Pity the Nation
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, July 23, 2006
The more the Israeli assault lasts, the more distant it gets from its presumed aim of destroying Hezbollah—the more impossible it becomes to destroy what the bombing campaign of the last twelve days can only recharge and redirect in proportion to the tonnage of savagery it is dropping on Lebanon. Who, the Lebanese are rightfully asking themselves, are the terrorists now?
It isn’t just the invasions of 1978 and 1982 that are being replayed in Lebanon. It’s the rhetoric that’s tragically unchanged. I’ve been reading through parts of Robert Fisk’s “Pity the Nation,” the book on the Lebanon war published 16 years ago, just as the Lebanese civil war was finally ending. He recalls the abduction of Terry Anderson, the American AP Beirut bureau chief who’d become the longest-held hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s—by Hezbollah, barely known at the time. “And yet,” Fisk writes, “why was it that Western hostages were called ‘hostages’—which they were—while Lebanese Shia Muslim prisoners held in an Israeli-controlled jail in southern Lebanon were referred to by journalists simply as ‘prisoners’? These Lebanese were also held illegally, without charge and—according to one of the militia leaders who controls their lives—as hostages for the good conduct of their fellow villagers in southern Lebanon. Both the International Red Cross and Amnesty International have expressed grave concern at the use of torture in this jail at the village of Khiam, torture against both men and women. […] Yet still we persisted in our reports in calling the Lebanese ‘prisoners,’ the Westerners ‘hostages.’”
Moussa Bachir reported a few days ago on the destruction of Khiam prison by the Israelis: “This Prison was visited a lot after liberation in 2000. Tourists visited it to see the ingenious torture methods used against Lebanese men and women during the 18 long years of Israeli occupation. Israel demolished it today. And why not? While they are at it! Why shouldn’t they whitewash this blemish? Why not remove all evidence that incriminate their ‘morally superior army’?” (See pictures of Khiam prison here.) Morally superior, you see, because the dominant assumption has always been that Israeli soldiers are doing God’s work against terrorism, that virus of a word that has become the West’s equivalent of biological warfare, but by way of language and ideology. The results can be just as lethal.
“But ‘terrorism’ no longer means terrorism,” to quote Fisk again. “It is not a definition. It is a political contrivance. ‘Terrorists’ are those who use violence against the side that is using the word. The only terrorists whom Israel acknowledges are those who oppose Israel. The only terrorists the United States acknowledges are those who oppose the United States or their allies. [For that matter, "Was the Confederacy a Terrorist Organization?"] The only terrorists Palestinians acknowledge—for they too use the word—are those opposed to the Palestinians. To adopt the word means that we have taken a side in the Middle East, not between right and wrong, good and evil, David and Goliath, but with one set of combatants against another. For journalists in the middle East, the use of the word ‘terrorism’ is akin to carrying a gun. Unless the word is used about all acts of terrorism—which it is not—then its employment turns the reporter into a participant in the war. He becomes a belligerent. In Lebanon, it also means the journalist believes that the immensely powerful armies and militias in the country can be divided into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ They cannot; in Lebanon, they are all bad.”
The same can be said today, and not just in Lebanon. There is no difference between Israeli and Palestinian or Hezbollah terrorism being perpetrated today, except in matters of scale. And on that score, Israel is by far the more brutal terrorist (to say ‘more brutal terrorist,’ of course, is to craft an oxymoron: you cannot be a benevolent terrorist). It is terrorizing a whole nation by sea, land and air and veiling it in the language of self-defense. It is inventing Hezbollah aggressions prior to the kidnapping of those two Israeli soldiers, when in fact Hezbollah “aggressions” were nothing more than stare-downs across the rickety border of sand berms and barbed wire that has kept the two sides quietly if stupidly separated, like misbehaving children in ward for troubled kids, since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000.
What’s astounding for some of us who have never seen anything more than a rogue, regressive, pathetic organization in Hezbollah—a Lebanese Taliban in Shiite garb, I always remind readers—is that we find ourselves forced into making statements that can be seen as sympathetic to Hezbollah, as defensive of their station. Let’s not make that mistake. There is no such intention here. There never will be as long as Hezbollah remains primarily the guerilla organization it desperately needs to be to preserve its existence and its Iranian bankroll. But as long as precise language is being called to account, let’s end the parody of playing “just war” by putting the blame on Hezbollah’s idiotic kidnapping of two soldiers, or even on its occasional stare-downs or stray bullets that have found their way across the border, almost exclusively at Shebaa Farms, the sliver of land still in dispute between Lebanon and Israel. Israel’s attack was premeditated. It was a theater of war looking for a stage. Those two soldiers might as well have been its advanced scouts, sacrificial lambs to Israeli designs long in the works.
And to pity Lebanon, to condemn Israel’s barbarism, to call its actions by their name—terrorism, pure and simple—and to call the destruction of Lebanon a war crime is not to wave the Hezbollah banner. It is merely to wave what’s left of the Lebanese flag, like that pitiful flag you see at the bottom of this piece—a torn flag I saw waving at the top of the Castle of the Sea in Sidon six years ago (the Castle of the Sea, that fortress built by a former Crusade), perfectly representative of what Lebanon has been condemned to remain, sometimes by its own incompetence, but always aided in regression by the bombs and boots of its neighbors: Syria, Israel, and their self-righteous sponsors beyond. Pity the nation then, pity the nation now.