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Like any good liberal, I find my heart tugged by the news of civilian deaths
in Lebanon, even though my support for Israel is unflagging. And since I
have been asked constantly by non-Jews (especially clergy) about the
situation in the Middle East, I find myself responding to their concern for
the civilian casualties "on both sides" (which really means "in Lebanon"
Yesterday, I spoke with one of my "highly placed sources" (extremely
credible -- you may feel free to quote this without concern that it is wrong
in any way) about just this dilemma. Here is what he told me about the loss of nine Israeli soldiers in the operation to take Bint Jbail.
Every time Israel is about to strike a Hizballah installation, the local
population is warned to evacuate by fliers, radio and loudspeaker. Of
course, that means giving up the element of surprise (one reason this
campaign is taking longer than anyone would like). Most Lebanese choose to leave the areas (the same cannot be said for UN observers, by the way). Israel has maintained safe corridors to the north for evacuating civilians, even though Hizballah is using those same corridors to bring reinforcements (both human and ammunition) south.
However, in Bint Jbail, Hizballah refused to allow 400 civilian residents to
leave ahead of the announced operation. They were essentially kept prisoner as human shields for the installation of missiles and other armaments. A decision was made by the Israeli command to abandon plans for an airstrike and go to a ground operation -- house to house -- because of the likelihood of civilian casualties. As a result, nine soldiers died in hand-to-hand combat.
Finally, a word about those who are finding an excuse for similar hyperbole
when defending Israel -- cartoons, extremist rhetoric or circulating the new
pop tune in Israel about "sending Nasrallah back to Allah." Whether you
think so or not, you are promoting the kind of prejudice and racism that is
going to make any eventual peace much harder to justify. The excesses of right-wing Imams and politically motivated school books are a constant
source of complaints from all of us. When you imitate those tactics, you
make it awfully hard to defend the higher moral ground I believe Israel
tries to hold.