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Everyone's a winner

Peter van Dyk | 16:06 UK time, Monday, 14 August 2006

The ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah seems to be holding, and people on both sides are returning to their homes in the border region. But will the ceasefire hold?

And, with both the Israeli government and Hezbollah claiming victory in the month-long conflict, we want to know who you think won the war.

Lebanese and Israelis will be on the programme to discuss these points, and you can join them.

We've also put a Lebanese and an Israeli blogger in touch with each other to discuss victory issue. Rania el-Masry, who blogs at Siege of Lebanon, started the email conversation with Lisa Goldman of On the Face:

Lebanese blogger RaniaDear Lisa;
How do we define victory?
If victory is defined in the level of destruction one imposes on the other, the level of massacres one commits against the other, the number of families that one forces out of their homes, then clearly Israel has won. Israel has proven it can destroy Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, kill more than 1,000 of Lebanon's civilians - one-third of whom were young children -- and displace more than 1/4th of the Lebanese population. Congratulations to Israel.
If victory is defined in the achievement of military goals, then the ever-changing military goals that the Israeli government stated to the world -- that of getting the 2 captured Israeli soldiers, of destroying Hezbollah's capabilities, and of controlling Lebanese land south of the Litani, then Israel, with its vast military machinery and with the unlimited support from the world's only superpower, has lost.
If victory is defined as positive propaganda, how can we, throughout the world, think positively of Israel when we remember the pictures of the Israeli young children signing bombs that were then sent to kill Lebanese children, destroy Lebanese homes, and burn Lebanese orchards?
We in Lebanon now have a country to rebuild; we have families to bury and mourn; we have a coastline to cleanse from the massive Israeli-caused oil spills, and an earth to cleanse from the toxic bombs that Israel used against us. But we are not a broken nation. We stand united behind our national resistance movement. We stand united behind the simple truth that Lebanon is a sovereign nation, which must be safe from Israeli invasions, occupations, incursions, and freed from a military blockade still being imposed by Israel.
I can tell you who has lost in this war. The international community that was silent. And all the people. We have ALL lost in this war of Israel's making.
Regards
Rania

Israeli blogger LisaHi Rania;
Nobody won this war. We are all losers.
War is tragic by definition, but this war was particularly horrible. The moderates of the Middle East were dragged into a conflict by the fanatics, to the detriment of us all.
Israelis and Lebanese are mourning their dead. The economies of both countries, which coincidentally were experiencing their most successful tourist seasons in many years, have been damaged. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese were displaced from their homes for more than a month. Their property is destroyed, their spirits are wounded and the scars will remain for a long time. The hopes of peace-loving people have been shattered. Hezbollah has been hurt, but remains in power. Nothing has been resolved by this ceasefire and I expect that more human beings - both Jewish and Arab - will be killed in the future. And for what? I do not want to raise my children in order to send them to the army. I want to live in a peaceful, stable and secure country - without wars and without hatred.
To be quite frank, I think that the question of "who won" is at best irrelevant and at worst (although perhaps most accurately) quite distasteful.
Regards
Lisa

Lebanese blogger RaniaDear Lisa,
Yes, Lisa, I also want to live in a peaceful, stable country. But peace is more than words; peace is through action.
To live in peace, it has to start with recognizing the rights of the other. It has to start by at least recognizing the asymmetry of the war; in your email, you make it seems as if there has been equal death and destruction on both sides -- which, as you know, is completely not the case. The vast majority of Israelis killed have been soldiers killed on the battlefield; the vast majority of Lebanese killed have been families in their homes.
Peace has to start by recognizing that this war was of Israel's choosing. Israel could have avoided it in totality by simply negotiating -- something PM Olmert today said he will do!
Furthermore, Israel, and the Israeli peace movement itself, need to recognize the rights of the Lebanese (and the Palestinians) to live in peace. It is not enough to ask not to have Katyushas lobbied against you; it is equally important not to rain cluster bombs on others, not to invade, not to occupy, not to impose a military siege. There may be a semblance of peace in Israel now, but there still is no peace in Lebanon (and no peace for Palestinians who are suffering under discriminatory policies). We are still threatened by Israeli jets that violate our air space; we are still besieged by an Israeli military blockade of our land, air, and sea; we still have Israeli soldiers occupying our land; and we still have Israel seeking to dictate the affairs of our nation.
I hope for peace, but hoping is not enough. We have to work for peace by working for justice.
Regards
Rania

Israeli blogger LisaDear Rania,
The only thing that you and I agree on is that negotiations are preferrable to war. Other than that, I found your response to be puzzling and disingenuous.
You say that Israel should stop oppressing the Palestinians. Well, in Israel there are 1.2 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. The deputy mayor of Haifa is Palestinian; his name is Walid Hamis and he is a member of the Balad party. When my friend was taken to Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital after a minor accident, the neurologist who treated him was named Dr. Firas and he was a Christian Palestinian from Nazareth. In Israel there are Palestinian members of parliament, Palestinian professors, journalists, lawyers and actors, high tech workers and businessmen.The stars of Paradise Now, Ali Suleiman and Kais Nashef, are Israeli citizens who studied at Beit Zvi, Israel's most prestigious acting school.
There are also Palestinians who are active members of the Israeli Open House, the gay and lesbian group. I have met and interviewed Palestinian gays who ran away from the West Bank, where their relatives threatened to kill them simply for their sexual orientation, and found refuge in Israel, which is an open, liberal and secular society.
All the Palestinians who live in Israel (I am not talking about the West Bank, which is occupied territory) are fully enfranchised citizens. Yes, they do face social discrimination. And yes, I do think that discrimination is very wrong. But a Palestinian who experiences discrimination in Israel can fight through the court system. What recourse does a Palestinian living in Lebanon have if he is faced with discrimination?
Is it not true that Palestinians who came to Lebanon in 1948 are inegible for Lebanese citizenship? Is it not true that Palestinians who are classified as refugees are not allowed to practice law or medicine in Lebanon? According to my Palestinian friends, many Palestinians live in squalid refugee camps and the Lebanese government does not allow them to better their lives by doing something as basic as renovating their homes. And finally, Lebanese Christians massacred Palestinians in Lebanon on several occasions in the 1970s and 1980s. So, what have the Lebanese people ever done for the Palestinians? And what in the world does Hezbollah, a Shi'a organization, have to do with the Palestinians, who are Sunni and Christian? I fail to see the connection.
When the Israeli Air Force bombed Dahiyeh and various Hezbollah villages in southern Lebanon during the first two days of the conflict, many Lebanese Christian and Sunni bloggers were quite happy. Some of them told me so directly. They did not even consider Dahiyeh to be part of Beirut, but rather an ugly, frightening place they were forced to pass on their way to and from the airport. They wanted to get rid of Hezbollah and they hoped that Israel would do the job for them. They changed their minds when the bombardments expanded into other areas of Lebanon. And yet, while I see that southern Lebanon has indeed been severely damaged, I cannot help noticing that Ashrafiyeh and other neighbourhood of West and East Beirut look completely intact when I watch the BBC World Service, Al Arabiyya and LBC broadcasts from Beirut.
On July 12, Hezbollah guerillas entered Israeli sovereign territory and attacked a group of Israeli reserve soldiers who were patrolling the border. They killed eight of them and kidnapped two. At the same time, Hezbollah launched hundred of missiles on Israeli civilian targets.
I would like to emphasise very strongly that the Hezbollah bombardment of northern Israel began before the Israeli military response, on the morning the soldiers were kidnapped. Hezbollah continued to launch up to 200 missiles per day at Israel for the duration of the war. Their targets in Israel were exclusively civilian. I was there, and I experienced that bombardment. Hezbollah never even pretended that they were aiming for military targets. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians were forced to live underground or flee south. Arab, Druze and Jewish civilians were killed; the missiles did not discriminate between them. Some of the Arabs and Druze who were killed have family in Lebanon. Huge tracts of forest have been burned to the ground. Houses, lives and businesses have been destroyed.
Like the Lebanese, Israelis will rebuild. Life will go on. But the long-term damage is another story. Israelis dream of living in peace. We sing about peace and we write poems about peace. Do the supporters of Hezbollah write poems about peace? And look how far away peace seems to be now! Look how much damage has been done to relations between Israel and Lebanon. I keep on asking myself why, why, why. You can sit there and say that Israel did this and Israel did that, but let us be honest: if Hezbollah had not attacked Israel - not once, but on many occasions - then there would have been no Israeli military actions in Lebanon.
I write this not to enter into a contest of "who suffered more." I hate the victimization narrative and I do not think there is a prize for suffering. I also wonder if Lebanese would be satisfied if more Israeli civilians had been killed, because that is the way it sounds. The way I see it, we all suffered and the source of our suffering is Hezbollah. I feel equal sympathy for Israeli and Lebanese civilians, for the damage done to both our countries.
And frankly it is beyond my ability to comprehend why a female academic at a secular university would support a fundamentalist religious organization that believes in full implementation of Shari'a in place of civil law.
Israel and Lebanon have no territorial dispute. The border between the two countries is internationally recognized by the United Nations. The July 12 incident was the catalyst for the Israeli military response, not the reason. The goal of the military response was not to rescue the two kidnapped soldiers, since everyone knew that could not be accomplished by military action, but to stop Hezbollah from continuing its attacks on Israel. The undisputed fact is that Hezbollah has attacked Israelis on many occasions since the withdrawal of 2000.
In October 2000, nearly six months after Israel withdrew completely from Lebanese territory, Hezbollah guerillas kidnapped three Israeli soldiers from inside Israeli territory. Their names were Adi Avyitan, Binyamin Avraham and Omar Sawaid. No information was ever released to their families about their whereabouts or their physicial condition. In fact they were dead, but Hezbollah did not have the decency to inform the families via the Red Cross. The bodies of the three men were returned three years later in a prisoner swap.
In February 2005 Hezbollah bombarded Al Ghajar, an Alawite village that is located inside Israeli sovereign territory. The residents of the village are Israeli citizens. Hezbollah guerillas tried to enter the village dressed in UNIFIL uniforms, driving a UN vehicle, in order to kidnap some of those Alawite Israeli citizens. Then Hezbollah bombarded Al Ghajar so fiercely that the children were screaming in terror on the phone to their parents, who were working in nearby Kiryat Shmona. I heard them; the phone calls were played on the nightly news broadcast.
Over the past six years Kiryat Shmona has been bombarded on many occasions by katyusha rockets launched by Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.
Israel did not respond militarily to any of these incidents. The incident of July 12 was simply the last straw. The Israeli consensus was in favour of the military response not because anyone wanted to see Lebanese civilians hurt, but rather because they felt that Israel needed to protect its citizens from Hezbollah's constant attacks. Israelis do not have any dispute with the Lebanse government and I have not heard one Israeli express anything but sadness regarding the Lebanese civilians who were killed.
Hassan Nasrallah was educated in Iran. His movement is armed by Iran and has very close ties with that country. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran and supporter of Nasrallah, has said several times over the past year that Israel should be wiped off the map. I have watched many of Hassan Nasrallah's speeches and I have heard him call Israel "Palestine." If he does not even recognize the name of my country, and if he launches missiles at my country's civilian areas with no provocation, then in my eyes that means that Nasrallah does not accept Israel's right to exist and he wishes to destroy it.
You can argue with Israel's military tactics, no problem. I have been very critical of my government's military actions over the last month. But the undeniable fact is that Hezbollah has chosen Israel as its enemy for absolutely no reason. There are no Shi'a living in Israel. Israel does not occupy any Lebanese territory. Hezbollah provoked this attack, and they should take responsibility for the destruction they have brought upon Lebanon. Your anger is misdirected: you should be angry at Hezbollah, not Israel.
Yours,
Lisa

Lebanese blogger RaniaDear Lisa,
Thank you for clarifying the image of peace in your eyes. I had wished it would have been otherwise. Your email reminds me of the logic used by segregationists in the southern states of the US.
I spoke to you of occupation, and you responded by ignoring occupation completely.
I spoke to you of discriminatory policies against Palestinian-Israelis, and you responded by referring to the courts available to them.
I spoke to you of the need to include justice when talking of peace, and you responded by attempting to justify the destruction of residential homes and the killing of families in Lebanon.
Reading your email, after having initially read an email from you in which you spoke of your desire for peace, left me feeling quite sad.
Regarding Palestinians with Israeli citizenships, I am glad you agree that there is discrimination against them in Israel. However, Lisa, it is not merely 'social discrimination' as you refer to it, but institutionalized discrimination against them because they are not Jewish. Look at the way that Palestinian-Israelis were treated in this latest war. Look at the numerous institutionalized forms of discriminations, including The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law. While Israeli citizens are granted the right to family reunification with their foreign spouse, this law denies this same right to Israeli citizens married to Palestinian residents in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. (Source: Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and B'tselem). Israel has practiced systematic and institutionalized discrimination against its Palestinian citizens in most areas - land possession and allocation, education, language, economics, and political participation. There are more than 20 laws that discriminate against the Palestinian minority in Israel (according to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel). The most important immigration laws, The Law of Return (1950) and The Citizenship Law (1952), allow Jews to freely immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship, but excludes Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in 1947 and 1967. Furthermore, since its inception in 1948, Israel has maintained a discriminatory policy of land expropriation, adversely affecting Palestinian land and housing rights within Israel. In 1965, the National Planning and Building Law retroactively re-zoned lands on which many Palestinian villages sat as "non-residential."
As a result, despite the existence of these villages prior to the establishment of Israel, they were afforded - and continue to possess - no official status. These "unrecognized" Palestinian villages receive no government services, and residents are denied the ability to build homes and other public buildings. The authorities use a combination of house demolitions, land confiscation, denial of basic services, and restrictions on infrastructure development to dislodge residents from these villages.
Again, these are the policies within Israel. The levels of institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian-Israelis are three-fold: direct discimination against non-Jews within the law itself; indirect discrimination through "neutral" laws and criteria which apply principally to Palestinian-Israelis; and institutional discrimination through a legal framework that facilitates a systematic pattern of privileges. Again, the similarity with the US during the powerful segregationist is quite strong.
Just as we opposed it in the US, we should oppose it in Israel, and work towards a system where one's religion is a private matter, and one's legal and natural rights are equal, regardless of one's religious affiliation.
(For more information, refer to the excellent series by Guardian writer Chris McGreal entitled 'Worlds Apart')
And, yes, Lisa, I agree with you: Palestinians in Lebanon are treated outrageously, and there is no justification to it at all. Period. I am against the way that Palestinians are treated in Lebanon. Simply because they are mistreated in Lebanon, does not justify their mistreatment elsewhere. We need to stand against all acts of discrimination - period.
Let me remind you again: I spoke to you of the road to peace quite clearly when I stated: End the Occupation of Palestinian Lands. It is critical when we speak of peace that we speak of the roots of the conflict, and one undeniable problem is the continual, 39 year old illegal, Israeli military occupation of Palestinian lands. Do you support peace activists around the world and the UNSCR 242 in calling for the immediate, unconditional end to this occupation? (and let us not forget the continual occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and the Lebanese Cheba'a Farms.)
You write: "When the Israeli Air Force bombed Dahiyeh and various Hezbollah villages in southern Lebanon during the first two days of the conflict, many Lebanese Christian and Sunni bloggers were quite happy. Some of them told me so directly. They did not even consider Dahiyeh to be part of Beirut, but rather an ugly, frightening place they were forced to pass on their way to and from the airport." I read these lines several times in an attempt to understand what you were trying to say. Are you excusing the bombing of the residential areas in the southern district of Beirut and in the besieged south of Lebanon because some in Lebanon view them as "ugly" and "frightening"? Would it then be acceptable to stand with racist members of the KKK in the US who find African-American neighborhoods to be "ugly" and "frightening" and thus to support the destruction of those neighborhoods?
This is the logic used by racists throughout history, and it is a logic that Jews themselves should be quite sensitive to and not so readily accept.
Simply because a minority in Lebanon have their hearts filled with racism and classism that they seek to excuse the deaths of others, does not in anyway excuse their killing. I have been to the Dahiyeh during the war.
Entire neighborhoods have been turned to rubble. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. It makes no difference if some Lebanese bloggers are "happy" about that destruction. If a racist is happy, does that excuse the crime?
Is this the peace you envision, Lisa? Is this the olive branch that you were extending in your earlier email? To kill one community in Lebanon?
You then write about the targeting of civilians by Hezbollah. Let's look at the numbers, Lisa, and not at our own emotions to best answer this question.
How many Israelis were killed in this war, and how many of them were soldiers? How many Lebanese were killed in the war, and how many of them were civilians? The vast majority of the Israelis killed were soldiers, yet the vast majority of the Lebanese killed were civilians (and 30% of the Lebanese killed were children). So, please, look at the numbers, look at the facts on the ground before you throw your accusations. It is as clear as the destroyed homes in Lebanon that it was Israel that succeeded in deliberately and massively targeting civilians, including refugee convoys, ambulances, hospitals, farmers, ... Please, Lisa, read the article, 'Morality is not on our side' by Israeli professor Ze'ev Maoz, published in the Ha'aretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/742257.html)
Lisa, you have a knack for claiming "undisputed facts" when, in fact, the statements you claim are false. You write, "The undisputed fact is that Hezbollah has attacked Israelis on many occasions since the withdrawal of 2000." Once again, I refer you to published articles. Read this piece by George Monbiot in The Guardian, "Israel responded to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah, right? Wrong"
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1839280,00.html) "Since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, there have been hundreds of violations of the "blue line" between the two countries. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) reports that Israeli aircraft crossed the line "on an almost daily basis" between 2001 and 2003, and "persistently" until 2006. These incursions "caused great concern to the civilian population, particularly low-altitude flights that break the sound barrier over populated areas". On some occasions, Hizbullah tried to shoot them down with anti-aircraft guns. In October 2000, the Israel Defence Forces shot at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the border, killing three and wounding 20. In response, Hizbullah crossed the line and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers." And then there is this article in the Christian Science Monitor (Hizbullah's attacks stem from Israeli incursions into Lebanon, http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0801/p09s02-coop.html). "Since its withdrawal of occupation forces from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israel has violated the United Nations-monitored "blue line" on an almost daily basis, according to UN reports. Hizbullah's military doctrine, articulated in the early 1990s, states that it will fire Katyusha rockets into Israel only in response to Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians or Hizbullah's leadership; this indeed has been the pattern. In the process of its violations, Israel has terrorized the general population, destroyed private property, and killed numerous civilians. This past February, for instance, 15-year-old shepherd Yusuf Rahil was killed by unprovoked Israeli cross-border fire as he tended his flock in southern Lebanon. Israel has assassinated its enemies in the streets of Lebanese cities and continues to occupy Lebanon's Shebaa Farms area, while refusing to hand over the maps of mine fields that continue to kill and cripple civilians in southern Lebanon more than six years after the war supposedly ended. What peace did Hizbullah shatter?"
You write: "And what in the world does Hezbollah, a Shi'a organization, have to do with the Palestinians, who are Sunni and Christian? I fail to see the connection."
The connection has nothing to with religious/sectarian affiliation, and everything to do with context. I was speaking to you of the road to peace, and the need, the urgent, undeniable need, for there to be an implementation of justice if we ever want to achieve peace. We cannot speak of justice without speaking of the 39-year military occupation of Palestinian lands.
Furthermore, Hezbollah is not a Shi'a organization; Hezbollah is a Lebanese organization whose membership consists primarily of Shi'a. There is a difference. Hezbollah is a national liberation movement that was born as a direct result of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 425 (passed in 1978, from an earlier Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon), Israel continued to occupy significant portions of Lebanon until May 2000, when it was forced out of the majority of Lebanese lands by the national liberation movement of Hezbollah.
But, truly, your fantastic statement was left to the end when you write:
"But the undeniable fact is that Hezbollah has chosen Israel as its enemy for absolutely no reason." Do you truly believe that, Lisa, or are you now engaging in political propaganda? No reason? Need I remind you of the 1978 Israeli invasion and occupation, the 1982 Israeli invasion and occupation, the 1993 massive bombardment of Lebanon by Israel, the 1996 massive bombardment of Lebanon by Israel, the Israeli occupation of significant parts of Lebanon from 1978 until May 2000? (The Lebanese Cheba'a Farms is still occupied by Israel.) Come on, Lisa, try to at least be realistic in your accusations. The fighters in Hezbollah are the children of previous Israeli massacres committed against Lebanese.
Lisa, despite your words, and despite the massacres, I still believe in the possibility of real peace between us. A real peace - not a surrender, not one side conquering the other, but a real peace embedded with justice. I believe in the vision outlined in the article http://www.zmag.org/sustainers/content/2006-08/12podur.cfm (N. and the Memory Wall), when the refugee camps will be emptied, the walls torn down, the laws look upon all individuals as equal regardless of religious affiliation, when greed is overcome by ease, and when the fighter jets and the bombs are all recycled into something productive.
Rania Masri

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