As I write, Israeli bombing, with the full encouragement of the Bush administration, continues in violation of Israel’s own supposed 48-hour moratorium — a moratorium precipitated by world revulsion to the shocking deaths of dozens of Lebanese men, women and children who were buried alive in a basement of their apartment house during an Israeli bombing raid.

This is a deadly and destructive war, as all wars are. It has killed hundreds, wounded thousands and uprooted hundreds of thousands of people. The destruction of infrastructure, from houses to hospitals, to transportation and communications systems, to power grids, has been massive.

The lion’s share of death and destruction is occurring, of course, in Lebanon. The routines of life have been shattered in this small country that not that long ago was ravaged by civil war and an 18-year occupation by the Israeli army. Families are again grieving and the dead are being buried. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that the bombing sets back Lebanon 50 years.

The Israeli people are also burying their dead and tending to their wounded. But as precious as every life — Arab and Jewish — is, there is no equivalency in the effects of this war on the two countries. How could there be? Hezbollah does not hold a candle to Israel’s military might. Hezbollah rhetorically denies the right of Israel to exist and commits murderous acts against innocent Israelis, but it lacks the military wherewithal, given the enormous imbalance in military capacities, to “drive the Israeli state into the sea.” If an existential threat exists for anyone in the Middle East, it is, first of all, the Palestinian and Lebanese people.

Imperative steps

It is imperative that the short lull in the bombing turn into an immediate and lasting cessation of hostilities on all sides, an emergency humanitarian relief effort for the victims of war — in Lebanon, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Israel — and the introduction of an international peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations on Lebanon’s southern border. This is in the interests of all the peoples of that region — Israeli, Arab, Kurd, Persian and others— and people of various faiths — including Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Jewish. A cease-fire, which our own government has shamelessly prevented so far, would allow the outstanding differences that sparked this confrontation to be addressed — as they should be — diplomatically and politically.

Bush and Rice continue to claim that an immediate cease-fire would work to the advantage of Hezbollah, but I don’t agree with this claim. No one, including the Israeli people, will find peace and security in a protracted and escalating conflict. Indeed, every day that the war goes on will only inflame passions on all sides, delay a positive resolution of the immediate issues of contention, and indefinitely crush any hope of a durable and just peace in the Middle East. Again, an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian relief and an international peacekeeping force are the only sane course of action.

Triggering mechanisms

It is essential in a conflict of this kind to distinguish between triggering mechanisms and underlying causes. If we listen to U.S. and Israeli officials — and the major media — we are asked to believe that the war is simply reducible to the reckless and inexcusable actions of Hezbollah.

Nowhere in their narrative is the decades-long occupation and annexation of the West Bank and Gaza or parts of Lebanon. Ignored is the systematic denial of Palestinian rights and the unrelenting campaign to destroy the political and civic institutions and economic infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza. Unnoticed is the contemptuous attitude of Israeli officials toward all the political representatives of the Palestinian people — Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Fatah and Hamas.

Never mentioned is the daily humiliation that the Palestinian people have to endure or Israel’s efforts to frustrate their democratic will. Hidden away from public view are the assassinations of Palestinian and other Arab leaders by the Israeli army and intelligence forces. Completely missing is a picture of the illegal roundups, torture and indefinite detention of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of children. And rarely said is that the rise of Hamas is largely explained by the intransigence of the Israeli government towards secular and moderate political forces — the PLO in the first place.

We are told to put ourselves in the shoes of the Israeli people and we should do so, but we must also put ourselves in Palestinian shoes. If we did, we would not only feel threatened, angry and fearful as the Israelis do, but we would also experience insults, humiliations, invisibility, economic deprivation, systematic denials of elementary rights, abandonment by the international community, double standards when it comes to enforcement of UN resolutions, and the absence of a territorially defined and legally sanctioned place that the world recognizes as our “home.”

Thus, any resolution of the crisis has to address at the negotiating table — not the battlefield, not by unilateral actions, not by overwhelming military force — the fundamental issue of Palestinian statehood and other longer-term causes as well as the triggering mechanisms that together fuel the tensions, anger and deadly fighting that rise to the surface of everyday life across the Middle East.

No military solution

Without such an approach, the cycle of violence will continue, with pauses of relative quiet periodically punctuated by fierce fighting in which one side may win the chimera of victory, but only until the next round of fighting. If the more than 50 years of violence and counter-violence have taught any lessons, it is that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the conflicts in the region.

Of course, reaching such a resolution will not be easy. There are plenty of obstacles on all sides, beginning with the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and elsewhere, the right-wing section of the Israeli ruling class, and right-wing clerical and secular extremists in the Arab and Muslim world.

Much the same could be said about ending the occupation of Iraq, another U.S.-driven war that is causing death and chaos, and exacerbating tensions in the region, and will continue to do so as long as the occupation continues.

Nevertheless, saner forces can bring an immediate cease-fire to the Israeli-Lebanese conflict and humanitarian relief to the Lebanese people. Saner forces can end the violence in Gaza and secure a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saner forces can compel the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. And saner forces can prevail and win the peace worldwide.

Given the awesome power of new military technologies and weapons — conventional and nuclear — whose horrible effects we see on display in Lebanon and Iraq, humankind must reject unilateralism, “preventive” wars, collective punishment of innocent people, terrorism and provocations in all of their forms. Humankind must impose a new logic of peace, justice and respect for national sovereignty on the Bush administration and, for that matter, all states and movements in the world.

Sam Webb ( is national chairman of the Communist Party USA.