The Guardian’s “Reductio ad Israel”

A recent CiF essay, by Matthew Cassel, regarding Lebanese Palestinians’ unwillingness to disarm, reduces the sum of all Lebanese Palestinian fears to the attack, by Christian militias, on Sabra and Shatila in 1982 – an attack, it should be noted, that occurred in the context of a Civil War which raged for 15 years and claimed up to 250,000  lives.  Of course, missing in Cassel’s piece is any context about the Lebanese Civil War:

Lebanese Civil War

The war lasted from 1975 to 1990 and resulted in an estimated 130,000 to 250,000 civilian fatalities. Another one million people (one-fourth of the population) were wounded,and today approximately 350,000 people remain displaced, the majority of them Christian Lebanese. There was also a mass exodus of almost one million people form Lebanon, mostly of Christian descent. The Post-war occupation of the country by Syria was particularly politically disadvantageous to the Christian population as most of their leadership was driven into exile, or had been assassinated or jailed.

Combatants in the war included The Lebanese Front, The South Lebanon Army, Syria, Israel, The Lebanese National Movement, The Lebanese National Resistant Front, the PLO, Amal Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanese Armed Forces, and the Arab Deterrent Force.

There is no consensus among scholars and researchers on what triggered the Lebanese Civil War. However the militarization of the Palestinian refugee population, with the arrival of the PLO guerrilla forces did spark an arms race amongst the different Lebanese political factions.

Attacks on Shaba and Shatilla

The Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia was responsible for the massacres that occurred on September 16 and 17, 1982.  Israeli troops allowed the Phalangists to enter the camps to root out terrorist cells believed to be located there.  It had been estimated that they may have been up to 200 armed men in the camps working out of the countless bunkers built by the PLO over the years and stocked with generous amounts of ammunition.  When Israeli soldiers ordered the Phalangists out, they found hundreds dead (estimates range from 460 by the Lebanese police, to 800 calculated by Israeli intelligence.)  The dead, according to the Lebanese account, included 35 women and children, with the rest consisting of adult men (Palestinians, Lebanese, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Syrians and Algerians.)  These deaths came on top of 95,000 that had already been killed in the Civil War, by varying combatants, by the year Israel entered the war in an attempt to cease constant shelling from Lebanon, by the PLO, of Israeli towns.

The total number of Palestinians killed in the Lebanese Civil War is believed to be 6,630, broken down as follows:

  • 2000 killed in power struggles between rival factions of Palestinians
  • 3,781 killed in fighting between Shiite militia and PLO
  • 857 Palestinians & Lebanese killed by Christian militia in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982

Other Sectarian Violence and Civilian Massacres During the Lebanese Civil War

Christian East Beirut was ringed by heavily fortified Palestinian camps from which kidnappings and sniper fire against Lebanese civilians occurred daily. Christian East Beirut became besieged by the PLO camps, with severe shortages of food and fuel. This situation was remedied by the Phalanges and their allied Christian militias as they besieged the Palestinian camps embedded in Christian East Beirut one at a time and brought them down. The first was on 18 January 1976 when the heavily fortified Karantina camp, was sacked during the Karantina massacre: About 1,000 PLO fighters and civilians were killed. The Palestinian PLO and al-Saika forces retaliated by attacking the isolated defenseless Christian town of Damour about 20 miles south of Beirut on the coast, during the Damour massacre in which 1,000 Christian civilians were killed and 5,000 were sent fleeing north by boat, since all roads were blocked off. The Maronites retaliated with the Tel al-Zaatar massacre that same year. These massacres prompted a mass exodus of Muslims and Christians, as people fearing retribution fled to areas under the control of their own group.

Discrimination against Palestinians by Lebanese Government:

Not only have Palestinians living in Lebanon historically been denied the right to own property, but they haven’t had the right to qualify for health care, and have been banned by law from working in a large number of jobs.

Can someone imagine what would be the reaction in the international community if Israel tomorrow passed a law that prohibits its Arab citizens from working as taxi drivers, journalists, physicians, cooks, waiters, engineers and lawyers? Or if the Israeli Ministry of Education issued a directive prohibiting Arab children from enrolling in universities and schools?

Until 2005, the law prohibited Palestinians from working in 72 professions. Now the list of jobs has been reduced to 50.

Still, Palestinians are not allowed to work as physicians, journalists, pharmacists or lawyers in Lebanon.

Ironically, it is much easier for a Palestinian to acquire American and Canadian citizenship than a passport of an Arab country.

While recent legislation was supposed to marginally improve the rights of Palestinians, in actuality, it’s far from certain anything will actually change.

“The problem actually lies in Article 4,” said Sari Hanafi, professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the author and editor of several books regarding the Palestinian Diaspora. “It is written clearly that the Palestinians have a right to work, but only according to the current regulations of the Ministry of Labor. This means the Minister of Labor will continue to dictate which professions they can work in and which ones they cannot.

On Matthew Cassel and preconceived conclusions:

Quite tellingly, Cassel is only able to find two Lebanese Palestinians from Shatila who even allude to the attacks on their town 28 years ago as an element of their cause of their refusal to disarm – a charge which his entire narrative rests on.

Of course, a quick Google search of Cassel made his reductio ad Israel more understandable.  He has contributed to the anti-Israel propaganda site, Electronic Intifada – in one piece supporting recently deceased Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.  Fadlallah, it should be remembered, was the spiritual leader of Hezbollah.  Fadlallah also said this, regarding the Holocaust:

“”Zionism has inflated the number of victims in this holocaust beyond imagination. They say there were six million Jews – not six million, not three million, or anything like that… But the world accepted this [figure], and it does not allow anyone to discuss this.”

Cassel also penned a piece on his own website about the Flotilla incident this year which was so viscerally supportive of the flotilla passengers that it could have been written by the terrorist group, IHH, themselves.  He said:

“Masked and armed Israeli soldiers…descended from helicopters one by one on board the Mavi Marmara and Israeli warships flanked the vessel on all sides as it sailed in international waters. As anyone would expect, the startled activists resisted the attack with sticks and whatever else they could find on deck [emphasis mine]. The Israeli soldiers opened fire and dozens of activists were killed and injured.”


Frankly, at times, I am sympathetic to those critics of CiF Watch who fiercely deny that critics of Israel are, to any serious degree, predisposed to be apologists for reactionary terrorist movements.  I sometimes even have passing thoughts that the Guardian’s Israel critics are often “just” tragically misguided progressives who are (for various reasons) blind to the existential threats Israel faces.  However, the sheer number of essays published by the Guardian which support a one-state solution, are openly sympathetic to Hamas (and, at times, even Hezbollah), and suggest that Israel, alone among the nations, has no right to exist, makes it clear that the Guardian sees its “liberal” mission necessarily tied to the moral identification with the most radical or revolutionary elements.

In Seymour Martin Lipset’s 1971 essay in the New York Times Magazine, on the emerging anti-Semitism on the left, he identified a dynamic that seems most relevant in dissecting the Guardian today.  (See CW piece on the essay here)  Lipset noted that intellectuals have always had a penchant for self-hatred and a desire to mitigate their elitist backgrounds by gaining the approval of the most militant groups.  In the milieu of 1971 America, such radicals consisted largely of militant groups such as the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground (to use just two examples) – movements horribly compromised by anti-Semitism, rank anti-Ameicanism, and, often, the open advocacy for violence against civilians.

In the modern political context, especially in Europe, those wishing to identify as a “progressives”, “radicals” or “activists” often seek the approval, and succumb to the ideological pull, of radical Islamic groups – even when such alliances wildly contradict their professed values.  Such intellectual peer pressure is not new.  However, given the international reach and military capacities of such terrorist movements, the stakes are much, much higher than it was in late 60s or early 70’s America.

It is not hyperbole to soberly, but firmly, warn that the Guardian’s flirtations with the most radical elements in society represents a serious threat to the future of democracy, individual rights, religious tolerance, gender equality, and the rights of gays and lesbians – truly progressive values which I was raised to believe in, still fiercely support, and will always fight to protect.

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