War Crimes Aimed At “Cleansing” South Lebanon
By Bill Van Auken
9 August 2006
Tuesday, Israeli warplanes struck the southern Lebanese town of Ghaziyeh,
killing at least 14 people. Missiles demolished civilian homes just
as some 1,500 mourners were participating in a procession to bury 15
of their relatives and neighbors slain just the day before. The explosions
sent the crowd running in panic, dropping shrouded corpses in the street.
Ghaziyeh’s normal population
of 23,000 has reportedly been swelled by a wave of refugees. It is a
predominantly Shiite town near Sidon, a region where most of the population
is composed of Sunni Muslims. Many people from further south had fled
there to stay with relatives and friends.
There was no indication that
the town was used to launch rockets against Israel or had any intrinsic
strategic significance. The objective was merely to further terrorize
people who have already suffered the loss of their homes and seen members
of their families massacred in the relentless Israeli bombardment of
southern Lebanon. The aim is to force them to flee further north, or
Israeli planes have dropped
leaflets on southern Lebanon announcing an open-ended curfew, violation
of which is punishable by death from the air. The Israeli Defense Forces
(IDF) has warned that any vehicles on the roads will be struck. Anyone
disobeying these orders will be considered a terrorist and a target
for Israeli bombs, missiles and shells.
This threat, combined with
the escalating air war against the south, has effectively shut down
attempts by the International Red Cross and other relief agencies to
bring desperately needed food, water and medical supplies into the ravaged
south. The bombing of roads and the destruction of the last bridge crossing
the Litani River into the southern city of Tyre has cut off the region
from rest of Lebanon and the rest of the world.
The head of the International
Red Cross, Jacob Kellenberger, accused Israel of violating the Geneva
Conventions—that is, committing a war crime—by threatening
aid convoys with military attack. Kellenberger dismissed Israel’s
claims that its leaflets warning of imminent air strikes somehow justified
violent attacks on civilians. “By letting down leaflets, you cannot
get rid of your responsibilities under international humanitarian law,”
The Israeli practice is akin
to a serial murderer telephoning death threats to people before killing
them and then blaming the victims for their own deaths, because, after
all, “they were warned.”
This is the real context
in which the United Nations Security Council is going through the motions
of considering a US-French resolution designed not to end the fighting,
but to allow it to continue until US-Israeli objectives are met. This
document demands that Hezbollah disarm, while it allows the 10,000 Israeli
troops occupying Lebanese territory to remain and permits Israel to
continue “defensive” air strikes and artillery bombardments.
It essentially demands that
Hezbollah, a mass movement of Lebanon’s impoverished Shiite population,
commit suicide and that the government of Lebanon accept the status
of an occupied protectorate. By presenting an utterly unacceptable proposal,
Washington aims at provoking Lebanese rejection and then using this
supposed opposition to “peace” as a justification for continuing
the month-old war.
In a further indication that
it has no intention of compromising on the terms of its UN diktat to
the Lebanese people, the Bush administration Tuesday dismissed a Lebanese
proposal to send 15,000 Lebanese troops to the south to take control
of the area from the Israeli army. A State Department spokesman declared
that the Lebanese army is not “a robust enough entity to be able
to, on their own, exercise total control of that southern area of Lebanon.”
This word “robust”
is endlessly repeated to describe a proposed multinational force to
be sent into the region. It is a euphemism for an occupation army that
will utilize murderous force against the local population to achieve
US and Israeli war aims.
In a rare moment of candor
at the UN, the Qatari foreign minister told the Security Council on
Tuesday: “It is most saddening that the council stands idly by,
crippled, unable to stop the blood bath which has become the bitter
daily lot of the defenseless Lebanese people.”
He warned that adoption of
the US-French resolution posed the “danger of civil war in Lebanon.”
This is no idle threat. The proposed smashing of Hezbollah would be
seen by the Shiite population as an attempt to disenfranchise and oppress
them, reversing the results of Lebanon’s previous civil war and
restoring the power once wielded by Israel’s traditional ally
in the country, the Maronite Christian right.
Such social reengineering
of the country—carried out under George Bush’s slogans of
“freedom” and a “new Middle East”—would
undoubtedly ignite a new round of bitter sectarian warfare.
What the US-Israeli offensive
aims to accomplish as its immediate goal is the thorough ethnic cleansing
of southern Lebanon.
This is a term that never
appears in the mainstream media in relation to the present war in Lebanon.
It appears only in the occasional stories following the continuing tensions
in former Yugoslavia, where US-led NATO forces intervened in 1999 with
a savage bombing campaign against Serbia, which was carried out under
the pretext of halting ethnic cleansing in the province of Kosovo. The
end result has been a thorough ethnic cleansing of the Serb population
at the hands of the Kosovar nationalists whom Washington supported.
In the Israeli offensive
against south Lebanon, the media invariably refers to air strikes and
ground assaults against “Hezbollah strongholds,” a formulation
meant to conceal the fact that the real target is the Shiite population
as a whole. Missiles, cluster bombs and artillery shells are employed
to massacre men, women and children in order to terrorize the entire
population and send them fleeing north.
Unlike the wave of moral
outrage generated by the US media over the alleged ethnic cleansing
of Kosovo, which was critical in conditioning public opinion and providing
a pretext for Washington’s war against Serbia, there is no similar
condemnation of Israel for the mass expulsion of a population.
One major television network,
the ineffable Fox News, expressed more concern for the lost dogs of
northern Israel than for the Lebanese women and children buried beneath
the rubble of buildings demolished by US-supplied Israeli bombs.
The IDF has had little success
in defeating Hezbollah or even halting its rocket attacks against Israel,
but its strategy against the civilian population has proven effective.
While more than 1,000 Lebanese have been killed and approximately 3,500
wounded—the majority of them women and children—one million
Lebanese, fully a quarter of the national population, have been turned
into refugees, most of them driven from their homes in the south.
Ethnic cleansing is nothing
new for Israel. The very foundation of the Israeli state was bound up
with the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and farms.
The Zionist leaders employed massacres and terror to drive out the native
As the well-known Israeli
historian Benny Morris acknowledged in a 2004 interview with the Israeli
daily Haaretz, “A Jewish state would not have come into being
without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore, it was necessary
to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It
was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas
and cleanse the main roads.”
In 1967, with the occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza, military terror was once again utilized to
drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians off their land, paving the
way for the Zionist settlements in the occupied territories and Israel’s
claims over all of Jerusalem.
There is no reason to believe
that anything different is being planned for Lebanon. Once again Israel,
in the name of “security,” is driving an Arab population
off of its land. Where does this process end?
There is every indication
that the IDF is now being deployed to conquer Lebanese territory between
the Israeli border and the Litani River, 18 miles to the north. A new
senior officer known to favor a far more extensive ground assault, Deputy
Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, has been placed in charge
of the Lebanon operation. Haaretz reported that his mission would be
“to coordinate land, air and sea operations in case of a widescale
There is more at work in
the current Lebanon war, however, than Israel’s campaign of ethnic
cleansing against the country’s Shiite population and the potential
annexation of Lebanese territory. Prodding the Israeli government to
intensify its attacks is the Bush administration. It sees the IDF offensive
as a means of furthering its own objective of setting the stage for
new wars of aggression in the Middle East, to achieve “regime
change” in Iran and Syria and bring the extensive oil reserves
of the entire region under uncontested US control.
This is the reality behind
the Bush’s rhetoric, casting the conflict as one between “freedom”
and “democracy,” on the one side, and “Islamic fascism,”
on the other.
If anything in the present
war recalls the crimes of fascism, it is not the Lebanese, who are fighting
an Israeli army that his invaded their land, but rather the regimes
in Washington and Israel, which are utilizing overwhelming military
force to conquer an oppressed people.
Like the one-sided wars waged
by fascist regimes that shocked the world’s conscience in the
1930s—from the rape of Ethiopia to the incineration of Guernica—the
destruction of Lebanon contains the seeds of a global conflagration.