by Marjorie Cohn; July 2006
George W. Bush claims he wants to bring democracy to the Middle East. But the evidence indicates that Bush only likes democracy when the elections go his way.
The Palestinians, subjected to a ruthless occupation by Israel for nearly four decades, held a democratic election in January. Much to Bush’s dismay, they elected Hamas to lead their parliament.
Likewise, voters in Lebanon democratically elected representatives of Hezbollah to parliament.
Yet Bush and his minions are doing everything they can to undo those election results.
After Hamas’s election, Israel and the United States spearheaded the imposition of severe economic sanctions against the Palestinians that have virtually crippled their infrastructure. Israel, which continues to control Gaza’s economy, withholds about $50 million of Palestinian monthly tax revenues.
When Palestinians in Gaza captured an Israeli soldier and members of Hezbollah in Lebanon captured two Israeli soldiers, Israel unleashed massive armed attacks against the people of Gaza and Lebanon.
Although justified as necessary to free the captured soldiers, Israel really hopes to destroy Hamas and Hezbollah in the process.
The Israel military demolished hospitals, airports, highways, power stations, fuel depots, and entire buildings with their inhabitants in Lebanon and Gaza. Hundreds of innocents have been killed and thousands injured. Israel kidnapped dozens of Hamas leaders.
Since Israel began its assaults in Gaza and Lebanon, Bush has cheered Israel on.
The United States supplies Israel with the sophisticated weapons it employs to slaughter Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, in violation of the US Arms Export Control Act. That law requires military items transferred to foreign governments by the US be used solely for internal security and legitimate self-defense.
“In my judgment, the best way to stop the violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place,” Bush sensibly observed. But then he continued, “And that’s because Hezbollah has been launching rocket attacks out of Lebanon into Israel, and because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. That’s why we have violence.”
“Israel’s actions in no way can be seen as a legitimate response to the small-scale attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah,” Robert Dreyfuss wrote Monday on TomPaine. “Instead, what Israel has done has used the pretext of those pin-prick attacks – a couple of border raids and a handful of errant rockets – to launch a strategic attack whose goals are to crush Hamas and the remaining institutions of Palestinian self-rule and decapitate and destroy Hezbollah politically and militarily in Lebanon.”
When Hamas and Hezbollah captured the Israeli soldiers, they intended to use them to negotiate the release of hundreds of prisoners, including women and children, who have languished in Israeli jails for years in barbaric conditions with no charges against them.
But Israel, with the blessing of the US government, reacted with overwhelming military force, killing hundreds of people and crippling the infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon.
This is not self-defense. It is a war of aggression that violates the United Nations Charter. Israel is engaging in collective punishment in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The United States was the only country to veto a Security Council resolution that would have accused Israel of a “disproportionate use of force” in Gaza. This sends a clear message that Israel can do whatever it wants and Washington will support it.
US Ambassador John Bolton echoed this sentiment when he said there was no “moral equivalence” between the civilian casualties from the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and those killed in Israel from “malicious terrorist attacks.” In other words, an Israeli life is worth more than a Lebanese life, in the eyes of our ambassador to the United Nations.
Both houses of the US Congress are poised to express their support for Israel and condemn Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. Bush claims that Iran and Syria are pulling the strings in Gaza and Lebanon. Although some of the arms Hezbollah is using are made in Iran, many analysts doubt that Iran or Syria is calling the shots.
So where do Hamas and Hezbollah come from?
These two Islamic resistance movements were born in the 1980s in reaction to Israel’s invasion, occupation and oppression.
When the civil war in Lebanon ended, Hezbollah became a political party, winning seats in Parliament, and it continues to function in mainstream Lebanese society. Hezbollah was successful in 2000 in forcing Israel to withdraw from the southern strip of Lebanon which Israel had occupied since its 1982 invasion.
Before 1994, Hamas restricted its guerrilla actions to political and military targets in the occupied Palestinian territories. On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler, shot and killed 29 Muslim worshippers in the Mosque of the Patriarch in Hebron. Hamas took revenge with a new weapon – the suicide bomber.
One of the deadliest attacks was a Tel Aviv bus bombing in October 1994 that killed 23 people. Posters at universities in the West Bank and Gaza read: “Israel has nuclear bombs, we have human bombs.” Indeed, Sheik Hassan Yousef of Hamas told the Journal of Middle East Affairs in 2002, “We do not have F-16s, but we do have one weapon that is more powerful than the F-16 or anything else. It is a weapon that is unconventional and at the same time mightier than any nuclear bomb. It is the martyrdom bomber.”
James O. Goldsborough, a former columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, correlated increases in the number of suicide bombers with Israel’s stepped up violence against the Palestinian people.
Hamas and Hezbollah enjoy widespread popular support because they stand up to Israeli aggression. Both combine political action and militant jihad with humanitarian, social and educational programs.
As Robin Wright wrote in Saturday’s Washington Post, Hezbollah “runs a major hospital as well as schools, discount pharmacies, groceries and an orphanage. It runs a garbage service and a reconstruction program for homes damaged during Israel’s invasion. It supports families of the young men sent off to their deaths. Altogether, it benefits an estimated 250,000 Lebanese and is the country’s second-largest employer.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told Wright that he joined Hezbollah after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. “We used to discuss issues among ourselves,” he said. “If we are to expel the Israeli occupation from our country, how do we do this? We noticed what happened in Palestine, in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, in the Golan, in Sinai. We reached a conclusion that we cannot rely on the Arab League states, nor on the United Nations,” he added. “The only way that we have is to take up arms and fight the occupation forces.”
There is tremendous support for Hezbollah among Arabs. Abdel-Menem Mustapha, Egypt bureau chief of the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, said, “The Arab street feels strong sympathy with Hezbollah and Nasrallah, because its pride has been battered, and it is weary of decades of concessions made to Israel by Arab governments.”
Journalist Dahr Jamail, reporting this week from the Lebanese/Syrian border, said tens of thousands of Arab protestors took to the streets, condemning Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Jamail also reported that thousands of angry Iraqis marched in Baghdad in solidarity with Nasrallah and denounced Israel and the United States for the attacks.
Bush is determined to control the entire Middle East – propelled by the neo-cons who seek economic and political hegemony over the region, and the Christian Zionists who await Christ’s second coming in Israel. William Kristol, editor of the neo-con Weekly Standard, said, “It’s our war.”
Bush has been itching for an excuse to expand his war on Iraq to Iran and Syria.
“The U.S. Strategic Command, supported by the Air Force, has been drawing up plans, at the President’s direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran,” Seymour Hersh wrote in last week’s New Yorker. Senior military commanders have warned the administration that “the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program” and “could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States,” including endangering our troops in Iraq, Hersh added.
On Saturday, the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat claimed that Israel, with backing from the United States, had given Syria 72 hours to pressure Hezbollah into releasing the two captured Israeli soldiers and stopping their cross-border attacks into northern Israel. Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the report.
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, says, “The escalation in Gaza reflects the failure of Israeli unilateralism, the failure of the Quartet-backed ‘Roadmap,’ the failure of the US-orchestrated exclusion of the UN, the failure of the international community to end the occupation, and the failure of the UN to intervene and provide international protection in the meantime.”
The real tragedy from Israel’s recent aggression in Gaza is that it threatens to dismantle negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. The Hamas-Fatah “prisoners’ statement” would confine armed resistance to the Israeli occupation to the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, not inside Israel.
The US corporate media is a mouthpiece for Israeli foreign policy. For example, Fox News Correspondent Bill Hemmer, stationed in Kiryat Shmona, Israel, near the Golan Heights the other day, might as well have been working for Israeli television. He reported, “We took more rockets here,” referring to the primitive Katyushas launched by Hezbollah.
George W. Bush, the champion of democracy, is playing with fire. If he continues his uncritical support for Israeli aggression, and follows his “Bring ’em on!” strategy in Iraq with Iran and Syria, he may just unleash the Armageddon he yearns for.
Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, is president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the American Association of Jurists.