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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 142: September 2006

Also in this editorial:

  • Editorials on Lebanon,
  • Property damage in a political campaign,
  • Lebanon after the war, by Tony Manasseh,
  • Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Power to change
  • Return to related issue of Nonviolent News

    The skies of Lebanon
    The facts of the recent war in Lebanon are quite well known but can be restated as follows. After the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in an incursion to Israel, Israel declared war on Hizbullah, who were responsible for the kidnapping, and Israel started to bombard and then invade Lebanon - this was pre-planned, the kidnapping providing Israel with an excuse for their action. The USA and Britain refused to support demands for an immediate ceasefire, both Israel and the USA presumably thinking that this invasion would 'sort out' Hizbullah (and 'root out the men of violence' in old, and reactionary, Northern Ireland language).

    However the resistance by Hizbullah's armed force proved more dogged than Israel imagined, and Hizbullah were also able to fire rockets into Israel, meaning that the deaths, though much worse on the Lebanese side were also significant for the Israelis. When military action ground more slowly, eventually even Bush and Blair supported a ceasefire, the Lebanese army moved in to control areas and the UN slowly mobilised to provide another interventionist force. Around 1,100 civilians were killed in Lebanon and about 40 in Israel; Israel lost around 80 soldiers and, while claiming to have killed 500 Hizbullah fighters, around 100 deaths are definite.

    Strategically it was certainly not a victory for Israel. Despite being previously bogged down in Lebanon, Israel relearnt that its army is not invincible and, while they killed many Hizbullah militants, Hizbullah could hold its head even higher in the Arab world as having stood up against the military might of Israel (late on in the war, Israel had 30,000 soldiers in Lebanon). Meanwhile a huge amount of infrastructure in Lebanon was destroyed and people even more likely to support Hizbullah.

    Without reference to the conflict over Palestine, none of this makes sense. It is the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people which drives this conflict in the Middle East and specifically the conflict in Gaza which led to the Hizbullah kidnapping. Gaza, for example, is one of the ten poorest territories on earth in terms of wealth production because there is no possibility of developing the economy. While Israel's removal of its settlers from Gaza may have been positive, its policy of expansion on the West Bank is disastrous for any possible settlement, and that and its security wall mean that Palestine must remain a kind of bantustan [an artificial apartheid era statelet set up by South Africa to give the impression of democracy and local control] rather than a state.

    Of course there are security issues for Israel. But the way to turn enemies into friends is not to attack them and deprive them of resources (water, land, human rights). The right of return for Jews to Israel is a factor in the Israeli demand for land and its theft of Palestinian land. Palestinians in exile abroad, several million of them, have no 'right of return', even if born there; any Jew, anywhere in the world, even without any previous connection with the state of Israel, has the right of 'return' to Israel.

    If Israel can find it in its heart to deal justly with Palestinians, giving them back the land which international agreements specified is theirs, and allowing the development of a viable political, social and economic state of Palestine, they will find that Palestinians specifically, and Arabs in general, will move on, and they can live in comparative peace. The 'security' road to security is usually a road to perpetual insecurity. When Israel deals justly with Palestinians then the wars of the Middle East will become a thing of the past. That is not to say that Arab and other Islamic states have not exacerbated the situation but the driving force is the Palestinian question. Meanwhile the UK and USA should know better then to encourage Israel in a foolhardy war, but then the current leaders of both these countries are foolhardy and have learnt nothing when it comes to making decisions about war.

    The Irish government took the decision not to allow bombs, including bunker-busters, be transported from the USA via Shannon airport for use by Israel in Lebanon and must be commended for this decision (these bombs went via Scotland instead, provoking protests there). Why the Irish government did not make the same decision to deny US troops and supplies to the war in Iraq is another question, however, and in the light of the history of the Iraqi war one which is difficult to answer. If anti-war activists had not made Shannon a hot political potato, would the Irish government have made this decision on bombs for use in Lebanon? Quite possibly not.

    After Raytheon and Shannon:
    Damaging property in a political campaign

    The action of the Derry/Raytheon 9 in throwing computers out the window during their occupation of Raytheon offices in Derry (see news section) brings back into focus the debate about damage to property in nonviolent action. Nonviolence is a broad 'church' and there is space for those who believe it's perfectly fine in a campaign and those who believe it's not, or may only be in very particular circumstances, and there is space within nonviolence for people to believe and do different things. But, as with the Catholic Worker/Pit Stop Ploughshares 5 damage to a US war plane at Shannon, some of Irish society went into a moral panic which seemed to say more about people's own insecurities and hang-ups than about (in the Shannon case) damage done to a foreign warplane of a state at war parked in a supposedly 'neutral' state. An Irish Independent columnist went so far after the acquittal of the Shannon 5 to say it was now fine if you wanted to damage any hippies' car or van (that this acquittal provided grounds for this kind of action).

    So perhaps it is wise to step back a minute and reflect on violence to property. Sheila Rose and Lynne Shivers' exploration of "7 Controversies in Nonviolent Action" includes the briefest of arguments on the two sides of property destruction and sabotage. There are a number of questions and issues.

    The first questions are - What is the specific campaign about, what is the context, and what stage are protests at? In the case of Raytheon in Derry, the campaign to have it removed has been going on since its arrival. Raytheon also lied through their teeth for some years by saying they (the Derry branch of Raytheon) were only engaged in civil contracts until, as ex-employees clearly stated, it was proved there was considerable military involvement. No political parties demanded they be removed when it was proved that they had lied about military contracts. But it would not be appropriate to be involved in destruction of property as the first stage in a campaign when starting to try to conscientise people on the issue (more about pragmatics in a minute). There is also the fact that there is meant to be a peace process of some sort in Northern Ireland, and the irony of a military firm setting up in a place trying to emerge from conflict - and the additional irony that most political parties see no irony in this fact.

    The action of the Derry 9 was also taken at the height of the Lebanon war when killing was going on at a fierce rate. The Anti-War Coalition in Derry has available a journalists' listing of all the bombings, shellings, killings and violent acts going on in Lebanon during the eight hours that the Derry 9 were in occupation of the Raytheon offices. This helps put their action into perspective at a time when Raytheon products were unleashing death on men, women and children in Lebanon. The USA, UK, and Israel were the only three countries to oppose an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. Once again Tony Blair danced to the tune of George Bush which certainly led to an increase in the feeling of total impotence for people living within the boundaries of the UK (and Derry is - just about! - in that category).

    A second set of questions include whether the property being destroyed is personal, of sentimental and symbolic value to people, and whether it is part of a violent and oppressive system. What effect is an action going to have on relationships, and with whom? Destroying the symbols of a nation or ethnic or other group may be highly counter-productive and communicate violence; even burning a flag such as the 'Stars and Stripes' is likely to come across being petty-mindedly anti-USA. Raytheon, on the other hand, is a key part of the USA's military-industrial complex and a key supplier of weapons used in Israel's assault on Lebanon.

    A third area of questioning is whether any accompanying violence has been done against people. It is possible to be so focussed on a goal of destroying something that people (police, security guards, company employees etc) getting in the way are treated violently, or are considered not to count and therefore treated with contempt and violence. This is a danger and, in the nonviolent canon, can be avoided best by careful preparation and training so that people are clear, and prepared, for what their goals are and clear what not to do.

    A fourth area is about accepting responsibility for the destruction of property. 'Hidden' destruction might be called sabotage but nonviolent activists accept the consequences of their actions, usually waiting to be arrested by police after an action. They may feel, argue and clearly state that they have committed no crime but the state is likely to see it differently and subject them to the full rigours of the law (and, in the case of the Derry Raytheon 9, even the ridiculous prospect of a no-jury Diplock court for 'terrorist' offences). The outcome of this process is uncertain and the state apparatus, or people within it, may feel vindictive and do their utmost to secure a conviction and heavy sentence.

    The final questions about an action are in the area of whether they advance peace and justice, or hinder it. This is actually very difficult to foresee beforehand and even difficult to judge afterwards. If an action causes revulsion of a kind which damages the overall movement then it may not have been productive. However, just because there is a knee jerk reaction from many in the public over a particular action does not necessarily mean that long term damage has been done to building an effective campaign and movement; its symbolic and innovatory nature may inspire other people to get involved, and those who react negatively might be people who actively supported armed violence by states and less likely to have their mind changed by some other symbolic action which did not involve destruction of property. In the case of the Shannon warplane, three and a half years down the line it put a large question mark over the Irish government's permission for the USA to use Shannon as a warport when twelve Irish citizens on a jury, chosen at random, decided no crime had been committed in damaging a US warplane.

    But as to whether an action advances peace and justice or not, the answer may be clear cut and it may not. In the case of the Shannon defendants they went through a very difficult three and a half years and three trials before being acquitted. Bail and trials are very wearing in any case and to have to go through three trials is mind-bogglingly difficult for those involved. Another point is that there are people who by temperament and personal circumstances are happy to risk going through this legal minefield with an uncertain outcome, and possible sentence at the end. There are others who may do valuable work in working for peace but would never dream of going through this, perhaps for principled reasons, or whose personal circumstances (work, parenting etc) would militate against it. And while actions of this sort may garner publicity and seem glamorous, there should be no hierarchy in thinking that doing this kind of 'nonviolent direct action' is necessarily more effective than some other sort of activity which may get no publicity but be just as good, or better, in building a peaceful future. And for those who are Christians it perhaps needs stated that Jesus drove moneychangers from the temple, overturning tables, in righteous indignation; if this is not a Christian precedent for nonviolent direct action, it is difficult to know what is (apart altogether from the concept of swords into ploughshares).

    In the case of the Derry 9 they acted in the heat of the war situation in Lebanon and it is to their credit that felt compelled to act when so many others felt impotent. How long the resultant legal process will drag out, and what the outcome will be, we will have to wait and see. They deserve the solidarity and support of all those who oppose war and death as a means of solving conflict and of those who desire a peaceful solution in the Middle East.

    lResponses welcome to this as to all material in 'Nonviolent News' (please indicate if not for publication).

    - - - - - - -
    Lebanon after the war
    A report by Tony Manasseh, Beirut
    28 August 2006

    Well, the war has stopped and circulation is slowly going back to semi-normal. People are coming out of their holes to check on their belongings and each other. There is a general feeling of despair and apprehension as to what all that destruction has achieved. Destruction is in the billions and over 200,000 Lebanese have fled the country mostly from the Christian community. Businesses and industries have huge losses apart from the infrastructure of the country. Tourism, the main lifeline of the Lebanese economy has been brought to a halt. Investors' appetite for Lebanon, another major lifeline, will need time to re-appear. The general feeling is that of despair, consolidation and counting the losses. TV programs keep updating that in money terms. Burying the dead out of the collective ditches into private cemeteries provide sad pictures for news programmes. Foreign emissaries, world organisations and NGO's as well as Arab officials are arriving here to check on the damage and assess the aid needed.

    The Blockade is still in effect and, although the airport is open, all flights in and out have to pass through Amman/Jordan to check the manifest of passengers, providing more delays and inconvenience to travellers as if to remind people that the embargo is still on. Power supply is still at 50% and fuel rationing is still in effect. Businesses are dismissing employees, as they had made no provision against a war. A potential social problem in sight. Schools and universities are scheduled to open, if they were not destroyed, by the 9th October. Many have lost 30-40% of their pupils due to relocation or emigration. Some will eventually come back, but as with every war episode Lebanon has had, more and more will seek final settlement in the countries they have fled to. Braindrain is a tremendous loss to Lebanon although some argue that it enriches the Lebanese Diaspora.

    Politically, there is no real understanding or explanation as to what happened. Hizballa politicians and leadership seem to regret having started all that destructive process but seem to have earned tremendous respect and appreciation from Arab populace for lasting so long in the face of the Israeli army. Previous Arab Israeli wars never lasted more than a few days when it was armies fighting. There is great fear that Hizballa will gain local power in the cabinet and in future elections. Syria and Iran still have a huge manipulating hand in Lebanon and there is a lot to be sorted out on the social and demographic scenes. Iranian nuclear adventures are still paramount and the reaction from the west, coming up end August, will be worthwhile watching. UNIFIL and the multinational forces have started coming in and the number is expected to reach 12 -15 thousand. Their mission is clearly to establish peace in the Lebanon-Israeli boarder area and de-mine the fields the Israelis left behind. Some border problems on the Syrio-Lebanese borders are emerging and that may be a potential problem as well.

    One important aspect of the damage is the environmental one. Apart from the oil slick now, taking enormous proportions as more is found out about it, there are articles in local papers talking about arsenic material that were dropped/sprayed by Israeli bombs and planes over the agricultural areas in the south and the Bekaa, producing pungent smell and killing the crops. It is known that this material if ingested by humans and animals will produce birth defects and mental retardation in new-borns. This still has to be verified by the scientific community. If it is true, this is mass murder and annihilation of a people. The country is in dire need of help and re-organisation. This 33-day war has been by far the most destructive Lebanon ever had. What has been achieved? Destruction of Lebanon. As usual Lebanon, fragile as it is, pays the price of war and peace.

    The political discourse is rapidly changing and there are conflicting signals of war and peace. One thing I see certain: matters will not be the same after this war. If the good intentions of the major players are there, the area could go towards peace from here. There is enough awareness that a just peace is needed and that wars have never resolved disputes. The balance of powers is visible and can be ripe for peace. However, there seems to be a recurring attempt to ignite the area into long-term strife that will eventually change the map of the region to accommodate ethnic and religious groups or to shift adventurous groups to play each other on fertile soils. If this is the case, we are in for a long haul.

    I believe we are at the crossroads of these two scenarios. Active peacework has to grow. Fairness has to be made visible and highlighted. It is not permitted that so much unfairness is still around in the same place for so long. This Middle East problem needs to be looked at on the basis of equal dignity to all its peoples. Someone should have learned that an equal hand is needed to sponsor peace. There can not remain to be an aggressor and a victim. Terror and horror should be interpreted differently.

    - - - - - - - -

    Larry Speight brings us his monthly column

    The Power To Change

    In a recent radio interview Prime Minister Tony Blair said that we all have a role to play in reducing the negative impact we have upon the environment, mentioning in particular the impact low-energy light bulbs would have in reducing carbon emissions if used by every household in the country. Although this is absolutely correct, the reality is that our daily lives, and the ability for us to live in an eco-sensitive way is in the main shaped by the financial and physical infrastructure provided by governments in collusion with the large corporations. In fact it is the large corporations that determine the framework in which we live our lives. The following figures provided by Antonia Juhasz in her book The Bush Agenda (2006) illustrate this.

    "In many ways, corporations have supplanted governments as the dominant economic force in the world today. In 2002, corporations represented fifty-two of the hundred largest economies in the world." (p. 100)

    Corporations have the economic clout to impose their will on governments, who at their behest write the rules of national and international commerce. In fact one could argue that in a good many countries, such as the United States, it is the corporations who form the government in all but brand name. The rules of commerce as determined by the WTO enable corporations to place their factories in countries with the cheapest labour costs, lowest taxes, and most lenient environmental regulations. The corporations through the World Bank and the IMF persuade governments to privatize basic services, which of course means that the poor are further trampled underfoot.

    Juhasz reports that when South Africa privatized the state-owed telephone company and the water sector ten million people, namely poor blacks, had their telephones and water disconnected because they could not afford to pay their bills. One result of this is that in the late 1990s, diarrhea killed 43,000 children a year in South Africa because of lack of clean water. Tales of mass deprivation and misery can be cited the world over, at root due not to people's unwillingness to work, but to the wealth of corporations. As Mike Davis informs us in his book Planet of Slums (2006) the majority of the world's population live in poverty, oppressed, disposed, and starving, and that slum dwellers in poor countries make up 78.2% of urban populations. When one lives in a situation of near starvation, as most of humankind does, the option of consciously behaving in an eco-sensitive way does not exist. So, apart from people in rich countries taking practical measures to live in an eco-friendly way, how in the face of the greed of the corporations and the support they receive from governments, can the biosphere be saved from collapse? I will leave this question for readers to ponder.


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