Creating people's geographies
Guerilla News Network (GNN) Sat, 12 Aug 2006 09:52:18 -0700
WMD in slow motion
Clearing the lethal minefields of southern Lebanon is crucial if peace is to be achieved
The Israel-Hezbollah conflict has been largely reported on as an exchange of airstrikes and Katyushas, but it is much more than that. It is, at its root, a battle over the land in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah is fighting in defense against Israeli airstrikes, but also to regain disputed lands which Lebanon claims. The Shebaa Farms area for instance, which is occupied by Israel yet is the subject of negotiations between Lebanon and Syria.
Israel, meanwhile is fighting to reassert its dominance over southern Lebanon, whether occupied or not, so that Hezbollah cannot fire rockets from south of the Litani River and Palestinian resistance groups cannot organize attacks from the north in the future.
With this in mind, almost nobody has been reporting on is a crucial policy that Israel has pursued since its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. It is a policy that has cost tens of lives since then, left many communities living in fear and ruined farmlands – fracturing the landscape into safe areas and areas tainted with the possibility of instant death.
I’m talking about the politics of landmines, also known as “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion.” Israel has been refusing to hand over maps of landmines planted in southern Lebanon during the occupation as a defensive ploy to prevent the movement of Hezbollah forces in the region – essentially creating a buffer zone inside Lebanon. It’s a particularly cruel form of defense for those who aren’t guerillas and who also happen to be its major victims.
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), there were 26 Lebanese casualties from anti-personnel mines in 2003, 14 in 2004 and 14 more in the first half of 2005. Lebanese people were injured “during recreational activities” – running, playing, collecting food or scrap metal. Since 1970, Lebanon says that some 1,800 people have died from landmine related injuries. According to the NGO Mineaction, thirty percent of the Lebanese population has been affected by unexploded ordinance and, despite efforts to survey and clear mined lands, about seventy percent of those lands mined during the wars remain contaminated. That’s 120 million square meters of land, most of it along the “blue line,” hindering the return of displaced people and the resumption of agriculture in the border region.
The vast majority of these landmines were laid by the Israeli army. The U.S. State Department records that after 2000, 130,000 landmines remained “in the former Israeli security zone” – and Israel did hand over maps of many of those minefields. But, the same document states, “In December 2001, the Government of Israel informed the Government of Lebanon of the presence of another 300,000 landmines, mainly along the border between the two countries.” The problem was, they didn’t tell the Lebanese where those landmines actually were.
Since then, Israel has been consistent in refusing to tell the Lebanese government where they were laid. Despite their protestations to the international community via the UN, Lebanese politicians have had no further luck in trying to force the release of military maps to aid demining teams and rebuild broken communities.
This was evident in the weeks prior to the current conflict. Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation on a visit to the U.S. in April 2006, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that “It is incumbent upon Israel to withdraw from [the Shebaa Farms area on the Syrian border], hand over the Lebanese detainees in its prisons, submit the maps of the landmines it left in the South, and stop its infringements on Lebanese sovereignty.”
Along with withdrawing from the Shebaa Farms area (so that Syria and Lebanon could negotiate a settlement) these were the issues that Siniora put to George Bush. These were his priorities then, not those of Hezbollah.
Because of the efforts of the Siniora government, the resolution that was passed on 11 August by the UN Security Council includes a stipulation that seeks the “provision to the United Nations of remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel’s possession.” After six years of prevarication and sleight of hand, the ball may well end up in Israel’s court. Will they choose to ignore another UN resolution, and hamper critical efforts to restore life in southern Lebanon, or will they embrace the need to assist in correcting the abuses of the past – and release the documents that can prevent further injuries or deaths from landmines?
If they cooperate, and Lebanese farms and villages can recover without fear of their inhabitants being killed by a single mis-step, then the reservoir of support for Hezbollah would be significantly drained. As long as southern Lebanon remains a place where death is constantly present – real or imagined – underneath the soil itself – the challenge of preserving security remains daunting. As long as Israel withholds the information that can dissipate this fear, it remains complicit in the strengthening of resistance movements and only has itself to blame.
Unfortunately for the Lebanese people, they will have to deal with the immediate consequences of the current conflict before they can deal with the conflicts of the past. Reuters reported on 8 August that Israel has been firing 3,000 rockets, artillery shells or cluster bombs every day for the past 24 days, which comes to 72,000 munitions. With a reliable ten percent failure rate, that leaves 7,200 unexploded munitions that need to be found and disposed of in order for normal life to resume.