As I write this, I can hear Israeli warplanes flying overhead, breaking the sound barrier and rattling all of our windows. In the distance there are explosions. I don’t know where the bombs are dropping, but it’s not close to me. I can’t hear the screaming of the survivors from where I sit.
Hezbollah and Hamas may possess the ability to kill dozens of Israeli civilians and terrorize countless others, but they are not an existential threat to Israel. As events on the ground have unmistakably demonstrated over this past month, today it is Israel that is a clear and present danger to the further existence of the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples. A danger, if not to their very lives – then certainly to the continuation of their nations.
This is the third, catastrophic attack I’ve lived through. I was in New York City on September 11. I was in Baghdad during "Shock and Awe." It’s not something you ever get used to. That so much hatred can live in the world, so much indifference to human suffering– living under that hatred and indifference is almost as hard as living under the bombs.
As I write this, over two hundred Lebanese have been killed. Almost all of them were civilians.
I think of Guernica.
On April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the German Air Force, siding with fascist dictator Francisco Franco, began a bombing campaign against the city of Guernica. Some 1,600 people were killed, and the city was reduced to rubble. Guernica is remembered as the first time air power was used against a civilian population with the intent of causing complete destruction.
When it happened, Guernica shocked the world. Today, we do not shock so easily. Lebanon is being sacrificed without so much as a casual protest.
Israel has bombed power plants, roads, and bridges all across Lebanon. Israel has bombed gas stations and fuel depots, grain silos, lighthouses, the seaports in Beirut, Tripoli, Jounieh and Tyre. Beirut’s airport is in flames. Beirut’s Shi’a suburbs have been almost completely demolished. Firefighters are pleading for help, because they do not have enough water to put out the blazes. (1)
I think of Guernica.
Israel has ordered all of the people living in Southern Lebanon to flee their homes and villages. Avi Dichter, Israel’s Minister of Internal Security, told us that "tens of thousands of Lebanese who will flee towards the north will create the right pressure on Hezbollah." (2)
Two nights ago, eighteen people in the South were burned alive when Israel bombed their fleeing convoy with incendiary shells. Eleven of the dead were children under the age of twelve. Mahmoud Ghannam, the father of two of the killed children, broke down when he saw their bodies. He struck himself in the head repeatedly and cried, "my God, my God. I can’t make out the faces of my children. They are burnt black… Which ones are my children?" (3)
A copy of Pablo Picasso’s famous painting of the annihilation of Guernica was hung outside the chambers of the UN Security Council, as a reminder of why the United Nations was created, and of what the Security Council is supposed to prevent. In 2003, the United States ordered the eleven foot painting covered, so as not to even subtly embarrass American diplomats pressing for a war against Iraq. (4)
We are supposed to forget what modern warfare means.
Living in Lebanon today, I cannot forget. I remember Guernica.
Today, Lebanon is being forced toward total ruin. If Israel’s intent is just to destroy Hezbollah, then why are they bombing Christian and Sunni neighborhoods and towns? Why did Israel wait until July 15 to bomb Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut, making sure to first bomb power plants, bridges and roads throughout the entire country? Israel’s clear intent is to trash this entire country, smash everything that makes Lebanon a modern nation, and demolish all of the work the Lebanese have done over the last fifteen years to rebuild their country.
As Lebanon is ravaged, U.S. President George Bush loudly and proudly asserts Israel’s right to "self-defense." (5)
As Lebanon is ravaged, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rica announces that Israel should continue bombing to "reduce the threat" from Hezbollah. (6)
Do Arabs possess the right to defend themselves from Israel?
As Lebanon is laid to waste, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has secured himself newfound adulation within Israel. Everyone apparently loves a killer. (7)
As Lebanon is destroyed, Olmert has announced that he will refuse to meet with a UN delegation attempting to secure a cease-fire (8), George Bush has publicly refused to call for a cease-fire (9), and the United States is blocking other nations on the Security Council from calling for a cease-fire (10).
On "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Condoleezza Rice not only defended Israel’s actions in Lebanon and U.S. policy in Iraq, but said "[Mid-East] hostilities were not very well contained, as we found out on Sept. 11, and so the notion that somehow policies that finally confront extremism are actually causing extremism, I find grotesque."
Grotesque. As if Lebanon or Iraq–or even Hamas or Hezbollah–had anything whatsoever to do with September 11.
I remember what is grotesque. I remember Guernica.
When Westerners speak of "smashing the infrastructure of terror," it is understand that they mean all of the Arab peoples themselves. Arabs are "the infrastructure of terror."
Speaking against a cease-fire, Rice added, "We have to go at the root cause. . It’s fine to have a cessation of violence. .But unless we go to the fundamentals here, we’re going to continue to have these spikes of violence in the Middle East as we have had for the past 30 years." (11)
According to the Washington Post, going to these fundamentals means that Israel and the United States are going to prevent any cease-fire and continue bombing Lebanon for "several weeks" in order to establish their version of peace in the region. (12)
Indeed. I remember Guernica. I understand the peace of the jackboot and whip.
Dare any American or Israeli ever again ask, "Why do they hate us?"
The clear conviction being spoken by all of the politicians in Israel and America is that their absolute security is absolutely dependent on the complete insecurity of Arabs everywhere. And the clear lesson being taught to generations of children growing up in the rubble of what once was the shining jewel of the Middle East is simply this: their security can only be dependent on the future insecurity of America and Israel.
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich also took the opportunity to strongly defend this point of view. In an interview on Saturday, Gingrich said that Israel and America must be forceful because, "we need to have the militancy that says ‘We’re not going to lose a city.’"
So, apparently, Lebanon is going to lose several.
Gingrich belittled the idea of negotiations or a possible ceasefire by saying, "this idea that we have this one-sided war where the other team gets to plan how to kill us and we get to talk, is nuts." (13)
A hundred years ago President Teddy Roosevelt famously told Americans to "talk softly and carry a big stick." Today the spiritual, if not political, heirs to Generalissimo Franco are riding high in Tel Aviv and Washington D.C., and they’ve gone one better than Roosevelt.
Today, they don’t talk at all.
Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American essayist and peace activist. He spent a year in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago-based predecessor to Voices for Creative Nonviolence . He is currently living in Lebanon, and working on a book about his experiences.