The Bush administration's contempt for the United Nations Charter, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the other fundamental principles of international law has once again been laid bare by its defense of the ongoing Israeli assault against Lebanon.
The seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militiamen, apparently taken in retaliation against Israeli attacks against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip, was clearly wrong.
Israel would have a right to engage in a targeted paramilitary action to free the hostages and, if necessary, kill their captors.
However, large-scale attacks against civilian targets unrelated to the kidnapping is an act of collective punishment, a clear violation of international law.
Israel holds thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners seized within the territory of those nations by Israeli forces. Most of these Arab prisoners have not engaged in terrorism and many are non-combatants. How is Israel's seizure and detention of these people different from Hezbollah's seizure and detention of the two Israeli soldiers? Does Israel's refusal to release its hostages give Lebanon or Palestine, if they were capable of it, the right to engage in a massive bombardment of civilian targets in Israel?
Most of the targets of the Israeli air strikes have nothing to do with Hezbollah, which does not control the Lebanese government and is only a minority party in the Lebanese parliament. Israel has bombed the Beirut International Airport, the main seaport of Juniyah and even the historic lighthouse on the Beirut esplanade, none of which is controlled by Hezbollah. Israel has also bombed bridges, power stations, civilian neighborhoods and villages miles from any Hezbollah militia. And, despite insisting that the Lebanese army take stronger action against the Hezbollah militia, the Israelis have bombed Lebanese army facilities as well.
Close to 200 Lebanese civilians have died in these attacks so far, as well as over a dozen foreigners, including a Canadian family on vacation.
The European Union, consisting of 25 democracies, condemned Hezbollah's seizure of the Israeli soldiers, but also noted that Israel's military retaliation against Lebanon is "grossly disproportionate." The United States is virtually alone in the international community in its defense of the Israeli assault.
Despite President George W. Bush's claim on Monday that the crisis started because Hezbollah decided to "fire hundreds of rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon," Hezbollah did not attack civilian areas in Israel until after Israel began attacking civilian areas in Lebanon last week.
In fact, until Israel began its recent assault on Lebanon, not a single Israeli civilian had been killed by Hezbollah since well before Israel's withdrawal of its occupation forces from southern Lebanon in 2000. Virtually all of Hezbollah's military actions since then have been against Israeli occupation forces in a disputed border region between Lebanon and an Israel-occupied portion of southwestern Syria, not against Israel.
Congressional leaders of both parties have called for tough action against Syria for allowing the transshipment of rockets to Hezbollah forces, which have killed up to a dozen Israeli civilians. However, they have refused to consider suspending the shipments of F-16 jet fighters and other weapons and delivery systems to Israel. These weapons have inflicted far more civilian casualties on the Lebanese side of the border, despite provisions of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which prohibits U.S. arms transfers to countries that use American weaponry against non-military targets.
In short, both Republicans and Democrats recognize that while arming those who kill innocent Israeli civilians is wrong, they support arming those who kill innocent Lebanese civilians. This is racism, pure and simple.
Not only is Israel's offensive against Lebanon illegal and immoral, it does not increase Israel's security or curb the threat of Islamic radicalism. In fact, it does the opposite.
Hezbollah gained popular support in the Shiite community in recent decades largely as a result of the failure of the central government to protect the population from Israeli air and naval attacks and the mass kidnapping and imprisonment of thousands of young men.
Israel's current offensive will only strengthen Hezbollah's appeal and undermine Lebanon's pro-Western government.
This is not about Israel's legitimate right to self-defense. As with the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, it will create far more terrorists than it destroys.
Stephen Zunes, who serves as Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus, is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism.
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