After three and a half months of indiscriminate rocket fire, bombings, civilian deaths, and bulldozing of homes, it seems as if the Lebanese Army’s siege of Nahr el-Bared is over.
Now with at least 427 dead, the open knowledge of mass graves filled with unknown numbers of bodies, likely “militant” and civilian, an absolutely destroyed refugee camp, and thousands displaced, I wait patiently for the international outrage…
And there will be none.
There will be no angry condemnations from the Arab League, there will be no damning reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, nor Oxfam, and there will be no calls for sanctions, academic boycotts, or international isolation of the Lebanese government from public intellectuals, academics, politicians, or human rights activists.
Please don’t misinterpret my concern. I agree with what I assume are the majority of Lebanese that Fatah al-Islam and other Damascus-supported groups within Lebanon represent an existential threat to the stability of the state, the government, and the lives of its citizens. Something had to be done about them, just as something has to be done about the many other militia groups that operate within Lebanon’s many other Palestinian “refugee camps” outside of state oversight and control. Whether they are actually proxies of Assad’s regime in Damascus or radical military entrepreneurs in their own right, you can be sure of one thing: So long as groups like these enjoy operational freedom in Lebanon, they will cause nothing but trouble for its already weak security establishment, undermining people’s confidence in the state’s ability to provide security to all of its ethnoreligious communities.
Of course, these groups are small change when compared with the missile firepower, operational strength, political influence, and widespread support enjoyed by Hezbollah particularly within the Shi’ite heavy South. As they so clearly demonstrated last summer, when Lebanon’s militias are free from government oversight, they are free to pursue their own agendas, in this case sucking the entire country into a devastating war.
One can only hope that the army’s “practice” these past few months will give them the confidence to begin to confront Nasrallah’s army. Although given that it took so long to flush out what the government claimed to be a tiny group of extremists, and even after proclaiming “mission accomplished”, violence has continued. Sound familiar? Bottom line, I’m not terribly optimistic.
But what about the international outrage? Surely mass graves, widespread casualties, state authorized mortar attacks on a heavily-populated refugee enclaves, and thousands of displaced Palestinians deserves some mention from the usual suspects. Yet human rights organizations have remained largely silent while the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League, and the international press has stood shoulder to shoulder with the Lebanese government in this time of trauma.
Indeed, was the avenging army that of Lebanon’s neighbor to the South, one cannot imagine we would have heard such uncritical international support nor such bombastic rhetorical flourishes by the international press praising Saniora’s government in it’s efforts to “crush” and “destroy” Fatah al-Islam.
Juxtapose this response to that of the international community only five years ago in Jenin when papers around the world announced an Israeli massacre of “hundreds” of civilians, and destroyed the camp. As it turned out, the casualties were 56 Palestinians, mostly combatants, and 23 Israeli soldiers. Moreover, the operation, which lasted less than a week and a half, resulted in the destruction of, at most, 10% of the camp. This compared to near-uniform media reports of the absolute and complete devastation of Nahr el-Bared after three and a half months of urban warfare in Nahr el-Bared and the displacement of nearly all its residents.
Even as I feel I stand with most Lebanese on this day in celebrating their small success in bringing a measure of law and order to the state, I remain pessimistic. Lebanon may have achieved a victory today, but the battle ahead to truly consolidate the state, should they choose to embrace it, remains a dangerous and treacherous one which may require many many more Nahr el-Bareds.
In the meantime, one can only expect from past experience that the double standard by which the international community judges state-led military operations in the Middle East will continue. While the people and the government in Lebanon may have learned that exercising control over one’s country is the only way to prevent it from falling apart, I am equally assured that the world has learned nothing. Although the Lebanese government’s desperate attempts to retain and regain sovereignty so perfectly demonstrated in Nahr el-Bared are apparently seen in a moral vacuum, its neighbors to the south can expect no such leniency.
The same righteous individuals, organizations, and international bodies which apparently have little to nothing to say about mass graves in Nahr el-Bared, the ongoing violence in Darfur, the growing Shi’ite on Sunni/Sunni on Shi’ite/Sunni on Sunni/Shi’ite on Shi’ite terrorism in Iraq, the variably violent and bloody civil wars and insurgencies in Congo, Thailand, the Philippines, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Georgia to name a mere few briefly mentioned in the news this week, will come down hard singularly on Israel for “atrocities” which rarely reach an eighth of the level of crimes seen almost every day in these troubled states.
Does this mean that every violent action committed by the Israeli military is justified? Of course not. No more than the violent and often indiscriminate military means which characterized the siege of Nahr el-Bared were themselves independently morally justifiable.
Given the near deafening applause of the international community at the performance of the Lebanese army, if we are to assume that there exists any degree of moral equivalence in judgment between the conduct of this military and that of Israel (or any of the coalition forces currently mired in violence in Afghanistan and Iraq), we must also assume that the world deemed the actions of the military to be necessary and thus ultimately morally justifiable. What then of necessity?
What makes the destruction of Nahr el-Bared leaving hundreds in body bags and thousands more homeless necessary yet the targeted assassination of bomb makers and imposition of checkpoints to prevent suicide bombings an atrocity. What make the former a great achievement for the Lebanese people and the latter a war crime?
Whether this is because the world no longer believes that Israel is still fighting for its survival, that terrorism against the Jewish state and its people is acceptable while it is never so elsewhere, or something much more sinister, Israel clearly will be given no quarter.
What lessons, then, are these states likely to draw from this experience? In the case of Lebanon, it has learned that it can engage in massive acts of violence and destruction so long as the face of the enemy is “terrorism.” For Israel, it only further confirms their widely-held belief as to how inequitable, biased, and latently anti-Semitic international institutions and human rights organizations have become.
Both lessons are sure to only drive both countries farther from the standards and norms of behavior the international community theoretically demands from them. A great victory indeed…