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Ha'aretz, December 27, 1998

Whose security zone?

By Gideon Levy

Every occupation has its own methods of obfuscation. For years, we called the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by varied and peculiar names: first, "the liberated territories," then the "administered territories," then somewhere along the line there was the "enlightened conquest," and of course "Judea and Samaria," and finally simply "the territories" as most of us call them today. The Golan we always called the Golan, not "occupied" or "held," because, of course, it is not part of the "territories.". But the most consensual lie of all is "the security zone." This is territory that for all intents and purposes is under military occupation - but has never been described here as such. For 20 years, ever since the Litani Campaign of 1978, southern Lebanon has been occupied by Israel and we keep on talking only about a "security zone."

The fact that we are referring to a piece of land that has been ripped away by force from another sovereign state, where Israel behaves as if it were in its own back yard, contrary to all laws and international agreements, is marginal. Moreover, in the debate over a withdrawal from Lebanon, this fact plays no role, not even among those who favor a withdrawal. Israel has a hard time coming to terms with the fact that for long periods it was surrounded on all sides only by the sea and by occupied territories. And even now when it has occupied territories to its east and its north, it has invented a name for occupied foreign sovereign territory: the security zone.

This "security" zone was born, of course, in order to ensure the security of the residents of the Galilee. And only for the residents of the Galilee, needless to say. The security of the residents of this zone is of no importance at all as far as Israel is concerned.

Nadwa Othman, who was killed last week with her six children, was not the first mother to have been killed by mistake by Israel in "the security zone."

In April two years ago we killed a mother and her seven children, by mistake of course. Five days earlier, an Israeli attack helicopter fired on a Lebanese ambulance and two mothers and two girls were killed; a mother and her daughters were killed in August of last year by a roadside bomb set by the Hezbollah; in August of this year, a civilian named Abd al Hassan Bushar was injured. According to reports, he was 110 years old. Three children were wounded three months earlier, also in an Israeli bombing attack; a 17-year-old boy was killed last week, a few days before the Othman family met its death.

The lives of the Lebanese citizens in the security zone - women, children and old people who found themselves in this situation through no fault of their own, exactly like the residents of the Galilee - are far less secure than the lives of the Israeli mothers and children south of the border. This is the way it should be, according to the Israeli perception, when the alternatives are always either us or them. However, it is doubtful that this is the true alternative.

As occupied territories go, the occupied territory in southern Lebanon couldn't be better from an Israeli point of view, because there, the profoundest wish of Yitzhak Rabin and many other Israelis is fulfilled: there's no High Court of Justice and no B'Tselem. Few take any interest in the danger to the lives of the mothers and children in the village of Janta where the Othmans lived; there are even fewer who care about the human and civil rights of the residents of this village and others like it.

The Khiyam prison is full of men and women whose illegal arrest and conditions of imprisonment are Israel's direct responsibility, just as it is responsible for everything else that is done in the security zone.

Israel grabs and arrests people, and transfers them for interrogation to within its own borders and detains them, finally, at Khiyam or in Israeli prisons, without trial and without time limits. Israel is allowed to imprison Lebanese citizens - even the High Court of Justice has said so - without limitations as "bargaining chips" to be used on a rainy day or in negotiations over Israelis missing in action about whom it has long been clear that they are no longer in Lebanon or perhaps even still alive.

Israel builds, paves and fortifies there, and confiscates and takes control of private property, but in contrast to the bypass roads in the West Bank, from there no voices are even raised in protest.

The only protest that is heard is the violent protest of the Hezbollah. In Israel, it is very convenient to depict this not as a protest against the military occupation, but rather as yet another expression of the desire to wipe us off the face of the earth.

Reuven Merhav, a senior Mossad veteran and formerly the representative of the Foreign Ministry in Beirut, has said that if all the opponents to the withdrawal - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader MK Ehud Barak, Labor MK Dr. Ephraim Sneh and retired chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak - had been born Shi'ites, they would be fighting the same stubborn war against the occupier that the Hezbollah is fighting. "The Hezbollah," says Merhav, "are freedom fighters in every respect, an authentic expression of the deep desire to eject Israel from southern Lebanon."

Freedom fighters? An authentic expression? Occupied territory? This is not convenient for Israel to see, neither for the Likud nor the Labor Party, who are united on the issue of Lebanon in a miserable alliance that only spells disaster. It is much more convenient to talk about "the security zone," "Hezbollah terrorists," and "they want to wipe us off the face of the earth," than to admit to reality

(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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