Israel and Lebanon

Aug 2006

I have never before found occasion to agree with David Frum, but when he wrote recently in the National Review that "war is the great clarifier" he hit the nail on the head. War and peace have become the great moral issues of our times, and reactions to these issues have become the ethical litmus test. We can either accept that violence is a legitimate means to an end, or we can speak out for peace. We rightly condemn terrorism, the use of violence to achieve political ends.

The carnage in Lebanon being perpetrated by the Israeli military is appalling. There is no conceivable justification for the deliberate and systematic destruction of that country's infrastructure, nor for the devastation of whole villages and city blocks. By far most of those killed have been civilians, many children. Israel denies targetting civlians, but these protestations ring hollow after Justice Minister An Nahar's declaration that "everyone left in south Lebanon is a terrorist."

Israel, like any other nation, has a right to self-defence, but this has gone far beyond any reasonable definition of that term. It is not even clear who really started this war. The ostensible casus belli was the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah, but according to Lebanese sources, these men were taken on the Lebanese side of the border. Whatever the truth of the story, Israel chose not to negotiate their return but to launch a massive campaign of destruction across the length and breadth of Lebanon.

What's more, Human Rights Watch and other credible sources have charged that Israel is using white phosphorus, cluster bombs and other banned weapons in civilian areas. The IDF is clearly in violation of international law on many counts. Nor can Hizbollah claim the moral high ground. Their rockets, although doing far less damage than the Israeli ordinance, are loaded with ball-bearings to kill civilians. (This according to the same sources.)

In it's own defence, Israel claims it is bombing civilians because Hizbollah is hiding its rocket launchers among them. This has been disputed by independent journalists on the scene like Mitchel Prothero (writing for Salon.com). But even if true, the air-strikes can do nothing practical to stop the rockets, which have mobile launchers and are always long gone before the Israeli air-force arrives. These strikes are not defensive, they are pure and simple revenge killings. The primitive tribal mentality of "an eye for an eye" infects both sides, and will end up leaving everyone blind.

This war is so horrible, and the pain inflicted on the innocent so grievous, that it is hard to imagine how anyone could be so morally bankrupt as to defend it. And yet, there are those who are not ashamed to voice their support, our Prime Minister among them, making Canada one of only a handful of nations not calling for an immediate ceasefire. And Canada's complicity goes deeper than moral support, industries based in Canada produce critical components for weapons systems used by the Israeli air-force. A truly moral response would be to impose an export ban on these devices until hostilities cease.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "There is no path to peace. Peace is the path." The only thing that can save the world from these orgies of destruction that leave nothing but death and bitterness behind is a moral revolution. Since it is very possible this conflict is really over the water of the Litani, it is relevant to remember that the Buddha once stopped a war over water-rights between two kingdoms by asking which is more precious, blood or water? It is becoming urgent that we answer that question.

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