Qana: the context

Published: 2 August 2006
Briefing Number 181

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Summary: On Sunday 30 July approximately 50 Lebanese civilians reportedly died in the South Lebanese village of Qana , as a result of an Israeli airstrike on a residential block (The death toll was later revised down to 28).
Israel expressed profound regret for the deaths. But its spokesmen explained that Qana had been used by Hizbollah to launch many rocket attacks on civilian targets in Northern Israel . Furthermore, the residents had been warned days before the strike to leave, as Israel was intending to strike Hizbollah targets in the village.

The deaths in Qana triggered international outrage, with harrowing images broadcast around the world. The following is an editorial which appeared in The Times (based in London ) on Tuesday 1 August 2006 . It provides the context for the tragic events in Qana.

Remembering what the Middle East conflict is about

The speed and reach of modern communications give society today more information than ever before. This does not mean, though, that we are necessarily always well informed. Perspective is often clouded by the impact of the latest development. This is especially true of recent events in the Middle East . For understandable reasons, Western opinion is in grave danger of misinterpreting the tragedy of Qana.

The human response to images of dead children and the grief of the bereaved is an emotional one: the sooner it stops, the better. If only it were that simple. This conflict is about more than a spat [minor flare-up – Beyond Images] across the Israel-Lebanon border.

Hizbollah makes regional peace impossible

There will never be peace in the region as long as Hizbollah, backed by its sponsoring regimes in Iran and Syria , is allowed to threaten Israel militarily. A ceasefire that left Hizbollah claiming victory on the battlefield would hugely strengthen its fighters as well as those of Hamas, draining authority from the Lebanese Government and Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, while unsettling further Western-friendly regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

Defeating Hizbollah, though, would strengthen the arm of those Arab leaders who see the benefit of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution while also curbing the regional influence of Tehran and Damascus .

Israel and Hizbollah are not “misguided equals” but fundamentally different

There are wider reasons why the emotional impact of the past 48 hours must be placed in the right framework.

The criticism that Israeli attacks aimed at Hizbollah are disproportionate is lazy and facile in several ways, especially in implying a moral relativism [equivalence – Beyond Images] between the two sides that does not exist.

This is not a contest between misguided equals that many in the West seem to see.

One is the region's lone democracy, which for much of its existence has faced a very real existential threat and would like, if possible, to live at peace with its neighbours. The other is a terrorist organisation, bent on preventing such a future.

The announcement by Ehud Olmert that he could not foresee a ceasefire in the short term may disappoint many, not least those who viewed Israel 's 48-hour suspension of air strikes as a quick step to peace. Mr Olmert's assessment does not preclude a necessary change in military strategy while allowing him to demonstrate to a defiant Israeli public that he has not gone soft. This is, though, essentially a development concerning tactics. What should not be lost is the scope of the overall battle.

Hizbollah is not an emancipation movement

Hizbollah is not an emancipation movement. It represents a virulent stream of extremist Islam, characterised by misogyny, homophobia, utter intolerance of difference even within its own religion and a belief system rooted many centuries past. [The Times could have added anti-semitism to this list. See MEMRI ( ) for examples of anti-semitic pronouncements on Hizbollah's al-Manar TV station - Beyond Images].

Whether Hizbollah intended to spark such a ferocious response from Israel is uncertain. That Hizbollah has been planning this war for some time, though, is clear from its arsenal and fortifications.

Beyond the media images: a clash of values and ideologies is underway

News from a war zone will always be grisly, and twenty-first century communications bring into the living room the human horrors of armed conflict. But these should not deflect from the clash of values and competing ideologies behind the pictures. It may reassure many in the West that such a threat seems comfortably far away. But the consequences of the current conflict stretch far beyond the region, and they have to be faced.

•  Editorial, The Times, Tuesday 1 August 2006

Related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 179: Hizbollah: “ Israel 's response is disproportionate….”

Briefing 180: Taking Lebanon hostage: UN condemnation of Hizbollah