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Tel Aviv Launches Terror Campaign

By Brian Taylor, The Militant,
Vol.60/No.17, 29 April 1996

In mid-April Israeli gunships and heavy artillery squadrons began a massive bombing campaign against Lebanon. Dozens of people were killed and more than 400,000 - one-tenth of the country's population - driven from their homes in the first week of what Tel Aviv has dubbed Operation Grapes of Wrath. This latest act of aggression has been the most serious escalation by Israeli forces since 1993 and the first assault on the Lebanese capital, Beirut, since 1982.

The Israeli government says the bombings are retaliation for recent Katyusha rocket attacks by Hezbollah (Party of God) in northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied region of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah is an organization that has been fighting for 11 years to free southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. The air raids, however, have been indiscriminate. Civilians, their homes, buildings, and vehicles continue to be hit in the bombings.

In one incident shown on television across the world, an Israeli helicopter gunship blasted a vehicle clearly marked as an ambulance, near the Lebanese city of Tyre. Among the six passengers killed were the wife and three young daughters of the driver, Abbas Jihah. Israeli officials attempted to justify the April 13 attack by claiming that Jihah was a known fighter with Hezbollah and that the ambulance belonged to the organization.

Jihah, a vegetable farmer, had a very different story. He told reporters he was using the vehicle to take food to villagers trapped in the town of Mansoura and then when he heard on the news that the raids would reach his home in Tyre, he rushed to get his family out of the area. I was trying to help needy people and get my family out of danger, he said. United Nations troops examining the wreckage minutes after the incident found no weapons or other evidence to indicate any other use of the vehicle than that stated by Jihah.

Meanwhile, the Israeli regime ordered the entire population of Tyre to evacuate the city or be subject to bombing.

Destruction of power station Tel Aviv has targeted the economic infrastructure of Lebanon as well. An April 15 raid destroyed the power station in Beirut, eliminating electrification of the entire city. This was supposedly a response to a Katyusha rocket that cut a cable, shutting off electricity to a synagogue in Galilee.

As of April 16, Hezbollah fighters had launched 140 rockets, while Israeli forces had fired more than 5,000 rounds of artillery into Lebanon and flown hundreds of bombing missions.

On April 16 three Israeli helicopters rocketed the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Ein el-Hilweh, on the outskirts of the city of Sidon. Some 30,000 people have fled to Sidon from elsewhere in Lebanon, where they are encamped in 20 schools.

This kind of aggression is not new to the people of Lebanon. Israeli troops invaded the country in 1982 and since have occupied a six-mile-deep area - 440 square miles - of the country, proclaiming it a security zone. In July 1993, Israeli warplanes, gunboats, and other heavy artillery pounded Lebanon for a week. Five hundred thousand people fled the south. The assault left 130 dead and 500 injured, and destroyed or damaged 30,000 houses and other structures. It ended with a U.S.-backed cease-fire agreement that allowed Israeli forces to continue occupying the security zone.

Officials in Lebanon and Syria condemned the latest Israeli assault. What Israel did in Lebanon today has only one name. It is aggression, said a Syrian state-run radio station. It is difficult for a person, regardless of whether he is Arab or not, to say to one who is defending his land that he is wrong or to say that he is a terrorist, said Syrian president Hafez al- Assad. Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri stated, If there were no occupation, there would be no reason for Hezbollah to exist.

Washington backs Tel Aviv We are against the aggression [against Lebanon] that is taking place, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat stated April 17, saying he would raise the issue in talks with Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres. He also condemned the continued closure of Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza by Israeli troops, which have barred 2 million Palestinians from entering Israel. The closure, which is now in effect for nearly two months, is an attempt to make our people kneel and keep our workers from their work, Arafat said.

Speaking during a visit to Japan, U.S. president William Clinton said, I think that clearly the truce was violated by Hezbollah violating the agreement that had previously been brokered in raining the Katyusha rockets into northern Israel. That was obviously what provoked this. An April 12 editorial in the New York Times likewise justified Tel Aviv's actions, stating, So long as Lebanon and its Syrian masters shun serious peace talks and allow Lebanese territory to be used freely as sanctuaries for terrorists, they expose Lebanon to military retaliation.

Washington has proposed a settlement that, as the New York Times described it, effectively outlined Israel's demands. These included an end to Hezbollah's shelling of northern Israel with Syrian and Lebanese guarantees against their resumption, the disarming of the guerrillas and an Israeli undertaking to consider withdrawing from its self-proclaimed buffer zone in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah denounced this scheme, while Lebanese foreign minister Fariz Bouez said it needed alterations.

The French government is also trying to exert its influence in the outcome of the conflict, sending Foreign Minister Hervé de Charette to bring its own proposals for the negotiations.

Initial protests in United States In Washington, D.C., Arab activists organized an immediate response to the bombings. On April 16, 100 people picketed in front of the Israeli embassy, protesting the rocket attacks on Lebanon. A vigil at the same location was held the previous night. The protests were organized by the American-Arab Anti- Discrimination Committee. A number of other groups participated, including Arabic clubs from George Mason University, Georgetown University, and the University of Maryland-College Park. The Palestine Aid Society and the group Save Lebanon also participated. At the picket line it was announced that a protest would be held April 21 at the White House.

In Atlanta, students from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology, the Arab-American Women's Society, and others protested April 17. We got back from spring break Sunday night and were so angry about Israel going into Lebanon that we knew we had to do something, said Aisha Jumaan. Forty people turned out by word of mouth to the picket line.

Amel Ead, one of the protest organizers, said, How angry I was to hear Clinton say `Hezbollah asked for it.' Hezbollah is a Lebanese national organization, trying to defend against land occupied by Israel. If the occupied land is given back, more peace will come to the region.

Despite the shelling of villages throughout Lebanon, some have decided to remain in their homes. We're staying, declared Mohammed Ruman in the city of Nabatiye. It is better for us to die on our land than to run.

Hussein Nehli, also refusing to leave, said, Hezbollah is fighting for our land and we will stay with them.

One woman staying at a refugee center in Beirut decided to name her newborn daughter Katyusha, after the rockets Hezbollah uses. Sarkis Naoum, a journalist in Beirut, noted, There has definitely been a change of public opinion. People see a sign of Lebanese dignity and Arab dignity in Hezbollah. No one else is fighting for them.