Caught in the crossfire

SAREE MAKDISI, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, writes frequently about the Middle East.

APPARENTLY suffering from amnesia, Israel now says that its extraordinary collective punishment of the entire Lebanese population is intended to stop rocket attacks across its northern border.

However, Israel’s blanket bombardment of Lebanon was sparked not by rockets (which came in retaliation) but by a guerrilla operation against a military target, the aim of which was to capture soldiers as leverage for the release of some of the Lebanese prisoners Israel stubbornly refuses to free. Israel itself has repeatedly crossed into Lebanon to capture prisoners -- including civilians -- for use as bargaining chips.

Indeed, although captures, negotiations and exchanges have long been part of Israel’s relationship with Hezbollah, this time it categorically refused to negotiate the release of its soldiers -- preferring instead to pummel hundreds of thousands of defenseless people on a scale out of all proportion to what it regards as the initial provocation.

So far, Israel has killed more than 230 people -- all but a handful of whom were civilians -- including whole families. With its customary arrogance, it has issued peremptory warnings to entire communities to get out of its way or face the consequences: terrorism in the true sense of the word. It gave the residents of the town of Marwaheen in southern Lebanon, for example, a few hours to leave their homes. The terrified residents came under Israeli fire as they fled. More than 15 people, most of them children, were killed.


Israel later warned the entire population of southern Lebanon to leave. No Arab can forget that terrorizing an entire population from its homes is the tactic that was used to seize possession of Palestine in the spring and summer of 1948. Not everyone will leave. Many will reject Israel’s imperious warnings -- what right, they will ask, does Israel have to terrify us into flight from our homes? In any case, most of them have nowhere to flee to -- and even if they did, Israel has destroyed the bridges and is bombing the roads out of the south.

In a week of vindictive bombardment, Israel has destroyed the infrastructure that Lebanon spent a decade building. Under the cover of misleading headlines, such as one that read “Israel Pounds Hezbollah Strongholds,” Israel has in fact bombed towns and villages, provincial centers and Beirut.

Israel has killed Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, old and young, men and women, from the great Phoenician cities of Sidon and Tyre to more humble towns -- Chtoura and Juniyah, Damour and Naame, Jiye and Baalbek, Khiam and Batrun.

It has wrecked roads, bridges, a lighthouse, ports, tunnels, electrical pylons, water mains, fuel depots, gas stations, power plants, houses, shops, schools -- and even a milk factory. It has repeatedly blasted the international airport that was the symbol of Lebanon’s rebirth from 15 years of war.

Where, when or if Lebanon will ever get the funding to rebuild what Israel has smashed remain open questions. When Israel finally relents, it will leave Lebanon without a functioning infrastructure -- and the lives of nearly 4 million people altered beyond recognition.

That, of course, is explicitly the point of this outrage. Israel’s army chief bragged that he would set Lebanon back “20 years.” That is what is happening -- as a silent world watches.