It's really nothing new as war looms in the Middle East

Orillia Packet & Times (Ontario)
July 29, 2006 Saturday

By Pete McGarvey

I'm composing these paragraphs on a Tuesday afternoon, as Israeli
troops move into Lebanon and diplomats scurry to arrange a ceasefire.
The situation is tragic beyond words. Israel's air and sea forces have
killed hundreds of innocent Lebanese and devastated the country's
infrastructure - a savage blow to a nation still recovering from a
cruel civil war.

By some weird reasoning, Israel's leaders figure the proper response
to an attack on innocent Israelis is an assault a hundredfold
greater on an innocent third party. Israel blames Lebanon for not
keeping Hezbollah terrorists in check, fully (and cynically) aware
the fragile government at Beirut lacks the military means to do so.
What's certain is Israel's determination to forever crush terrorist
factions in both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip that fire rockets into
Israel and dispatch suicide bombers against blameless civilians.

History teaches it doesn't work. Massive counter strikes against an
elusive enemy tend only to increase the enemy's resolution and build
political sympathy for its aims. Consider the American experience
in Vietnam.

Like it or not, Canada has been drawn in. When Prime Minister Stephen
Harper echoed the White House in declaring Israel's massive response
to be "measured," he abandoned two generations of a balanced Canadian
approach to the wars and politics of the region.

We are now considered staunchly pro-Israel. Things can only get worse
if Israel's demand for a NATO peace-keeping force at the border is
heeded and Canadians become part of that contingent.

Over a period of 20 years I made three journalistic journeys to
the Middle East - to Israel in 1971 and 1991 and Lebanon in 1980.
Memories of those trips flood back every time CNN does a report from
the front.

The first volley of Hezbollah missiles in early July landed on Safed, a
town that figured in Cabalistic mystery and history in past centuries.

Thirty-five years ago last January, I spent an afternoon there,
interviewing Israelis under attack from El Fatah (PLO) guerrillas
on the Lebanese border. I took pictures of shell-holes in a dozen
homes and heard first-hand how locals spent nights huddled in their
basements.

Later that same week, I covered an angry Druzian demonstration in
Dalyat El Carmel, where Palestinian terrorists had kidnapped and
beheaded a farmer a few days before. Israel's deputy prime minister
was helicoptered in to vow the crime would be avenged. Such was the
troubled Israeli/Lebanese border in the winter of 1971.

In Tel Aviv at the end of that week, I met future prime minister
Menachem Begin, one-time leader of the anti-British guerilla gang,
the Irgun Svai Leumi. He called his former warriors peace fighters,
justified rebels, as had been the slave Spartacus, facing down Roman
power in ancient times. By contrast, the PLO were ruthless thugs,
without a legitimate cause. Israel was under siege, he declared,
and would take whatever measures were necessary to survive. After
three and a half decades the players have changed, but not the script.

Nine years later, in April 1980, Eileen and I were in Lebanon,
gathering material for a documentary on the 65th anniversary of
the Armenian genocide. After 10 years of a civil conflict that
pitted Maronite Christians against Muslims, Beirut was a city in
ruins, enjoying a rare truce in the war. Lull or not, shells still
went whomp in the night and rifle fire was common. Palestinians and
Syrians maintained their own militias, generally supporting the Shiite
Muslims. Christian Armenians declared their neutrality and refused
to be drawn in by the Maronites. For protection they relied on the PLO.

Once more, we discovered nothing was simple or certain in a region of
complex politics, ancient hatreds and competing faiths. After a week,
we departed with huge relief, for the Soviet Union.

My final trip to the region was in 1991, retracing the route of
my Israeli journey 20 years before. Tel Aviv had doubled in size;
Jerusalem's skyline was dotted with skyscrapers. Pilgrims of all major
faiths crowded the narrow streets of the old city, studiously ignoring
one another. I revisited the Masada plateau on the Dead Sea, and all
the Biblical sites - Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and the Galilean
Hills (where I lunched at a dude ranch). I even returned to Dalyat El
Carmel, site of the Druzian demonstration two decades before. What had
been a rural hamlet was now a small city of large, western style homes.

There were changes everywhere, but not in the resolve of the people.
The land they proclaimed in 1948 was still holy ground, to be defended
from all enemies at whatever cost. Summer 2006 is just one more
chapter in a story that seems as endless as it is ancient.