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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Middle East Q&A: Middle East Conflict Questions and Answers

My students keep asking questions about the ongoing wars in the Middle East. Here are their latest questions along with answers provided by various Middle East scholars.

Why did Hezbollah and Hamas kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers?

The Israelis had kidnapped many Lebanese and Palestinian civilians prior to this. Hundreds of Arab men, women, and children are currently held in Israeli jails. Hezbollah and Hamas know the Israelis will only release these prisoners in exchange for Israelis. This prisoner exchange has happened in the past under the supervision of German security forces. Four of the Israeli soldiers killed in the initial days were killed when their tank hit a land mine inside Lebanon.

Why did Israel destroy the UN post and Beirut Airport runways?

To get them out of the way. Planes approaching or taking off from Beirut Airport necessarily fly over south Beirut. Israel was planning to completely destroy southern Beirut and therefore could not risk hitting civilian airliners. It is also true that Hezbollah is a partner in the Lebanese airport and airline business. The UN peacekeeping force was threatened many times before the four unarmed men from Austria, China, Finland, and Canada were killed. Each time they asked the Israelis to stop bombing them their requests were ignored. In the end it a precision-guided missile that hit the UN post.

Wasn't the airport hit as part of the blockade of Lebanon?

Initially this was true. Israel apparently wanted to prevent Hezbollah from moving the two Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers out of Lebanon. However, if Israel really wanted to completely blockade Lebanon over the long term they would have kept their warships in place even after Hezbollah nearly sank the Saar guided missile destroyer. In addition, they would have occupied the border between Syria and Lebanon.

The UN post was hit to get the peacekeepers out of the way?

Absolutely. The peacekeepers were sending regular reports of their observations to the United Nations. These reports included precise locations of IDF operations. These reports also included the fact that the IDF is targeting ambulances and evacuating civilian convoys. The IDF tells civilians to evacuate a village then bombs the cars as they evacuate. In addition, Israel is using cluster bombs and phosphorus munitions in civilian areas. The use of phosphorus bombs on civilian targets is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Are those the only reasons the UN observation post was hit?

No. Israel also wanted to clearly demonstrate the deadly risks faced by any peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. They hope this will dissuade some countries from participating in the peacekeeping missions being proposed in Rome. Remember, when the UN headquarters in Iraq was bombed, the UN pulled out of Iraq.

Now that southern Beirut is destroyed will the Israelis allow the Beirut airport to reopen for major airline flights?

No, for the same reason the Gaza airport is not allowed to reopen. Israel wants to cripple the economy in all weak Arab neighbors. Israel may allow some humanitarian flights to land simply to gain a few public sympathy points. Israel targets civilian infrastructure including farms, power stations, water treatment facilities, sewage treatment plants, and large bridges for one major reason. Surrounding populations are forced into distant refugee camps this way. In many cases the Israelis then move in and occupy these lands for several growing seasons. The West Bank, Shebaa Farms, Golan Heights, and Gaza are a few examples of this destroy and occupy strategy. Of course, the Israelis also do this in order to obtain strategic military advantage. Ironically, when the airport and other key infrastructure is rebuilt, the Hezbollah construction firm, Jihad al-Bina, will profit from many of the building projects.

Do all Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere support Israel's actions?

No, there are many Jewish people who disagree with the actions of the Israeli government. Most of the extreme actions of the Israeli military are decided by a small group of Jewish people known as Zionists. They believe the Old Testament of the Bible directs them to carry out this violence in support of the "Holy Land." Most Jewish people are like all humans and just want to raise their families and live in peace with all neighbors. They work hard, help the poor, and practice their religion without oppressing any other people. These moderate Jewish people are deeply embarrassed by the behavior of the Israeli military controlled by Zionists.

What is the root cause of Hezbollah attacks on Israel, Hamas attacks on Israel, bombs in Mumbai/London/Madrid/Sharm el-Sheik, and the attacks of September 11, 2001?

The failure of world leaders to address key issues related to Arab populations throughout the Middle East and Asia. In order to maintain a steady supply of cheap oil, Western nations have propped up corrupt regimes in the Middle East for decades. The Israeli occupation of Palestine, the Indian occupation of Kashmir, and the US occupation of Iraq are major causes of Arab militant activity all over the world. The western nations fight for oil and in support of Christian beliefs. Muslim people fight for personal freedom and in support of Islamic beliefs.

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