From June 4-14, tens of thousands of officials and experts from around the globe will gather in Istanbul for the Second UN Conference for Human Settlement (Habitat II), the last of the global UN summits. The non-official NGO gatherings should take the occasion to scrutinize how the attending states have addressed the right of their citizens to adequate shelter.
Of particular concern should be policies such as those of Turkey, the host government. The document excerpted on page 8 of this issue details a systematic policy of displacing populations and destroying villages in the mainly Kurdish southeastern provinces. In 1993-1994, the report states, “the cumulative number of settlements evacuated by force may exceed 2,000.” The army high commander, at one point, prevented the prime minister and deputy prime minister from visiting districts where these “extremely brutal campaigns” were being carried out against hundreds of thousands of people. “It is clear,” the report goes on, “that forced evictions have been adopted as a deliberate policy at the highest political level.”
While Israeli forces were carrying out their own forced displacement and bombardment of more than 500,000 civilians in southern Lebanon, Israeli F-16s were beginning joint military exercises in Turkish airspace for the first time. The week-long exercises, conducted at the Akıncı airbase near Ankara, are part of a recent military agreement between Israel and Turkey which also allows for joint port access for naval vessels, military personnel exchanges and joint training in military academies. In a separate agreement, Israel will help upgrade Turkey’s F-4 Phantom jets, at an estimated cost of $650 million.
Although the Turkish government avoided linking the Israel-Turkey military agreement with its muted criticism of Israel’s offensive in Lebanon, the Islamist Welfare Party (Turkey’s largest political party) and several smaller political groups in Turkey were quick to make the connection. When the April 18 Israeli attack on a UNIFIL post in Kafr Qana left 102 civilians dead and hundreds of additional wounded, more than 4,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Istanbul, while others gathered in Ankara, to urge the government to abolish the military agreement. On May 18, a Turkish civilian, angered by the agreement, attempted to assassinate Turkey’s President Süleyman Demirel.
US support for Israel was unequivocal. From the beginning, the Clinton administration supported Israel’s attempt to create a massive humanitarian crisis, defending Israel’s contention that its aggression was in retaliation for earlier Hizballah attacks.
While Hizballah has repeatedly violated the 1993 agreement and international humanitarian law with its shelling of civilians in northern Israel, these attacks were largely in response to prior violations by Israel and its proxy, the South Lebanon Army (SLA). From August 1, 1993 to April 8, 1996, Israeli and SLA forces had killed more than 45 civilians in southern Lebanon, while Hizballah attacks have killed three civilians in Israel. Hizballah fired rockets into northern Israel on 12 different occasions. Eight out of 12 of these attacks were in response to Israeli-SLA attacks in which Lebanese civilians were killed or wounded. On more than a dozen other occasions, Hizballah did not respond directly to Israeli attacks on civilians.
From March 4 to April 10, Hizballah military operations against Israeli-SLA military targets in southern Lebanon had killed seven Israeli soldiers. As Graham Usher points out in this issue, “Angered by Hizballah’s increasing prowess in hitting Israeli soldiers inside occupied south Lebanon, Israel’s principal objective in the operation was to compel the Lebanese and Syrian governments to deal with Hizballah the way Arafat (under like Israeli pressure) has dealt with Hamas.” The timing and disproportionate nature of the campaign was determined primarily by upcoming Israeli elections and Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ need to demonstrate to Israeli voters that he was not “weak on security.” A timely Human Rights Watch report, Civilian Pawns, points out that “Israel, with its superior firepower, has responded in a disproportionate fashion to the military threat posed by Hizballah, causing by far the most civilian casualties.” In fact, while mainstream media in the US reported 160 killed “on both sides,” no Israeli civilians were killed throughout the entire 16 days of the Israeli campaign.
One objective of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was to remove the military threat of the PLO from Israel’s northern border. Though this threat no longer exists, Israel’s 14-year occupation of southern Lebanon continues to fuel a popular resistance movement in the form of Hizballah. Ceasefire agreements, while they may provide temporary relief for the civilian population in the region, are not a solution. Short of a comprehensive Israel-Syria-Lebanon peace agreement, and Israel’s withdrawal of its forces from southern Lebanon, it is difficult to foresee any lasting, peaceful resolution to this conflict.