Back to Beirut, Ready to Defy Israel
By Rami G. Khouri
July 20, 2006

I must be one of the few people in the world trying to get into Beirut, rather than flee the city that is being bombarded daily by Israel, with explicit American approval. Israelis should grasp the significance of this, if they ever wish to find peace and a normal life in this region.

My wife and I were on a trip in Europe when the fighting broke out last week and we could not return directly to our home in Beirut.

So we have returned to our previous home in Amman in order to find a reasonably safe land route back into Lebanon. I want to return mainly because steadfastness in the face of the Israeli assault is the sincerest - perhaps the only - form of resistance available to those of us who do not know how to use a gun, and prefer not to do so in any case, for there is no military solution to this conflict.

Of the many dimensions of Israel's current fighting with Palestinians and Lebanese, the most significant in my view is the continuing, long-term evolution of Arab public attitudes to Israel.

The three critical aspects of this are: a steady loss of fear by ordinary Arabs in the face of Israel's military superiority; a determined and continuous quest for more effective means of technical and military resistance against Israeli occupation and subjugation of Palestinians and other Arabs; and a strong political backlash against the prevailing governing elites in the Arab world who have quietly acquiesced in the face of Israeli-American dictates.

The Lebanon and Palestine situations today reveal a key political and psychological dynamic that defines several hundred million Arabs, and a few billion other like-minded people around the world.

It is that peace and quiet in the Middle East require three things:

Arabs and Israelis must be treated equally; both domestically and internationally the rule of law must define the actions of governments and all members of society; and the core conflict between Palestine and Israel must be resolved in a fair, legal and sustainable manner.

Because these principles are ignored, we continue to suffer outbreaks of military savagery by Israelis and Arabs alike, for the sixth decade in a row. The flurry of international diplomacy this week to calm things down was impressive for its range and energy.

But it will fail if it only aims to place an international buffer force between Hizbullah and Israel, and leave the rest of the Arab-Israeli situation as it is.

Protecting Israel has long been the primary focus of Western diplomacy, which is why it has not succeeded. For decades now Israel has established buffer zones, occupation zones, red lines, blue lines, green lines, interdiction zones, killing fields, surrogate army zones, and every other conceivable kind of zone between it and Arabs who fight its occupation and colonial policies - all without success. Here is why: protecting Israelis while leaving Arabs to a fate of humiliation, occupation, degradation and subservient acquiescence to Israeli-American dictates only guarantees that those Arabs will regroup, plan a resistance strategy, and come back one day to fight for their land, their humanity, their dignity and the prospect that their children can have a normal life one day.

In the past two decades, with every diplomatic move to protect Israel's borders and drive back Arab foes, the response has been a common quest to strike Israel from afar - because the core dispute in Palestine remains unresolved. Three Arab parties to date have missiles of various sorts that can strike Israel from greater and greater distances: Iraq, Hamas and Hizbullah. All three have made the concept of buffer zones militarily obsolete and politically irrelevant. New buffer zones imposed by the international community to protect Israel, while leaving Arab grievances to rot, will only prompt a greater determination by the next generation of young Arab men and women to develop the means to fight back, some day, in some way that we cannot now predict.

Piecemeal solutions and stopgap measures will not work any more.

Ending these kinds of military eruptions requires a more determined effort to resolve the core conflict between Israel and Palestine.

This would then make it easier to address equally pressing issues within Arab countries, such as Hizbullah's status as an armed resistance group or militia inside Lebanon, which itself is a consequence of Israeli attacks against Lebanon and the unresolved Palestine issue.

In Israel's determination to protect itself and the parallel Arab determination to fight back, we have the makings of perpetual war.

Or, for those willing to be even-handed for once, an opening for a diplomatic solution that responds simultaneously to the legitimate rights of both sides.

In the meantime, I keep looking for a reasonably safe route back to our home in Beirut. Standing with the people of Lebanon in their moment of pain is the highest form of solidarity I can think of, and also the only meaningful form of defiance and resistance to Israel that I - and several hundred million other Arabs - can practice at the moment.