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Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself

Guest Column by Harry J. Pell

In the past week and a half, the Israel Defense Forces have been engaged in an operation to defend their citizens from attacks by Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas. Israel has received condemnation by many countries and has been portrayed as a power-hungry invader of Lebanese soil. This couldn't be farther from the truth and I am particularly saddened and incensed by the response that I witnessed here on the MIT campus.

Everyone has the right to form their own opinions, but let's at least be fair about the situation. A letter to the editor in last Friday's issue of The Tech ["Victims of Israeli Rocket Attacks Need Help," April 19] and information handed out on leaflets at a Lobby 7 rally of the same day represent Israel as a vicious occupier with intentions to "bludgeon the Lebanese government into kneeling before Israel." In an era where hopes for peace in the Middle East are higher than ever, I cannot sit silently as Israel is described in this fashion and judged by a double standard.

Since 1968, Kiryat Shemona and its surroundings in Israel's northern Galilee have been hit by over 3800 Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon. Kiryat Shemona is not an Israeli military installation, nor is it located in the protective buffer security zone jointly occupied by the Israelis and their allies, the South Lebanese Army. Kiryat Shemona is a small, peaceful border town of about 28,000 people. Civilian residents have been targeted by Hizbollah again and again.

In July 1993, the situation in southern Lebanon was similar to what is going on now. It ended with a verbal pact in which Hizbollah agreed not to attack Israeli civilians, but rather to restrict their rocket attacks to targets within the security zone that israel maintains to protect its citizens. Unfortunately, two weeks ago, Kiryat Shemona residents returned to their all-too-familiar bomb shelters as Hizbollah broke its agreement and resumed firing its deadly Katyusha rockets.

A Hizbollah spokesman, in a statement to Reuters wire service in Beirut, was quoted as saying, "We are firing dozens of Katyusha rockets into Zionist [Israeli] settlements. The northern settlements will be hit continuously and heavily and we will transform northern Israel into hell." Since then hundreds of rockets have fallen throughout the Galilee and particularly in Kiryat Shemona.

This is blatant terrorism. Kiryat Shemona's residents are civilians, their neighbors in surrounding areas are farmers. When any country's citizens are threatened, that country has the right and obligation to react and safeguard the lives of its people. Israel can not be asked to stand by and allow its northern border to be engulfed by the flames of rockets as they land and explode.

Israel's intention in this situation is to eliminate the threat that Hizbollah guerrillas pose to the lives of its citizens on a daily basis. Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in an interview on CNN said, "If the other parties will agree to a cease fire, we shall agree immediately." Yet Hizbollah has continued to "transform northern Israel into hell," as it vowed it would.

I do not mean to say that Israel's military operation has been perfect, no military operation ever is; I mean only to say that this operation is necessary. I feel horrible about the tragic loss of life at the United Nations base where 101 Lebanese civilians lost their lives, but it was an accident, not a massacre. Israel's artillery barrage came as a reactive attack, "approximately three or four minutes after three rockets were fired from a distance of about 350 to 400 yards away from headquarters," according to a UN spokesperson.

Loss of life, any loss of life, is tragic. Even more so when the victims are innocent. I sympathize with the Lebanese people after the tragedy in Qana, and I can honestly say I know how it feels. I lost a friend a month and a half ago when a Hamas suicide bomber blew up the bus he was riding in Jerusalem. But to denounce Israel is unfair. Qana was an accident that would never have happened if Israel wasn't forced to defend itself from the rain of Hizbollah rockets that have been falling.

It is unfair to castigate Israel for its actions in the past two weeks, and the reactions to the operation reveal a striking double standard. Israel has taken aim at Hizbollah terrorists and has, admittedly, accidentally claimed the lives of civilians. Hizbollah, on the other hand, operates by targeting civilians in the first place, yet it is Israel that is condemned. Let's be fair; Israel is acting in self defense.

There are no easy answers to the situation in southern Lebanon. There isn't a right and a wrong. If we wish to achieve a peaceful resolution, though, we have an obligation to examine the situation objectively. Israel didn't cause the conflict that is befalling the residents of northern Israel and southern Lebanon. This situation ensued when Hizbollah guerrillas decided to take aim at a civilian town and break the July 1993 agreement not to attack civilians. Israel is simply trying to put an end to the terrorism and violence that has plagued the residents of Kiryat Shemona and Israel for decades. Israel is just defending itself. It has that right.