A few days ago, I received an e-mail about the Middle East from a fellow Daily Pennsylvanian writer. He called Israel’s actions in Lebanon “disproportionate” and said too many U.S. Jews “refuse to look at Israel critically and…equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.”
I feel compelled to respond.
I am a U.S. Jew and I’m pained by the loss of life. I read of dead Lebanese children, their homes crushed to rubble. I read of towns no longer standing, their roads and airports demolished. And these stories make me despair for the world. Because civilian casualties are a tragedy, no matter whether they’re north or south of a border.
Indeed, images of destruction in Lebanon overpower the senses. They trigger a visceral and natural sympathy for the downtrodden that we all feel here. But that’s the cruel twist, really: While we sympathize with innocent civilians, Hezbollah does not.
Hezbollah purposely attacks Israeli civilians while hiding among Lebanese civilians for cover. In fact, on Monday, United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland charged Hezbollah with “cowardly blending” in among innocent Lebanese and thereby “causing the deaths of hundreds,” according to the Associated Press.
This pronouncement accorded with U.S. domestic law, in which a hostage-taker is guilty if police accidentally shoot his hostage. Of course, sometimes, the “innocent Lebanese hostage” is anything but.
Last Wednesday, for instance, Israel dropped 23 tons of explosives on a mosque in southern Beirut. Once again, this seemed like an example of gross overkill on Israel’s part. I mean, Israel destroyed a house of worship. And even if terrorists had been inside, Israel didn’t need to use 23 tons.
Except that it did. Because hidden underneath that innocent mosque was a subterranean bunker built by the same engineers who constructed Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, according to Ha’aretz, an Israeli news source.
So no, I don’t refuse to criticize Israel. It’s a country like any other, run by imperfect humans in imperfect situations. And yes, Israel is bound to make mistakes and poor decisions. Saying as much doesn’t make me, or anyone else, anti-Semitic.
But at the same time, not all criticism is legitimate. Israel may accidentally hit civilians, but Hezbollah targets them. To compare the two is to compare terrorism with self-defense and call the latter as immoral as the former.
You might have heard that argument before. What you might not have heard is Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, speaking on al-Jazeera TV on Monday.
“I told them that we must resolve the issue of the prisoners,” Nasrallah said to an interviewer, referring to the Lebanese government leaders, “and that the only way to resolve it is by abducting soldiers.”
“Did you say this clearly?” the interviewer asked.
“Yes,” Nasrallah replied, “and nobody said to me, ‘No, you are not allowed to abduct Israeli soldiers.'”
Nasrallah then added, “I said that we would abduct Israeli soldiers, in meetings with some of the main political leaders in the country. I don’t want to mention names now, but when the time comes to settle accounts, I will.”
I read this interview transcript after receiving the e-mail from my Daily Pennsylvanian colleague. And I wondered: What does he want Israel to do? Stop attacking Hezbollah until it can catch up in the casualty count? To leave Hezbollah alone until it has amassed enough arms to make it a fair fight?
Such thoughts boggle the mind when Nasrallah himself has conceded Lebanon’s complicity. They boggle the mind given Hezbollah’s mission to eradicate Israel. And they boggle the mind given Hezbollah’s past.
Sadly, most Americans know nothing about Hezbollah’s action prior to this July. They don’t know that from 1985 to 2000 Hezbollah carried out 4,000 rocket attacks against the Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
They don’t know that in the first four years after Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah carried out 105 attacks against Israeli targets using anti-aircraft fire, 42 anti-tank missile attacks, 10 attacks with explosives, five Katyusha rocket attacks, seven shooting attacks and fourteen attempts to infiltrate the Israeli border.
And no one remembers Hamad Abu Amar. He is a Hezbollah explosives expert whom Israel arrested in a boat off the coast of Haifa in May 2003. He was carrying 36 CD-ROM’s on how to prepare explosives, including one with special instructions on inserting metal balls in suicide “belts” to cause more damage.
Abu Amar also had bomb detonators and “a radio activation system that could be used with rockets, suicide bombs, and remote-controlled explosives,” the New York Times reported. He had planned to enter the Gaza Strip through Egypt, using a secret Palestinian tunnel similar to the one Hamas used recently to capture an Israeli soldier.
Israel caught Abu Amar before it was too late, but I suppose my colleague would have had it otherwise. At least then, the proportions would have been neater.
Guest columnist Gabriel Oppenheim is a College sophomore from Scarsdale, N.Y. His e-mail address is [email protected]