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Israel's Bombing of Civilians Promotes Only Violence

Guest Column by Fouad P. Saad

Killing civilians is never acceptable. In fact, it is reprehensible, short-sighted, and bordering on barbaric.

This seems like a reasonable guiding principle by which to judge political and military activities. Civilians are rarely ever at fault. They have no means of defending themselves. They have everything to lose. As such, I agree with Harry J. Pell '99, who lamented of the fate of civilians in the Middle East in the last issue of The Tech ["Israel Has Right to Defend Itself," April 21]. But there are no exceptions to the guiding principle. Pell seems to believe that terror in the hearts of Israeli civilians and damage to their homes and lost lives are regrettable only if the civilians are Israeli. All civilians are innocent. No civilians deserve to be bombed, forcibly ejected from their homes, or stricken with terror.

The Lebanese civilians who have been the victims of Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon recently also do not deserve any punishment. They too are being punished for no reason within their control. It may seem to the reader that as a Lebanese citizen myself, I may be a bit biased. But witness the newest issue of The Economist. The cover story title describes Israel's response as "Over the Top." More telling even is the title of their main article, "Two eyes for an eye."

I advise anyone interested to read The Economist's account of affairs in southern Lebanon. Both articles lead you to believe that the protests and activity of the Lebanese and other students on campus and around Boston over the last week are not exaggerated. They are not overdoing it. In fact, the response of the Lebanese community and supporters of our protests has been passionate, yet not irrational, and much more in accordance with democratic society than the uncalled-for bombardment of Lebanon by Israel.

I contend that if one accepts the principle that killing civilians is unacceptable, no matter which country they inhabit, then one is bound to realize that Israel's actions in Lebanon must be stopped.

If the only response Israel could muster to guerrillas resisting Israel's occupation of their country is to bomb the civilians, ambulances and power plants of that country, then Israel has not only sunk to the same level as their tormentors, but has outdone them at their own sick terror games.

Hizbollah's firing of rockets into Israel is inappropriate. It targets no one who is to blame. I do not believe it is justifiable at all, but Hizbollah claims to be legitimate resistance fighters. Israel has responded to what it dubs "terrorism" but wielding a bigger sword right back, punishing violence and hatred with much more of it.

Hizbollah is an extremist group, until recently without much support amongst Lebanese civilians. A fringe group, very unrepresentative of the Lebanese civilians who are being killed and displaced for their actions. Israel, on the other hand, is a sovereign state of great military strength and powerful allies. It claims to be pursuing a peace process with its neighbors; it no longer wants to be a pariah in the Middle East. And yet its response is to outdo those whom they deem terrorists. Israel has killed civilians, made them homeless, plunged the country back into darkness and insecurity after years of trying to salvage an infrastructure and an economy from the rubble that resulted from 16 years of war.

And to what avail? Israel cannot eliminate Hizbollah. As a guerrilla group with Iranian and Syrian support that is only bound to grow stronger the longer Israel tries to justify its occupation of Lebanon by force, Israel will not succeed in weeding them out any more than it succeeded in weeding out the Palestinian Liberation Organization when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 (killing 20,000 in the process and uprooting almost a third of the country's population). Instead, Israel should learn from history. Stomping out the Palestinians did not work. Fourteen years later, peace seems to be within reach because diplomatic means were used, and both sides offered concessions.

Israel is not defending its nation. It is suffering the consequences of an occupation. The bombing of northern Israel is not justifiable, but the most rational solution is to withdraw and eliminate not Hizbollah, the physical entity, but its raison d'etre. In the absence of occupation there will be no need for resistance of any form. That is how peace can be achieved.

In the interest of the peace process - on which so many of us from the region have been pinning our hopes and futures - Israel must resist the urge to resolve problems with violence. Blasting Lebanese civilians who cannot even convince their government if they tried to reign in Hizbollah is unfair.

Pell says there are no easy answers to the situation in southern Lebanon. I agree. He then claims there is no right or wrong. I beg to differ. From the basic principle that killing civilians is wrong, it is clear that Israel should be reprimanded for responding to violence with more of the same. How is Israel's killing of civilians and bombing of power plants going to promote Israeli security? How does it contribute to the peace process? Hizbollah's tactics are reprehensible, but Israel is simply pursuing tactics of terror on a higher plane. Terrorism is the pursuit of political goals through tactics of terror. Hizbollah does some of that; their political goal is to end the occupation of Lebanon.

Israel is doing more of it. In the last two weeks, a whole order of magnitude more civilians in Lebanon have been killed than have been killed in northern Israel over the same period.

Pell selectively chooses quotes from Hizbollah to demonstrate their ruthlessness. But the senior policy maker for Israel on the issue of Lebanon claimed in the first few days of the crisis that Israel reserves the right to respond wherever, whenever, and however it pleases in Lebanon. Lebanon is a sovereign state. What arrogance to assume that might makes right, that Lebanese civilians are expendable.

The killing of civilians is wrong. It is wrong in the north of Israel. It is wrong in the south of Lebanon. If Israel believes that its actions in Lebanon somehow will help the peace process, it is wrong again. Violence only breeds more violence, never understanding.

If Israel wants to defends its people and stop Hizbollah's bombing of them, it should withdraw from Lebanon. It should refrain from bombing women and children in UN shelters. It should immediately stop blockading the ports of a struggling country. It should discontinue its policy of making hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians homeless, then attacking the ambulances that are providing them health care.

Israeli security would be enhanced by successful pursuit of the peace process. Rabin realized this and made great strides toward it. There is no room for violence and military operations in the pursuit of peace. Bombing civilians cannot help. Israel is not defending its country, it is violating another, and most importantly it is doing more to sabotage the fragile peace in the region than any Katyusha rocket or suicide bomb ever did.

The killing of civilians must stop - on both sides of the border.