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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Why Gaza should not have been a surprise


With the extensive heat wave recently I have been sitting up late reading while waiting for the house to cool down. Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation is probably not ideal reading late at night. Its appalling first hand accounts of the carnage in Lebanon through the mid 1970s and 1980s makes for disturbing reading. Few of the political leaders, whether inside or outside Lebanon, emerge with any credibility from the maelstrom.

Fisk is concerned to put faces and names, to personalise the victims and to seek the truth as to what happened in a variety of massacres.

The relevance of the dynamics of Israeli engagement in Lebanon for the situation in Gaza became clear as I read the account of war between the Palestinians and Israel in Beirut in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Acquaintenance with what happened in Lebanon during the 1970's and 1980's should have prepared us for what happened in Gaza.

The dynamics of guerilla provocation by the Palestinians of the Israelis, followed by responses that had nothing to do with either proportion or had any clearly thought through political aim, followed by massacres for which Israeli military forces were directly responsible, or at least accountable for, that were then denied or ignored by the Israeli Government.

Civilians and the truth about what had happened both suffereed immense collateral damage in Lebanon.

The media's reporting of Lebanon contained language that dehumanised and distances for Western readers the Palestinians and Lebanese while interpreting Israeli military activity in terms that enabled Western readers to remain comfortable with their perspective.

Fisk reflects on the use of language,the way cliches can remove our ability to make critical judgements about what is happening. His discussion of the use of the temr terrorism when the book was originally published in 1990 was prescient given the events of 2001 and subsequent public debate. (See pages 435 -442 where he unravels the complexity of the issue.

Fisks' reporting is confronting we are not allowed to escape its stench and devastation, nor of the moral corruption that seems to have influenced almost every military force that became engaged in Lebanon over the period covered by the book.

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