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16 April 1996

The Wrath of 'Peace'

Mark Ryan sees Israel's bloody war in Lebanon as the latest act in the Middle East 'peace process'

Israel's onslaught against Lebanon continues unabated. While civilians are being killed in raids by the Israeli Air Force, 400 000 refugees from Southern Lebanon are streaming north to Beirut, which is also under attack. This is a brutal military invasion, a flagrant violation of another country's sovereignty, and a humanitarian disaster on vast scale. Yet Western governments, normally so eager to denounce such things in Rwanda or Bosnia, on this occasion all support Israel's actions. Even more strangely, nearly every Western and Arab government agrees that the so-called peace process, which was supposed to have put a stop to this kind of thing, has not been endangered by Israel's act of war.

The level of support throughout the world for 'Operation Grapes of Wrath' is perhaps its most remarkable feature. When the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982, they received the tacit backing of the United States, but were condemned by nearly everybody else. What was then the Soviet Union provided support for those Palestinians resisting the invasion, while Arab governments were united in condemnation of Israel.

This time, the only governments to condemn Israel outright are Iraq and Iran - both pariahs of the New World Order. The USA, chief underwriter of the 'peace process', has backed Israel, saying that the Hizbollah had it coming. The British government too has supported the Israelis. Most strikingly of all, Arab governments themselves have made only the most perfunctory condemnations, while continuing to normalise relations with Israel. In the middle of the invasion, Tunisia became the fourth Arab government to establish official diplomatic ties with Israel.

The most repulsive response to the invasion is the way that governments and media automatically draw an equivalence between the actions of the Hizbollah guerrillas and the Israeli army, between the suffering of the inhabitants of northern Israel and those in southern Lebanon. Reports speak of rocket 'duels' between Hizbollah and the Israeli Army, as if 300 volunteers armed with antiquated portable weapons were any kind of logistical match for the might of the Israeli army with all of its state-of-the-art military equipment. The colossal destruction wrought by the Israeli Air Force across Lebanon is treated on a par with the occasional holes in the ground left by Hizbollah Katyushas.

Likewise, the evacuation of Israelis from northern Israel is treated as part of the same human tragedy as the flight of nearly half a million Lebanese towards Beirut. But there is no comparison between the concrete bunkers of the Israelis, the organised evacuation from comfortable settlements under the protection of one of the most powerful armies in the world, and the panic-stricken flight of hundreds of thousands of impoverished villagers under remorseless attack from the Israeli Air Force and artillery.

Both Israeli and US officials have insisted that the invasion of South Lebanon does not endanger the peace process. They are absolutely right. In fact the almost universal acceptance of the invasion has been made possible by the peace process. From Northern Ireland to South Africa, today's peace processes have divided all those involved in conflict into two simple categories: those who are tolerant and are prepared to accommodate difference, and those who are not. In the case of the Middle Eastern peace process, on the side of 'tolerance' stand the Israeli government and the PLO, while on the side of 'intolerance' are fundamentalists of every hue - Hamas, Hizbollah and the Israeli right. In this new manichean world, anything can be justified in order to save the peace process from intolerant fundamentalists. It is this division which has made possible the destruction of Southern Lebanon with international support; the fundamentalists threaten the peace process, therefore they and their supporters must be eliminated.

Michael Portillo, the British defence secretary, gave a good account of this logic while on an official visit to Israel at the height of the invasion. Voicing his support for Israel, he expressed the hope that his hosts would know when to call a halt to their actions, adding that, once they did, the peace process could resume. What Portillo is saying is that war should no longer be seen as a threat to peace, that once the Israelis have finished slaughtering and making refugees out of people in Southern Lebanon, they can get back to the negotiating table as if nothing has happened. In fact, by its own logic the peace process will be strengthened, since the fundamentalist threat to it will be so much the weaker. In the Orwellian world created by the peace process, it is only through a war of aggression that peace can be achieved.
  • There will be a live chat on latest developments in the Lebanon on Wednesday April 24 at 2200 BST in the Living Marxism chat room.

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