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'Measured' Misery?

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Issue: 39 Section: Features Lebanon, Israel Topics: summer war, Hezbollah, Harper

July 25, 2006

'Measured' Misery?

Canada and the war between Israel and Hezbollah

by Chris Arsenault

A mother tries to comfort her child in Bourj Hammoud High School in Beirut. photo: UNHCR/C.Lau
As missiles from Israeli F-16s rained down upon Lebanon, Fredericton resident Yousseff Nakhale was trying desperately to make contact with his wife and daughter who are living in the country.

"I tried to call them yesterday (July 18th) and today (July 19th) and the phone didn't ring, there was no line. I tried on a cellular and a regular phone," said Mr. Nakhale, who was born in Lebanon and has worked in New Brunswick's restaurant business since 1998.

His wife has Canadian citizenship, and may have been shuttled out of the country by the time of publication. Mr. Nakhale's daughter and her three children do not have foreign passports. "My daughter is in more danger. She took her kids and her mother and went to the mountains."

Fighting between the Israeli army and Hizbollah guerrillas based in southern Lebanon began on July 12, when Hizbollah - a Shi'ite political organization who elect legislators, run hospitals and launch attacks - captured two Israeli soldiers from an outpost, and demanded they release Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails.

As of July 23, Israeli air attacks had killed 362 Lebanese, while Hizbollah rockets fired into Haifa and other Israeli cities have left 34 dead. The majority of casualties on both sides have been civilians.

"There is a deepening humanitarian crisis that needs immediate international attention," said Nathan Derejko, Atlantic coordinator of humanitarian issues for the Canadian Red Cross, which is supporting an international call to raise $9.07 million to help fund the materially strapped Lebanese Red Cross.

Although Lebanon's infrastructure is being destroyed, it is not Lebanon's government or military that is fighting with Israel.

After Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war ended with a treaty, the government was divided upon ethnic lines: Christians, Druze, Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims each control a percentage of the legislative seats.

Hizbollah, which translates into 'Party of God,' is a multifaceted social, economic, religious and political force. It was set up in 1982 to resist Israeli occupation of Lebanon during the brutal civil war. The group declared a political existence in 1985 and now controls 18 per cent of seats in Lebanon's parliament.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmaert called Hizbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers and killing of up to eight on July 12 an "act of war" by Lebanon. But with 50 000 soldiers, the Lebanese government doesn't have the force to shut down Hizbollah. Moreover, any attempt to do so would plunge the country back into civil war and shatter its fragile democracy.

Israel's disproportionate destruction of civilian infrastructure including bridges, water treatment facilities and roads, amounts to collective punishment against people who are guilty of one thing: being Lebanese.

Before descending into vicious sectarian civil war beginning in 1975, much like the one currently tearing apart Iraq, Lebanon was considered the 'Paris of the East.' Its capital Beirut was a glamorous modern city with a well-educated, religiously diverse population. Prior to Israel's latest bombardment, things were on the up and up for Lebanon: the economy was growing and the country's tenuous democracy was starting to work.

In Ottawa, Stephen Harper called Israel's attacks "measured," putting Canada at odds with almost the entire international community and - consequently- in perfect harmony with the Bush regime.

Israel has one of the world's most advanced armies and receives $3 billion dollars in US aide every year, more than any other country on the planet.

At his home in Fredericton Yousseff Nakhale isn't interested in talking about politics or religion. "I don't have any idea what happened with Isreal or Hizbollah or the government. Nobody likes this war. It's no good for anybody. Everybody is scared."

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