Israel pulls out
Lebanon's 22 year nightmare ends
By Sam Ashman
"IT IS humiliation on the scale of the US defeat in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan."
- Financial Times, 24 May
FOR 22 years the mightiest military power in the Middle East occupied the southern part of Lebanon at the cost of 20,000 lives. It bombed Lebanese villages, killed civilians and destroyed power plants. For all that time the mightiest military power in the Middle East ignored a United Nations resolution ordering it to pull out.
But last week it was all over. The Israeli army withdrew and the misnamed South Lebanon Army-armed and paid by Israel to act as its bullies-collapsed. Its members gave themselves up or fled to Israel. The Lebanese rejoiced.
Tens of thousands of those driven from their villages, or who fled to the north, returned to see people and places for the first time in a generation. Villagers tore open the Khiam prison where the South Lebanon Army hung its prisoners from the walls and beat them with steel rods, using interrogation techniques taught by the Israeli army and equipment supplied by the US.
The prisoners, some held without trial for 16 years, were released screaming, "Freedom! Freedom!" and, "The nightmare is over!" The rejoicing went across the Middle East-in Syria, in the Gulf, in Jordan, in Egypt and in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza strip. The Israeli state is hated across the Arab world because of its persecution of the Palestinians.
Israel was formed on the back of the violent eviction of Palestinian Arabs from their homeland in the 1940s. It has acted as the watchdog for US interests, and oil supplies, in the region ever since. Some say it is anti-Jewish to oppose the state of Israel. This is rubbish. Not all Jews back the murderous behaviour of the Israeli state, which has fought repeated wars and expanded its borders through occupying more and more territory.
Many Jews are disgusted at the way the creation of Israel left Palestinians in refugee camps across the region. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) emerged in response to Israeli state repression, and the Israeli state did everything it could to crush it. When the PLO was driven from Jordan in 1970, it moved its headquarters to Lebanon.
Israel responded by invading in 1978, withdrawing and then invading again in 1982. When it withdrew the second time it created a 15 kilometre "security zone" across the south. These invasions succeeded in driving out the PLO-but not before Israel presided over the cold-blooded massacre of 1,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in 1982.
But the Israeli invasion created new resistance. The Islamist group Hizbollah emerged in the early 1980s. It is demonised by the Israelis and the Western media as a dangerous organisation of mindless fanatics. But it has mass support. It runs a welfare network that includes schools, hospitals and clinics. It rebuilds houses destroyed by Israeli air raids, runs seminars for farmers on rebuilding agriculture, and has nine deputies in the Lebanese parliament. Israel's military might, and behind it the might of the US, could not defeat Hizbollah's guerilla army because of this support.
And because Israel could not crush Hizbollah, the occupation became very unpopular in Israel itself. Ehud Barak won the last election in Israel with his promise to "bring the boys home".
Barak planned to withdraw by July. But the South Lebanon Army, facing abandonment by its sponsor, collapsed, leading to last week's desperate scuttle. This is a huge defeat for the Israeli state. But many questions remain. Will Hizbollah continue to fight over the Shebaa farm area which Israel still occupies? If it does, the Israeli prime minister has already promised to hit back.
And what will the Syrian government do? It wants Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights area which Israel seized in 1967. Syrian leaders had tied together the occupation of the Golan Heights with the occupation of southern Lebanon. But now Israel has withdrawn, the Syrian government has lost that card.
And what about the stalled peace process that promised the Palestinians a state but has so far delivered nothing but a miserable administrative unit on the West Bank? These issues have the potential to cause further conflict. The deadly role of Israel is far from over.
"I AM writing to you from liberated Lebanon. I cannot express the joy that people are feeling now. There is dancing in the streets, reunions of families separated for 22 years, old men dancing in the road, and Muslim and Christian clerics holding hands together, raising them in victory. People are ringing the TV call-in shows from all over Lebanon-Christian, Druze, Muslim, Syrian, and Jordanian-all expressing their joy at the victory.
The people under occupation have suffered over two decades of curfew, torture, murder and intimidation. The real barbarians have been exposed."
- E-mail message from Lebanon