by Ronald Bleier (rbleier@igc.org)

NOTE: The following letter to the Editor of the New York Times was emailed to the Times on April 25, 1996. Apparently the editors have decided not to print my letter.


Serge Schmemann's first paragraph on the front page story on the Israeli air, artillery and naval barrage against Southern Lebanon ("U.S. and Israel Await Answer from Syrians," 4/18/96) characteristically blames the victim. According to Schmemann, Syria "holds the key to ending the flare-up."

Schmemann's formulation plays down or ignores the fact that it is not Syria but Israel -- backed by the U.S. veto at the Security Council -- who will determine when to stop its barbarous shelling which has already killed more than 130 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians and has forced an estimated half a million people to leave their homes -- some for the fifth time.

Schmemann's story ignores the fact that the latest Israeli-U.S. proposals, calling on Hezbollah to stop the shelling and to refrain from attacks in the Israeli held "security zone" in South Lebanon are non-starters, because they ignore widespread Arab resistance to Israel's illegal occupation of 440 square miles of Southern Lebanon.

Schmemann's story once again misrepresents the cause of the latest flare up. He writes that it was Hezbollah rocket attacks which "triggered Israel's attacks," ignoring the fact that it was a bomb w hich killed a Lebanese boy of 13 and wounded three on April 8 which prompted Hezbollah to retaliate by firing three barrages of Katyusha rockets, 20 in all, wounding 13 Israelis. (He also ignores his own dispatch in the Times News of the Week in Review three days earlier which acknowledged that Hezbollah described their rocket attacks "as retaliation for civilian deaths at Israeli hands". Similarly the Times editorial writer, on April 16th ["Time to Stop in Lebanon"], also acknowledged that Hezbollah blamed the Israelis for "two earlier fatal incidents" on civilians in Lebanon to which they were responding.)

At first, Israel's response, to fire 170 artillery rounds, causing damage to houses, water heaters and electricity pylons but no casualties was considered "fairly muted" but apparently in the aftermath, the Peres government decided to renew the bombing and artillery barrages on a scale not seen since July 1993 as a way of depopulating the area and of putting pressure on the governments of Syria and Lebanon.

Nowhere in Schmemann's article do we find mention of Israeli attacks on civilians in Lebanon which go back more than two decades. April 24 happens to be the anniversary of two U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israel for its acts of aggression against civilians in Lebanon: one in 1974 (Res. 347) and another in 1980 (Res. 467).

Israel has an interest in depopulating the area in order to maintain control over the water resources of Lebanon which it feels are vital to the health of its economy. Perhaps this explains why, in the course of its latest campaign, the Israelis destroyed the tower reservoir in the village of Sultaniye which supplied water to 20 villages in Southern Lebanon. Perhaps Schmemann or other Times reporters will explore the possibility that the destruction of this reservoir will have a positive impact on the amounts of water flowing into Israel from Lebanese sources.

The timing of Peres's decision to go after longer term strategic goals in Lebanon was apparently triggered by the pressures from the Likud opposition in connection with next month's parliamentary election. The election campaign has been colored by the trauma of the four Hamas bombings in February and March and the recent success of Hezbollah attacks against Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon, ki lling three.

By ignoring many of these details and the fundamentals of the current round of fighting, Schmemann loses an opportunity and misleads his readers.