Recent violent storms have given St. Louisans a taste of the destructive power of Mother Nature. The awesome winds that brought down tree limbs and power lines caused extensive property damage throughout the area and claimed the lives of at least ten people. For more than a half-million of us, we learned what it was like to live without power, in some cases for more than a week, as temperatures hovered near 100. Disrupted routines tried our patience but taught us a new reliance on neighbors.
While this story rightly earned front-page coverage in the Post-Dispatch, the people of Lebanon have been suffering from a far more destructive power. The State of Israel, pursuing its stated goal of finishing off Hezbollah, has sent its army on a three-week rampage through Lebanon, destroying the Beirut airport, bombing more than 35 bridges and obliterating the country’s network of roads and highways. The United Nations reported last week that “the ongoing [Israeli] military operation has caused enormous damage to residential areas and key civilian infrastructure such as power plants, seaports and fuel depots” leaving many villages without essential goods and food supplies. By official count more than 600 civilians have been killed, a third of them children, and close to a million people have been forced to flee their homes.
“Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries?” asked Lebanon’s prime minister, Fouad Siniora. “Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by Israel is inflicted on us?” Can our own recent ordeal afford us even the tiniest bit of insight and empathy?
In this era of an endless “war on terror,” it might be easy to forget that the world has agreed to restrict war making and has codified the limits in international law. As such, the deliberate and wholesale bombing of Lebanon ’s civilian infrastructure is a war crime. The forced evacuation of southern Lebanese villages in preparation for a ground assault is a war crime. Israel ’s repeated invocation of self-defense against the terrorists does not nullify international law.
Robert Fisk, a veteran British correspondent and thirty-year resident of Beirut writes that he found “a young girl lying in a hospital bed, swathed in bandages, her beauty scarred for ever by some familiar wounds; the telltale dark-red holes in her skin made by cluster bombs, the weapon we used in Iraq to such lethal effect and which the Israelis are now using to punish the civilians of southern Lebanon.” Israel has acknowledged that it has used cluster bombs. Their use against civilians is a war crime.
California State University Professor Beau Grosscup observes that Israel, like the United States, has made air power its weapon of choice in prosecuting war. “The strategy is to rain terror from the skies on civilians and the integrated infrastructure they depend on.” This is state terrorism and a war crime.
But Israel has not acted alone in this destructive rampage. The United States government, fending off international cries for an immediate cease fire, has offered a steady green light, with Condoleezza Rice calling the slaughter of innocents “the birth pangs of a new Middle East ” and George Bush hailing the ongoing carnage as a unique opportunity “for broader change in the region.”
Both houses of Congress passed resolutions, supported by every member of Missouri’s delegation, declaring unwavering support for Israel and enthusiastically applauding her actions as if there were nothing morally or legally problematic about them.
Frida Berrigan, a senior research associate at the Arms Trade Resource Center, writes, “For more than 30 years, Israel had been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance and since 1985 it has received about $3 billion in military and economic aid each year from Washington. In addition, Israel is one of the United States ‘ largest arms importers. The bulk of Israel ‘s current arsenal is composed of equipment supplied under U.S. military aid programs.”
And that means the war has direct ties to St. Louis and our local economy, with Boeing supplying many of the “smart” bombs, and the F-15 planes to drop them, being employed by Israel in the assault on Lebanon, despite the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 that prohibits the transfer of weaponry to another country for aggressive war-making.
The U.S. government’s practice of a double standard toward Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and human rights violations in Lebanon inevitably results in outrage around the world at our hypocrisy.
President Bush asked innocently after 9.11, “Why do they hate us?”
What Israel is accomplishing in Lebanon, with crucial and explicit U.S. support at every turn, provides a lucid yet nauseating answer.
The authors are members of the Center for Theology and Social Analysis and teach in the Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University .