures, military assaults and assassination. After Hamas came to power in January in the Arab world’s most democratic elections, Israel and the United States tried to provoke the government’s collapse by cutting off aid and tax revenues, even though Hamas maintained its yearlong cease-fire and its officials repeatedly declared it could accept a two-state solution or at least a long-term truce. Far from leading to Hamas’s demise, the economic strangulation infuriated Palestinians, convincing many that the United States and Israel care nothing about democracy. After the beach killings, popular outrage finally led Hamas’s military wing to call off its cease-fire. [“Lawless in Gaza,” The Nation, July 31, 2006]

I read the editorial quoted above a couple of weeks ago, and yet I still feel obligated to add the qualifiers — “Israel has a right to defend itself, but …”; “Hezbollah provoked this aggression, but. …”

Yesterday Billmon wrote,

I’ve felt many emotions about the Israelis before. I’ve admired them for their accomplishments — building a flourishing state out of almost nothing. I’ve hated them for their systematic dispossession of the Palestinians — even as they smugly congratulated themselves for being the Middle East’s only “democracy.” I’ve pitied them for the cruel fate history inflicted on the Jewish diaspora, respected them for their boldness and daring, honored them for their cultural and intellectual achievements. But the one thing I’ve never felt, at least up until now, is contempt.

But that is what I’m feeling now. The military and political leaders of the Jewish state are doing and saying things that go way beyond the blustering arrogance of a powerful nation at war. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are behaving like a gang of militaristic thugs — whose reply to any criticism or reproach is an expletive deleted and the smash of an iron fist.

Billmon goes on to make a good case for feeling contempt for Israel. I cannot say I feel contempt for Israel, however. Not yet, anyway, and not the way I felt contempt for the PLO after the Munich Olympics. For Israel, more than anything else, I am terribly sad. I’m sad because Israel has chosen a path that I think could lead to its own destruction. What Israel is doing to Lebanon now will be regretted by many generations of Israelis, if there are many more generations of Israelis.

In RightieWorld, one either supports Israel’s every cough or one hopes for Israel’s destruction. It’s beyond their comprehension that a person could support Israel’s right to exist in peace and yet condemn its current actions. This rightie thinks Howard Dean is inconsistent because he said, in 2003, that the United States should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — “Israel has always been a longtime ally with a special relationship with the United States, but if we are going to bargain by being in the middle of the negotiations then we are going to have to take an evenhanded role.” But in 2006 he said of the government of Iraq — “We don’t need to spend $200 and $300 and $500 billion bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe that Israel doesn’t have a right to defend itself and who refuse to condemn Hezbollah.”

But of course there is no inconsistency at all. To say that one should not favor one side over another doesn’t mean one cannot criticize aggression against Israel, nor does it mean one doesn’t support Israel’s right to exist. Instead, it means supporting right actions and condemning wrong actions, no matter who does them.

Right now, I’m saving my contempt for the Bush Administration. It’s knee-jerk support for Israel, no matter what, is shaming all of us and forcing the rest of the world to take sides against us. Christopher Dickey writes,

The bottom line: Hizbullah is winning. That’s the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, “Hizbullah is eating their lunch.”

The United States, following Israel’s lead, does not want an immediate ceasefire precisely because that would hand Hizbullah a classic guerrilla-style victory: it started this fight against a much greater military force—and it’s still standing. In the context of a region where vast Arab armies have been defeated in days, for a militia to hold out one week, two weeks and more, is seen as heroic. Hizbullah is the aggressor, the underdog and the noble survivor, all at once. “It’s that deadly combination of the expectation game, which Hizbullah have won, and the victim game, which they’ve also won,” as my straight-talking friend put it.

Neither U.S. nor Israeli policymakers have taken this dynamic into account. If they had, they’d understand that with each passing day, no matter how many casualties it takes, Hizbullah’s political power grows. Several of my worldly Lebanese and Arab friends here in Rome today—people who loathe Hizbullah—understand this problem well. Privately they say that’s one of the main reasons they are so horrified at the direction this war has taken: they fear not only that Lebanon will be destroyed, but that Hizbullah will wind up planting its banner atop the mountain of rubble.

Note, dear righties: Some of us oppose Israel’s actions not because we support Hezbollah, but because we don’t.

When I heard Condi talking in pitiless academic pieties today about “strong and robust” mandates and “dedicated and urgent action,” I actually felt sorry for her, for our government, and for Israel. As in Iraq three years ago, the administration has been blinded to the political realities by shock-and-awe military firepower. Clinging to its faith in precision-guided munitions and cluster bombs, it has decided to let Lebanon bleed, as if that’s the way to build the future for peace and democracy.

I don’t feel sorry for Condi. I feel contempt for Condi, and Rummy, and Dick, and George, and the rest of the clueless wonders whose shameful policies are causing so much death and destruction, to no good purpose. I respect Israel, but I love America, and these people are shaming America.

Going back to Simon Tisdall, we read that “anger is growing” at the United States and its spoiling tactics. In the UN Security Council, the U.S. is obstructing cease-fire plans and tying the UN’s hands. Now even Tony Blair is trying to tell Bush that there must be a cease-fire, and the sooner the better for everybody.

At a White House meeting, the prime minister will express his concern that pro-western Arab governments are “getting squeezed” by the crisis and the longer it continues, the more squeezed they will be, giving militants a boost. The private view from No 10 is that the US is “prevaricating” over the resolution and allowing the conflict to run on too long.

But diplomatic sources in Washington suggest the US and Israel believe serious damage has been inflicted on Hizbullah, so the White House is ready to back a ceasefire resolution at the UN next week. Today Mr Bush and Mr Blair will discuss a version of the resolution that has been circulating in Washington and London.

I like the part about “serious damage” being inflicted on Hezbollah. Maybe Israel and the U.S. realize Hezbollah is winning, and Israel is preparing to declare victory and withdraw. Let’s hope so.

Also: If you want to do something, please check out this ceasefire campaign. I don’t know any more about this organization than what’s on their web site, but it appears to be legitimate.

9 thoughts on “In Contempt

  1. I started out with a favorable view of Israel way back when, but over the years Israel’s tatics and actions in dealing with the Palestinians have eroded my feelings that the Israelis are the victims. I ‘ve seen too much brutality and suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israelis to allow those actions to be catergorized as defending themselves. The lastest episode with Lebanon and Israel’s claim that they are defending themselves is on par with America’s claim that our presence in Iraq is of a self defensive nature. The victim status will always provide justifcation.

  2. One thing that has struck me about the current crisis … in both Gaza and Lebanon, the act that Israel was supposedly responding to was in fact a MILTARY act, not a terrorist act … Hamas and Hizbullah both chose to capture Israeli SOLDIERS, not civilians … not sure how much or what sigificance that actually has, but interesting, nonetheless.

  3. Now that is balance!!!!!!!Thank you Maha!, for saying what I have been trying to say since this started…Bravo!!!

    My contempt lies with bush, with Israel, and with Hizbolla… A pox on the whole lot of assholes….the world would be a far better place if we could load them all up their war mongering asses and just send them away to another planet to fight it out. I have had it with all of them…they are a shame to humanity….I wish the rest of the world would join me and look upon all those folks with the angry eyes they deserve.. they are bleeping up the world for the rest of us.They are a threat to our being, and for they they must be brought to account.

  4. No need to blog about this issue anymore..Bush and Blair have just set their hands to the plow. Bush seem to have gotten a new infusion of testosterone and he’s gonna wrestle this problem to the ground. Condi is on the case, also!

    I don’t know who invented the game of chess, whoever they were they were pretty clever..Had they been more clever they would have invented a piece called the UN, designed to take the king out of check in any situation.

  5. Great post Maha.
    I’m sorry to say I have much contempt for the GOVERNMENT of Israel. The indeed have a very “special” relationship with the U.S. including spying on us, thumbing their noses at U.N resolutions, violating treaties and conventions, influencing elections and foreign aid thru AIPAC and JINSA, AND thru stooges planted in our federal government like Doug Feith and Dov Zakheim.
    I fail to understand the love for Israel from the “right” when the conservative movement should be about fiscal responsibility, a small federal govt, and less intrusion by government into our daily lives.
    Strangely, conservatives like Pat Buchannon , Justin Raimondo, and Lew Rockwell understand the principles and so oppose the Bush administration.I long for the days of debating the Paleocons now that we are faced with the criminally insane Neocon movement. If I could hang a handle on BUSHCO, it would be a protofasist dictatorship. They are aiding and abetting war crimes in Lebanon, and threatening to expand the conflict to Syria and beyond. I have little dout that the murder of the Lebanese prime minister was by MOSSAD and blamed on the Syrians. I heard a rumor that the new definition of Antisemitism is “Criticism of Israel”, I certainly hope this is not true as I have no hate for the Jewish people, but I fail to see the logic of setting the whole God-damned world on fire to appease one little theocracy in the ME.( but then again, I’m hardly “rapture ready”)

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