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Sunday, January 9, 2000

An occupation by any other name

By Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz

Just now, when Israel seems to have one foot already outside Lebanon, we must stop and ask ourselves just how it happened. How was it that the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon - a cruel occupation, not much less so than the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories - lasted 20 years with nary a voice of protest in Israel concerning its moral aspects? Two hundred thousand people (today fewer than half are left) lived there under conditions of occupation and we did not care.Since the Litani Campaign up to the present, there have been significant waves of protest in Israeli society over the "Israeli presence" in Lebanon - no one ever called it occupation - but the protest always focused exclusively on the blood of Israeli soldiers spilled there in vain. Four Mothers, or Three Fathers, or whoever - only the lives of Israeli soldiers came up for discussion.

Nothing could have been more important than those soldiers' lives, but it should not have been the only consideration against Israel remaining in Lebanon. The Israeli occupation of the territories was also perceived once as something that could be lived with, forever and forever, without any moral qualms. Israel boasted then of the rise in the standard of living in the territories - more tractors and universities - as if this reflected the blessings that occupation brought to the residents of the territories. Many years of occupation and one Intifada had to go by before Israel began to understand that there was something morally distorted going on in the occupied territories in its own backyard.

None of this happened in southern Lebanon. Out of sight and out of mind, the injustices of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon interest almost no one. The inaccessibility of the area to the Israeli press and human rights organizations has created a situation in which the security establishment has become the almost-exclusive provider of information about what is happening in the northern occupied area of the country, alongside the Lebanese and international reports, which are automatically perceived as hostile.

That is why the occupied territory is not seen as such by the public - after all, it is only a "security zone." The lives, freedom and basic rights of the 200,000 people living there do not concern anyone in Israel. Here, too, it can be said that Israelis believed they had come to a land without a people. In the eyes of the average Israeli, southern Lebanon is peopled only by bloodthirsty Shi'ite terrorists, who deserve to be punished, and by the white-hatted soldiers of the IDF and SLA, who only want to safeguard the security of Israel.

Without the High Court of Justice and the B'Tselem human rights organization, those soldiers can do almost anything they like there in the name of the security of Israel's northern settlements. Deportations, arrests without trial, torture, restrictions on movement, the use of prohibited weapons - up there anything goes. The security of the Galilee, you know. And what about the security of the residents of southern Lebanon? That question is never asked.

Recently, however, the High Court of Justice and B'Tselem have awakened from their slumber. The High Court of Justice recently handed down decisions in the matter of the "bargaining chips" - the abducted Lebanese citizens held in Israeli prisons - and now, perhaps too late, B'Tselem has published its first report on the occupation of southern Lebanon. After 10 years of activity in the territories, the importance and influence of which cannot be overstated, and after having created a name for itself as a reliable source whose publications cannot be ignored - not even by the security establishment - B'Tselem has decided, despite the objective difficulties involved, to try to shed a little light on this dark corner of Israel too.

The result - a 66-page document, published by B'Tselem today, telling us things we knew but took no interest in, together with things we did not know about the deeds of Israel and its lackeys in the "security zone."

Roadside bombs? Those are the weapons of terrorists, right? But according to the report, Israel also planted its own roadside bombs, often at the entrances of homes of innocent citizens. In 1997 alone, at least seven Lebanese citizens were killed and six injured this way. In December 1998, a 13-year-old Lebanese boy was killed in this way. Israel has signed a convention forbidding the use of explosive charges in areas populated by civilians, but who cares? The laws of war also prohibit the use of phosphorus against civilians. But according to the report, at least two children and a number of adults have been killed or injured by phosphorus bombs sent by Israel.

Then there are the shells that go off in the air, sending tens of thousands of steel nails in all directions - these, too, are part of Israel's arsenal, according to B'Tselem. The report presents shocking testimonies of torture in the Al-Hiyyam prison and the arbitrary deportation of hundreds of people to the north; of extended arrests without trial; of cruel means used to recruit collaborators; of closures and home demolitions, roadblocks and travel passes. Occupation is occupation, even if you call it a "security zone."

Of the 200,000 people in southern Lebanon, fewer than half remain. They apparently had nowhere else to go. They also have the right to security and basic human rights, but they are not Jews living in the Galilee. They are only Arabs living in southern Lebanon

(c) copyright 2000 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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