It gets started like this:
People keep asking me, "Do you know when it will stop?"And in case the whole tragic, hopeless fullness of it goes over the reader's head, the caption of the attached photo ("A Lebanese woman reacts at the destruction after she came to inspect her house in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon") helpfully states: "For many in Beirut the bombing feels like collective punishment".
I shrug my shoulders, and say: "Your guess is as good as mine."
Then they ask: "But Beirut - will they bomb Beirut again?"
"What would be the point?" I reply.
Then they bombed Beirut again.
For us Israelis, reading these items is an exercise in exasperation. If it's meant to be news, it suffers from two fatal flaws. It fails to present the other side of the story - the immense suffering of hundreds of thousands of Israeli families going into their fourth week of wartime air raids from the astonishingly well-armed Hezbollah in the north. And it says not a word about Israeli losses. No, a correction: it says just enough to make the point that Israeli losses are tiny, trivial, insignificant compared with Lebanon's.
If it's meant to be analysis, it fails to scratch, let along dig, beneath the predictable lament of Beirut's frightened and embattled population. And it presents at face-value the two central arguments we have all heard over and again:
(a) Lebanon is being held responsible - and paying a heavy price - for a problem it can hardly have been expected to deal with - the presence of Hezbollah in its south.Even before we take account of the images from all over the world of angry mobs demanding punishment for the Israelis, there's something fundamentally wrong with the way this is presented. But the mobs make it plain that the distortion here goes well beyond journalism.
(b) The sheer disproportionality of the loss and damage on the Lebanese side makes it plain who's good and who's evil in this narrative. As Sykes puts it: "Hezbollah's primitive, unguided Katyusha rockets hit civilians too - although far fewer have died in Israel than have been killed in Lebanon."
The fact that Israel has been turned upside down, with hot, stuffy, over-crowded bomb shelters filled with terrified families in the north; thousands of reservists called up for urgent military service, leaving essential and important services in the rest of the country unstaffed; Israel's third city, Haifa, bombed day after day with not the slightest suggestion of a strategic goal but purely for the sheer terrorism of it - all of these things go unstated, unrecognized.
Because with Israel's quiet and determined spirit of getting on with the job, of adjusting to the new reality and taking it, as much as possible, in the national stride, Israel doesn't look or act like a victim. Even when apartments are bombed and families left homeless, alternative arrangements are made; the government's insurance assessors come the same day or the next and begin making arrangements for compensation and repair; volunteers from the south or from outside of Israel appear on the scene and offer a drink, a cheque, a shoulder.
The contrast with Lebanon could hardly be greater. But this demands some questions be answered. Why are there no communal or private bomb shelters in Beirut as there are all over Israel? Why no air-raid sirens? If Israel can have an efficient Home Command with reservists trained in rescuing people from inside their bombed homes, why doesn't Lebanon?
This isn't the place to go into the proportionality argument again. (Israel is damned because its reaction to Hezbollah bombing of civilian targets produces larger numbers of victims in Lebanon than in Israel.) But is Sykes suggesting that a marked increase in the number of Israeli victims would level out the moral scales? Could any argument be more absurd?
Hezbollah can't be blamed for not trying hard enough. Virtually every one of the roughly two thousand (that's 2,000) missiles fired at us so far was intended for a civilian target. Yes, we know they have poor guidance systems. Which is perhaps why Arab Israelis have been so over-represented among the dead and injured; today, a Beduin mother and her two daughters died at the hands of their would-be liberator in the north.
But Hezbollah's intentions are clear, and at any moment one of those Nasrallah bombs is going to get lucky. Will that make Israel's military activity retrospectively justified? Or prospectively? And is this a way to determine whether terrorism is tolerable? Isn't it absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances? Or is Sykes among those who see Hezbollah as a resistance army? If yes, whom are they resisting? And why?
Relativistic morality that depends on the numbers of dead and injured is an embarrassment to those using it. Can anyone argue that Nasrallah and his Shi'ite thugs are just playing around? They want us dead. Only the morally blind or the truly feeble-minded are unable to see this. Which leaves us to wonder about the many journalists reporting on these events who are neither but for whom the moral argument is evidently too complicated to figure out. So they just go with the stream.
For us, the Lebanese argument that makes the least sense and caused the greatest degree of anger is the one that says: "What can we possibly do? What could we have done? We're just so weak."
We heard this for decades from Arafat and his apologists. We hear it today from Abbas. We certainly hear it from Siniora. It's bunk. If a state is a state, it's entitled to its sovereign entitlements. But entitlements come with responsibilities. Pretend states, by contrast, come with limited shelf-lives. A succession of Lebanese governments has sat with arms folded, watching as Hezbollah took total control of half the country, arming itself to the hilt with the help of arms supplies that cannot have arrived from Iran and Syria without the Beirut authorities knowing. They did nothing because it really did not bother them. After all, there was no immediate threat to Lebanese interests. It was all directed at the hated Israelis.
Now that Israelis are being killed and maimed in their own homes from Lebanese territory, Siniora expends more energy running from press conference to photo op than he, or any of his prdecessors, ever did in resisting Hezbollah. In fact, the idea of resisting Hezbollah is itself a bad joke. Hezbollah was invited into the Lebanese government where it now sits. From there, it and the entire Lebanese power structure bear the true responsbility for creating the chaos and suffering that is embittering the lives of their fellow citizens and of half of Israel's.
They, of course, will not see things this way. As in Saudi Arabia and Syria, where a broken water pipe or an interruption to the power supply is routinely ascribed to the interference of the hated Zionists, the Lebanese authorities will lay all the blame at Israel's feet, even while pointedly ignoring the work of their own hands.
Nothing new in that. This ongoing war, for a century at least, has been characterized by finger pointing in every direction other than at the real source of the Arab world's own dreadful problems. And that source is deep in the heart of Arab society and Arab culture.
Sykes of the BBC says: "People keep saying to me, "We are not Hezbollah - why are they bombing our homes?" What a pity he doesn't give them the frank answer they need to hear but are not hearing. They are bombing your homes, he might point out, not out of revenge, and not as retaliation (Google tells us there are nearly 500 pages on the BBC website which match the search term "Israeli" and "retaliation" and "Lebanon"; it's a powerful theme.) Israel is bombing your city because for years and up until this very day your homes have served as cover for some of the most determined and deadly terrorists on the planet. This is what happens when the victims - the Israeli victims - get fed up and decide that if no one else is going to fix the Hezbollah problem, there's no choice but for them to go in and fix it themselves.
All of this suffering could have been avoided, but now it cannot, and the suffering will go on until the Hezbollah bombers and gunmen and planners and media spinners, together with their astoundingly vast arsenal that somehow none of you were able to see, are removed.