RANIA MASRI is a Lebanese-American antiwar activist and author currently teaching at the University of Balamand in Lebanon. Her writings during the Israeli assault, circulated on the Internet, helped to expose the catastrophic effect of this latest front in the U.S.-Israeli â€œwar on terror.â€
Rania was among the organizers of a civilian relief convoy at the height of the Israeli bombing that defied the vow of the Israel Defense Force to attack any vehicles traveling on roads in Southern Lebanon. While the Lebanese army prevented the convoy from reaching its destination, the effort highlighted Israelâ€™s attempt to prevent aid from getting to the areas that suffered the worst.
She spoke to Lee Sustar about the devastation caused by the Israeli military in Lebanon–and the political consequences of this monthâ€™s ceasefire.
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WHAT HAS been the impact of the Israeli war on Lebanonâ€™s society and economy?
THIS WAR was very much begun by Israel, on July 12, and it began by targeting everything that is referred to as civilian infrastructure.
Whether we talk about the highways and roads–the arteries that tie the country together–they were destroyed. Whether we talk about ports, from the North to the South–they were bombed.
There was one functioning airport and one military airport that didnâ€™t function at all–nevertheless, they were both bombed, regularly and consistently.
There were the factories that were bombed. There is no way that anyone can justify the bombing of milk factories, yogurt factories, rubber factories, paper factories and textile factories as having had anything to do with Hezbollah. They also, incidentally, destroyed a factory that produces mobile homes that are sent to Iraq.
This was done purely to destroy the Lebanese economy. They destroyed whatever economic capability the country had for standing on its own.
What specifically was bombed? In the city of Nabatieh in the South, where residential homes surround the marketplace, the Israelis bombed hotels, restaurants–everything. And they did this in numerous areas.
Then you have the homes that were targeted. Between 12,000 and 15,000 residential homes have been completely destroyed. And you have the thousands of residential homes that have been partially destroyed, but that need to be collapsed and rebuilt, so you have twice that number of homes destroyed.
Also, the Lebanese economy is built on trust. We arenâ€™t like countries in the world that produce their own goods. The primary focus of the Lebanese economy is services, banking, tourism and the like. From that aspect, the damage has been done for the long term.
Here we see a consistency with Israelâ€™s attack. Every three to six years, they hit Lebanon right in the middle of the tourist season, primarily to attack the level of trust in the economy.
Then we have the environmental aspect. Israel destroyed several electrical facilities and fuel depots. We have the largest oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea now–which effects Turkey and Syria also–as a direct result of the Israeli bombing. There is a massive environmental catastrophe.
Add to all this the human toll. More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians have been killed, among them more than 300 children. We are still gathering human bodies from under the rubble, so the number could increase to 1,500. And thousands more have been severely injured.
What makes it more ironic is that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now says he is willing to negotiate with Hezbollah the release of the two prisoners–ostensibly, the reason they attacked Lebanon to begin with.
WHAT IS the reaction in Lebanon to the ceasefire and the terms set out by the United Nations (UN) Security Council?
I DONâ€™T believe we have a ceasefire. Yesterday [August 16], we had a Lebanese civilian killed by an Israeli sniper on Lebanese soil.
If you look at UN Resolution 1701 in detail, you will see that it grants Israel the right to defend itself, but does not grant Lebanon or the Lebanese–the government or Hezbollah–the right to defend itself. In that sense, we donâ€™t have a ceasefire–politically or on the ground.
However, the pretense of the ceasefire was enough for hundreds of thousands of refugees forced out of their homes–one in four Lebanese–to return to them.
That is one of the reasons we saw such a quick Israeli withdrawal. Israeli forces are still in Lebanon, but one of the reasons most withdrew so fast is that the large numbers of displaced wanted to go home, even though their homes may not have been standing any more.
IS THE legacy of the long Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000 and the occupation of Palestinian land that people didnâ€™t want the Israelis to consolidate control?
THATâ€™S PARTLY it. But much more deeply ingrained is the fact that since [the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948], the people of Southern Lebanon have literally not had one week of peace from Israeli aggression.
There is a heroic sense of resilience–and I donâ€™t mean that romantically. They are like an olive tree–their roots are deep into that land and community. They can be nowhere else.
WHAT ARE the implications of the multinational force that is supposed to be deployed in Southern Lebanon?
QUITE CLEARLY, the multinational force will not be defending the Lebanese people from Israeli aggression. Nor do I think, tactically, that they are going to be defending Israel from rockets either. So what are they going to be doing?
The French initially said they would lead this force of 15,000 troops, but then said they would send only a few hundred.
The rumors that weâ€™re hearing is that Israel is taking a break–and it will resume its aggression against Lebanon pretty soon, and then against Iran in maybe six months. And when that aggression resumes, the multinational force will not be able to do anything.
Even sadder is that fact that the 15,000 Lebanese Army soldiers now in the South are hostages to the Israeli military, because our army is equipped like a police force, not a military one. It is absurd to think the Lebanese Army has the means to defend our country–it never did. Nor will the international community allow it to equip itself like a decent army.
I want to make it clear that I am against any non-Lebanese military force on Lebanese soil in all aspects.
HOW DOES Israelâ€™s war on Lebanon and the Israeli offensive in Gaza fit into what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls â€œthe birth pangs of a new Middle East?â€
I AGREE with Seymour Hershâ€™s article in the New Yorker–that the Israeli war on Lebanon followed the blueprints for a U.S. war on Iran.
Militarily speaking, everyone agrees that Israel lost in this war. In that sense, what Hezbollah did was not only key for Lebanon, but also for Syria and Iran. It put a wedge in the U.S. plans for a new Middle East.
I think it would take an amazing level of idiocy for the Bush administration to start another war so soon before their term is over–unless they want to lead the Republican Party to suicide. But the Democratic Party would probably go along anyway–we donâ€™t really have a Democratic Party anymore.
Many of us here believe that what has happened in Lebanon has at the very least deterred a war on Iran–because nobody was expecting the level of military skill that the Hezbollah fighters showed.
THE RATIONALE for Israelâ€™s attacks on the Lebanese economy was apparently to try to create a backlash against Hezbollah among other communities and parties in Lebanon. Has this happened?
IRONICALLY, THE communities that were hardest hit have become the closest supporters of Hezbollah, regardless of their previous political positions. The communities that were previously most antagonistic to Hezbollah were also the communities that were least hit. They used this war a pretext to continue their antagonism toward Hezbollah.
The war didnâ€™t cause people to become hostile to Hezbollah. Quite the contrary, people who were in the middle have become more supportive of them, especially after they saw them fighting. When we look at the people who lost their homes, who lost their loved ones–you might think that they would turn against Hezbollah, but they were brought closer.
WHAT IS the political landscape like in Lebanon now?
I AM not optimistic, and I havenâ€™t found anyone in this country who is optimistic about the postwar period–if you can call it that.
We have a country that desperately needs to be rebuilt, we have an environment that needs to be cleaned, we have people who have been traumatized who we need to take care of. At the same time, we have a scary amount of opposition in this country–the same forces that have always been antagonistic to Hezbollah.
Itâ€™s become a really divisive issue. Itâ€™s not a majority–really, itâ€™s a loud minority. But itâ€™s minorities that have pushed the country into civil war in the past. There is a fear that the war that is coming next will be a civil war.
What scares me the most is that Israel does not like to lose–nor does the United States. And both have lost in Lebanon. They will try their best to win–militarily, economically, politically, in Lebanon. I donâ€™t believe that they will let us be.
What also scares me is that the Israeli military machine has to prove itself to its own public. The easiest way to do that is to decimate the Palestinian people–and as we see, the level of aggression against the Palestinians is increasing, and likely will continue to increase.
AMONG U.S. antiwar organizations, there was a weak reaction to the Israeli war on Lebanon, as a result of support for Israel as well as Islamophobia. Whatâ€™s your view?
WHAT UPSETS me is that a lot people say, â€œWe condemn this war, but Hezbollah needs to be disarmed.â€ My response is that, first, whether Hezbollah needs to be disarmed is completely an internal Lebanese issue. It would be akin to a Lebanese person commenting on the right to bear arms in the United States.
Second, before we disarm Hezbollah–before we disarm a national liberation movement that has proven its ability to liberate our country–we need to first arm our army. So long as our army is not militarily equipped to defend our country, calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah while not calling for the full disarmament of Israel is hypocritical.
Itâ€™s a double standard. Itâ€™s put Lebanon in the position of being a cat forced to defend itself against a lion–especially when we have a history of Israel being the aggressor and Lebanon being the defender.
So I am against the disarmament of Hezbollah. I am more against foreigners dictating how or when or if Hezbollah is disarmed.
The main violator of international law is Israel. If people are going to bring up UN Resolution 1559 [which requires Hezbollahâ€™s disarmament], let them bring up UN Resolution 425 and 426 [restraining Israel after its 1978 invasion of Lebanon] and 242 [which called for Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza and other territories occupied after the 1967 war], and all the other UN resolutions that Israel has been in violation of since 1948.
Selectively using UN resolutions is contradictory, hypocritical and speaks of a great misunderstanding of the issue.
The same thing applies to the question of whether Iran has nuclear arms. If people are going condemn the possibility that Iran may have nuclear arms, we need to start by condemning first our own countriesâ€™ use of nuclear arms.
For Americans to look at Iran and say, â€œYou donâ€™t have right to have nuclear arms,â€ those same Americans must demand that the United States gives up its nuclear arms. As long as the U.S. has nuclear arms, no American, I believe, has the right to condemn any other countriesâ€™ pursuit nuclear arms.
The same hypocrisy is used in the Israel-Palestinian dialogue, in which Palestinians are condemned for using suicide bombers. If you want Palestinians to stop using suicide missions, arm them with F-16s, and I guarantee they wonâ€™t use suicide bombers.
HOW DO you respond to the argument in the U.S. antiwar movement that we canâ€™t take on Zionism because it would isolate us from potential allies?
SHOULD WE choose our battles based upon whatâ€™s right, or choose them based on whatâ€™s easiest?
In the United States, did people fight against slavery because they thought they could win? Absolutely not–they did it because it was right and just. The same is true of the labor rights struggle, the right for women to vote, the struggle to stop child labor.
The same logic applies here–we fight for whatâ€™s right, rather than base our logic on what we can win. If we donâ€™t do that, we will lose on every issue. Otherwise, instead of fighting to stop oppression, you are asking, â€œCould you just do it a little less? Could you just kill me a little bit softer?â€