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Lebanon, a lesson for Sri Lanka by Shanie

The Destruction of Lebanon

We have been seeing some horrendous scenes on our television screens over the past couple of weeks. Lebanon, just recovering after a fifteen year civil war and a painstaking reconstruction process over the next fifteen years, is being destroyed before our eyes. It is a tragedy that this violence is being inflicted upon a whole people by a country whose founding fathers were themselves victims of the holocaust. The mass genocide in Rwanda, in the former Yugoslavia and in Congo disturbed the conscience of the world over the past couple of decades. It is true that this present destruction of Lebanon has also horrified the people in all parts of the world. But what is disturbing is that some major powers, notably USA and UK, are unwilling to condemn the actions of Israel. This justifiably lends credence to the charge of double standards made by Muslim states and peoples. Hundreds of men, women and children have been killed and thousands maimed, residences and office buildings bombed out and the civil infrastructure of Lebanon deliberately destroyed. And yet the Bush and Blair governments are unwilling to condemn or to act.

From Prosperity to Decline

Lebanon received independence from French colonial rule in 1943. At independence it had a mixed Muslim (Sunni and Shia) and Maronite Christian population. There was co-existence and goodwill resulted in prosperity. Lebanon soon became the centre for finance and trade in the region. But prosperity was not to last long.

In 1947, Palestinians evicted in their thousands from their homeland in the newly created state of Israel, poured into Lebanon. The number increased after the 1967 war. Lebanon was now ripe for those seeking to engage in terrorism and for those responding with counter-terrorism. Opportunist political leaders both in the region and in other parts of the world fuelled the growing violence. A civil war began around 1974 along religious lines but was nurtured and controlled by neighbouring countries. It took fifteen years and over 100,000 deaths to end the war.

A Facilitated Peace

The Arab League successfully brokered an end to the civil war in 1989. The Ta’if agreement re-inforced the willingness of the different faith groups to work together in power-sharing at parliamentary level. The President was again to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni and the Speaker a Shia Muslim.

There appeared to be genuine co-operation amongst the parties and a massive reconstruction programme got under way. There were hiccups but Lebanon was once again on the road to prosperity. Last year, the Syrian troops were persuaded to withdraw leaving the country in the hands of a government democratically elected at a parliamentary election.

Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism

Of course, Hezbollah, a organisation designated as terrorist by the USA, Israel and some other countries operated from within south Lebanese territory and continued with attacks on military and civilian targets across the border into northern Israel. Israel responded with equal or greater counter-attacks. Indeed, five human rights organisations within Israel have stated that, since October 2000, out of 1647 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military, more than half were civilians not engaged in any militant activity.

Of those killed, 704 were under the age of 18. The trigger for the present Israeli offensive in Lebanon was the killing of a couple of Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of one. In Gaza, it was similar. The continuing destruction of the civil infrastructure, of homes and the killing of hundreds is the utterly disproportionate response by Israel.

Ehud Olmert has just been elected the Prime Minister of Israel. He probably wants to prove that he is a tough leader. It is perhaps this domestic agenda that has made him embark on this military adventure. There are many even within Israel who view this action as flawed. But Olmert will now find it difficult to extricate himself from the mess that he has landed his country. World opinion, despite Bush and Blair, is horrified at the Israeli response.

Olmert will now have to depend on Bush (with Blair yapping support) to come up with a formula for Israel to back down from the crime which has been committed against a hapless people just beginning to re-build their lives.

Lesson for Sri Lanka

All this has a lesson for us in Sri Lanka as well. Those who think it possible to inflict a military solution to our ethnic problem must realise that military adventures do not solve political problems. They only cause massive destruction of the infrastructure and the loss of lives and property without solving any thing. They will cause hatred, disgust and distrust not only among the "the enemy" but equally or more among the non-combatant civilian population on both sides. Militarism only leads a country to economic and political ruin. The sooner the LTTE and the ‘hawks’ among the Sinhalas realise this, the better it will be for the people of all ethnic groups in our country.

President Rajapakse, unlike Ehud Olmert, has been pragmatic enough to resist calls for a military adventure. But time is fast running out. If the LTTE does not want to engage in civilised dialogue to bring about a peaceful settlement, then President Rajapakse has to move forward leaving them behind. He has to take this to the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and all other people who will no doubt respond positively. We are not talking of a General Election that will almost certainly prove counter-productive.

A political settlement born out of consensus and which meets the legitimate concerns of all communities must be placed before our people soon. Delay can only result in some parties fishing in troubled waters. There are already ominous signs of that happening. -The Island

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July 29, 2006 - Posted by | Media, Media Journalism, News, News and politics, South Asia, World News

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