Thursday, August 24, 2006

Made in the USA

South Beirut, August 24th, 2006

Before I left for Beirut, a friend said, “I’d like to support you, but I ask you to not forget about the Israeli victims.” I have not forgotten them. Over the years I have been called one sided in my condemnation of Israeli policies, and American support and encouragement of these policies. It is not because I don’t care about Israeli victims. I criticize these policies because they cannot lead to peace, but only lead to more death and destruction. These failed policies can be seen strewn throughout the Middle East from Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine and Lebanon. In all of these areas “the war on terror” has led to violence that is unprecedented and shows no signs of abating. As talk of striking Syria and Iran increase, the threat to civilian populations across the Middle East increases as well.

Today I traveled to South Beirut, an area heavily hit by Israeli warplanes. The destruction was devastating, entire city blocks reduced to rubble. The recovery is already in full swing with bulldozers clearing debris and people doing what they can to salvage their homes and businesses. It seemed as if many people were still in a state of shock, just standing in front of the piles of rubble, staring as bulldozers clawed at the remains of their homes. There were posters everywhere, proclaiming in English as well as Arabic, ”made in the USA”, and “Extremely precise targets.” I was amazed, as I always am, that no animosity was directed toward me as I photographed the destruction caused by American made bombs and weapons, and the direct result of American foreign policy. Instead, people said to me, “show these pictures when you go home, show the people what your “smart” bombs do.”

As I walked through the rubble, I had a strong sense of déjà vu, but couldn’t quite place it. I was reminded of many scenes from the West Bank, the cities of Jenin, Qaladia, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, and Nablus have all suffered this kind of destruction. I was also reminded of walking through the Gulf Coast region destroyed by hurricane Katrina, but that was not it either. Then it struck me- the smells, the pulverized concrete, the empty shoe lying in the dust, the battered child’s toy, the bystanders in small groups conversing quietly or just watching. I was once again standing in the dust of the World Trade Center. As the 5th anniversary of that disaster quickly approaches, I thought about the multitude of 9-11’s perpetrated on Middle Eastern countries in the name of “self defense” or the “war on terror” since 2001. But this is not the first time Lebanon has suffered this kind of destruction. The influx of the PLO in the late 60’s, decades of cross border raids by Israel, a bloody civil war, years of Israeli occupation, the formation of Hizbullah in the early 80’s to counter the occupation, and the current crisis- it seems like 9-11’s are a regular, if unwelcome, guest in this part of the world.

Walking through block after block of destroyed apartment complexes I felt outraged and grief stricken at the scale of the destruction. How can this be? Even if you agree with the argument that rockets were fired from civilian areas and that is why they were targeted, no rockets were fired from Southern Beirut. Even if you believe the rhetoric that Hizbullah was hiding (not living, mind you!) among the civilian population, does this justify the bombing of civilian population centers? And just because Israel dropped leaflets warning people to leave the area, does this validate aerial bombardment on this scale? If Hizbullah warned the residents of Haifa to leave before bombing them, would that make it OK? Where do we draw the line, and why is our self-defense always justified, but our “enemy’s” is not? Today, Amnesty International issued a report stating that the wanton destruction of infrastructure and civilian areas was not the result of collateral damage but was in fact an integral part of Israel’s war plan. These charges as well as charges against Hizbullah demand a comprehensive and independent UN inquiry. Governments must also be held accountable for war crimes perpetrated against civilians.

This morning I sit and recall my friends voice, I do not forget the Israeli victims, nor the Lebanese victims, but I wonder where does this all lead? When will the safety of everyone in the region hold equal value. When will each death, regardless of nationality, be one death too many?