The International Community Must Act to Stop Israel

In the avowed aim of fighting terrorism, Israel has unleashed a reign of terror on innocent Lebanese nationals in flagrant violation of international law–for the second time in 25 years. An old hand at visiting collective punishment upon civilian populations, Israel is crucifying the sovereign state of Lebanon, bombing relentlessly, displacing more than half a million people, and wreaking death and devastation, ostensibly in retaliation for the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah*. And this time around, inordinate Israeli aggression has cost the lives of nine Canadian citizens, four of them children and one a UN peacekeeper.

The attack on Lebanon follows on the heels of a prolonged attack on the Palestinians of Gaza in which Israel sent many more children to their deaths. Israel claims that all these civilian casualties–children, parents, grandparents, tourists–are collateral damage, a regrettable by-product of its unimpeachable efforts to defend itself. And this piece of propaganda is dutifully recited by political leaders and most of the media throughout the western world. It does not withstand scrutiny. HA’ARETZ journalist Gideon Levy characterizes the Israeli refrain of “THEY STARTED IT” as an evasion designed to distort the picture–the picture of an occupying power that is not seeking peace.

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Israel’s existence is not in peril from any terrorist organization (even Israel Defense Forces Chief Dan Halutz has acknowledged in interviews that there is currently no existential threat to Israel in the region). With its sheer military might, the Jewish state is essentially unassailable, and Israel long ago calculated the acceptable cost to itself, measured in Israeli lives, of the inevitable acts of desperate resistance and retaliation that are the wages of occupation. While Israeli officials rail on about machinations to wipe it from the map, it is Israel that is actually committing protracted genocide of the Palestinians through its theft of Palestinian land and resources, its destruction of homes, built infrastructure and the natural environment–always in the name of self-defense, an excuse that, remarkably, runs up against few limits to credulity.

There is much speculation about what designs Israel may be harbouring with this latest assault on Lebanon–a country it destroyed in 1982 and with whose people it claims, laughably, to have no quarrel: a vast buffer zone; a Quisling government; a provocation that will eventually provide the pretext for an attack on Iran… But one thing is abundantly clear: Israel is not seeking a peaceful and just solution to the Palestinian question–an objective that, if pursued with genuine determination, could do much to defuse the tinderbox tensions in the region and ultimately ensure long-term Israeli security.

As even so tempered a critic of Israeli policy as former American Jewish Congress leader Henry Siegman has intimated, Israel does not want peace. Commenting on the atrocities in Gaza he wrote in the L.A. Times (June 18, 2006): “Skeptics must be reminded that of all the various strategies resorted to by Israel over the years to end its conflict with the Palestinians, none of which has come even close to achieving that goal, the one it has never tried is returning to pre-1967 borders as the starting point for reciprocal adjustments.”

It is bewildering that while Canadians die at Israel’s hands, Stephen Harper refuses to condemn Israeli actions. In any other situation, were tens of thousands of Canadians placed in mortal danger by another nation, forcing the Canadian government to embark on the largest evacuation in its history, would the Prime Minister be likely to demonstrate such forbearance? (In fairness, the other Canadian political leaders have also remained unaccountably silent – perhaps for fear of reprisals from the influential Israel lobby which promotes the somewhat misleading claim that the Jewish community is monolithic in its support of Israel).

Harper did finally add his voice to the predictable G-8 chorus calling on Israel to exercise restraint. But it is obviously not enough to issue these appeals for restraint. Israel is accustomed to ignoring all such pleas and protests with impunity. Just as South Africa was made to dismantle apartheid only by a program of international shaming given teeth by an economic boycott, so Israel will only be induced to accept the rule of international law by the clear condemnation of its illegal policies on the part of the world community, backed up by the imposition of economic sanctions. Israel must be compelled to moderate its use of force in the region, end the Occupation and respect the rights of the Palestinian people.

Canadian churches (the United Church) and unions (CUPE Ontario) took an important step–and a courageous one given the inevitable bullying by the Canadian Jewish establishment–in joining a growing international boycott of Israel. Whatever their political affiliations, it is incumbent upon Canadians who value peace and justice to urge the organizations and institutions with which they are associated to follow suit. Only by bringing such pressure to bear can we send an unmistakable message to Israel that its immoral and unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated and thereby contribute to calming the troubled waters of the Middle East.

*Originating as a Lebanese Islamic fundamentalist movement, Hizbullah has developed over the years into a social and political movement committed to national resistance.