Monday, July 24, 2006

Disturbing Correspondence

I was quite disturbed by a letter to the editor which appeared in The Australian on July 21 2006. The full text of the letter as published follows …

CERTAIN of your correspondents (Letters, 20/7) have expressed concern
that Israel has not discontinued its response to Hezbollah's terrorism to
facilitate the departure of Australian nationals from

Israel does not wish to harm innocent people. However, its
first priority, as is every country's, is its own citizens. If Australia was
engaged in a life-and-death struggle – and make no mistake, Hezbollah is totally
committed to Israel's extinction – I suggest all Australians would find it
unacceptable were our government to lay down its arms before the matter was

And as an aside, why aren't your correspondents also
worried about visitors to Israel who equally find themselves in a war zone?

Geoffrey Zygier
Executive directorExecutive Council of Australian Jewry

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry is a national umbrella organisation representing Jewish congregations across the country.

Not all Jewish congregations have identical attitudes to Israel and political Zionism. Indeed, there is a separate national body (the Zionist Federation of Australia) which represents Zionist opinion.

Israel itself has an embassy in Canberra with staff quite capable of defending Israel’s interests in any dispute. Indeed, I have seen at least one letter from a staff member at the Israeli embassy published in the Australian Financial Review.

Mr Zygier is entitled to write letters to the editor of any newspaper on behalf of the congregations represented by his organisation. I am also entitled to comment on my own behalf (and not on behalf of any community) on the appropriateness or otherwise of Mr Zygier’s views.

Mr Zygier’s letter seeks to address concerns by some letter writers that “Israel has not discontinued its response to Hezbollah's terrorism to facilitate the departure of Australian nationals from Lebanon”.

He then goes onto make comments and claims defending Israel’s official position. The fact that this position potentially places Australian lives at risk doesn’t seem to concern Mr Zygier.

Australian Jews are entitled to support a particular side in this conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Whilst many have been critical of Israel, I am not aware of any Lebanese and/or Muslim organisation in Australia which has publicly defended Hezbollah’s position in the conflict.

Mr Zygier’s position is that Israel is in “a life-and-death struggle”. On what basis can he argue this proposition? The only basis is one of semantics – the fact that “Hezbollah is totally committed to Israel's extinction”.

So? Hezbollah can be committed to many things. And there are other groups also committed to Israel’s existence and/or refuse to recognise Israel.

What matters isn’t the policy position of any side. What matters is the reality on the battlefield.

Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East, and the sixth largest nuclear power in the world. Israel has enough nuclear weapons to blow Australia off the world map.

Israel also has access to the most sophisticated weapons in the world. It would be no exaggeration to claim that Israel’s defence forces are better equipped than those of Australia.

It is true that Hezbollah have sprung some surprises upon Israel. Its rockets have fired into Northern Israeli towns and cities including Haifa. But what realistic threat does Hezbollah pose to Israel’s existence?

Is Mr Zygier suggesting that Hezbollah has a nuclear arsenal of equal size as that of Israel? Is he suggesting Hezbollah could mount a massive air and sea invasion of northern Israel?

Already, there are reports of Australian citizens injured in southern Lebanon. Israel’s attacks on Lebanon have claimed more than 300 lives, most of them women and children. Whole families have been incinerated in Israeli air attacks.

Israelis have also been killed in missile attacks. I refuse to subscribe to the theory that the lives of one country’s civilians are more precious than the lives of another country’s civilians.

In entering Israeli territory, killing 2 IDF soldiers and kidnapping 8 others, Hezbollah has breached international law and compromised Israel’s sovereign right to protect its borders. But in what sense do Hezbollah’s actions constitute a serious threat to Israel’s existence?

If leaders of the peak bodies of Australian Jewish congregations have any influence over Israel, would it not be appropriate that they use this influence to save the lives of their fellow Australian citizens?

I’m not aware of any members of Australia’s Lebanese Shia Muslim community who have ties to Hezbollah. However, I would like to think that any Australian Muslims with any such links would use their influence to impress upon Hezbollah commanders to cease rocket firing for a set time to enable Australian citizens in Israel to be evacuated.

Mr Zygier asks readers to imagine Australia in a life-and-death struggle. Australia has faced such struggles in its short history as a federation. Australians held back the Japanese on the Kokoda trail during the Second World War. The Japanese were better armed and had superior numbers. Japan had the ability to occupy Australia.

Israel is no Australia. Hezbollah is no Japan.

Finally, Mr Zygier wonders why there is little or no concern for Australian Israeli’s seemingly trapped in Israel’s north. I am not aware of any Australian citizen in Israel who has sought to be evacuated. Further, I doubt whether Hezbollah has the ability to jeopardise any proposed evacuation should Australian citizens in Israel seek it.

However, in the event that Hezbollah could attack Israel to the extent of threatening the evacuation of Australian citizens, I would have no hesitation in ringing and writing to just about every ambassador of every Muslim-majority state asking them to pressure Hezbollah to agree to a ceasefire. I’m sure other Muslim Australians would take this and other steps to save Australian lives.

The life of an Australian Israeli (Jew or Arab) is just as precious as the life of an Australian (Lebanese or Palestinian). Australians should be more concerned about Australian lives than about justifying the military actions of overseas countries that threaten those very lives.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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