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Premeditated war
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 08 - 2006

Jonathan Cook*, in Nazareth, argues that though Israel would have the world believe the opposite, it is not Hizbullah that is acting fanatically. He also examines the fissure in Israeli support for the war in Lebanon since its outbreak
Seconds after the air raid siren fell silent, it came. A deep rumble shook windows and doors and made the earth tremble. This was nothing like the familiar crump of a Katyusha rocket.
At the weekend Hizbullah fired for the first time what it calls a Khaibar missile into Israel, creating a deep crater and setting fire to woodland outside Nazareth. According to reports in the Israeli media, the shell was packed with 100 kilogrammes of explosives. The missile can apparently reach up to 90 kilometres; given that Nazareth is only a third of that distance from the border, it was probably fired from deep inside Lebanon.
I have been living within range of Hizbullah's rockets for two weeks but this is the first time I have felt unnerved. You have to be very unlucky to be killed by a Katyusha if you are inside your home. Its lethal effects are usually felt by victims caught out in the open, where there is no protection from the spray of shrapnel. That partly explains the small number of Israeli civilians killed by the 2,500 rockets, most of them Katyushas, which have landed so far. (In addition, though mostly unreported, Hizbullah appears to have been aiming a substantial proportion of its rockets at military installations hidden in the Galilee's hills, including two close by Nazareth.)
But the Khaibar is different. The blast from 100 kilogrammes of explosives can tear away the protection of walls, exposing anyone inside to its destructive force. For the first time I have a small insight into what it must be like living in Lebanon under the Israeli bombardment, of what terror the 50 or more civilians sheltering in a basement in Qana on Sunday morning must have felt as they heard the first blasts of the missiles that were about to kill them.
Hizbullah's launching of more fearsome weapons, however, does not strengthen my resolve, as it does most Israeli Jews, that Lebanon should be hit harder. It makes me -- and, according to polls, a majority of Israel's Arab citizens -- certain that if anyone should be held to account for this cruel, senseless war, and if only one side should be blamed for abusing the rules of such a war, then Israel not Hizbullah must be found at fault.
That Khaibar rocket, and the many others presumably in Hizbullah's arsenal, could have been fired at any time in more than two weeks of fighting, as Lebanon burned under the onslaught from Israeli warplanes and as the death toll of Lebanese civilians climbed from the dozens into the hundreds. But it wasn't. For more than a fortnight Hizbullah held off from using the most terrifying weapons in its possession (assuming it doesn't have worse), just as earlier it held off for days before turning its fire on Israel's northern economic hub of Haifa.
Hizbullah's raid across the border on 12 July, its capture of two Israeli soldiers and its killing of three more, was an extreme provocation, although too often observers overlook Israel's many equal provocations since its withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000, from its repeated violations of Lebanese airspace to its shooting of Lebanese civilians from border observation posts.
But since that cross-border operation, Israel has flouted the rules of war with far greater abandon than Hizbullah, as the record of war shows.
Let's not forget that, as Israel bombed Lebanon's roads, bridges, airport and power stations, Hizbullah was demanding a prisoner swap to secure the release of a handful of Lebanese detainees and some of the thousands of Palestinians in Israel's jails, many of them held without trial, in return for the two soldiers. It also wants back from Israel a small corridor of land, known as the Shebaa Farms, it considers Lebanese, as well as maps of minefields planted in South Lebanon by Israel during its occupation.
Let's not forget that, as Israeli "surgical" strikes tore down residential buildings in apparent disregard for whether they were inhabited by civilians or fighters, or shot at convoys of fleeing Lebanese after leaflet drops had told them to leave their villages, Hizbullah was firing only at Israel's border areas, at towns like Nahariya and Kiryat Shemona, where the residents had been warned of what was coming and had either fled to safety or were well protected in underground bunkers.
Let's not forget that Hizbullah paused five days, while Israel wrecked Lebanon with aerial bombardment, fulfilling its promise to "turn the clock back 20 years", before raining down its rockets on Haifa. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly warned that Israel's third largest city would be attacked if the Israeli offensive on Lebanon continued.
And finally let's not forget that Hizbullah waited more than two weeks, a time in which Israel made refugees of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese in the country's south, including the large Shia community to which Hizbullah's fighters belong, before firing that first Khaibar missile into Israel. The rocket was launched following a speech from Nasrallah in which he warned that a new, harsher phase of the conflict "is being forced upon us" by Israel.
None of this behaviour fits with the picture we are being sold of Nasrallah as a religious fanatic hell bent on jihad against Israel and the West. Rather, it suggests that Nasrallah is a politician, even if an Islamic one, and the leader of a movement ready to negotiate and compromise on its agenda -- or to act "responsibly and flexibly" as Nasrallah put it in another recent speech.
Following reports in the American media about a plan prepared by Israel at least a year ago to strike against Lebanon, Israel, not Hizbullah, looks like the side set on the path of premeditated war.
Equally, claims that Hizbullah's leadership amassed its arsenal of weapons with the intention of destroying the nuclear-armed State of Israel sound less than plausible. Far more likely, Hizbullah believed its hoard of rockets would act as a deterrent, even if an inadequate one, against repeated Israeli aggression. Hizbullah appears to be trying to create a "balance of terror", presumably in the hope -- forlorn though it probably is -- of dissuading Israel from occupying Lebanon once more.
This weekend Nasrallah again warned Israel that if it continued attacking Lebanon he would strike "beyond Haifa" with even more powerful rockets -- a promise he most probably will feel forced to honour given the new massacre at Qana.
Nasrallah could have lashed out with his Khaibar missiles from day one. Before Israel's ground invasion a few days ago, when Hizbullah rocket launchers were pushed northwards, it is possible these missiles could have reached Tel Aviv. But, whatever we are being told, destroying Israel -- or even terrorising it -- does not seem to be Nasrallah's aim. Maybe when he says he wants to negotiate, he really means it. Maybe the problem isn't fanatical Hizbullah, but the unilateral arrogance of Israel.
* The writer is a journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His book Blood and Religion: Unmasking the Jewish and Democratic State , about the second Intifada, is just published.
Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens have largely lined up on opposite sides. Polls show as many as 90 per cent of the country's Jews back further attacks on Lebanon to crush the Shiite militia Hizbullah. There have been no equivalent surveys of Arab opinion inside Israel, but straw polls by Arab radio stations reveal that 70 per cent of listeners favour Hizbullah, or the very least believe Israel is waging a war of aggression.
The first cracks in the Jewish consensus over the war have been visible in the past few days too, with a spate of protests across Israel -- still small at this stage but attended by both Jews and Arabs -- to oppose the fighting.
Some 2,000 protesters staged a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday, the day before the massacre of more than 60 Lebanese civilians in the town of Qana by Israeli war planes. That massacre and daily reports of attacks on Lebanese civilians are likely to bring out more people to the streets in the days and weeks ahead.
Even on the right, voices of dissent are starting to be heard. Several factors appear to be feeding concerns: the war has not been won quickly, as Israel's leaders promised; the war aims have been repeatedly changed, from the "obliteration" of Hizbullah to its "weakening", and now the need for an international peacekeeping force in south Lebanon; northern residents are angry at being locked up in shelters for days on end, or forced to leave their homes; and there is resentment that the authorities are being evasive about whether they will reimburse the wages of those who have been unable to get to work.
Most Israeli Jews have been outraged by what they perceive to be widespread support among the Arab minority for Hizbullah, and admiration for its leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Nearly half of Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens live in the Galilee, and are therefore already in range of Hizbullah's rockets.
That support was not eroded by a rocket that landed in Nazareth killing two brothers, Mahmoud and Rabiah Taluzi, aged three and seven, a week into the fighting, on 19 July. Two other Arab citizens have been killed in rockets strikes, one in Haifa and the other in Maghrar.
Comments by the father of the two Nazareth boys, Abdel Rahim Taluzi, praising Nasrallah have particularly shocked Israeli Jews. He has said of his son's deaths: "It was an Arab rocket, but it's Israel's war. We hold Israel responsible for all of this."
Israel's failure to provide air raid sirens and bomb shelters in northern Arab communities, including in Nazareth -- a reflection of the much wider discrimination against the Arab population -- have further alienated the minority during the war.
Also, many Arab citizens believe that Hizbullah's prime intention is not to hurt civilians, Arab or Jews, despite the claims of their government.
"Hizbullah are striking at very specific Israeli targets, though no one in the media is reporting the fact," said a local human rights activist from Nazareth who wished to remain anonymous, but expressed a widely shared view. "The Galilee is full of military installations Hizbullah are trying to hit with missiles. Two bases are close to Nazareth, and most people realise that was what was being aimed for when the two boys were killed.
"Even in Haifa, the rockets are mostly landing down in the port area, where Hizbullah clearly know there are important military facilities. Nasrallah is trying to damage Israel's military and economic infrastructure as a small taste of what Israel is inflicting on Lebanon."
It is impossible to report what Hizbullah has been targeting in Israel, and how close their rockets have been to military bases, because of the country's strict military censorship laws.
Widespread sympathy for Hizbullah among the Arab population has been reinforced by watching the Arab satellite channels, which have broadcast Nasrallah's speeches in full. "We can hear what Nasrallah actually says and it's very different from what he's reported as saying in the Israeli and Western media," said Maha Qupty, a charity fundraiser and member of Nazareth's Christian community.
"He has a sophisticated view of Israel, particularly for someone in the Arab world. He is always careful to refer to 'Zionists', not 'Israelis' or 'Jews', because he understands that not all Israelis are Zionists and not all Israelis are Jews.
"Israeli TV, by contrast, selectively quotes from his speeches and, worse, misquotes him. As fluent Arabic and Hewbrew speakers, we find that really annoying and it makes us less prepared to trust what we hear from Israel. Certainly it's clear to us Nasrallah is not the fanatic he is painted by the Israeli media."
That large gap in the two comunities' understanding of events has kept tensions high throughout the war. During Monday's session of the Knesset, three Arab members were expelled from the chamber. One, Jamal Zahalka, was escorted out after calling out "Stop the war!"
Another Arab MK, Abbas Zakur, was stabbed on Saturday by Jewish youths in the city of Acre as they chanted anti-Nasrallah slogans.
In the wake of the Lebanon war, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the rightwing party Yisrael Beiteinu party, has repeated his calls for the Arab MKs to be put on trial for sedition. The Knesset is currently rushing through new legislation to make it illegal for MKs to support "terror organisations", the classification Israel uses for both Hamas and Hizbullah.
Nonetheless, the first signs of the Jewish consensus cracking are visible. At the weekend, Amir Fester, the first reserve soldier to refuse the army's call-up since the outbreak of the war in Lebanon, was jailed for 28 days. The refusenik organisation Yesh Gvul said another 10 soldiers had contacted them about refusing.
More than 600 people, including professors and senior members of Israel's most leftwing party Meretz, have signed an international petition calling for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.
And small, local protests are being held around the country each day.
"These are the first signs of a change in public mood," said Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa, an Arab political lobbying group in Israel, who was briefly arrested last week in one of the first large protests against the war in Haifa. "People forget that it took more than 40 days before we saw the crowds of 400,000 Israeli protesters so well remembered from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Hardly anyone was ready to demonstrate until the Sabra and Shatilla massacre. Compared to that, we are seeing many more Jews out on the streets.
"The more noticeable thing this time is the failure of the Arab population to protest. During Sabra and Shatilla, the streets of Arab towns and villages were choked with protesters but after the Qana massacre at the weekend the groups were very small. That is clearly a reflection of the fear that was sown by the Israeli police by killing 13 unarmed citizens in October 2000. People are afraid to go out again."
Farah says he is concerned at the way the war in Lebanon has overshadowed the mounting death toll in Gaza, where at least 100 people have been killed since the outbreak of fighting in Lebanon. "No one is talking about Gaza," he said. "Here it is all about degrees of tragedy. You have to lose more blood if you want to get noticed."
He says privately a few senior Israeli politicians are voicing doubts to him about the war but have refused to go public yet. "That dissent will grow. In Meretz, the party is split down the middle about whether to support the war or not. Unfortunately, we won't see really large protests until there are more massacres in Lebanon. That's a very sad reflection of the political realities in Israel."


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