What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The news from Lebanon is disturbing - but not surprising - except for who was battling with the Lebanese army. This time not Hezbollah but Fatah al Islam - described as a "militant group." It isn’t hard to lose track of some of the "militant groups" operating all over the Middle East. No, let me re-phrase that. It’s almost impossible to be aware of all such "groups" and what motivates them and what goals they may have - if any. I swear, trying to make sense of what goes on in the Middle East - from Iran to Iraq to Lebanon to Israel to Gaza and the West Bank is enough to drive one to distraction. The entire area is like one great big asylum - but then of course I have frequently characterized this planet as an asylum of sorts.

What leapt out at me from the pages of my newspaper and from the images on my television screen - was that the battle in Lebanon was raging in and around a refugee camp - a Palestinian refugee camp. The members of Fatah al Islam may not have all been Palestinians. Some news reports say that there are "militants" from Bangladesh and Yemen and other Arab countries involved in the fighting - but the camp itself - Nahr al-Bared - is a Palestinian "refugee" camp. It’s one of a dozen or so "refugee" camps in Lebanon and one of maybe sixty odd camps scattered throughout the region - including Gaza and the West Bank!!

According to most dictionaries, a refugee is a person who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution. And usually to another country. According to UNRWA - the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Palestine refugees are "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict." UNRWA was established by United Nations General Assembly in December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees - and has been going strong ever since.

It’s something that most of us don’t think about too often. That these camps continue to exist - populated by descendants of original "refugees’ - but likely living alongside thousands of others who have drifted into these camps over the years claiming refugee status.

Almost sixty years since the partition plan was adopted by the UN Almost sixty years since five Arab armies attempted to destroy Israel before it could establish itself as a state. Almost sixty years since more than 850,000 Jews were driven from Arab countries - countries where they had lived for more than three thousand years - long before the birth of Islam. Yet there are no Jewish "refugee camps" in Israel or in any other country where the Jews expelled from Arab countries found refuge. But so called "Palestinian refugee camps" today house a minimum of 1,300,000 people out of some four million who the UN classifies as "refugees."

I don’t know what it says to you, but to me it says talk of peace between Israel and the Arab world - and particularly those who call themselves Palestinians - can go on for decades into the future - but will never achieve anything as long as these symbols of a permanent state of war continue to exist.

You can blame the Arab countries that have kept these camps going rather than absorb their populations into their societies and into normal, stable neighborhoods. And you can assign equal blame to the United Nations for helping to create what has become a permanent welfare society. But most of all, you can blame the inhabitants of these camps - particularly the camps in Gaza and the West Bank for continuing to regard themselves as refugees waiting to be "repatriated" once they have achieved the impossible dream of destroying Israel.

There are many barriers in the way of achieving a permanent peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors and the Arab populations of Gaza and the West bank. The very existence of "Palestinian refugee camps" and the state of mind that they represent - not just of their inhabitants but of their host countries and of the Palestinian Arab leadership - is only one of them. But it tells you something about how the Palestinians view their struggle to achieve peace. It’s that they spell the word JIHAD.

Since I’m commenting on Middle East events and on the situation in Lebanon, I think it’s appropriate to say a few words about some of the wild accusations that were being aired about last year’s Israel/Hezbollah conflict by American pundits - and of the sober conclusions of the Winograd Commission.

Juan Cole, the distinguished professor of history at the University of Michigan and an expert on the region who is frequently called upon for comment by news and talk shows, insisted that a plan to launch a war against Hezbollah had been in the works for over a year.

Wayne Madsen, a Washington based investigative journalist and columnist, insisted that it was a plan cooked up between Israel officials and members of the Bush administration. He even listed the dates on which the plot was hatched!!

But then came Israel’s own post war inquiry into "what the hell happened" by way of the Winograd report. You may not have the time or the desire to read it all - but here’s just a couple of juicy tidbits.
The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena. A meticulous examination of these characteristics would have revealed the following: the ability to achieve military gains having significant political-international weight was limited; an Israeli military strike would inevitably lead to missiles fired at the Israeli civilian north; there was not other effective military response to such missile attacks than an extensive and prolonged ground operation to capture the areas from which the missiles were fired - which would have a high "cost" and which did not enjoy broad support. These difficulties were not explicitly raised with the political leaders before the decision to strike was taken .


The Prime Minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the Lebanon front and of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel. He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the IDF, despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs. In addition, he did not adequately consider political and professional reservations presented to him before the fateful decisions of July 12th.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound either like a "plan" that had been "in the works" for over a year before the attack was launched - or something that had been worked out between two governments over a two day period in June last year. But that’s the way it is with pundits who are "insiders" and know all about conspiracies and secret plans and can’t wait to tell us about them. It’s all great fun until it that annoying bugaboo called "facts" comes along.