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Robert Fisk Articles: The Truth of British P remier’s ‘Urgent Diplomacy’

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  • Zafar Khan
    The Truth of British Premier’s ‘Urgent Diplomacy’ Robert Fisk, The Independent Saturday, 29, July, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2006
      The Truth of British Premier’s ‘Urgent Diplomacy’
      Robert Fisk, The Independent
      Saturday, 29, July, 2006


      I dropped by the hospital in Marjayoun this week to
      find a young girl lying in a hospital bed, swathed in
      bandages, her beauty scarred forever by some familiar
      wounds; the telltale dark-red holes in her skin made
      by cluster bombs, the weapon we used in Iraq to such
      lethal effect and which the Israelis are now using to
      punish the civilians of southern Lebanon.

      And, of course, it occurred to me at once that if
      George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and our own sad and
      diminished prime minister had demanded a cease-fire
      when the Lebanese first pleaded for it, this young
      woman would not have to spend the rest of her life
      pitted with these vile scars.

      And having seen the cadavers of so many more men and
      women, I have to say — from my eyrie only three miles
      from the Israeli border — that the compliant, gutless,
      shameful refusal of Bush, Rice and Lord Blair of Kut
      Al-Amara to bring this bloodbath to an end sentenced
      many hundreds of innocent Lebanese to death. As I
      write this near the village of Blat, which has its own
      little list of civilian dead, it’s quite clear that
      many more innocent Lebanese are being prepared for the
      slaughter — and will indeed die in the coming days.

      What was it Condoleezza Rice said? That “a hasty
      cease-fire would not be a good thing”? What was
      Blair’s pathetic excuse at the G-8 summit? That it was
      much better to have a cease-fire that would last than
      one which might break down? Yes, I entirely
      understand. Blair and his masters — we shall give Rice
      a generic title to avoid the obvious — regard
      cease-fires not as a humanitarian step to alleviate
      and prevent suffering but as a weapon, as a means to a
      political end.

      Let the war last longer and the suffering grow greater
      — let compassion be postponed — and the Lebanese (and,
      most laughably, the Hezbollah) will eventually sink to
      their knees and accept the West’s ridiculous demands.

      And one of those famous American “opportunities” for
      change — i.e. for humbling Iran — will have been
      created. Hence, in the revolting words of Lord Blair’s
      flunky yesterday, Blair will “increase the urgency” of
      diplomacy. Think about that for a moment.

      Diplomacy wasn’t urgent at the beginning. Then I
      suppose it became fairly urgent and now this
      mendacious man is going to “increase” the urgency of
      diplomacy; after which, I suppose, it can become
      super-urgent or of “absolutely” paramount importance,
      the time decided — no doubt — by Israel’s belief that
      it has won the war against Hezbollah or, more likely,
      because Israel realizes that it is an unwinnable war
      and wants us to take the casualties.

      Yet from the border of Pakistan to the Mediterranean —
      with the sole exception of the much-hated Syria and
      Iran, which might be smothered in blood later — we
      have turned a 2,500-mile swath of the Muslim world
      into a hell-disaster of unparalleled suffering and
      hatred. Our British “peacekeepers” in Afghanistan are
      fighting for their lives — and apparently bombing the
      innocent, Israeli-style — against an Islamist enemy
      which grows by the week. In Iraq, our soldiers — and
      those of the United States — hide in their concrete
      crusader fortresses while the people they so
      generously liberated and introduced to the benefits of
      Western-style democracy slash each other to death. And
      now Lord Blair and his chums — following Israeli
      policy to the letter — are allowing Israel to destroy
      Lebanon and call it peace.

      Blair and his ignorant foreign secretary have played
      along with Israel’s savagery with blind trust in our
      own loss of memory.

      It is perfectly acceptable, it seems, after the
      Hezbollah staged its reckless and lethal July 12
      assault, to destroy the infrastructure of Lebanon and
      the lives of more than 400 of its innocents. But hold
      on a moment. When the IRA used to cross the Irish
      border to kill British soldiers — which it did — did
      Blair and his cronies blame the Irish Republic’s
      government in Dublin? Did Blair order the RAF to bomb
      Dublin power stations and factories? Did he send
      British troops crashing over the border in tanks to
      fire at will into the hill villages of Louth,
      Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal? Did Blair then demand an
      international, NATO-led force to take over a buffer
      zone — on the Irish, not the Northern Ireland side, of
      the border?

      Of course not. But Israel has special privileges
      afforded to no other civilized nation. It can do
      exactly what Blair would never have done — and still
      receive the British government’s approbation. It can
      trash the Geneva Conventions — because the Americans
      have done that in Iraq — and it can commit war crimes
      and murder UN soldiers like the four unarmed observers
      who refused to leave their post under fire.

      And what of the Hezbollah and its leader Hassan
      Nasrallah? I have long believed that its attack across
      the Israeli border was planned months in advance. But
      I’ve now come to realize that Israel’s assault on
      Lebanon was also planned long in advance — as part of
      the American-Israeli project to change the shape of
      the Middle East. The idea that Nasrallah is going to
      kneel before a NATO general and hand over his sword —
      that this disciplined, ruthless, frightening guerrilla
      army is going to surrender to NATO — is a folly beyond

      But Blair and Bush want to send a combat force into
      southern Lebanon. Well, I shall be there, I suppose,
      to watch its swift destruction in an orgy of car and
      suicide bombings by the same organization that
      yesterday fired another new longer-than-ever range
      missile that landed near Afula in Israel.

      The Lebanese government — democratically elected and
      hailed by a US administration which threw roses at its
      prime minister after the US State Department claimed a
      “Cedar Revolution” — has just caught the Americans off
      guard, producing a peace package to which the
      Hezbollah has reluctantly agreed, starting with an
      immediate cease-fire. Can Washington ignore the
      decision of a democratic government? Of course it can.
      It is encouraging Israel to continue its destruction
      of the democratically elected Hamas government in Gaza
      and the West Bank.

      So stand by for an “increase” in the “urgency” of
      diplomacy — and for more women with their skin torn
      open by cluster bombs.

      On a Red Cross Mission of Mercy when Israeli Air Force
      came Calling


      ICH -- Robert Fisk-- It was supposed to be a routine
      trip across the Lebanese killing fields for the brave
      men and women of the International Red Cross. Sylvie
      Thoral was the "team leader" of our two vehicles, a
      38-year-old Frenchwoman with dark brown hair and eyes
      like steel. The Israelis had been informed and had
      given what the ICRC likes to call its "green light" to
      the route. And, of course, we almost died.

      Trusting the Israeli army and air force, which are
      breaking the Geneva Conventions almost every day, is a
      dodgy business.

      Their planes have already attacked - against all the
      conventions - the civil defence headquarters in Tyre,
      killing 20 refugees. They have twice attacked
      truckloads of refugees whom they themselves had
      ordered from their villages.

      They have already attacked two Lebanese Red Cross
      ambulances in Qana, killing two of the three wounded
      patients inside and injuring all the crew - a clear
      and apparently deliberate breach of Chapter IV,
      Article 24 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

      But the ICRC must put its trust in the Israeli
      military and so off we sped from southern Lebanon for
      Jezzine to the sound of gunfire, under the crumbling
      battlements of the crusader castle at Beaufort,
      through the ghostly, shattered streets of Nabatiyeh,
      bomb craters and crushed buildings on each side of us.

      To cross the Litani river, we had to drive through the
      water, listening for the howl of airplane engines, one
      eye on the road, one on the sky. Sylvie and her
      comrades - Christophe Grange from France, Claire
      Gasser from Switzerland, Saidi Hachemi from Algeria
      and two Lebanese colleagues, Beshara Hanna and Edmund
      Khoury - drove in silence.

      There were fresh bomb craters on the highway north of
      Nabatiyeh - the attacks had come only a few hours
      earlier, a fact we should have thought more about.
      Pieces of ordnance littered the roads, shards of
      wicked shrapnel, huge chunks of concrete. But we had
      had that all-important "green light" from Tel Aviv.

      The ICRC teams may be the only saviours on the
      highways of southern Lebanon - their reticence in
      criticising anyone, including the Israelis and
      Hizbollah is a silence worthy of angels - although
      their work can attack their emotions as surely as an
      air strike. Only a day earlier, they had driven to the
      village of Aiteroun scarcely a mile from the Israeli
      army's disastrous assault on Bint Jbeil. In each
      "abandoned" village on the way, a woman would appear,
      then a child and then more women and the elderly, all
      desperate to leave.

      There were perhaps 3,000 of them and, last night,
      Sylvie Thoral was trying to arrange permission for an
      evacuation convoy. The Israelis are promising the
      Lebanese much worse than the punishment they have
      already received - well over 400 Lebanese civilians
      dead - for Hizbollah's killing of three Israeli
      soldiers and the capture of two others. But still the
      Israelis have suggested no "green light" for Aiteroun.

      "They were begging us to take them with us and we had
      no ability to do that," Saidi says with deep emotion.
      "Their eyes were filled with tears."

      ICRC workers in Lebanon travel without flak jackets or
      helmets - their un-militarised status is something
      they are proud of - and driving with them in the same
      condition was an oddly moving experience.

      They live - unlike the Israelis and their Hizbollah
      antagonists - by the Geneva Conventions. They believe
      in them when all others break the rules. But
      yesterday, when we reached the town of Jarjooaa, the
      ICRC in Beirut told us to turn back. The Israelis were
      bombing the road to the north and so we gingerly
      reversed our cars and started back down the hills to
      Arab Selim. The highway was empty and we had almost
      reached the bottom of a small valley.

      I was reflecting on a conversation I had just had on
      my mobile phone with Patrick Cockburn, The
      Independent's correspondent who has just left Baghdad.
      Our guardian angels were working so hard, he said,
      that he was fearful they would form a trade union and
      go on strike.

      That's when five vast, brown, dead fingers of smoke
      shot into the sky in front of us, an Israeli
      air-dropped bomb that exploded on the road scarcely 80
      metres away with the kind of "c-crack" that comic
      books express so accurately, followed by the scream of
      a jet. If we had driven just 25 seconds faster down
      that road, we would all be dead.

      So we retreated once more to Jarjooaa and parked under
      the balcony of a house where two women and three
      children were watching us, waving and smiling.

      Sylvie was silent but I could see the rage on her
      face. The Israelis, it seemed, had made an "error".
      They had misread the route - or the number - of our
      little convoy. "How can we work like this? How on
      earth can we do our work?" Sylvie asked with a mixture
      of anger and frustration. On all the roads yesterday,
      I saw only three men whom I suspect were Hizbollah -
      no respecters of the Geneva Conventions they - driving
      at high speed in a battered Volvo. They can cross the
      rivers of Lebanon at will - just as we did - by
      circling the bomb craters and crossing the rivers. So
      what was the point in blowing up 46 of Lebanon's road

      An old man approached us carrying a silver tray of
      glasses and a pot of scalding tea. Generous to the
      end, under constant air attack, these fearful Lebanese
      were offering us their traditional hospitality even
      now, as the jets wheeled in the sky above us. They
      asked us in to the house they had refused to leave and
      I realised then that these kind Lebanese people -
      unarmed, unconnected to Hizbollah - were the real
      resistance here. The men and women who will ultimately
      save Lebanon.

      But before we abandoned our journey and before Sylvie
      and her team and I set off back to their base in the
      far and dangerous south of Lebanon, a man carrying a
      bag of vegetables walked up to Beshara Hanna. "Please
      move your cars away from my home," he said. "You make
      it dangerous for us all."

      And the shame of this shook me at once. The Israeli
      attack on the Qana ambulances - their missiles
      plunging through the red crosses on the roofs - had
      contaminated even our own vehicles. He was just one
      man. But for him, the Israelis had turned the Red
      Cross - the symbol of hope on our roofs and the sides
      of our vehicles - into a symbol of danger and fear.

      The laws of war

      The laws of war, as the Geneva Conventions are
      sometimes known, often may seem like a lesson in
      absurdity. But for centuries countries have adhered to
      central principles of combat.

      At the start of this conflict, the UN High
      Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said:
      "Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a
      foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians."

      The rules of war state:

      * Wars should be limited to achieving the political
      goals that started the war (and should not include
      unnecessary destruction).

      * Wars should be ended as quickly as possible.

      * People and property should be protected against
      unnecessary destruction and hardship.

      The laws are meant to :

      * Protect both combatants and non-combatants from
      unnecessary suffering.

      * Safeguard human rights of those who fall into the
      hands of the enemy: prisoners of war, the wounded, the
      sick and civilians.

      * Prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians. But no war
      crime is committed if a bomb mistakenly hits a
      residential area.

      * Combatants that use civilians or property as shields
      are guilty of violations of laws of war.

      © 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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