US Strategy Blocking Mideast Peace, Arab-American Group Says

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Blaming Israel for a "systematic campaign of destruction," Mounzer Sleiman, vice chairman of the National Council of Arab Americans, called Wednesday for the United States to reevaluate its support of Israel.

The Arab group is one of several U.S.-based Arab/Muslim organizations demanding that the United States adopt what they call a more even-handed stance toward Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East.

"As long as the United States continues to throw up blind support for Israel, there will be no peace and justice in the Middle East," Sleiman said at the Palestine Center in Washington, D.C.

"It is clear that Israel will not be able to continue to do what it has been doing in the region without the support -- military and financial support -- of the U.S.," he added.

Sleiman claims that Israeli forces intentionally killed more than a thousand civilians and destroyed gas stations, roads and factories.

"They were deliberate, rather than collateral damage," he said.

But Israel says unlike Hizballah, which deliberately aimed rockets at Israeli cities -- killing Israeli and Arab civilians alike -- Israel tried to avoid civilian casualties by dropping warning leaflets in populated areas. Israel also accused Hizballah of hiding among, and lobbing its rockets from, civilian populations, bringing destruction on the Lebanese people.

"Reliance solely on military power will only lead to destruction, like we've seen in Iraq and Lebanon," said Sleiman. But despite the damage, he said, "It was clearly a historic victory for Hizballah. The Bush/Olmert axis is the only one who is claiming that Hizballah is the loser."

In fact, many people in Israel are expressing frustration that Hizballah did win a public relations victory, simply by hanging on and managing to fire its rockets to the very end. Some Israelis have criticized the Olmert government for failing to act swiftly and strongly enough to deal Hizballah a lethal blow.

Sleiman said the "new Middle East" is being formed through Hizballah's actions, which he calls a 'culture of resistance.'

"Hizballah's actions are legitimate national resistance," he argued. (While Hizballah and Hamas also call it "resistance," Israel calls it terrorism.)

"Hizballah is popular not only in Lebanon. It's popular throughout the Arab world and the Islamic world -- to the entire world," Sleiman continued. "People who are really the underdog of the world now are supporting Hizballah."

Sleiman attributes the growing support for Hizballah to its "practices on the battlefield and for protecting the Lebanese people."

President Bush, like Israel, has accused Hizballah of putting the Lebanese people in harm's way by starting the war with Israel in the first place.

The recent crisis in the region was triggered by the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by the terrorist group Hizbollah and the launch of rockets against Israeli cities," Bush said in his weekly radio address on July 22. "I believe sovereign nations have the right to defend their people from terrorist attack and to take the necessary action to prevent those attacks."

In an op-ed published Sunday in the Jerusalem Post, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Hizballah "certainly should not be let off the hook." Roth argued that "Human Rights Watch has conducted detailed investigations of Hizballah's war crimes --and its deliberate efforts to kill Israeli civilians by indiscriminately targeting Israeli cities.

"Israel had every right to try to stop Hizballah from raining death and destruction on its people. But under international humanitarian law, just as Israeli abuses in Lebanon did not justify reprisals against Israeli civilians, so Hizballah's war crimes did not justify Israel shirking its duty to protect Lebanese civilians."

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) did not return requests for comment, but in a statement released last week said that Israel has suffered greatly at the hands of Hizballah.

"Life in this region has been shattered by Hizbollah rockets," said the AJC's Frances Raday.

Israeli territory closest to Lebanon was bombarded by more than a hundred rockets a day on average, Raday said.

"Northern Israel was subject to a daily rain of rocket fire by Hizbollah aimed at urban and rural communities," he added.

See Earlier Story:
'Human Rights' Report Blasts Israel, Barely Mentions Hizballah (Aug. 23, 2006)

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