“The World Just Sat By,” An Interview with Dahr Jamail

By: Christopher Brown
Orginally published at Ohmy News

Dahr Jamail is an award-winning, independent journalist who reported live from Baghdad for eight months beginning in 2003. He is considered one of the best sources on the War in Iraq. Recently he returned to The Middle East where he filed stories from Lebanon and Syria. While he was in Damascus, the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah began. Jamail left immediately for Beirut and sent daily dispatches from his Iraq-dispatches website. I had the chance to speak to Jamail about what he saw during this 34-day conflict in the middle East.

Christopher Brown: Dahr Jamail, it seems that in the media, th narrative for this conflict started when Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed several others when, in fact, this was not the case. Can you speak about this?

Dahr Jamail: Yes it’s very clear and it’s quite well documented that there were meetings between Cheney and Netenyahu out in California over a year in advance of this war. Also, another document we could look to would be The Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Anyone can get online, go to that website and read their plans for the Middle East and it states very clearly there, as well as in another document called “A Clean Break,” a similar document to the PNAC where they talk about redrawing the lines in the Middle East and how they are going about doing so. Iraq was the first step, the next step was Lebanon, the next step Iran and then after that Syria. It is mentioned and well documented in those sources that Israel or the US would be going into Lebanon.

Other things we could look at are the idea that this was was what occurred after Hizbollah’s operation in early July. Using this as the pretext is simply a fabrication. Because in reality these types of skirmishes on the border between Israel and Hizbollah have been a regular occurrence. Hizbollah had fired rockets into Israel; they had attacked Israeli troops before. So why did they wait for this particular time to launch this massive collective punishment war of aggression against Lebanon? There are several factors that all point really clearly towards this being a policy that they were waiting to enact. That they were simply waiting for the right pretext to justify what they did.

CB: As the conflict mounted in the region, in the West we received information in regards to Israelis caused to suffer from rockets fired by Hizbollah. There were interviews with many innocent Israelis who had to hide out in bomb shelters. But only rarely did we get any first hand accounts about innocent Lebanese victims and their troubles. Could you speak more on the corporate media’s lack of fairness and accuracy regarding this conflict?

DJ: Yes, that is a really good point. The media coverage of this war of aggression by Israel against Lebanon, I would say, is almost as bad as the media coverage that is happening in Palestine, in Gaza and the West Bank where it’s so incredibly biased. I would go so far as to say that the coverage of this war was even worse than the corporate media coverage that I’d seen of the US invasion of Iraq. It is off the charts in terms of its bias and omissions of things for which we can cite example after example. For example, all the assumptions, the heavily biased assumptions Western corporate media makes that Hizbollah is a terrorist organization. Well, they’re only referred to as a terrorist organization by the US, Israel, and the UK. Whereas in all of the Middle East, including in Lebanon, the country where they have their base, they are seen as a legitimate political party. A grassroots organization that employs over a quarter of a million people fully engaged in infrastructure projects like hospitals, schools and social welfare programs.

And now after the Israeli aggression against Lebanon, Hizbollah enjoys over 90% support from the people of Lebanon, which is really off the charts compared to the number prior to this invasion, which was around 40 or 50%. That means that now, and this of course is not being broadcast in the corporate media, Hizbollah is enjoying the majority support of the Christians, The Druze and Sunni Arabs. Whereas prior to this there was only a minority support from these groups.

Then we can just look at the coverage of the casualties; I bring up Hizbollah being referred to as a terrorist organization over and over in the corporate media. When we simply look at the statistics, we have over 1,300 Lebanese killed by the Israeli war of aggression, over 90% of those civilians. And then we look at the other side where roughly 150 Israelis died, over 50% of those were soldiers. So just looking at that statistic alone, who is the terrorist organization? More specifically, who is the terrorist state?

And now throughout the Middle East, Israel is being seen as the terrorist state rather than Hizbollah being in any way a terrorist organization. Now, even in Lebanon, Hizbollah is being seen as the rightful defenders of Lebanon against Israeli aggression. And this is being underscored again with Israel breaking the ceasefire agreement by the UN when they launched a commando raid into the Bekaa Valley, which was fought off by Hizbollah and Israel lost at least one soldier.

Nevertheless, Israel once again broke the truce agreement; the UN resolution that they initially had been quite happy with. A resolution that even prompted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to call President Bush, after the UN resolution was penned up and backed by the US, and thank him for keeping Israeli interests in mind.

But that clearly wasn’t good enough for Israel. We’ve seen time and time again Israel doesn’t have any regard for international law. And how is this being portrayed in the coverage? Where is the talk of war crimes? Where is the talk of the Geneva Conventions being broken time and time again by Israel when they’ve hit civilians, they’ve hit medical infrastructure, they’ve hit the ambulances and really don’t even try to hide this. Where is that in the coverage of this conflict?

CB: You mentioned the casualties of the Lebanese people. Although Hizbollah controls the South, Israel’s bombing campaign extended far into the North of the country as well. Could you talk about what you saw on the ground while covering this conflict?

DJ: Yes. There are two really important points. The first is; this wasn’t just an attack on Southern Lebanon and Southern Beirut where Hizbollah is known to have the majority of its support, but it was the collective punishment of the entire country. Really, this is something that just amazed me in Lebanon. Watching the entire country being bombed into pre-industry while the world just sat by, and the UN and European countries just sat and watched and really didn’t do anything to stop them from carrying out this war crime.

We’re talking about the Northern Border being hit; the city of Byblos being hit which is a predominately Christian city; the cities up in the mountains, which are the Christian and Druze areas of Lebanon, being hit repeatedly; over 70 bridges being bombed; over 90 roads being bombed; milk factories, pharmaceutical plants, paper factories all being bombed. Total collective punishment. Where all of Lebanon’s ports as well as airports were bombed, electrical structure, all of this being bombed. Every one of these a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and every one of these fits the definition of collective punishment.

And then if we look at the targeting, the deliberate targeting of civilians. I was really horrified to see pretty quickly, while reporting from Lebanon, that this deliberate targeting of civilians and medical infrastructure wasn’t something that was happening here and there. I quickly saw that this was a pattern: The pattern was that people would try to huddle in their homes from Israeli bombs, and if they were lucky enough not to have their homes bombed, Israeli warplanes were leafleting villages telling people to leave. Then when they got in they’re cars to leave; while flying white surrender flags, holding pillowcases or sheets out the windows so as not too be bombed, they were being hit.

And then when the Lebanese Red Cross or the Lebanese Civil Defense ambulances tried to reach these people, they too were being bombed. Often times, secondary ambulances were sent help the first ambulances that were hit, they too were being bombed. This is something that I can speak to after interviewing people in Qana the day after the massacre there that killed 37 children and 24 other adults, most of whom were elderly people.

That attack occurred at 1 a.m. and the Lebanese Red Cross who tried to reach them from the nearby city of Tyre got the first call at 5 a.m. and dispatched two ambulances. They were nearly bombed and had to turn back. So they waited until about 7 a.m. and tried again, and they were nearly bombed again and were kept away from Qana and had to turn back.

And they weren’t allowed to reach Qana until 9am. So because of them being kept away, which were the exact words used by the Red Cross people that I interviewed; people who were in those ambulances who said; ‘We were kept away by the Israeli military. And if we had been allowed to reach there when we first received the call, maybe we could have saved the lives of a few more people.’

And this was the type of story I ran into repeatedly from both civilians and Red Cross workers. They felt they were being attacked deliberately, civilians homes were being destroyed; they were outraged; ‘Why are they hitting civilians? If they want to attack Hizbollah, okay. But why are they hitting civilians?’ This is what I was hearing the entire time I was there.

CB: The US and Israel constantly stated that Syria and Iran needed to stop sending weapons to Hizbollah. And the corporate media picked up this refrain. But there was no mention from any Western country, or Middle Eastern country for the US to stop sending munitions to Israel. What are your thoughts on this?

DJ: This double standard and this bias, and I would go so far as to call it this hypocritical racism, I think this falls under the “coverage” of this war. Why weren’t media outlets asking the question; ‘Well if Israel and the US are accusing Iran and Syria of supplying Hizbollah, then what position are they in to do so?’

They are the ones who are supplying Israel with their fighter jets. Israel has the second largest fleet of F-16s on the planet second only behind the US. Israel has been the single largest recipient of US foreign aid since the early 1970s, every single year. Right now, they are receiving over 2 billion dollars, and possible over 3 billion dollars every single year, either in grants, direct aid, or military hardware in the form of: F-16s, cluster bombs, jet fuel, tanks, laser guided weapons, white phosphorus weapons. All this was used extensively in Southern Lebanon, and sometimes even in Southern Beirut.

The hypocrisy is really hard to understand. No media outlets in the West, none of the major ones that I know of, have ever criticized the US for this unbridled financial, political and economic support for Israel. While certainly Hizbollah is using rockets from Iran and is probably getting other aid from Syria as well, the bottom line is that Israel is getting direct military aid unquestioned from the US as well as helpful political and diplomatic aid from the EU by their silence. And none of this is ever questioned.

CB: You speak about the silence that permeated World leaders and their governments had about Israel’s onslaught upon the Lebanese people. Why was it that the folks in Congress here in the US condoned Israel’s right to defend itself but never spoke of Lebanon having the same right after it became clear that this was not about rescuing two soldiers, but more about bombing all of Lebanon?

Where was the outcry of the disproportionate use of force from Congress concerning Israel actions?

DJ: I think this is when we have to look squarely at the fact that the US government and most of the US media is so heavily influenced by Jewish lobby groups like AIPAC. And it’s long past time that people in this country look squarely at this and see that their politicians are essentially owned by these Jewish lobby groups. This is not my opinion, this is fact.

Anyone can get online, do a little bit of research and pull up US politicians and which lobby groups they’re taking campaign contributions from and I challenge anyone to find more than a handful of politicians, and I mean single digits, who have not taken some aid from Jewish lobby groups. And we are talking about Republicans and Democrats alike. Everyone is being financed by them and therefore everyone is beholden to them and the lobbyists pull the right strings the politicians move in the right direction.

And those directions are in complete compliance with whatever the wishes of the State of Israel might be at the time. And that’s why, during the first week of this war in Lebanon, that there was something like a moment of silence in the US Congress. Where all the politicians stood up and had a moment of silence for poor little Israel. Poor little Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East; poor little Israel, with the fourth most powerful army in the World, only second to that technologically the United States, it’s supplier, its grandparent if you will, as far as military support.

And this is the problem: that we have a government that will not act in the best interests of the United States. They act, instead in this entangled relationship of: What are the best interests of the State of Israel? And that trumps anything else, even following international law; even following the best policy for the United States, as opposed to what’s the best policy for Israel. And if the United States gets entangled in this mess and loses standing in the eyes of the World powers by its unbridled alliance for Israel, then that’s okay.

And that is what is going on and that is where light has to be shown and has to be criticized heavily and we need massive reform there. And of course the calls that will come out will be: ‘well that’s anti-Semitic, that’s anti-Israel.’ Well, we just need to be prepared for that, those will come.

And it’s not anti-Semitic because in reality this alliance of violence is detrimental to both the security of the US and Israel. This policy we’re watching is complete insanity and at the end of the day it is really going to jeopardize the existence of the State of Israel; not Iran, not Lebanon, not Hizbollah, not Hamas but this lunatic policy of this unbridled, this complete disregard for international law. This in the end is going to jeopardize the existence to the State of Israel far more than any perceived threat that could exist. And any US politician that doesn’t agree with that, and act appropriately, and make appropriate changes, they probably shouldn’t be in office.

CB: At the beginning of the war, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz enjoyed approval ratings in the 90s from the Israeli public. But since its conclusion, those ratings have dropped to below 50% for both men.

Reserve soldiers sent a letter to Olmert questioning the purpose of this war. Other soldiers acknowledge that Hizbollah resistance fighters fought bravely in the face of superior fire power.

Faced, with very low approval ratings and an upcoming mid term election in November, President Bush claimed victory for the State of Israel. Is the US public buying any of this, or is Bush and Co., merely grasping at straws?

DJ: Well, we have to look at the actions and what happens on the ground as opposed to rhetoric and the propaganda coming out of the US and Israeli governments, especially regarding this situation. And if we simply look at the facts; Israel stated goals for this war against Lebanon were:

1. To pressure the Lebanese people and the Lebanese government to turn against Hizbollah. To disarm them and push them away from the border with Israel. That was one stated goal. Clearly a dismal failure when over 90% of the Lebanese and most of the Lebanese government support Hizbollah now more than ever before and certainly have no intention of disarming them or moving them away from the border with Israel.

2. To disarm Hizbollah and that, of course, did not happen and the UN appears unlikely to make strides in that direction and that of course means that most people in Lebanon don’t want Hizbollah to disarm either. This is probably the only thing keeping Israel from occupying Southern Lebanon at this point.

3. To have they’re prisoners released. And they are no closer to having that happen then they were before they started dropping bombs over Lebanon from North to South and East to West.

If anyone is stupid enough to look at those killed by each side as an indication of who won, that is really going to be misleading. Because clearly Israel killed over 1,000 civilians in Lebanon as if that is some sort of a victory. But if we look at that statistic, over 50% of the people that Hizbollah killed in South Lebanon were Israeli combat soldiers, not civilians. I think that is the more important statistic.

And really the most important indicator we should probably look at is perception in the Middle East and around the World as to who won this. And I think that one of the solid indicators of who people think won this is what was cited in the Israeli press; less than 50% of Israelis approve of the job Olmert is doing where less than two weeks ago his approval rating was around 90%.

That shows that even the people of Israel are very much aware of the fact that Israel lost this war; they did not come close to achieving their directive; and instead they have turned everyone in the Middle East against them; they have shown the true face of Israel; that it’s a State that is willing to sponsor terrorism to kill civilians on a massive scale, and still not achieve it’s goals.

And in fact I feel that Israel and their own security are in much greater danger now than they were before conflict. The myth of Israel having this all-powerful undefeatable military is gone. Just like what happened to the US in Iraq. Where a few thousand people with Kalishnakovs and RPGs can bog down the most powerful military on the planet and are winning that war; well the same thing happened to Israel.

At the height of their ground invasion, the last 24 hours of their ground invasion into Southern Lebanon, they lost 40 troops in 24 hours. And they did leave Lebanon with their tail between their legs. And it really just shows that this shock and awe air campaign is really useless in a guerrilla war. They can drop tens of thousands of bombs on Southern Lebanon and they still can’t get in there and hold one city, even six miles into the country.

So it’s really shown they’re military is not capable of protecting their own civilians; they are not successful at waging an invasion against another country; and now at the end of all of it, Israeli citizens feel less secure now then they did before this ever occurred. And I think that that should be the strongest indicator, especially when we look at the stated goals of Israel at the beginning of this war.

CB: Currently there is a fragile cease-fire in place. Is it your opinion that this will hold? What do you feel is in store for the future?

DJ: I don’t think this cease-fire will hold because of what we have spoke of Israel encroaching into Lebanon again. At a time of they’re own choosing and completely unprovoked. We can talk about that present tense. Already this cease-fire has failed and at any time Israel might…maybe even as we speak…they could be breaking this cease-fire agreement again. And I think that’s why it will fail.

Because Israel has complete disregard for UN resolutions. We only have to look them breeching, I’m not sure how many, UN resolutions regarding what’s going on in the occupied territories. We need to remember that the first one to break this cease-fire was Israel and there may come a point when Hizbollah does respond and then the corporate media will begin to place the blame squarely on Lebanon’s shoulders.

I’m going to use a crude analogy to get my point across; I use to play basketball and I was always taught that if you ever get fouled, don’t foul your opponent back.

Because the one who responds is usually the one who is going to get caught. And I think it’s kind of the same thing here. It is critical that Hizbollah not respond if they can at all avoid it. Because the media is so biased and the international community is so biased; if they do respond we could have another repeat of what we just saw now and probably something much worse and more sustained. Because I really don’t see Israel leaving this aside and not doing anything. They will continue to provoke until Hizbollah responds and then we will again see an all out war.

Chris Brown is an independent journalist based in San Francisco. His weblog can be visited here