Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From 1982: how the New York Times justified the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon

"Israel is, or should be, morally ''different'' from other nations. So say the critics of its pre-emptive war against the P.L.O. in Lebanon, in which uncounted civilians have died. Because Israel was born of the world's revulsion over Hitler's genocide, the critics note, they hold it to a higher code, even in war. Some of these critics are Israelis, struggling to show how morally different they are from their Arab enemies. Are the critics right? Their case is initially compelling because of the way the war unfolded. The Begin Government, having reneged on its promises of ''full autonomy'' for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, lied at the start when it said it wanted only a 25-mile cordon sanitaire. Subsequently, it has probably lied about, or at least suppressed, the civilian casualties it has caused. Throughout, it has been less than honest - certainly unwise - in confusing the P.L.O. with all Palestinian aspirations. And it has seemed obvious almost from the start that the slaughter in Lebanon was clearly disproportionate to any immediate P.L.O. threat. But even after granting all that, there is another side. Critics of the civilian bloodshed in Lebanon now fail to remember the much greater slaughter of civilians by which the P.L.O. and Syria took over the country. By remaining indifferent until the Israeli intervention, the world has erected a cynical double standard. That does not excuse Israel from the obligation to relate ends to means, but it surely explains why most Israelis now scorn the opinion of mankind. If the world wishes to counsel the Israelis, let alone give them moral lectures on why they must adhere to a higher standard, then let the judging be fair: Why is it wrong for Israel to threaten tens of thousands in west Beirut to get at a few thousand remaining P.L.O. fighters - but not wrong for those fighters to hide in civilian neighborhoods, using innocent people as hostages? As The Economist reported while criticizing Israel's assault on Sidon: ''Civilians trying to escape from the camp were shot, apparently by the guerrillas... Palestinian prisoners the Israelis sent in to plead for the civilians to be freed are also said to have been shot.'' Why is it wrong for Israel to fight to restore a once-friendly Christian power in Lebanon - but not wrong for the P.L.O. and Syria, with Arab League sanction, brutally to have destroyed that power? Why was it wrong of Israel to let the P.L.O. grow strong enough to make all of Lebanon its base - but not wrong for Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to support that buildup on someone else's territory and at Israel's expense? Why is it wrong, woefully wrong, for Israel to ignore the aspirations of Palestinians who lost their roots to Zionism - but not wrong for other Arab nations to exploit the dispersed refugees while refusing for decades to partition the old Palestine? Why, in short, should Israel be held to higher standards of moral conduct when most Arab states still deny it even the lowest attributes of nationhood: safe borders and legitimacy? Why should Israelis believe that what the P.L.O. was allowed to do to Lebanon was not also its program for Israel? Such brutal warfare requires more justification than Israel has so far provided. It needs to answer some hard questions. Even a less embattled nation would feel obliged to follow so costly a triumph with a plausible, generous program for coexistence. Nonetheless, by fair standards, if it will finally accept the responsibility of its might, Israel deserves understanding for its plight." (thanks Sarah)