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Tracing a Trail of Destruction: Report from Lebanon, August 13, 2006

by Walden Bello* Monday, Aug. 14, 2006 at 3:13 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon - The wounds of war were evident shortly after we crossed the Syria-Lebanon border at 1130 in the morning on August 12. At Haissa, about three kilometers from the Dabboussiyeh border crossing, we come across the ruins of a bridge hit by Israeli war planes just the day before. Villagers tell us 12 people were killed and 10 wounded, all civilians.

An Anti-Civilian War?

Twenty minutes later, at a place called Abu Shamra, we come across the

remains of a gasoline station and bridge, the targets of an Israeli

airstrike just eight hours earlier. “Now, what was the military logic

behind that?” asks Seema Mustafa, an Indian journalist with our

international peace delegation of 12 people. It is a question shared by the

Lebanese who tell us what happened.

At three other places, Matfoun, Halat, and near the famous Casino du Lebanon

at Jumieh, we have to take detours around bridges and vehicles destroyed by

Israeli attacks. These are sites very far from the front in Southern

Lebanon, in a part of the country where Hezbollah, the movement Israel is

fighting, has very little presence. These very fresh instances of

destruction bring home to us one of the key features of the Israeli

offensive: it has deliberately targeted non-military infrastructure to

raise the costs of the war for the civilian population.

With evidence of Israel’s anti-civilian strategy fresh in our minds, we are

not surprised when we hear, after arriving in Beirut, about the strafing of

a convoy of civilians leaving the town of Marieyoun in the South. On

Friday, several hundred cars left the town, after negotiations between the

Israelis and the non-belligerent Lebanese Army. As it snaked up North, it

came under fire repeatedly from Israeli planes with at least six people

killed and many others wounded. What was the reason for violating the

agreement? The Israeli excuses ranged from “it was a mistake” to “suspicion

that the convoy was carrying Hezbollah guerrillas.” Nahla Chahal, one of

the coordinators of international civil society delegations to Lebanon,

tells us: “The deliberate attacks on civilians is a new element in Israel’s

redrafting of the rules of war. It’s nothing less than a war crime.”

Herbert Docena, one of the members of our delegation who spent time in

occupied Iraq, says, “What is different between Iraq and here is that in

Iraq, the US does seem to have a modicum of concern about international

public opinion. Here, the Israelis simply don’t care about public opinion.

So it’s more dangerous.”

Israel and Hezbollah: Contrasting Strategies

The delegation is told at a briefing on the evening of our arrival by our

Lebanese hosts that the contrast between the war strategies of the Israelis

and the Hezbollah is evident in the nature of the casualties: most of the

more than 1000 Lebanese killed by the Israeli armed forces are civilians,

while most of the more than 100 Israelis who have died in the war so far are

soldiers.

There is, in fact, a strong sense of pride in the Hezbollah’s military

performance that is evident as we are briefed that evening by

representatives of several of Lebanon’s political parties, including the

right-wing Free Lebanon Movement led by Gen. Aoun, the centrist “Third

Force,” the Lebanese Communist Party, and the Hezbollah itself. According

to Dr. Issam Naaman of the Third Force, the war has now lasted 31 days, more

than any of the previous Arab-Israeli wars. “At this point, it is clear that

Israel has lost the war on the ground and is trying to get at the diplomatic

front, with the support of the United States, what it has lost on the

military side.”

A New Nasser?

The destruction of some 34 Israeli Merkava tanks in Friday’s fighting, the

death of some 19 Israeli soldiers—the highest so far in this month-long

war--and the downing of an Israeli helicopter are cited as proof not only of

a victory by the Hezbollah, around whom some 87 per cent of the Lebanese

people, according to the polls, now seemed to have gotten behind in its

resistance to Israel. Equally important, it becomes clear to us at the

briefing that for Arabs, the successful resistance of a few hundred

well-motivated and well trained Hezbollah guerrillas has ended the era of

Arab humiliation by Israel’s military might.

“It’s really quite interesting and exciting,” comments Seema Mustafa, the

Indian journalist, “the way the Arab Street has come behind Hassan

Nasrallah.” Indeed, the man one Hezbollah representative at the briefing

fondly refers to as “our baby faced” leader is achieving a status once

reserved for Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian leader. This point was

brought home to me by Taufik, the driver who ferried us from Damascus to

Beirut, who said as he steered us through the detour around one of the

bombed bridges earlier in the day, “I belong to no party except the one that

can bring food to my family. But I really like this man Nasrallah. He has

brought pride to all of us Lebanese.”



*Walden Bello is a member of the 12-person Civil Society-Parliamentary Peace

Mission that is currently in Lebanon. He is a professor at the University

of the Philippines and the executive director of the research and advocacy

institute Focus on the Global South based in Bangkok, Thailand.



http://www.focusweb.org

_______________________________________________________________

Why we are Going to Lebanon

Statement of Dr. Walden Bello, member of the Philippine Contingent of the International Civil Society-Parliamentary Peace Mission to Lebanon, Press Conference, Manila, August 10, 2006

Today, the 30th day of Israel’s military offensive on Lebanon, the number of Lebanese who have died as a result of Israeli air strikes and ground attacks has reached 1020, the number injured 3508.

The Lebanese High Relief Committee has also disclosed destruction or damage to 29 vital installations, 6950 private homes, 160 economic establishments, 600 km of roads, 73 fuel stations, 73 bridges, and 72 overpasses. (Daily Report # 16, Lebanese High Relief Committee).

The three of us, Rep. Mujib Hataman, Mr. Herbert Docena, and myself are leaving for Lebanon this evening as part of an International Peace Delegation of 15 people. The main reason we are going stems from the horrific statistics I have just cited.

We are going in order to add to the global demand for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. At a time that governments have been stymied in their efforts to curb the Israeli war machine, international civil society must step in to do the job. Our delegation is one of what will undoubtedly be a growing number of civil society missions to Lebanon to increase pressure for an immediate ceasefire and an end to Israeli aggression.

We are also going to express the solidarity of nations throughout the world, including the Filipino people, with the Lebanese people as they undergo this traumatic period. Perhaps more than relief supplies, the support and solidarity of people from throughout the world is what will see the Lebanese people through these dark days.

We are also going to investigate first-hand the scope of the human suffering and extent of material destruction that has been visited on that poor country so we can report this to the outside world. We are talking about translating statistics we read about in the newspapers into concrete human experiences of grief and despair that people everywhere can relate to, that can bring the immediacy of the experience of living through the horrors of the Israeli assault to people outside Lebanon.

Finally, we will be looking at the plight of Filipina workers in Lebanon and assessing how effectively the Philippine government is, in fact, dealing with their situation. We want to make sure that the millions of pesos allocated for alleviating their plight is in fact going to that purpose. We want to talk directly to them to ascertain their needs and how we here in the Philippines can assist them directly, outside official channels.

Let me just end by saying we cannot stand by idly as a country gets dismembered. Countenancing aggression in Lebanon and in Iraq will simply encourage the perpetrators of aggression elsewhere.

Thank you.

Walden Bello

_______________________________________________________________

International Peace Mission Goes to Lebanon

Responding to calls by Lebanese civil society organizations to come to their war-ravaged country, another batch of parliamentarians and civil society representatives from various countries are going on an international peace and solidarity delegation to Lebanon from August 12 to 16.

This delegation includes representatives from the Philippines, Brazil,

France, Norway, India, and Spain.

Among them are two members of parliament, two representatives from the

international farmers' movement La Via Campesina, a representative from

Brazil's main trade union confederation and the continental alliance

Hemispheric Social Alliance, a journalist, and other peace and human rights

activists. (please see full list below)

The delegation hopes to convey solidarity with the people of Lebanon; gather

first-hand information on the impact of the war; better understand the

current political situation in the country; and add their voices to their

global call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

In Lebanon, the delegation will inspect areas hit by Israeli missiles; visit

relief centers and hospitals; meet with a broad range of civil society and

political organizations; speak with top officials of the Lebanese

government; and meet with migrant workers' also in the country.

This delegation is the latest batch to go to Lebanon upon the invitation of

local groups and it is hoped that more will follow in the future.

Saturday, 12 August 2006

MISSION MEMBERS

Walden Bello, Focus on the Global South

Kjeld Jakobsen, CUT Brazil and Hemispheric Social Alliance

Gérard Durand, Confédération Paysanne, France, La Via Campesina

Kari Kobberoed Brustad, Norsk Bonde - Og Smabrukarlag, Norway, La Via Campesina

Mujiv Hataman, Member of Parliament, Anak Mindanao (AMIN), Philippines

Herbert Docena, Focus on the Global South

Seema Mustafa, Resident Editor, Asian Age

Feroze Mithiborwala, Forum Against War and Terror, Mumbai

Kamal Chenoy, All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation, Coalition for

Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India

Mohammed Salim, Member of Parliament, Communist Party of India (Marxist), India

Vijaya Chauhan, Rashtra Seva Dal, India (Youth Organization)

Germán Guillot, interpreter (French/Spanish/English/Arabic)

http://www.focusweb.org

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