Would I be labelled redundant if I returned for the 12th time in 151 blogs to the Middle East? I am tempted by the festering sores left there, many by our “Western” intrusions into the area, too often for oil, influence, and power, which are the roots of many current problems that the inexplicably costly and frustrating US never-ending electioneering cycle mainly ignores. All participants do correctly agree that Daesh is a deadly virus that must be eradicated, one candidate actually promising to blast them out of existence, a method our many goofs have proven does not work. Others briefly note abuses and deep divisions in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Russia, or they go to opposite and questionable extremes with Iran and Israel.
Should we not heed Jill Stein of the Green Party who makes much sense and Bernie Sanders who voices real empathy for the plight of Palestinians? He is one of the many Jews who are outspoken against Zionist policies of re-inventing Israel as a Jews-only state. Members of his Polish family perished in the holocaust, so he knows the pain of 62 years of expulsions, apartheid, murder, and atrocities suffered by Palestinians culminating in the current aggression of Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose March 2015 address to the US congress was boycotted by Bernie, along with Jill Stein, and 57 Democrats including Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Benjamin waxed eloquently to an admiring, and loudly-applauding, audience on how the US should run its foreign policy especially towards Iran and Israel, forgetting all Palestinians whose lives, we should argue, also matter.
When we try to understand the Middle East, that crossroads of Asian, African, and European migrations, invasions, trade, warfare, and periods of peaceful co-existence, all for thousands of years, we must first realize that our species is pretty much the same everywhere. We all come into this world grossly ignorant of it so rely on parents, teachers, prophets, benefactors, aggressors, greed, and the like for survival and to form us, our beliefs, and our actions. Truth demands that we first have some knowledge of the deep history of scores of ethnic groups that are now divided into tiny and fragile countries that are greatly in need of larger peaceful associations.
Jericho was founded 11,000 years ago, Byblos, Lebanon, 10,800 years ago. The name“Palestine” can be traced back 3,150 years and was known in the Old Testament as Canaan. Its people have been part of many associations: Egyptian, Canaanite-Phoenician (1550 to 539 BC) that gave us our alphabet, Assyrian, Achaemenid, Persian ( 2 centuries), Macedonian whose Alexander the Great burned Tyre in 332 BC, Roman that started in 64 BC and brought Christianity that led to the Maronite monastic tradition, Arab (Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, and Fatimid), Seljuk Turk, Crusader, Islamic conquests in the 600s AD that brought Sunni-Shia-Druze divisions, Mamluk (1250-1517) who were captured slaves who revolted against their Abbasid rulers, Mongol, Ottoman Turk (Palestine was ruled from Damascus for 400 years), and, after 1919, French and British empires.
During WWII, Vichy France let Germany move troops though Syria to Iraq to fight British forces while the Free French in 1941, under Charles de Gaulle, declared Lebanon independent from Syria. Some 100,000 Lebanese had died of starvation. Lebanon gained full independence with all French troops leaving in 1946. Lebanon was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and has been part of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie since 1973.
The current mess that has befallen Lebanon and Palestine starts with the rebirth of Israel, something Winston Churchill called a serious mistake, warning that imposing an exclusive Jewish state on Palestine where Jews, Christians, and Muslims had lived peacefully under Ottoman rule would create a festering and unhealible sore. The UK also had a responsibility to keep its promise of an independent Arab Palestine for all the help it gave in defeating the Turks in WWI. Lawrence of Arabia (archaeologist, colonel, author, 1888-1935) refused awards from King George V when the promise was not kept. After WWII Harry Truman manipulated the UN to approve a Jewish state. This would give the US a second foothold, along with Saudi Arabia, in the area. Sympathy for the Jews who were half of the 12 million exterminated in the Holocaust was widespread, but to create Israel out of 55% of Palestine that was mainly Arab Islamic was also a crime followed by crimes that continue today.
So, may I venture again into this cauldron to ask if Hamas and Hezbollah deserve to remain on the long list of “Terrorist” organizations we in the West maintain?
Hezbollah was born in 1985 in Lebanon whose 5.9 million people occupy a mere 10,230 sq km in what was a part of Syria, an autonomous unit of the Ottoman empire (1516-1918), taken by France after WWI.
With independence, Lebanon attempted religious harmony by having a Maronite Christian as president, a Sunni Muslim as PM, and a Shiite as speaker of the assembly. Until 1975 Lebanon flourished as the “Switzerland of the East”, noted for its tourism, banking, commerce, and agriculture. A large influx of refugees forced from Palestine led to the 1975-90 civil war. Hezbollah (Hizbullah, Hizballah), Party of God, is a Shi’a group with political and military wings. It is currently headed by Hassan Nasrallah, and loyal to the Resistance Bloc party of the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah embraced Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei (1902-1989) who funded it to oppose Israeli and Western imperialism.
Nasrallah is the third leader of Hezbollah following the Israeli assassination of the first, Abbas al-Musawi, in 1992. Hassan and his wife, Fatima, have 5 children with a son having been killed in combat. He published in 2007 his “Voice of Hezbollah” which contains numerous quotes like: “Talk about freedom is fine but the important thing is to allow people to act in freedom.” “As long as there is imperialism there can be no peace.” “Israel’s numerous massacres prevents it from co-existing” “We have not started nor do we want a war with the US. If someone attacks us we will respond even though we do not want to fight.” “On this land Muslims, Jews, and Christians can co-exist as they have for thousands of years.”
In order to safeguard its takeover of Palestine’s West Bank, Israel needed to control Lebanon so embarked on a series of irritations trying to provoke enough Lebanese reactions to justify an invasion. Assured of US support, it invaded in 1982, occupying southern Lebanon and creating a South Lebanese Army (SLA). In 1985 Iran loaned 1,500 Revolutionary Guards to build Hezbollah’s military wing to harass the occupation and enabling it to defeat the SLA forcing an Israeli withdrawal in 2004. Enough reason for the West to declare Hezbollah a terrorist entity with only the EU, UK, and NZ limiting the term to the military wing?
Or, is Hezbollah as guilty as Israel for aggressive killings? In the first 4 years of Hezbollah’s existence 41 individual Lebanese killed 659 Israeli, French, and US persons. Hezbollah denies involvement in most but is blamed for all. Fairly definite Hezbollah involvements include:
1992: killing 29 in the attack on the US embassy in Buenos Aires and 85 in a Jewish centre in Argentina.
1994: killing 21, 13 of them Jews, in the explosion of Alas Chiricanas flight 901 out of Panama and injuring 29 in an attack on the Israeli embassy in London.
1996: killing 19 US servicemen in the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia by a Hezbollah-trained Saudi Shia.
Continuing support for Syria’s Assad government. We applaud this only when Hezbollah hits Daesh targets.
Much of our press and government tells us that, from 2000 to the present, Israelis have suffered terribly at the hands of Hamas and Hezbollah: 1,350 deaths and 11,671 injured, 3 homes destroyed, and 3 soldiers held prisoner. This is unacceptable, justifies the term “terrorist”, and the $10 million per day in US military aid.
Yet, a growing opposition, including Stephen Hawking, boycotts Israel because Palestinian woes at the hands of Israelis have been 11,360 deaths, 86,974 injured, 6,700 detained, 26,000 homes demolished, 261 Jews-only settlements in what was left of Palestine, and $0 from the US in military aid The UN has targeted Israeli with 77 hostile resolutions for human rights abuses compared to one for Palestine. Enough to justify feeble intifadas?
So, what about Sunni Hamas with ties to Shia Iran? It was formed as an alternative to the PLO in Gaza in 1987 out of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt with its name an ancronym of Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia (Islamic Resistance Movement)? It has religious, military, political, and security wings with a total annual budget of $70 million coming mainly from the Gulf States. Its first military assault on Israel was in 1989 by killing 2 soldiers. Its first suicide bombing was in 1994 killing 5. In 1996 the PLO censored Hamas for suicide bombings that killed 50, then arrested 140 Hamas members. In 2003 two bus attacks killed 36. 2005-08 attacks took 8 lives. Khaled Mashal has been the leader since the 2004 Israeli assassination of Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.
In legislative elections in 2006 Hamas won 76 seats compared to 43 for Fatah out of 132 seats. In 2012 Hamas sided with the civil opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This year individual attacks have restarted, but mainly from the occupied West Bank.
It is baffling as to what either Hamas or Israel hopes to, or can, achieve. Hamas can do little damage to Israel and the reprisals are so cruel, immediate and overwhelming, with all of Gaza remaining a jail, that all that emerges is the spirit of the London blitz to win in the end whether it takes 6 years or 200. As I have often begged: “Israel, you have the ability and enough good people. Forget greed, secret nuclear weapons, and your own march to empire to lead for the good of all. Do stop emulating the Assyrians who, persecuted for centuries, arose to create their own harsh empire. Show that you can treat your natives better than we treated ours."