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"Carpenters are running out of wood for coffins"
Israel's terror in Lebanon

July 28, 2006 | Pages 4 and 5

ERIC RUDER reports on the catastrophic human toll of Israel's onslaught against Lebanon.

ISRAEL'S MASSIVE military offensive against Lebanon has created a humanitarian crisis and threatens to plunge the entire region into war.

The first two weeks of Israeli air strikes and volleys of heavy artillery flattened homes and apartment buildings, and destroyed roads, bridges and airports, making it difficult or impossible for people to flee or get essential supplies such as food and fuel to the people who remain.

Roberto Laurenti, the United Nations Children's Fund representative in Beirut, described the situation as "both alarming and catastrophic. There are about 500,000 people displaced already. The situation is extreme."

As Socialist Worker went to press, Israeli officials were calling up new forces to the border for a ground invasion that would make the crisis far worse.

What else to read

The newly launched Web site provides news, analysis and eyewitness reports from Lebanon. A collaborative blog called "Siege of Lebanon" (carries descriptions and analysis from people throughout Lebanon.

"Who started?' by Gideon Levy and published in Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, is an excellent statement about how Israel claims to defend itself while assaulting civilians in Gaza. Ahmad Khalidi makes a similar point about Lebanon as well in an article in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Among the international press, the Guardian has generally carried excellent news coverage of Israel's assault on Lebanon.

For more on the history of U.S. intervention in Lebanon, see Stephen Zunes' "The United States and Lebanon: A Meddlesome History."


But in the U.S., the Bush administration refused to even call for a ceasefire. Top officials made it clear that they support Israel's war on Lebanon--and want to give Israel more time to strike.

In late July, U.S. officials sped up delivery of various munitions to Israel, including 5,000-pound laser-guided bombs designed to destroy concrete bunkers. "Israel's request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike," reported the New York Times.

The death toll in Lebanon has already reached horrifying proportions. In Tyre, a southern city that is the country's fourth largest, the main hospital has run out of room in its morgue. The dead are being buried in mass graves.

"Carpenters are running out of wood for coffins," according to another Times report. "Bodies are stacked three or four high in a truck at the local hospital morgue. The stench is spreading in the rubble.

"The morbid reality of Israel's bombing campaign of the south is reaching almost every corner of this city...[W]ild dogs gnawed at the charred remains of a family bombed as they were trying to escape the village of Hosh, officials said. Officials at the Tyre Government Hospital inside a local Palestinian refugee camp said they counted the bodies of 50 children among the 115 in the refrigerated truck in the morgue."

Tyre resident Therese Khairallah was distraught as she talked to a Washington Post reporter while sitting in an alley near the sea with friends. "They evacuate the foreigners, bring them to safety, and they leave us like dogs in the street," she said.

By day 10 of Israel's assault, the official death toll in Lebanon exceeded 350. But it is likely far higher because many bodies still lie buried and uncounted underneath the rubble. More than 1,000 Lebanese have been injured.

Israel is using a strategy similar to the one it has employed in its siege of Gaza, imposing an air, land and sea blockade against Lebanon. Israel also bombed power facilities, densely populated areas in Beirut's southern suburbs, large trucks carrying foodstuffs and buses in transit, ambulances, gas stations and factories that produce milk, pharmaceuticals and other essential goods.

"Nothing is safe," Dan Halutz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), warned on July 13. "As simple as that." A few days later, he added that Israel plans to "turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years."

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U.S. OFFICIALS actively encouraged the onslaught against Lebanon, asserting that "Israel has a right to defend herself," in the words of George W. Bush.

Leading Democrats rushed to outdo Republicans in showing support for the war. "Israel has not only a right but also a responsibility to respond to the Hezbollah attack," said liberal Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to express U.S. support for Israel and to condemn Hezbollah.

Israel's "right of self-defense," according to U.S. officials, flows from a raid mounted by the military wing of the Lebanese Islamist party Hezbollah, which killed seven Israeli soldiers and led to the capture of two others.

Hezbollah, which had been planning the operation for months, according to leader Hassan Nasrallah, took the Israeli soldiers prisoner in the hopes of freeing Hezbollah fighters held in Israeli jails. In a 2004 prisoner swap, Israel released about 400 Palestinians, 23 Lebanese and a dozen others held in its jails in exchange for Hezbollah's release of an Israeli businessman.

But coming on the heels of Israel's assault on Gaza, which began after Hamas' June 25 capture of an Israeli soldier, Hezbollah's action also became a political show of support for Palestinians suffering for weeks under Israel's intense attack.

Hezbollah fired rockets into towns in northern Israel, including some that reached 40 miles inside Israel to Haifa, Israel's third-largest city.

U.S. and Israeli officials and their media mouthpieces insist that Israel's actions are warranted because Hezbollah struck first, and they blame Syria and Iran for orchestrating the Hezbollah attack. But in truth, Israel has had a long-term plan, years in the making, to exact revenge on Hezbollah for forcing Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000--and to take aim at the Iranian government.

"For Israel, the goal is to eliminate Hezbollah as a security threat--or altogether," the Washington Post reported. "A senior Israeli official confirmed that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is a target, on the calculation that the Shiite movement would be far less dynamic without him. For the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East, U.S. officials say."

In essence, the U.S.--bogged down in Iraq and concerned about the growing influence of Iran among Iraq's new Shiite-dominated government--welcomes Israel's offensive as a way to strike at Iran by weakening its ally Hezbollah.

The assault on Lebanon is also an extension of Israel's war against Palestinians that over the decades has repeatedly spilled into Lebanon.

After the 1948 war to drive Palestinians from their land and found the state of Israel, about 100,000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon, but were denied citizenship and were forced into squalid refugee campus.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to destroy the remnants of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which had been forced out of Jordan in 1970. Israel's invasion failed to deliver the fatal blow to the PLO, but the assault killed some 20,000 people, mostly civilians.

Israeli forces under the command of then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon also bear direct responsibility for the cold-blooded massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinian men, women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut--IDF soldiers looked on as far-right Lebanese militias carried out the mass murder.

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ISRAEL SAYS that it must defend itself from Hezbollah, whose attacks are used to justify all violence that Israel deems necessary for its "self-defense." But like in Israel's latest assault on Gaza, the question of "who started it" is meant to evade the central issue, wrote Gideon Levy, a columnist for Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper.

"Israel is causing electricity blackouts, laying sieges, bombing and shelling, assassinating and imprisoning, killing and wounding civilians, including children and babies, in horrifying numbers, but 'they started,'" wrote Levy.

"They are also 'breaking the rules' laid down by Israel: We are allowed to bomb anything we want, and they are not allowed to launch [rockets]. When they fire a Qassam at Ashkelon, that's an 'escalation of the conflict,' and when we bomb a university and a school, it's perfectly alright. Why? Because they started...

"If the Gazans were sitting quietly, as Israel expects them to do, their case would disappear from the agenda--here and around the world...Nobody would have given any thought to the fate of the people of Gaza if they did not behave violently. That is a very bitter truth, but the first 20 years of the occupation passed quietly, and we did not lift a finger to end it...

"We started. We started with the occupation, and we are duty-bound to end it, a real and complete ending. We started with the violence. There is no violence worse than the violence of the occupier, using force on an entire nation, so the question about who fired first is therefore an evasion meant to distort the picture."

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IN A statement to reporters, Bush said he hoped Israel's actions wouldn't "weaken" Lebanon's fragile "democracy." But after the U.S. military intervention in Lebanon throughout the 1980s and U.S. support for Israel's two-decade occupation before 2000, the idea that the U.S. cares about "democracy" in Lebanon rings hollow. In truth, the U.S. is concerned about nothing more than protecting the pro-U.S. government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

It doesn't care about the deaths of civilians, the bombing of the civilian infrastructure or the flexing of Israel's deadly military might--a fact underlined by the U.S. veto of a UN Security Council resolution charging Israel with "disproportionate use of force" and demanding that it withdraw its troops from Gaza. In fact, eight of the last nine vetoes of UN resolutions have been cast by the U.S.--and seven of those dealt with Israel's war on Palestine.

Now, with both Israel and the U.S. pointing the finger at Iran and Syria, the prospects for a wider war in the Middle East are frighteningly real. A week before the assault on Lebanon began, Israeli jets penetrated Syrian airspace and flew over the house of the Syrian president.

This is a critical time to stand up to Israeli and U.S. aggression. Antiwar activists and supporters of Palestinian rights have been organizing emergency protests against the assault on Gaza, and plans are in the works for demonstrations against Israel's expansion of its war to Lebanon.

These protests are important for exposing the truth about Israel's murderous assault on Lebanon and Gaza--and demanding that the U.S. end its support for Israel.

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