Three weeks before Israel launched its Operation Pillar of Defense on November 14, 2012 I was part of an academic delegation on a short trip to the Gaza Strip. For the mainstream media, October was a “normal” time, because hardships endured by Gazans are not newsworthy when there are no F-16′s dropping laser-guided smart bombs. That one or two Gazans were killed by Israeli army patrols from one week to the next in October, because they had transgressed the limits of the Israeli siege, went largely unnoticed. But such are the ethical standards of the mainstream media, genuflecting to power and ignoring the oppressed. One way to see through the ideological fog is to experience “normal” conditions from close range. Inside the Gaza Strip in October, we directly witnessed the devastating effects of the sanctions, the siege, the sea blockade and – more fundamentally – the long systematic evisceration that Gaza has suffered over several decades.
Up until a few months ago, Hezbollah could reasonably claim pride of place in the Arab anti-imperialist camp. Hezbollah was the only Arab force that repeatedly stymied the powerful Israeli military and never caved in. It weathered repeated attempts by the Arab reactionary camp – the US-allied governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt under Mubarak, and several lesser regional states – to disarm it and marginalize it. Over a period of nearly two decades, Hezbollah was perhaps the most stubborn (and visible in the West) obstacle to imperialist domination of the Eastern Mediterranean.
For months now, the media has been reporting that the UN-mandated Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is expected to indict Hezbollah members for the killing of Rafiq Hariri in February 2005. Up until about 2008, when Syria was Washington’s official evildoer, the STL targeted Syria. When the US sought to improve relations with Syria and draw it away from Iran, it was Hezbollah’s turn to assume the role and the STL put Hezbollah in its crosshairs. As with other shifting designations of who the official evildoers are, it is not too conspiratorial to suppose that the STL’s re-adjusted focus is more than mere coincidence and serves a political purpose.
The thorniest problem for American and Israeli policy-makers when it comes to Lebanon is the same: how to deal with Hezbollah. While American policy is by necessity equivocal, as it tries to maintain whatever influence it has on Lebanon’s affairs, Israeli policy is explicitly bellicose. But both are equally committed to weakening and ultimately eliminating Hezbollah’s stubborn resistance to US-Israeli efforts at regional domination.
Hezbollah is the guerilla force that stymied the Israeli military in southern Lebanon in the 1990’s. The Israeli occupiers and their proxies in the South Lebanon Army finally gave up and withdrew in May 2000. In a return confrontation in July-August 2006, Hezbollah again stood its ground, and the Israeli military was again stunned by a gritty enemy.
You open the newspaper on any day and you can be sure to find at least one front-page article related to the Middle East. It will be something ugly or depressing, something implicating the United States directly or indirectly — Israel and Palestine, the Iraq war… And you wonder how much of the story is true, how much is distorted, and how much is omitted outright. It is not just for lack of space.
American policies in the average Lebanese voter’s mind are not exemplified by Obama’s pious pronouncements in Cairo on June 4th, but by a long record of unrestricted support for Israel’s meddling in internal Lebanese affairs and oppression of Palestinians, as well as American alliance with despotic Arab regimes, the devastation of Iraq, and aggressive interventions further East.
May 11, Sabra-Shatila camp
There is a plot of land of perhaps less than a half acre, surrounded by a wall with a large iron gate, where the victims of the 1982 massacre are buried. The land is mostly flat and covered by grass, with a few mounds here and there, the locations of mass graves which we can see through the gate’s vertical bars. On the outside wall there are large, slightly fading, poster photos of those found dead after the rampage of Phalangist militiamen that were sent in by the Israeli army that had surrounded the camp in 1982. The gate-keeper is an old Palestinian, with half of his teeth missing, sitting under the shade of the tree near the gate and selling flowers. We ask him to open the gate and let us enter the ground. The old man says that if the visitors are American he will not let them enter. “Yes, the visitors are American, but they are good Americans,” I explain. Then pointing to Noam a few steps away, I say that he, in particular, is the most indefatigable defender of Palestinian rights in America. The old man stares at me with a skeptical look for a few seconds, as if to gauge the truth of what I just said, then gets up and opens the gate.