Israel is warning hundreds of thousands of residents to flee from southern Lebanon as it edges toward a full ground invasion. The number of Lebanese killed from the assaults now tops 330–nearly all of them civilians. About half a million people have been displaced. Thirty-four Israelis have been killed, including 15 civilians. We speak with Rami Khouri, editor of the Lebanese newspaper, the Daily Star. [includes rush transcript]
Israel is warning hundreds of thousands of residents to flee from southern Lebanon as it edges toward a full ground invasion. Thousands of Israeli troops are reportedly already operating inside the Lebanese border. Israeli planes dropped leaflets and broadcast warnings telling people they would be in danger if they remained in the region.
Meanwhile, Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon is continuing for a tenth day. Warplanes targeted more that 40 sites on Friday, mainly in southern Lebanon. The number of Lebanese killed now tops 330–nearly all of them civilians. About half a million people have been displaced–or one in eight residents. Bombed-out roads and bridges are hampering aid efforts. The UN has warned the humanitarian crisis is worsening by the hour. Thirty-four Israelis have been killed, including 15 civilians killed by rockets fired by Hezbollah into Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone now by Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, an internationally syndicated political columnist and author. He is Palestinian Jordanian and a U.S. citizen. He joins us on the phone from Amman, Jordan. Rami Khouri, welcome to Democracy Now! I understand you’re one of the few people trying to get into Lebanon.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, yes. I mean, figuratively there’s some other people trying to get back in. Everybody there is trying to flee. I mean, certainly all the foreigners — most of the foreigners, not all of them. But I want to get back because our home is there, and my wife and I were in Europe on a personal visit. We couldn’t get back to Beirut Airport, because the Israelis had bombed it, so we came to Amman. And we’re going back to Beirut tonight by car via a circuitous route, which we hope will be safe.
But it’s very important for us to go back to stand, first of all, in solidarity with the Lebanese; second of all, in defiance of the Israeli military machine — I mean, we’re going to be safe in our home, we’re not on the frontline — and third of all, to send a message, I think, to George Bush that this kind of insanity that he is officially sanctioning is one that ordinary people reject and that there is a defiance now of the U.S. and Israel that permeates this entire region. And I think our job as individuals and my job as a journalist is to be there and to cover the story and just to stand our ground.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the images that we’ve been seeing for the last week of the enormous damage and the killing of innocent civilians, the incredible damage to the infrastructure of Lebanon; your thoughts?
RAMI KHOURI: Well, my thoughts are this is doubly tragic, because it’s the third or fourth time that Israel does this. I mean, it’s just extraordinary that a people as enlightened and with such a difficult history as the Jewish and Israeli people would actually now be the perpetrators of this kind of savagery over and over again, and each time they do it they reap a much worse counter-reaction.
You know, they started this in the late ’60s, when there was a couple Fatah guerrillas in South Lebanon. They bombed Beirut Airport in 1968 for the first time. Then what they got back was a much bigger Lebanese resistance, a leftist nationalist resistance, with the PLO. Then they went into Lebanon in the ’70s, and then in ’80 they occupied South Lebanon, and they reaped in return for that Hezbollah. And they went into Hezbollah in 1996. They tried to wipe them out from the south, and what they have now is a much stronger Hezbollah, supported by Syria and Iran, with missiles that are hitting Haifa and Safed and other Israeli towns.
So I think there’s a kind of an irrationality to Zionism that we’re seeing today, or at least to the Israeli political leadership, that just don’t seem to get it, that when you repress somebody and you brutalize them, what you get is not acquiescence and subservience. What you get is defiance and resistance. And I think this is a lesson that most military powers have learned. Certainly the Americans learned it in Vietnam. They’re learning in Iraq. The Russians learned it in Afghanistan. And the Israelis seem unable or unwilling to learn these lessons in Lebanon.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, what Israel says is what they get is they break Hezbollah, and they stop the rockets from flying in. They punish them for taking the soldiers, and they are trying to get them back. Can you talk about the beginning of Hezbollah, and can you talk about Israel’s rationale?
RAMI KHOURI: Yeah. I mean, Israel’s rationale certainly sounds logical from an Israeli point of view. Anybody — one of the few things I agree with George Bush on on the world is that, yes, everybody has a right and a duty to defend themselves — there’s no question about that — which is precisely what Hezbollah is trying to do. They’re trying to get back their prisoners in Israel and the bits of land that are still occupied by Israel.
But the way that the Israelis are trying to defend themselves is actually making themselves more vulnerable. It’s enhancing the political resistance to Israel. It is enhancing the political movements all around the Middle East that are the Islamist movements mostly, like Muslim Brothers, Hezbollah, Hamas. These guys are winning elections all over the place. They’re critical of the U.S. They’re critical of Israel. They’re critical of moderate Arab regimes. They’re close to Iran. What Israel is doing is counterproductive to such an extreme degree that it’s really perplexing how such an enlightened people as the Israelis, who have achieved so much in so many other fields, can be so blind to this issue.
This is a political problem that needs a political solution. There is no military solution to a political problem. And this is a war. Hezbollah and Israel have been doing this for many years. Israel has tried this before, has done it. They’ve occupied. They’ve had free-fire zones, blue lines, red lines, green lines, surrogate armies, no-fly zones, occupation zones. They have tried every trick in the book two or three times. They bombed Beirut Airport now three times in the last 25 years. What more do they have in their arsenal that they haven’t used?
And what is fascinating, what they should learn as quickly as possible, is that every time they try to generate security through either punitive military attacks or controlling other peoples’ lands in South Lebanon, this only inspires Hezbollah and Hamas now to get missiles and rockets that can have longer range. So all Hezbollah does now is fire these over the Israelis. And you’ve had three groups now in the Arab world in the last 15-20 years who have developed rockets to fire over any kind of zones to hit Israel: Iraq, Hezbollah and Hamas. At some point, you’d think the Israeli leaders or people would wake up and see what is the reality and find an alternative political, diplomatic, peaceful, negotiated and legitimate resolution to this conflict, which I think is the only way out now.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And your sense as a journalist of the impact of the fighting, which is now really on three fronts — the West Bank, Lebanon and Gaza — on the other Arab governments in the region, particularly those who have come out critical of Hezbollah and these latest armed actions?
RAMI KHOURI: One of the important dimensions of the phenomenon that we’re witnessing, which is the rise of these Islamist political, social and military groups and resistance groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah, is that they are increasing in their credibility and popularity all over the region, mainly because of what they do, but also because they are a strong antidote to the lack of effectiveness and the declining legitimacy of many of the existing Arab regimes and governments and political elites. So what you’re seeing very clearly all over the region is Arab governments who are criticizing Hezbollah, but Arab societies and political culture, mainstream political culture, and certainly the man and woman on the street, who are increasingly supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.
A lot of people are critical of Hezbollah, to be fair, because they’re saying, well, look, you know, Hezbollah brought about this massive Israeli overreaction and has destroyed Lebanon and is really causing incredible pain to people. So there are criticisms of Hezbollah that are strong and sincere, but the support of Hezbollah, I think, is much, much more significant, and it’s not only about this particular incident in the south.
I think Hezbollah, Hamas and these groups represent an organic natural reaction that has brewed and percolated and now is materializing after 15-20 years, a reaction of societies in the Arab world that has been extremely disappointed by the autocracy and corruption and ineffectiveness of their own Arab regimes, by the brutality and occupation of Israel, and by the rather racist and then now neocolonial and imperial in the military policies — whatever you want to call them — of the United States. They’re the reliance on using military force, giving Israel the green light to do whatever it wants; that those three issues — the Israeli policies, the American policies and Arab governments — all three have really weighed heavily on Arab societies and normal average decent people, and this is the reaction that we’re seeing.
People are not going to live in a vacuum, and they’re not going to be humiliated and degraded. And they’re going to look for alternatives. And the alternative now that seems to be sweeping this region is the Islamist movements, including the ones doing serious military resistance to Israel. And if you look at Hezbollah, Hezbollah is doing something now which no Arab government in the last 50 years has been able to do, which is to fight a war against Israel, be heavily attacked and keep fighting back, hit Israeli cities with rockets, send one-third of the Israeli populations into shelters for two or three days in a row, and traumatize an entire Israeli population, just as Israel has traumatized Palestinian and Lebanese populations for many, many years. So there is something very significant here politically in terms of what’s going on.
And again, I say this with great sort of sorrow, because it’s not something that we should be proud of or happy about. But it does represent a political shift in the balance of power and the balance of terror, and hopefully it will cause both sides, including when they wake up in the White House, to recognize that only a diplomatic negotiated solution is going to resolve these issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Rami Khouri, we want to thank you very much for being with us, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, a Palestinian Jordanian, a U.S. citizen now in Amman trying to make his way into Beirut.