Peace Studies Program
University of Maine
5725 East Annex, Rm. 211
Orono ME 04469-5725
Hugh Curran was born in a Gaelic speaking part of Donegal, Ireland. He spent 14 years in northern Canada and Nova Scotia. Hugh was a Buddhist monastic for five years and after moving to Maine in the mid-seventies, built his own home. He later spent five years as the Director of a homeless shelter in Downeast Maine. Hugh has been teaching several years at the University of Maine in Peace Studies and has written a number of OpEd articles on peace related issues for the Bangor Daily News.
The Quest for Middle East peace
Saturday, August 19, 2006 – Bangor Daily News
The Israeli military has stated that “each and every death of an innocent Lebanese is the fault of Hezbollah.” Unfortunately, the attitude underlying this statement betrays a good deal of callousness toward the civilian population of Lebanon. The horror of widespread bombing is bad enough without blaming the victims.
The result of all the aerial bombing over the past month has managed to enhance, rather than weaken, Hezbollah’s reputation among a good proportion of the Lebanese population that were not particularly well disposed toward them up to now. The war has also resulted in the U.S. suffering yet another blow to its already tattered reputation among Arab nations.
According to Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, “The Israeli government and the Bush administration both suffer from the foolish illusion (one easy to understand among [those] … who have never been near a battlefield) that war is the solution to problems in the Middle East. The idea that Arabs understand only force, which underlies American and Israeli policies, is racist and profoundly mistaken. As long as such dangerous illusions reign, innocents will continue to die in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Israel.”
An English writer living in Beirut noted after a month of bombing that “the damage to Lebanon has been catastrophic.” He then asked, “how would Canadians and Americans feel if British forces had loosed their jet fighters on Dublin because the IRA set off bombs in London?” His analogy is an apt one. Why bomb Beirut and why destroy the Lebanese infrastructure unless you wish to punish a whole people for the actions of a minority? Or was there an additional purpose intended so as to provoke a larger confrontation to satisfy the Bush administration agenda? According to an article in the Jerusalem Post on July 30 President Bush expressed interest in a wider war involving Syria. Israeli “defense officials told the Post …that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria.” But in this case wiser heads in the Israeli cabinet prevailed and the suggestion was rejected.
Dr. Stephen Cohen, who teaches the theory and practice of diplomacy, notes that: “… I also don’t think this is a good way for the United States to be showing how it can be helpful in this new era, because what…[we need is] to bring Israel into a relationship of peace on equal footing with the other states of the region, and with the Palestinians becoming such another state in the region. So, I would say that we don’t see here an example of the proper kind of American leadership. But we have to understand that the United States is looking at this not as a problem between two communities who are unable to resolve their conflict now for over eighty years, but rather trying to reconstruct it as part of this war on terrorism and therefore not being able to see the real regional and real communal problems that are coming.”
Uri Avnery, a well-known Israeli writer and peace activist, responding to questions concerning the regions problems said”… Hizbullah was created by us. When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982, the Shiites received the soldiers with rice and sweets. They hoped that we would evict the PLO forces, who were in control of the area. But when they realized that our army was there to stay, they started a guerilla war that lasted for 18 years. In this war, Hizbullah was born and grew, until it became the strongest organization in all Lebanon.”
When discussing Hezbollah (ie Hizbullah) Avnery also states that “Not by accident is the organization call Hizb-Allah (“Party of Allah”) and not Jeish-Allah (“Army of Allah”). It is a political organization, with deep roots in the Shiite population of South Lebanon. For all practical purposes, it represents this community. The Shiites are 40 percent of the Lebanese population, and together with the other Muslims they form the majority.”
America’s present administration appears unwilling or incapable of looking at the broader picture and at the same time betrays a one-sided view of middle-eastern affairs. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former National Security Advisor to President Carter notes that: “These neocon prescriptions, of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East’s population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well.”
The issues, in the case of Lebanon and Israel, is that both countries are convinced they are right. Yet real solutions have to have real compromises, not one aimed at utterly subjugating the other. Uri Avnery presents a viable way forward when he states that Israel must: “… put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which causes ferment throughout the Middle East. [Israel]…must draw Hamas out of this hostile front, by negotiating with the elected Palestinian government.[Israel] … must reach a settlement in Lebanon. For it to last, this settlement must include Hizbullah and Syria. This will oblige us to give the Golan [Heights] back. It should be remembered that Ehud Barak had already agreed to that and almost signed a peace treaty, similar to the one signed with Egypt, but unfortunately chickened out at the last moment for fear of public opinion.”
Even though military might with its consequent short term thinking has become part of U.S. and Israel policy diplomatic means can still be the salvation of both nations. But real statesmen have to be allowed a real role. Elder statesmen, such as Uri Avnery, who have lived through long-standing conflicts know that lasting peace can only be achieved in this way.