Did Israel really need to savage the beauty of Beirut?

Posted 8/1/2006 7:12 PM ET
By George E. Bisharat


Cresting the ridge from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and
descending toward the sea has always taken my breath
away. Beirut appears in the distance, framed like a
cluster of pearls against the stunning blue of the

I traveled that route many times, while studying at
the American University of Beirut in the early 1970s,
before the madness of the Lebanese civil war made
travel there imprudent. Anything seemed possible there
before the war. One could meet people from all over
the world or buy books in any language. Newspapers
reflected a dizzying range of perspectives.

So my breath caught again earlier this month as I
approached Beirut from Damascus, Syria, with my
family, returning to the city where I had spent the
most enjoyable year of my life. Beirut had suffered a
long, bleak period but clearly was bouncing back. Just
weeks ago I saw it pulsing with life, entrepreneurial
drive and, at the time, World Cup soccer mania.

Just days after we flew home, all this vivacity was
crushed, as Israel brought its iron fist down on
Lebanon. The blow had been planned for at least a
year, awaiting only the pretext of Hezbollah's capture
of two Israeli soldiers. If Hezbollah attacked inside
Israel  which the group denies  it violated Israel's
sovereignty, took Israeli lives and was wrong, but
that hardly justifies the destruction of a country.

Israel has bombed at least one convoy carrying medical
supplies and destroyed milk factories, grain silos,
power stations, the airport, mosques, bridges, roads,
urban residential neighborhoods and entire villages.
It has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians and
uprooted approximately 700,000 from their homes. Qana,
a Lebanese village where 106 civilians were killed in
a 1996 Israeli artillery barrage, has again been
targeted. This time, the toll is more than 50,
including at least 34 children.

Israel has a long history of violence against Arab
civilians, displacing or otherwise harming 2 million
over 60 years, according to Israeli
journalist-historian Tom Segev. In 1948, Jewish troops
terrorized 750,000 Palestinian Christians and Muslims
into flight. By their numbers and predominant
ownership of land, Palestinians were obstacles to
establishing the Jewish state. Six decades later, they
are still resisting exile and subjugation.

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and killed about 18,000
civilians  ultimately giving birth to Hezbollah. In
2002, Israel pummeled the West Bank, crippling the
secular nationalist-led Palestinian Authority  and
aiding the rise of Islamist Hamas.

The long-term trend should be obvious: Israel's
violence, no matter how its leaders justify it, fails
to provide its citizens with a sense of security. The
Israeli army might beat back Hezbollah temporarily,
only to create more numerous and radicalized foes than
had existed before.

Until recently, Israel faced hostility in Lebanon
mainly from the Shiites, who suffered the most from
Israel's lengthy occupation of south Lebanon. Now it
is earning the enmity of countless other Lebanese, who
in the past were content to live in peace with their

I wish, one day, that Israeli Jews could crest that
ridge and have their breaths taken away as the magic
of Beirut unfolds below them. But they will never see
the full beauties of the region they inhabit by
dominating others militarily, and denying equal rights
to Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

Security in the Middle East will be achieved only by
respecting rights  to life, dignity, a homeland and
security  for all.

George E. Bisharat is a professor at Hastings College
of the Law in San Francisco. He writes frequently on
the Middle East.


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