Column for July 30, 2006

One person’s root cause is another’s yesterday

They say the first casualty of war is truth. Context is usually a close second. In the bomb-blasted echo chamber that is the modern 24-hour news cycle, certain phrases bounce from politicians, to anchors, to pundits, to us, and then back round again, quickly assuming a truth of their own — a truth that is usually part truth, part propaganda and all hypocritical ringing in the ears.

Consider some of the latest favoured catch-phrases in terms of the Middle East imbroglio.


Root cause.

U.S. president George Bush has suggested Israel’s attack on Lebanon “helps clarify a root cause of instability in the Middle East — and that’s Hezbollah… Therefore, in order to solve this problem, it’s really important for the world to address the root cause.”

The critical question though is whether Hezbollah is a root, or merely a recently budded branch. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, probably got closer to the real root this week when he said we need to “root out the causes of tension provoked by Israeli occupation of Arab territories.”

Which takes us back to at least 1967. Which, for many Arabs — and some Israelis too — is still far too recent.


Resolution 1559.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, echoing and reflecting the widely accepted view, has said any deal to end the fighting must include “implementation of UN Resolution 1559.” That security council resolution, passed unanimously in February 2004, called for dismantling all foreign militias, including Hezbollah.

The problem, of course, is that Resolution 1559 is just one among many UN Middle East resolutions, most of which have been ignored by whichever side didn’t like what it said.

Consider UN Resolution 242, also unanimously endorsed by the security council in 1967. It demanded Israel withdraw from the territories it then occupied… most of which it still occupies almost 40 years later. Israel, in fact, has rejected more than 65 UN resolutions, including Resolution 425, passed in 1978, which called on Israel to “withdraw its forces from Lebanon.” To be fair, Israel did eventually comply with that resolution… 22 years later. But its troops are now back again.


Hezbollah is financed and armed by Iran and Syria.

True enough, but Israel’s awesome assortment of weapons of mass destruction didn’t materialize from nowhere. For 30 plus years, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. Twenty per cent of Israel’s annual defence budget begins as American dollars. Since George W. Bush came to power, the U.S. has delivered $6.3 billion worth of military might to Israel, including more than 100 F-16 fighter jets currently being used to bomb Hezbollah, as well as Lebanon’s bridges, highways, power plants, neighbourhoods and UN observers.


Embedding militia positions in civilian neighbourhoods is cowardly.

Dropping multi-ton bombs on civilian neighbourhoods from aircraft that fly above the range of your enemy’s anti-aircraft weapons is brave?


Hamas and Hezbollah refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

True. But what about Israel? Hamas is the elected government of the Palestinian people, and Hezbollah is part of the elected Lebanese government. Israel calls them “terrorists” and refuses to have anything to do with them — except try to destroy them.


Israel has no interest in territorial expansion.

I happen to believe this is true but, just as Israel’s supporters trot out Arab statements calling for Israel’s destruction as justification for its own hostile actions, the Arab world sees an enemy that still dreams of creating “Eretz Israel,” or Greater Israel.

This promised land, mapped out by Jewish leaders before Israel actually existed, includes the southern part of Lebanon to the Litani River, the Syrian Golan Heights and the West and East banks of the Jordan River.

If you believe Eretz Israel is Israel’s ultimate if unspoken goal, as many Arabs do, then it all fits. As one recent poster to another pro-Arab website put it: “Dismantling of Iraq, incursion into Syria and Lebanon, eventual annihilation of the Palestinians, preparing to attack Iran, Somalia and Syria, then eventually Saudi Arabia and Sudan, all aid that objective of building Eretz Israel.”


There are many “truths” in this conflict. It doesn’t help when we only hear one of them.

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