The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)

Whose Mission is it fulfilling?

lebanon-flag.gifFranklin Lamb
UN Headquarters
Naquora, Lebanon

Ever since one of this student’s favorite Professors, Dr. Ruth Widmeyer, an accomplished and rare beauty still, who was the first woman to receive a PhD in Soviet Studies from Harvard nearly a half century ago, announced to our Political Science class at Portland State University that our class would be representing France at the Model United Nations Session in San Diego, Lamb was smitten: both with Professor Widmeyer and with the United Nations.

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Robert Fisk: A different venue, but the pious claims and promises are the same

Published: 29 November 2007


Haven’t we been here before? Isn’t Annapolis just a repeat of the White House lawn and the Oslo agreement, a series of pious claims and promises in which two weak men, Messrs Abbas and Olmert, even use the same words of Oslo.

“It is time for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to end,” the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday. But don’t I remember Yitzhak Rabin saying on the White House lawn that, “it is time for the cycle of blood… to end”?

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Franklin Lamb: Driving Miss Condi

It was one of those bleak, wet and cold London mornings back on January 18, 1990 when this observer exited the Marks and Spencer’s store on Oxford Street, having purchased a Scottish Shetland wool cardigan for protection against the damp chill. As he walked to the Underground he noticed that some of the London street corner tabloids were running full page photos of his former boss, the Mayor of Washington DC.

The police photo showed Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr. finally caught in a police sting after a decade of government attempts, pulling hard on a hit of crack cocaine after complaining to his sister, Ms. Hazel ‘Rasheeda’ Moore that she was taking too long in the Vista Hotel bathroom and her presence would be appreciated in the bedroom.

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Revisiting the summer war – A MUST READ

THIS IS A MUST READ.  Israeli press confess that ISRAEL started the war, not Hezbollah.  Any rational thinker knew this already, but now we have it in print.  Also that the UN cartographer has said the Shebaa farms are lebanese, therefore Israel still occupies Lebanon in violation of UN resolution 425 (although the UN seems to have been muzzled, see Franklin Lambs article for more info).

Jonathan Cook, Electronic Lebanon, Aug 16, 2007

Hizballah supporters hold a rally in south Beirut one year after Israel’s “Second Lebanon War.” Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah addressed the crowd of thousands from a remote location, 14 August 2007. (Matthew Cassel)

This week marks a year since the end of hostilities now officially called the Second Lebanon War by Israelis. A month of fighting — mostly Israeli aerial bombardment of Lebanon, and rocket attacks from the Shia militia Hizballah on northern Israel in response — ended with more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and a small but unknown number of Hizballah fighters dead, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians.

When Israel and the United States realized that Hizballah could not be bombed into submission, they pushed a resolution, 1701, through the United Nations. It placed an expanded international peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, in south Lebanon to keep Hizballah in check and try to disarm its few thousand fighters.

But many significant developments since the war have gone unnoticed, including several that seriously put in question Israel’s account of what happened last summer. This is old ground worth revisiting for that reason alone.

The war began on 12 July, when Israel launched waves of air strikes on Lebanon after Hizballah killed three soldiers and captured two more on the northern border. (A further five troops were killed by a land mine when their tank crossed into Lebanon in hot pursuit.) Hizballah had long been warning that it would seize soldiers if it had the chance, in an effort to push Israel into a prisoner exchange. Israel has been holding a handful of Lebanese prisoners since it withdrew from its two-decade occupation of south Lebanon in 2000.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who has been widely blamed for the army’s failure to subdue Hizballah, appointed the Winograd Committee to investigate what went wrong. So far Winograd has been long on pointing out the country’s military and political failures and short on explaining how the mistakes were made or who made them. Olmert is still in power, even if hugely unpopular.

In the meantime, there is every indication that Israel is planning another round of fighting against Hizballah after it has “learnt the lessons” from the last war. The new defense minister, Ehud Barak, who was responsible for the 2000 withdrawal, has made it a priority to develop anti-missile systems such as “Iron Dome” to neutralize the rocket threat from Hizballah, using some of the recently announced $30 billion of American military aid.

It has been left to the Israeli media to begin rewriting the history of last summer. Last weekend, an editorial in the liberal Haaretz newspaper went so far as to admit that this was “a war initiated by Israel against a relatively small guerrilla group.” Israel’s supporters, including high-profile defenders like Alan Dershowitz in the US who claimed that Israel had no choice but to bomb Lebanon, must have been squirming in their seats.

There are several reasons why Haaretz may have reached this new assessment.

Recent reports have revealed that one of the main justifications for Hizballah’s continuing resistance — that Israel failed to withdraw fully from Lebanese territory in 2000 — is now supported by the UN. Last month its cartographers quietly admitted that Lebanon is right in claiming sovereignty over a small fertile area known as the Shebaa Farms, still occupied by Israel. Israel argues that the territory is Syrian and will be returned in future peace talks with Damascus, even though Syria backs Lebanon’s position. The UN’s admission has been mostly ignored by the international media.

One of Israel’s main claims during the war was that it made every effort to protect Lebanese civilians from its aerial bombardments. The casualty figures suggested otherwise, and increasingly so too does other evidence.

A shocking aspect of the war was Israel’s firing of at least a million cluster bombs, old munitions supplied by the US with a failure rate as high as 50 percent, in the last days of fighting. The tiny bomblets, effectively small land mines, were left littering south Lebanon after the UN-brokered ceasefire, and are reported so far to have killed 30 civilians and wounded at least another 180. Israeli commanders have admitted firing 1.2 million such bomblets, while the UN puts the figure closer to 3 million.

At the time, it looked suspiciously as if Israel had taken the brief opportunity before the war’s end to make south Lebanon — the heartland of both the country’s Shia population and its militia, Hizballah — uninhabitable, and to prevent the return of hundreds of thousands of Shia who had fled Israel’s earlier bombing campaigns.

Israel’s use of cluster bombs has been described as a war crime by human rights organizations. According to the rules set by Israel’s then chief of staff, Dan Halutz, the bombs should have been used only in open and unpopulated areas — although with such a high failure rate, this would have done little to prevent later civilian casualties.

After the war, the army ordered an investigation, mainly to placate Washington, which was concerned at the widely reported fact that it had supplied the munitions. The findings, which should have been published months ago, have yet to be made public.

The delay is not surprising. An initial report by the army, leaked to the Israeli media, discovered that the cluster bombs had been fired into Lebanese population centers in gross violation of international law. The order was apparently given by the head of the Northern Command at the time, Udi Adam. A US State Department investigation reached a similar conclusion.

Another claim, one that Israel hoped might justify the large number of Lebanese civilians it killed during the war, was that Hizballah fighters had been regularly hiding and firing rockets from among south Lebanon’s civilian population. Human rights groups found scant evidence of this, but a senior UN official, Jan Egeland, offered succor by accusing Hizballah of “cowardly blending.”

There were always strong reasons for suspecting the Israeli claim to be untrue. Hizballah had invested much effort in developing an elaborate system of tunnels and underground bunkers in the countryside, which Israel knew little about, in which it hid its rockets and from which fighters attacked Israeli soldiers as they tried to launch a ground invasion. Also, common sense suggests that Hizballah fighters would have been unwilling to put their families, who live in south Lebanon’s villages, in danger by launching rockets from among them.

Now Israeli front pages are carrying reports from Israeli military sources that put in serious doubt Israel’s claims.

Since the war’s end Hizballah has apparently relocated most of its rockets to conceal them from the UN peacekeepers, who have been carrying out extensive searches of south Lebanon to disarm Hizballah under the terms of Resolution 1701. According to the UNIFIL, some 33 of these underground bunkers — or more than 90 percent — have been located and Hizballah weapons discovered there, including rockets and launchers, destroyed.

The Israeli media has noted that the Israeli army calls these sites “nature reserves;” similarly, the UN has made no mention of finding urban-based Hizballah bunkers. Relying on military sources, Haaretz reported last month: “Most of the rockets fired against Israel during the war last year were launched from the ‘nature reserves.'” In short, even Israel is no longer claiming that Hizballah was firing its rockets from among civilians.

According to the UN report, Hizballah has moved the rockets out of the underground bunkers and abandoned its rural launch pads. Most rockets, it is believed, have gone north of the Litani River, beyond the range of the UN monitors. But some, according to the Israeli army, may have been moved into nearby Shia villages to hide them from the UN.

As a result, Haaretz noted that Israeli commanders had issued a warning to Lebanon that in future hostilities the army “will not hesitate to bomb — and even totally destroy — urban areas after it gives Lebanese civilians the chance to flee.” How this would diverge from Israel’s policy during the war, when Hizballah was based in its “nature reserves” but Lebanese civilians were still bombed in their towns and villages, was not made clear.

If the Israeli army’s new claims are true (unlike the old ones), Hizballah’s movement of some of its rockets into villages should be condemned. But not by Israel, whose army is breaking international law by concealing its weapons in civilian areas on a far grander scale.

As a first-hand observer of the fighting from Israel’s side of the border last year, I noted on several occasions that Israel had built many of its permanent military installations, including weapons factories and army camps, and set up temporary artillery positions next to — and in some cases inside — civilian communities in the north of Israel.

Many of those communities are Arab: Arab citizens constitute about half of the Galilee’s population. Locating military bases next to these communities was a particularly reckless act by the army as Arab towns and villages lack the public shelters and air raid warning systems available in Jewish communities. Eighteen of the 43 Israeli civilians killed were Arab — a proportion that surprised many Israeli Jews, who assumed that Hizballah would not want to target Arab communities.

In many cases it is still not possible to specify where Hizballah rockets landed because Israel’s military censor prevents any discussion that might identify the location of a military site. During the war Israel used this to advantageous effect: for example, it was widely reported that a Hizballah rocket fell close to a hospital but reporters failed to mention that a large army camp was next to it. An actual strike against the camp could have been described in the very same terms.

It seems likely that Hizballah, which had flown pilotless spy drones over Israel earlier in the year, similar to Israel’s own aerial spying missions, knew where many of these military bases were. The question is, was Hizballah trying to hit them or — as most observers claimed, following Israel’s lead — was it actually more interested in killing civilians.

A full answer may never be possible, as we cannot know Hizballah’s intentions — as opposed to the consequences of its actions — any more than we can discern Israel’s during the war.

Human Rights Watch, however, has argued that, because Hizballah’s basic rockets were not precise, every time they were fired into Israel they were effectively targeted at civilians. Hizballah was therefore guilty of war crimes in using its rockets, whatever the intention of the launch teams. In other words, according to this reading of international law, only Israel had the right to fire missiles and drop bombs because its military hardware is more sophisticated — and, of course, more deadly.

Nonetheless, new evidence suggests strongly that, whether or not Hizballah had the right to use its rockets, it may often have been trying to hit military targets, even if it rarely succeeded. The Arab Association for Human Rights, based in Nazareth, has been compiling a report on the Hizballah rocket strikes against Arab communities in the north since last summer. It is not sure whether it will ever be able to publish its findings because of the military censorship laws.

But the information currently available makes for interesting reading. The Association has looked at northern Arab communities hit by Hizballah rockets, often repeatedly, and found that in every case there was at least one military base or artillery battery placed next to, or in a few cases inside, the community. In some communities there were several such sites.

This does not prove that Hizballah wanted only to hit military bases, of course. But it does indicate that in some cases it was clearly trying to, even if it lacked the technical resources to be sure of doing so. It also suggests that, in terms of international law, Hizballah behaved no worse, and probably far better, than Israel during the war.

The evidence so far indicates that Israel:

  • established legitimate grounds for Hizballah’s attack on the border post by refusing to withdraw from the Lebanese territory of the Shebaa Farms in 2000;
  • initiated a war of aggression by refusing to engage in talks about a prisoner swap offered by Hizballah;
  • committed a grave war crime by intentionally using cluster bombs against south Lebanon’s civilians;
  • repeatedly hit Lebanese communities, killing many civilians, even though the evidence is that no Hizballah fighters were to be found there;
  • and put its own civilians, especially Arab civilians, in great danger by making their communities targets for Hizballah attacks and failing to protect them.

It is clear that during the Second Lebanon War Israel committed the most serious war crimes.

Jonathan Cook, a journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, is the author of Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State (Pluto Press, 2006). His website is

Did the UN Cave to Israel? Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms


Across the Blue Line from Shebaa Farms, Lebanon.

On July 18, 2001, nearly six years ago to the day, and under intense US pressure, the UN Security Council affixed its imprimatur to the proposition that Israel, after refusing for more than 22 years, finally complied with the provisions of UNSCR 425, and ended its illegal and brutal occupation of Lebanon.

Of course the ‘complete Israeli withdrawal’ language was a fiction, crafted by the new Bush administration to burnish Israel’s image as a reformed international outlaw. In point of fact, Israel to this date has not complied with SCR 425, 1701 or more than 30 other UN Resolutions.

Looking only at UNSCR 425, Israel continues to occupy the roughly 14 square mile water rich area of Shebaa Farms near where Syria’s Golan Heights and the Lebanese border meet. A beautiful area, where on a windless quiet night, dear reader, were you to stand at the eastern cliff edge of the former Israel run Khiam detention camp, facing in the direction of Damascus and Alsheikh Mountain and listen carefully, you could hear the intermittent click and purr of Israeli pumps sucking up hundreds of thousands of liters of Lebanon’s renowned (Bible mentioned) mountain water (the market price in Beirut this afternoon for one liter of bottled water is 1,000 Lebanese pounds or about 68 US cents. In the old days around Avignon, France we could buy a half liter of the annual press of Nouveau Beaujolais for about the same price). The stolen water is channeled to Israel’s illegal colonies/settlements throughout Palestine to help fill the swimming pools and water the plush green lawns of American and European Jewish settlers while the olive groves and farms of those whose lands were stolen become parched. Israel continues to take even more water from Lebanon’s Wazzani River. Why this latter outrage is allowed to continue should be explained to us, the obtuse, by the Bush backed Siniori government and its consigliore, Jeffrey Feltman.

In addition to the occupation of Shebba Farms, unfulfilled UNSCR 425 demands include Israel’s continuing detention of prisoners, the failure of Israel to provide maps to the deminers working to clear nearly one third of Lebanon of landmines and nearly one million remaining cluster bombs despite continual demands for the maps by the UN, including urgent demands by UN Sec-Gen. Moon earlier this month and the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in Tyre, Lebanon just two days ago( every day the 25 teams of de-miners from 20 countries risk their lives trying to clear nearly 1 million remaining unexploded US cluster bombs inch by inch without any maps or idea where they are located until one explodes. As of July 15, 2007 UNMACC teams have found 921 bomb sites which have caused more than 240 injuries and deaths, one-third of them children over the past nearly 12 months.

In addition, Israel conducts nearly daily over flights with aircraft and drones; cross border incursions such as on May 24, 2007, as well as violations of Lebanon’s territorial waters and its continuing occupation of the Lebanese village of Ghajar. This has led several political parties in Lebanon, and NGO’s such as Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, to urge the decertification of Israel’s compliance with UNSCR 425. It should be borne in mind that Israel’s continuing UN SCR 425 Lebanese sovereignty violations also constitute noncompliance with UNSCR 170l, which ushered in the current cessation of hostilities on August 14, 2006

Despite the charade of Israeli compliance with UNSCR 425, Israel’s May 24, 2000 ‘withdrawal’ was hailed as an ‘amazingly generous and high minded humanitarian act’ by it’s amen chorus in the US Congress led on this issue by Congressman Tom Lantos, the founder and chair of the notorious House Human Rights Caucus.

The House Human Rights Caucus, active for more than 27 years as a tool of the Israeli lobby has actively sought out and found hundreds of human rights violations around the World but so far they have not found one suspected human rights violation with respect to Israel or any of its occupations and aggressions. The HHRC did manage a declaration that the Shebaa Farms belonged to Syria and that Israel had every right to occupy it until there was a Syria-Israel peace treaty. (Dear reader, if you would like to fact check this statement please call the House Human Rights Caucus at 202-225-3121 and ask for the Staff Director. Perhaps he will supply you with their remarkable list of Human Rights violations.

That the Shebba Farms belonged to Syria was astounding news to the Syrians as well as the more than 100 Lebanese farmers who daily worked the land and whose families had owned the area for generations going back deep into the Ottoman period. They flooded the UN with their land deeds in protest.

The Lebanese View

During the 1967 War Israeli forces seized the Shebaa Farms, area consisting of 14 farms located south of Shebaa, a Lebanese village. Since Lebanon was not a participant in the 1967 War, they had no voice and UN representatives were pressured by Israel, who falsely claimed that the 1923 Anglo-French demarcation and the 1949 Armistice line designated the area as Syrian territory. Charges of threats and bribes of UN Staff have still not yet been investigated according to UN sources based in Beirut.

Lebanese army maps published in 1961 and 1966 specifically pinpoint several of the Shebaa Farms, including Zebdine, Fashkoul, Mougr Shebaa and Ramta, all of which are designated as being Lebanese. Lebanese Ministry of Tourism maps also show the Lebanese-Syrian border running west of the Shebaa Farms. Lebanese and Syrian officials insist that Syria had officially given the territory to Lebanon in 1951.

Syria has repeatedly officially acknowledged the Farms are Lebanese with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently telling a Paris new conference during a State visit that Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. Lebanese and Syrian officials also point to the fact that many residents in the area have land deeds stamped by the Lebanese government.

The UN was largely moot on Shebaa Farms as Israel withdrew on May 24, 2000, and under pressure from the While House, which was under pressure from the Congress, which was under control by Israel lobby, finally declared that the Shabba farms was in fact Syrian. This meant Hezbollah could not liberate it and impliedly should disarm.

Unsaid on the House or Senate floors, following Israel’s complete withdrawal from Lebanon, as members nearly tripped over each other, such was their rush to pay homage, was the fact that Israel withdraw for Lebanon for only one reason, that it could not sustain the loses from the Lebanese resistance.

This week Bibi Netanyahu wasted no time attacking his once, and likely future, opponent, Ehud Barak, “for cutting and running” in 2,000 and in Bibi’s view causing the 2006 July war and Israel’s current humiliation. The truth, of little concern to Bibi, but which might be recalled by Israeli voters, is that in 2000 the Israeli public was no longer willing to accept the average of 25 Israel soldiers killed every year of its nearly quarter century ( 1978-2000) of occupation of Lebanon. Once Israel was forced out on May 24, 2000, according to statistics supplied by Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon, the Israeli military suffered only 17 dead soldiers, and 25 wounded between the 2000 withdrawal and the July 2006 War. Nine of the killed were in the Shebaa Farms area and the eight others were killed when they violated the Blue Line or in retaliation for Israeli caused deaths in Lebanon.

To help put Israel’s military position as of May 24, 2000 into perspective, it should be noted that Israel sustained 6,145 militant operations by the Islamic Resistance during it occupation of Lebanon. Between early January 1999 and its withdrawal 16 months later, no fewer than 2,441 operations by Hezbollah and five other resistant groups targeted Israeli forces. The Lebanese Resistance Brigades, set up by Hezbollah, accounted for 167 of these operations or 7%. Congressional kudos to Israel, notwithstanding, the Lebanese Resistance is the only reason Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2,000.

The UN effort to take Shebaa off Hezbollah’s list of unfinished business

Against this backdrop and rising tension over Israel’s garrison at Shebaa, Farms, there was some welcomed, if short lived news the other day.

According to the July 11, 2007 edition of the Israeli journal Haaretz, and confirmed by the UN ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) office here in Beirut, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon transmitted messages to the Israeli government late last month informing them that UN mapping experts have now conclusively determined that the Sheba Farms is indeed Lebanese territory and that international law required Israel’s immediate withdrawal.

Ban Ki-Moon transmitted the UN’s conclusions to PM Olmert during their meeting in New York last month, while the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East, Michael Williams discussed the decision with Israel foreign minister Tzipi Livni at about the same time.

The Secretary-General’s office also notified Olmert and Livni that Israel was to coordinate its expedited departure with UNIFIL, some of whose 13,000 troops received orders to secure Shebaa farms on the tail of the Israel’s withdrawal.

In their discussions, the UN officials also advised Israel that Syria and Lebanon agreed that the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese. This point is very important because by securing it, the UN shrewdly anticipated and precluded Israeli waffling and endless delays. This is because Israel had been objecting that its own recently retained cartographers needed to open the whole border dispute question from the beginning and examine all the work and findings of the impliedly less qualified and trustworthy UN map experts. Such a revised map review process could take several years “to do right” according to Alan Dershowitz’s April 14, 2007 legal memorandum to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. However the amicable Syria-Lebanon agreement confirming Lebanese ownership of Shebaa Farms effectively thwarted Dershowitz and the US Israeli lobby, plan. Or so it appeared for at least a few hours on July 11, 2007.

UN Sec-Gen Ki-Moon’s ‘clarification’

It is not known to what extent UN Sec-Gen. Moon felt last week that he had adjusted to the realities and pressures of his new job, but he was about to be tested. No sooner had his Shebaa Farms news item hit the air waves on the morning of July 11, 2007 than Israel’s Foreign Minister Livni contacted the White House which had already heard from Tom Lantos, founder and chair of the above mentioned US Congressional House Human Rights Caucus.

Following White House intervention, the UN acted with unusual alacrity and clarified (read: gutted) its announcement. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, following a meeting with the UK’s new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, told a news conference that in point of fact the discussion of ownership of the disputed Farms was, well, ah. er..premature. “I have submitted my Report on this issue. My senior cartographer has made some good progress but this report is not mentioning anything about ownership or sovereignty yetThe UN’s cartographer continues his work and will be visiting the area shortly.”

Minutes later a UN official explained from New York: “The secretary-general remains engaged on the issue”.

According to the Country Chief of a UN recognized NGO which is very familiar with this issue and works in the UN’s Beirut Headquarters (ESCWA): “That’s total bullshit! This was the final Report not an interim progress Report. Somebody got to Ban Ki-Moon! The map work on Sheeba has been completed for weeks. Any second year Cartography student could have done that job is less than a month. It’s not complicated”.

In the words of perhaps America’s preeminent student of the workings of the Israel lobby, San Francisco’s Jeffrey Blankfort, when he heard about the switch:

“Is this a surprise to anyone? Israel and its international lobby control the UN as much as they do Washington and the US. When there will be an international movement that will have the guts to stand up to Israel and its supporters and tell them their days of running the show are over?”

The apparent UN throwing in the town, hopefully will be reversed, but its puts pressure on Hezbollah because as Lebanon’s only deterrence to Israeli aggression and the Lebanese resistance’s pledge to liberate Lebanon from Israeli occupation, critics are using Shebaa as evidence that Hezbollah has not completed the job the Lebanese people has entrusted to it.

What particularly alarms Israel is the fact that if the UN decides that the Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon, this clearly implies that the UN cartographer’s findings bestowed international legitimacy on Hezbollah’s continued resistance to Israel’s occupation Sheba Farms. This would also give the Lebanese resistance led by Hezbollah and supported by a clear majority of Lebanese Sunni and Christians, the moral, political, legal, and if Hezbollah chooses to exercise it, the military resistance high ground.

While the Congressional Israel lobby feels it ‘won’ against the UN on this issue the White House is decidedly conflicted. The reason is that if Israel withdraws from Shebaa Farms the Bush Administration believes the withdrawal will strengthen the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora which it needs to keep its regional policies at least on life support.

Shebaa Farms will likely be discussed by Rice at her just rescheduled meeting for the end of this month with Livni. Rice’s concern is that Israel’s failure to withdraw from Shebaa Farms gives Hezbollah more credibility and legitimacy.

Livni thinks if Israel does withdraw it gives Hezbollah yet another victory and even more credibility and legitimacy.

Could both ladies be right or will there be a cat fight in the Holy Land?

Franklin Lamb’s just released book, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons in Lebanon is available at His volume, Hezbollah: a Brief Guide for Beginners is due out in early summer, 2007. He can be reached at

An Issue Of Justice: Origins Of The Israel/Palestine Conflict – Norman Finkelstein

The best lecture I’ve heard on the creation of Israel and how we’ve arrived at the present day situation. Mostly about the Israel/Palestine conflict but also covers the invasion of Lebanon. Interestingly the title of this blog was inspired by this lecture where Finkelstein advises calling solidarity groups “justice for Palestine” groups.

Informing Finkelstein’s analysis is a universal ethics… He…is following the example set by the great Jewish prophets.” —The Nation
“Norman Finkelstein is one of the most radical and hard-hitting critics of the official Zionist version of the Arab-Israeli conflict and of the historians who support this version…” —Avi Shlaim, St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford
The facts are not complicated. Finkelstein dispels the ideological fog surrounding this historic conflict.
Finkelstein lays out the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict with clarity and passion, arguing that any other similar conflict would be perfectly understood, yet this one exists beneath a blanket of ideological fog. Finkelstein cuts through the fog with indisputable historical facts, optimistic that the struggle is winnable, and that it is simply an issue of justice.
Norman Finkelstein was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1953. He is the son of two holocaust survivors. He received his doctorate from Princeton University, for a thesis on the theory of Zionism. He is the author of four books, including The Holocaust Industry, his writings have also appeared in many prestigious journals. Currently, he teaches political science at DePaul University in Chicago.


A Review of Resistance: My Life for Lebanon


Although half a world away and 100 years apart, Soha Bechara’s life in Lebanon, at least the first 36 years, has presented some striking similarities to Alexander Berkman’s struggle for economic justice during the age of industrialization in the United States. Her just-published memoirs, Resistance: My Life for Lebanon, convey a single-minded determination to rid the world of a perceived wrong, a style that characterized the autobiographical writings of political revolutionaries from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1988, at the age of 21, Bechara shot Antoine Lahad, a general in charge of the South Lebanese Army, the pro-Israeli, predominantly Christian militia that controlled southern Lebanon as a proxy for Israel. Lahad survived the assassination attempt. For the next 10 years, following weeks of torture, Bechara, a member of the Lebanese Communist Party, was held without trial at Khiam, a brutal detention center in the mountains of southern Lebanon created by the Israelis and managed by the SLA.

Berkman was also 21 when he tried to assassinate millionaire industrialist Henry Clay Frick. In 1892, Frick oversaw the shooting of striking workers at the Carnegie steel mills in Homestead, Pa., near Pittsburgh. Born in Russia in 1870, Berkman developed a taste for political agitation early in his life and had been deeply moved by the plight of five revolutionaries who were executed in connection with the 1881 assassination of the Russian tsar.

Already an orphan, Berkman in 1888 decided to move to the United States where he developed a close and lasting friendship with Emma Goldman, also a Russian Jew who had immigrated a few years earlier. Upon his arrival, controversy was still raging over the execution of the Haymarket anarchists in Chicago in November 1887. Looking back, Berkman viewed the Haymarket affair as a galvanizing moment in his lifelong embrace of anarchism.

During the Homestead steel strike, Frick had become a “symbol of capitalist oppression, whose removal, he thought, would rouse the people against the injustice of the existing order,” Paul Avrich writes in his book, Anarchist Portraits. Berkman spent 14 years in the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania, an experience he described in his Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, published six years after his release: “I feel like one recovering from a long illness; very weak, but with a touch of joy in life.”

Five years after gaining her freedom from the Khiam detention center, Soft Skull Press has published the English translation of Bechara’s memoirs, Resistance: My Life for Lebanon, a large portion of which describes the ordeal of her captivity. Upon her release from Khiam, Bechara said she felt the weight of all those stolen years. “I had been roughly shaken back to life, and I found it hard to find the rhythm of a peaceful existence,” she remembers.

Although a member of the Lebanese Communist Party, Bechara’s guiding philosophy was nationalism and a Lebanon free of Israeli control. “My apprenticeship in politics sped up dramatically during 1982, that terrible year. The Israeli invasion gave me bitter strength in my beliefs. I was fifteen, and I was now ready to move into action,” she writes.

Bechara and her colleagues in the resistance movement aimed to strike Israeli interests in the occupied zone of southern Lebanon. After assessing various options, they decided that Bechara’s mission would be to target Lahad, Israel’s military chief in the region. But as the moment neared for her to perform the deed, Bechara’s thoughts turned to anguish over committing such a violent act. “I was as determined as ever, but for the first time I realized the difficulty of the task, the self-will that murder, however justified it was in my eyes, implied,” Bechara writes.

In the end, though, Bechara felt an obligation to the resistance against the South Lebanese Army and Israel. “I felt it was my duty to take part. If we did nothing, I said, we Lebanese would suffer the same fate as the Palestinians.”

A similar spirit for liberation raged in the hearts of activists in late 19th century America, a time when workers were forced to toil terribly long hours in dangerous conditions, only to receive crumbs from the awesome wealth they were creating. To Berkman, Frick was the symbol of wealth and power, of the injustice and wrong of the capitalistic class, just like Lahad represented the chaos and turmoil created when one nation used its might to occupy and oppress the people of another.

In her autobiography, Living My Life, Goldman explains how Berkman, knowing that he may be executed for his act, asked her to use her speaking skills to explain to the workers the significance of his planned assassination of Frick. “I could articulate its meaning to the workers. I could explain that he had no personal grievance against Frick, that as a human being Frick was no less to him than to anyone else,” Goldman writes. “Sasha’s act would be directed against Frick, not as a man, but as an enemy of labour.”

In her final days before the assassination attempt, Bechara received advice from her comrade, Rabih, who recommended she write a letter explaining her act in case she became a “martyr” of the Lebanese resistance. “I wrote about the civil war, the Israeli invasion, and the death of our heroes,” Bechara says. “I expressed my admiration for the Palestinian initifada, which had just broken out in the occupied territories, and which seemed to me to be a beautiful example of resistance and an ideal of revolution.”

Her assassination of Lahad failed, but the act itself sent a message to Israel that its surrogates in Lebanon were vulnerable. Bechara was not executed in retaliation for her attempted assassination of Lahad, although the torture inflicted on her could have easily killed someone of lesser health.

While in captivity, Bechara rejected how the Israelis and the SLA characterized Khiam. She would tell her captors that she was in a camp, not a prison. “A prison is a place where people are sent after being tried,” Bechara says she told her captors. “With us, this is not the case.”

In June 1998, Bechara was released from captivity. Two years later, Khiam was shut down for good after the Israeli Defense Forces had retreated from southern Lebanon. Khiam was “liberated,” Bechara recounts, “at the same time as the rest of South Lebanon, by bare-handed villagers. For years, they had been haunted by the tortured cries emanating from the camp. Now, columns of civilians made their way up towards the prison. … They broke open the locks, bringing back to life haggard men and women who were dumbfounded by this sudden reversal of history.”

In the weeks after the fall of Khiam, Lahad took refuge in Tel Aviv. “Like him, most of the former guards of Khiam had also gone to Israel, where after the debacle they found themselves stranded in temporary camps,” Bechara writes. “They were eager to get away, the sooner the better, to find a home somewhere that was more accommodating about their past.”

After her release, Bechara was hailed as a hero by the Lebanese Communist Party. She was received by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and mobbed by members of the media who wanted to get her reaction to freedom after 10 years of captivity. “My liberation had turned into a kind of national holiday,” she writes. “During the three months that followed September 3rd, thousands of visitors streamed into my house and party offices.”

Upon Berkman’s release from prison in 1906, there was no celebration by government officials in Pennsylvania or Washington. The anarchist movement was in its prime at the time and agents of the state were on the trail of suspected anarchists plotting the next violent deed against the ruling class. Where Berkman did find a warm welcome was in the labor movement, especially among fellow anarchists. With the death of influential anarchist Johann Most shortly before Berkman’s release from prison, Berkman and Goldman became leading figures in the American anarchist movement.

In Lebanon of the late 20th century, activists were forced to address the problems posed by civil war and foreign occupation by Israel and Syria before they could seek to refashion Lebanon along more egalitarian lines. The United States, on the other hand, was a growing imperial power where the roadblocks to progress, in the minds of the anarchists, were the capitalist class and the government itself, not a foreign colonial power.

In this setting, Berkman helped to organize the Ferrer School in New York, which encouraged a libertarian spirit among its students. He continued to agitate for better working conditions and for the unemployed. During the First World War, Berkman organized antimilitarist rallies and held lectures in an attempt to spur public opinion against the growing war hysteria. That same hysteria, similar to the U.S. government’s modern day anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant movement, led the state to deport both Berkman and Goldman to Russia in 1919.

After floating from country to country, Berkman eventually landed in France in 1925 where he was to live the rest of his life. There, he organized a fund for aging European anarchists. He also spent a great deal of time writing and authored such well-known books as The Bolshevik Myth and Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism. In 1936, suffering from illness, Berkman shot himself to death in his apartment in Nice.

After her release from prison, Bechara also landed in France, where she spent four years in Paris studying Hebrew. She now lives in Switzerland. Prominent in her native country as someone willing to fight for the cause of nationalism, Bechara now must determine the next step in her life. Successful anti-colonial liberation movements often produce an initial euphoria. In many cases, however, the leftover scars from the colonial era are so deep that some countries are unable to create a civil society that’s any less oppressive than what was experienced under colonialism. During independence struggles, the cause is getting rid of the imperial power. Little attention is paid at the time to the shape of the new society in case the struggle proves successful.

For Soha Bechara, resisting Israeli’s occupation of Lebanon dominated the first half of her life. In another 35 years, perhaps we will read a sequel in which we will learn about some new callings in her life. For Alexander Berkman, his entire life was spent fighting for the cause of a political philosophy that transcends national borders.

For both Bechara and Berkman, the inability early in their lives to successfully complete a grisly deed probably saved them from facing execution at the hands of the state. For both, the time spent in captivity also served to strengthen their convictions. Berkman emerged from prison with the spirit to spend a lifetime fighting for the anarchist cause and ultimately to become one of the movement’s great historical figures.

Freed from captivity, Bechara and the other liberation fighters in Lebanon soon found that their dream of ridding Lebanon of the Israeli invaders had come true. Was there to be a second phase in their strategy for building a more perfect Lebanon? Or was removing Israel and its proxies the end-all, be-all of their movement? In her memoirs, Bechara recognized this void in her life as soon as she had won her freedom from Khiam after 10 long years. “But somehow, I had to invent the next step, find another form of commitment,” she concludes.

Mark Hand lives in Arlington, Va., and is editor of Press Action. He can be reached at


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