Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Hezbollah Supporters

By Dahr Jamail
Monday 31 July 2006

Today, Sunday, I write this from Beirut, which is being circled by Israeli unmanned military surveillance drones, the same kind I saw so often in Fallujah. I suppose they were spying on the raging demonstrators who clogged the streets in Beirut and assaulted the UN building in a rage of vengeance after the fresh massacre of civilians by Israeli warplanes in the small town of Qana in the south.

Hundreds of the protesters ran through the building's corridors smashing offices, walls and glass while rescue teams extracted the bodies of at least 34 children and scores of other civilians from the bowels of the refugee shelter they were hiding in.

"Fuck the UN! Fuck those bastards for not stopping this Israeli slaughtering of the innocents," screamed a young protestor waving a Lebanese flag outside the UN building, which by now had smoke billowing out of portions of it. "What good are they if they cannot do what they were designed to do - to stop the killing of innocents?"

This man, 22 years old, was but a baby when the first Israeli military massacre at Qana took place. Yet the parallels of this sordid history repeating itself were not missed by most in the seething crowd.

On April 11, 1996, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, under pressure to respond to a wave of suicide bombings in Israel, launched Operation Grapes of Wrath. One week later, on April 18, while 800 civilians sought shelter from the fighting at a UN peacekeeping base in Qana, the base was shelled heavily - killing 102 and wounding 120.

After the first Qana massacre, the Israeli military rejected responsibility for the deaths, instead blaming Hezbollah because they thought fighters had entered the UN base. A similar Israeli justification, albeit the very definition of collective punishment, was given today - that they suspected Hezbollah militants had fired rockets from Qana. After the 1996 massacre, a UN investigation found no evidence to support the claim made by the Israeli military, and I suspect a similar investigation will find a similar verdict this time - that the Israeli military had no reason to bomb innocent civilians.

Astounding as this level of blood thirst is, it really cannot come as much of a surprise. Why not? Because just last Thursday, Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon announced on Israeli army radio, "All those in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."

Using rhetoric that set the stage for justifying the collective punishment of the Lebanese people in southern Lebanon, Ramon added, "In order to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers battling Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, villages should be flattened by the Israeli air force before ground troops move in."

He rationalized his statements by saying that Israel had given the civilians of southern Lebanon ample time to leave the area; thus, anyone who remained could be considered a supporter of Hezbollah.

So of course by his definition, everyone in southern Lebanon supports Hezbollah.

I met some of these "supporters of Hezbollah" yesterday in the hospitals of Sidon.

I met five-year-old Hussein Jawad as his stiff little body lay prone on a hospital bed, one of his tiny legs in a cast. His eight-year-old sister Zayneb, also a "supporter of Hezbollah," lay next to him in the same bed. See, there were so many Hezbollah supporters in the southern hospitals that the small ones had to share beds.

They, along with their mother Yusah in a nearby bed, covered in the kind of shrapnel wounds received from cluster bombs, had stayed in their tiny village near the border during the first three days of the bombing because they were too scared to leave. The bombing got so close; they took their chances and managed to move to another village, where they stayed for another eight days.

They ran out of food, so Yusah and the two little "supporters of Hezbollah," compelled by fear and hunger, along with another car containing Yusah's two sisters, followed an ambulance to Kafra village. When they arrived there, the car carrying the two sisters was bombed by an American-made F-16.

Then there was Khuder Gazali, an ambulance driver, whose left arm was blown off by a rocket fired by an American-made Apache war helicopter while he was rescuing civilians whose home had been bombed. The ambulance then sent to rescue the rescuer was bombed, everyone in it killed. Miraculously, the third ambulance was able to retrieve him, only because the Apache had left.

16-year-old Ibrahim Al-Hama was surely supporting Hezbollah as he played in a river with a dozen of his friends before they were bombed by a warplane. He lay in the hospital bed, his lacerated chest oozing blood, his left ankle shattered and held together by gauze and medical tape. Two of his friends are dead, along with a woman who was near the bomb's impact zone. Perhaps she too was plotting a rocket attack against Israel?

It's wonderful to see the thoroughness of the Israeli military, their effectiveness at eradicating "supporters of Hezbollah." Like 51-year-old Sumi Marden Ruwiri. On July 14th his home in Bint Jbail was bombed while most of his family members were inside, killing his mother and sister while they surely were strategizing the next rocket launches for Hezbollah. When he and several others began to sift through the rubble for their loved ones, the warplanes returned to bomb the rescuers. He lay in bed, his back shredded by shrapnel, countless patches of gauze stuck to his wounds. His sheets were stained red by blood and yellow by pus that oozed from the wounds.

Alia Abbas, a 52-year-old, fled her village with five other family members after Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets instructing them to leave their village. She lay in bed shredded by shrapnel wounds, one of her eyes missing. 10 days ago when they tried to flee, hanging white flags out the windows of their car, they were bombed by warplanes. She's the only survivor. "Why did they bomb as after we did what they told us to do," she asked me. All I could do was clench my jaw to stave off the tears.

Apparently Alia didn't know she was a "supporter of Hezbollah," since her family was wiped out after Haim Ramon's preposterous remarks about half a million inhabitants of southern Lebanon.

I met dozens of other Hezbollah supporters, most of them women, children and elderly - the kind most ill-equipped to flee their homes on a moment's notice. They lay in their beds, many of them moaning, some crying, and others comatose and kept alive only by machines. The man comatose in this picture was fleeing his village on a motorcycle after receiving the leaflets of instruction to do so, according to his mother - the only one left alive from their family of 10.

Then I met Durish Zhair, a 43-year-old man whose home near the southern border was bombed by warplanes. Half of his face was burned his back horribly burned, and the rest of his body pocked by shrapnel. He sat with a stern look on his face, distraught and confused by what happened. I asked him where his 11 family members were and he told me, "They are all wounded, scattered in hospitals in the south, or in Beirut."

I thanked him for his time, and we walked out of his room. The nurse who accompanied me softly closed the door. She then said to me quietly, "All of his family is dead. We cannot tell him yet because he is so injured. He thinks they are still alive."

Surely, they too, along with his wife and young children were "supporters of Hezbollah."

My head spun. My head still spins and I feel sick inside. I wonder how much is enough? How many more will die? Over 600 Lebanese, mostly civilians, are dead. At least 51 Israelis, the majority civilians, are dead from this.

If we look back a few years, we find the answer. Speaking before the Conference on America's Challenges in a Changed World at the US Institute of Peace (yes, "Institute of Peace") in Washington DC on September 5, 2002, the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had the following exchange during a Q&A session:

Q: In this war on terrorism, a group that isn't mentioned very often is one that you're very familiar with, Hezbollah. It has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group before September 11th. I just would like to hear whether they are on the agenda sometime in the future.

Mr. Armitage: Well, let me, for those who don't know you, Buck, "Buck" Revell, formerly of the FBI, was one of the leading voices for anti-terrorism activities during the second Reagan administration and was absolutely key in some of the takedowns we had at the time. And I appreciate the question.

Hezbollah may be the "A team" of terrorists, and maybe al Qaeda is actually the "B team." And they're on the list and their time will come, there is no question about it. They have a blood debt to us, which you spoke to, and we're not going to forget it. And it's all in good time. And we're going to go after these problems just like a high school wrestler goes after a match. We're going to take 'em down one at a time.

And taking 'em down one at a time, or in the case of Qana today, scores at a time, is what they are doing in southern Lebanon. While Israel and their stalwart US backers continue to refuse pleas for a cease-fire, bombs and rockets rain down on women, children and other innocents as they huddle in their homes, in refugee shelters, or while they flee in their cars while holding white surrender flags.

Meanwhile, Israeli defense sources told Israel's Haaretz newspaper Sunday that the Israeli army's general staff had received orders to accelerate its offensive on Hezbollah before the declaration of any cease-fire.

Yet as War Criminal Rice and her cronies back in DC drag their feet, postponing any real cease-fire, Israel's military needn't hasten itself too much as they go about their daily slaughtering of the "supporters of Hezbollah."

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