Few Editorials Find Fault with the Bombing of Beirut

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By: Greg Mitchell

While it?s not surprising that nearly every editorial page in the U.S. has offered support for Israel’s right to retaliate against Hamas and Hezbollah, it?s a disgrace that few have expressed outrage, or at least condemnation, over the extent of death and destruction in and around Beirut — and the attacks on the country?s infrastructure, which harms most citizens of that country.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in Lebanon, dozens of bridges and part of Beirut?s airport destroyed, power stations and ports short-circuited. Latest reports put the number of refugees at half a million, with thousands of Americans waiting for evacuation.

Amazingly, criticism of the extent of Israel’s bombing — and its policy of collective punishment — has actually decreased as the carnage has mounted.

The editorial response is all the more scandalous because this is not some distant conflict where America is merely a third party. The U.S. is Israel?s prime (sometimes virtually its only) major ally, and the funder or producer of much of the armaments landing on Lebanon ? though you?d never know of this special link from reading most of these editorials.

Even if readers here don?t fully appreciate it, the U.S. and Israel are indivisible in the eyes of many if not most in that region. Every bomb that kills civilians in Lebanon might just as well have emerged from our war planes or artillery, in their eyes.

Just months ago, many of these same editorial pages, along with our president, were hailing the growing evidence of democracy in Lebanon, calling it a new beacon for hope. Yet now one has to look far and wide (as E&P has) to find more than a few tut-tuts about Israel?s excessive air campaign in any editorial.

Many editorials carry outright misinformation; others act as if the history of this conflict can be measured in weeks, not decades. And few op-ed columnists have condemned the over-the-top Israeli behavior. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times managed to not even mention Beiruit in his Wednesday column rightly ripping Hezbollah.

But he’s far from alone: Few of the key liberal bloggers — usually quick to condemn civilian casualties in Iraq — have taken up the issue.

Several leading newspapers that did express disapproval of the Israeli air war late last week, when it was still fairly minimal, then published editorials a few days later with hardly any mention of the attacks on Beirut ? even though those shellings had increased dramatically. One had to wonder what sort of complaints or second thoughts the first editorials produced to slacken those spines.

While news pages in many newspapers have created a more balanced record, they have generally offered the image of equivalency of destruction in Lebanon and Israel which simply does not exist. The word for this is “asymmetrical.” At least 200 civilians have been killed in Lebanon, 13 in Israel; large areas of Lebanon, plus the infrastructure, have been hit, while the destruction in Israel is limited.

The word ?rockets? makes Hezbollah’s terror weapon of choice seem very space age, but they are in fact crude, unguided and with limited range ? nothing like the U.S. prime grade weapons on the Israeli side. The vast majority of them land in the water or an empty field or explode in the air.

Yet the editorial pages have either said nothing about the Israeli overreaction or offered a faint wish that it-sure-would-be-nice if that country did not go overboard ? even after it already had.

The Washington Post on Friday, for example, presented a strongly pro-Israel editorial that chided Europeans and others for suggesting the Israeli attacks were too severe. On Tuesday, it returned with a similarly one-sided call but noted that Israel risks ?overplaying its hand?If it limits its aim to Hezbollah and Hamas and their weapons, it will be quietly cheered by many Lebanese and Palestinians.? That might have been true at one time — but of course the Post editorial does not mention the wide destruction that has already occurred.

USA Today on Monday published an editorial which, in the course of 500 words, did not come close to condemning the deadly air campaign against Lebanon. Wistfully it observed that ?calibrating? a response is difficult, and it would be wise for Israel to be ?tough and smart.? This is taking the low moral ground: daydream that Israel might on its own decrease the bombing while not speaking out against it to maybe help bring that about.

Meanwhile, Israel officials said today the bombing could go on for weeks. And no wonder, and with so little condemnation in this country.

Newsday took its own backward step. Early on it strongly urged the U.S. to restrain the Israeli attacks. Then, after many more days of such attacks, it practically apologized for ever saying that. Today it said, ?It?s certainly not right to criticize Israel for defending its people from these vicious attacks. Any nation would take similar action.?

The Los Angeles Times on July 14 observed that while it had been provoked, Israel ?overreacted? and showed ?disproportionate? force in blasting Lebanon. It then put that aside for a few days, before returning Wednesday with an editorial that closed: “So many players, so many reasons to fight ? while the people of Lebanon bear the brunt with their suffering. Poland ? frequently annexed and partitioned ? was once the proxy battlefield for Europe’s great powers. It falls to Lebanon to play that role in the Middle East today. No amount of cynical realpolitik can afford to lose sight of that tragedy.”

The New York Times carried two editorials raising concerns about the level of Israel response, although its most recent one on Tuesday, while arguing for stepped up diplomacy for a ceasefire, did not mention the Israeli bombing campaign at all — beyond noting ?the killing and human suffering? by all.

Even this smattering of editorials that took issue with Israel’s response did not make that their focus.

Oddly, one could find wisdom in some surprising settings. Consider this passage from The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette: “Hezbollah is not answerable to the Lebanese government, and heavy-handed tactics will only further inflame the region. …Lebanese civilians, only recently freed from the presence of Syrian forces, looked forward to emerging from a dark period and rebuilding their country. They have no control over these events. Terrorizing them serves no purpose.”

And the Columbus (Oh) Dispatch, not known for its dovish views, declared: “While Israel rightly is outraged by the continuing terrorist attacks…its ferocious response has cost it the moral high ground in this latest dispute….As long as Israel remains insensitive to the vastly disproportionate hardship it inflicts in this lopsided conflict, it will earn more disapproval from the world and, most important, will sow ever more bitter determination in its enemy.

“And no one in the Middle East will sleep at night. ”


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UPDATE: Not much has changed in the two days after the above was written, as this E&P story makes clear.

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