The Ghosts of the Past

I’m angry with Israel at the moment. Although admittedly I’m angry with Israel circa 1982 rather than in the present day.

Why? Because I’m reading Pity the Nation, Robert Fisk’s monumental history of the Lebanese Civil War. And because, to put it bluntly, Israeli forces acted in Lebanon with absolute barbarism that was certainly no better (and quite possibly worse) than the behaviour of their supposed targets, the guerillas of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

This isn’t to say that I side entirely with the opponents of Israel during the war: all of the numerous factions in the long and complex civil war committed atrocities; there were no ‘good guys’. Yet it is Israel whom I feel most let down by. Their ‘retaliatory’ attacks in Lebanon were not only grossly disproportionate but, more importantly, hit the wrong targets. The Lebanese were overwhelmingly the victims of Israeli retaliation, rather than the Palestinian guerillas; moreover, even when Palestinian gunmen were targeted Israeli methods were crude, killing many more women and children than they did fighters.

You may notice that in this description, I haven’t once used the word ‘terrorist’. That’s because in the Lebanon of 1982, I’m not entirely sure who the ‘terrorists’ were, or if they were only on one side. 

But is it justified to be angry with a nation twenty-four years after the fact? Could I with equal conviction crticise the United States for its history of slavery or modern Germany for its Nazi past?

I admit that it does seem a little unfair. However, there is a key difference: in Israel, many of those implicated in Israeli excess in Lebanon are, of have been until recently, members of the Israeli government or the Knesset. Ariel Sharon is a case in point. Whilst the nature of his responsibility for the now-infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres is unclear, the Kahan Commission that followed in Israel recommended that the then-Defence Minister never hold public office again. Perhaps with the departure of this ‘old man’ of Israeli politics, it will be possible to leave the wounds of this past behind us. Something tells me, though, that it’s not all going to be roses for either Israel or the Occupied Territories in the coming months.

Regardless of your views on this issue, I urge everyone to read Fisk’s book. If nothing else, its account of how Shi’a resistance fighters were radicalised by the Israeli invasion and come to form Hezbollah, eventually forcing Israeli withdrawal, is an instructive lesson for British and American forces in Iraq.

In other news, my campaign against the Graduate School continues. You’ll be hearing more about that soon… 

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