National Post (www.canada.com)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Last week, the Lebanese army attacked a squalid Palestinian refugee camp that's become infested with Islamist suicide terrorists and guerilla fighters. On May 20, government troops surrounded the camp, with tanks and artillery pieces shelling it at close range. Army snipers gunned down anything that moved. At least 18 civilians were killed, and dozens more injured. Water and electricity were cut off. By week's end, much of the camp had been turned into deserted rubble. Thousands of terrified residents fleeing the camp reported harrowing stories of famished, parched families trapped in their basements.
How did the rest of the world react? The Arab League quickly condemned "the criminal and terrorist acts carried out by the terrorist group known as Fatah al-Islam," and vowed to "give its full support to the efforts of the army and the Lebanese government." EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also condemned Fatah al-Islam, and declared Europe's "support" for Lebanon. And the UN Security Council called the actions of Fatah al-Islam "an unacceptable attack" on Lebanon's sovereignty. As for the Western media, most outlets ignored the story following the first flurry of news reports.
At this point, please indulge me by re-reading the first paragraph of this column -- except this time, substitute the world "Israeli" for "Lebanese" in the first sentence. Let's imagine what the world's reaction would be if the ongoing siege were taking place in Gaza or the West Bank instead of the Nahr al Bared refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli, Lebanon.
First of all, a flood of foreign journalists would descend on the camp to document Israel's cruelty and barbarism, and the story would remain front page news to this day. Al-Jazeera would be a 24/7 montage of grieving mothers swearing revenge on the Zionist butchers, and rumours would swirl of mass graves and poison gas. The Arab League, EU and United Nations would condemn Israeli aggression -- as would the editorial board of The New York Times. The Independent would dispatch Robert Fisk to embed with Fatah al-Islam. And the newspaper's cartoonist, Dave Brown, would produce another award-winning rendition of his signature theme: Jews eating Palestinian babies.
Actually, we don't need to speculate: What I have just written is exactly what happened when the Israeli army invaded the Jenin refugee camp to root out terrorists in April, 2002, a battle that was similar in scale to this month's siege at Nahr al Bared. (At Jenin, 52 refugee camp residents were killed -- most of them gunmen, according to Human Rights Watch. At Nahr al Bared, the figure is 45 and climbing.) The main difference between the two sieges is that Israel's army put its troops at far greater risk by invading Jenin with infantry -- whereas the less humane Lebanese army has simply pummelled Nahr al Bared with explosives from a distance. Jews apparently care a lot more about saving Palestinian civilians than do Lebanese soldiers.
For years, we have been told that Palestinian suffering and "humiliation" is at the root of the Middle East conflict, as well as the Western-Muslim clash of civilizations more generally. This is nonsense: The 200,000-plus Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanese camps are treated worse than dogs -- with no access to decent schools or good jobs -- and no one in the Arab world cares a whit. In fact, many Arabs seem to embrace the same blind anti-Palestinian hatred of which Israel is typically accused. When Lebanese armoured personnel carriers rolled through Tripoli on May 20, they got a standing ovation from local residents. "We wish the government would destroy the whole camp and the rest of the camps," one local told The New York Times. "Nothing good comes out of the Palestinians."
Just as Lebanon's stew of eternally warring Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Hezbollah terrorists and militarized clans serves as a Mediterranean microcosm for the political dysfunction of the Arab world, this month's events capture perfectly the utter cynicism of the Islamic world's trumped up vilification of Israel, and the West as a whole. As with the Muslim- on-Muslim slaughter in Darfur, Iraq, Pakistan, Gaza and a dozen other hot spots, the siege at Nahr al Bared shows that what inflames "the Muslim street" (for lack of a better cliche) isn't Muslim suffering, but the relatively tiny fraction thereof that jihadi propagandists and their Western apologists can lay at the feet of Jews and Christians.
Muslim blood apparently comes cheap -- but only when it's drawn by other Muslims.