From the Editors
Two weeks ago Israel attacked Lebanon. Troops opened fire on a large group of protestors at the border between these two states. The Israeli army used live ammunition, killing at least eleven civilians and wounding over 100 others, some critically. The Lebanese army also fired their weapons at, and over, the protestors who had arrived at the border in order to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba. Since May 15, 2011, the border has been quiet. Local and international powers such as the Lebanese state, the UN, the State of Israel, Hezbollah, and the Syrian state are complicit in this silence. The killing of refugees does not warrant much outrage, it seems, by the countries hosting them or by the international agencies charged to uphold their rights. What the quiet of the next day, May 16, reveals are the ways that Palestinian refugees are cynically used by all as one factor in a calculated game of “chicken.” On May 15, the Syrian regime was playing this game with their own citizens and with the citizens of Israel, mobilizing the challenge and death of Palestinian refugees into an advertisement for the instability that will follow if the ongoing Syrian uprising succeeds. In Lebanon, Hezbollah stood back, their indifference sending a clear signal that in fact they had the power to keep, or break, the stalemate that has settled on the Israel-Lebanon border. This time, the calculus of war did not add up. This time, it would be just an incident of the Israeli army firing into Lebanese territory and wounding over 100 civilians. This time, it would just be a border incident that resulted in the killing of 11 Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians in Lebanon did not arrive there by accident. They did not wake up one day and realize that they had sleepwalked the distance from Haifa to Sidon, or from the Galilee to Beirut. Like their neighbors, friends and family members who ended up in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria or Jordan, the now approximately 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were forcibly removed from their homes by armed Zionist forces, or they did what the majority of people do when a war zone wells up around them; they fled, thinking their relocation temporary. Today, the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of those who sought refuge in Lebanon on foot or by boat or by car swell the ranks of dilapidated refugee camps. It was men and women from these UNRWA refugee camps that were shot on May 15, as they walked back towards land that the whispers of international law and inherited faith tells them is theirs. They, along with their Lebanese allies, were met with the force of two armies; the Lebanese and the Israeli, and the quiescence of two non-state bodies; Hezbollah and the UN. One should ask; what was so frightening about the sight of thousands of people walking unarmed towards a border? What was so scary about rocks that could only dream of reaching the armor of Israeli soldiers standing on the other side of that border? For the Lebanese army, it was a fear of having to face the Israeli army; the LAF had to protect the borders of Israel in order to protect itself from the IDF. Thus the embarrassment of an Arab army defending Israel's borders against the possibility that refugees might try to enter the land that they are legally recognized as being allowed to return to. Thus the reality that this protection of Israel's borders could not have occurred without the (at least) tacit approval of Hezbollah (and perhaps, moving upwards, the Syrian regime that it depends on for sustenance) a group that often conflates the legitimacy of its struggle with that of the Palestinians.
Why did the Israeli army open fire? Faced with refugees from two borders (Lebanon and Syria) walking towards them with Palestine in their eyes, they took the offensive. When the Israeli army opened fire on the protestors, they were not (only) shooting at human bodies, they were shooting against the unforgiving weight of a history that continues to shape the lives of everyone in the Middle East. They were trying, again, to force history back into the past, where it would no longer animate the present to dream of a different future. They were trying to kill 1948 and with it, the intransigent scar of Nakba that is the condition of possibility of the State of Israel. That is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu equated the march to the border with a denial of the State of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. By doing this, he was (perhaps unknowingly) parroting what critics have been saying for years; that the State of Israel was made possible by Nakba, and that its existence as a Jewish state depends on a continuously enforced Nakba. That is why the scar that lines Israel's borders will never go away, even if the international community silently waits for the 48 generation to die and with it (they hope) the symbolic (if not legal) force of words such as the right to return. That is why shooting a refugee is never just shooting a refugee. It is a desire for erasure. It is the protection of a victory. It is the instability of a state built on a war crime that can be evidenced daily in the ruins of villages, the decedents of israelis who moved into houses made empty in 1948, and in the faces of refugees wrinkled with waiting. It is the stability of a state that knows that all of this does not matter as long as Palestinian lives and suffering are weighted differently according to a racist logic. It is the confidence of a state that knows that at times, its interests and borders will be protected by those who claim to oppose it.
On May 15, the States of Israel and Lebanon found themselves unlikely allies against the threat of “instability” posed by a march commemorating (or, perhaps, marking the ongoing) Nakba. Joining this cohort were Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, for whom this carnage was useful, and important, only as far as it could be packaged as a warning its people and the international community. These actors were motivated by different desires; to expose a continuing historical injury, to close this history and deny its shaping of the past and the future, to prevent war, to prop up a brutal regime, to redress Nakba, and to ensure Nakba's continuation. While the motivations were different for the protestors, Hezbollah, and the Syrian, Israeli and Lebanese regimes, their actions on May 15 were all informed by one common understanding; that Palestinians refugees will die (and will be killed) before giving up their mirage of a home promised by international law and passed down through generations of memories. On May 15, 2011, the march of thousands of unarmed civilians was deemed a “provocation”, and the deadly shooting into the crowds “a response.” On this day, the killing of 11 people on Lebanese land by Israeli soldiers firing guns from behind a border was met with muted outcry, revealing a complex knot of filiations and calculations that can determine when an act of war is not an act of war.
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