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A Collective Failure In the Middle East
Shirin Ebadi, Iran, and Jody Williams, USA
July 31, 2006
As recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, we watch with stunned disbelief as
the fighting in Lebanon and Israel spins out of control, while the
humanitarian crisis in Gaza apparently has slipped from public
consciousness. The lack of global leadership in the face of this violence
affecting hundreds of thousands of civilians is appalling.
The failure of the Group of 8 in July to tackle blatant breaches of
international humanitarian law demonstrates a crass unwillingness to put
civilian lives above politics. The repeated US vetoes in the UN Security
Council, stopping efforts to resolve these crises, are unfortunately
predictable. The Bush administration —backed by strong language in the US
Congress supporting Israeli military operations —has done nothing to
mitigate the overwhelming impact on the civilian population.
The July emergency meeting in Rome, two weeks into the crisis, resulted in
nothing tangible. Only the United States, Britain, and Israel oppose an
immediate cease-fire. With US officials describing the destruction and
chaos as the inevitable ''birth pangs of a new Middle East,'' how can they
expect anything less than dramatically increased anti-Americanism
throughout the Middle East—if not the entire world?
Watching the wholesale destruction of much of Lebanon, it is almost
embarrassing to call the Israeli response to the kidnapping of its three
soldiers ''disproportionate.'' It is collective punishment of the civilian
populations of Gaza and Lebanon. It is collective but personal as we read
the sporadic e-mails describing death and destruction that reach us from
women colleagues in Lebanon. It is collective but personal as a graduate
student at the University of Houston keeps us informed about the impact on
her relatives in Gaza.
The deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure, including roads,
bridges, apartment buildings, relief trucks, ports, and the airport has
resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties. It has prevented
civilians from evacuating conflict areas, and hindered provision of
humanitarian aid. Hundreds of thousands of refugees—perhaps one out of
every five people in Lebanon —are attempting to flee in a country whose
exit points have been deliberately destroyed. Much of Beirut has again been
reduced to rubble. Hezbollah's increasing attacks against civilian targets
in Israel are also heinous and violations of international law.
While we watch the violence being ratcheted up in Lebanon and the north of
Israel, the Gaza crisis simmers. The Israeli occupation of Gaza may have
changed in form, but the reality is that it maintains control over all
aspects of life there. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has clearly
stated that his soldiers will ''operate, enter, and pull out as needed.''
As Israeli attacks intensified in the north, its forces also began
distributing leaflets throughout Gaza stating that it would begin bombing
houses suspected of being used as weapons caches. They had already
destroyed the only power station in Gaza, leaving tens of thousands without
water and sewage.
We do not understand how the international community can continue to stand
by while entire populations are held hostage in what has been described as
No deliberate attacks against civilians by armed groups should be condoned
by the international community, either explicitly or implicitly through
inaction. Every new attack leaves dead and wounded in its wake. Every new
attack makes another woman a widow and more children orphans. Every new
attack demonstrates the inability or unwillingness of governments to
exercise their moral obligation to stop the violence. Every new attack
underscores our collective failure to stop making violence our preferred
choice for confronting the problems facing us all.
The UN Security Council must intervene to stop the violence and avoid an
escalation of the conflict that could engulf the region in yet more war. It
is time for internationally mediated negotiations for comprehensive peace in
the Middle East. Such negotiations must include civil society groups, and
women from throughout the region. Women and children suffer
disproportionately during and after conflict, and women must have a voice
in finding meaningful solutions to the violence.
Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for
her work defending human rights. Jody Williams received the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Land
Mines. This op ed was published in the International Herald Tribune
on July 31, 2006.