Monday, July 17, 2006

Israel Reinvents Virtual War

When the atrocity of war begins to defy the imagination, people turn to numbers to make some sense of it all. We saw this in Vietnam, in the latest Gulf War, and now, sadly, in Lebanon. Body counts, as if countries were engaged in some mad version of the World Cup, are now appearing on the news. Two killed here, seven there. So far, 162 people, all but 13 of them civilians, have been killed by Israel's onslaught in Lebanon, to the dozens killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks (so far, the Israeli v. opponent ratio we have become familiar with in Palestine is being respected in Lebanon).

Facing an all-too-muted international outcry and an ineffective and sickeningly skewed message from the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Israel is upping the ante in terms of double speak. Beyond its self-attributed right to defend itself, Jerusalem now claims that Hezbollah is to blame for all civilian deaths in Lebanon. Not only is Israel washing itself off of any responsibility, but it is now blaming others for the result. This represents quite the increment in the so-called virtual wars of the twenty-first century. No longer are soldiers putting distance, through electronics, between themselves and their victims—they're now using semantics to create an all-new distance. Not too long ago, soldiers pressed a button and soon afterwards the little black square hiding underneath the crosshairs would turn into a brilliant white mushroom. This is the video game in which Iraqi insurgent and sometime terrorist Zarqawi met his demise. No one actually looked him in the eye when he died, and it was thus easier to get rid of him.

But now Israel has created a new game altogether. Press the button, little black box in the crosshairs is vaporized… but blame someone else. We have now entered an age of virtual virtual war. Somehow, it was someone else's fault if four Canadian children aged one to eight were incinerated, crushed and split into atoms by a missile fired by Israel made in Israel, the U.S., or perhaps even in Canada. To the family in Montreal: Israel is blameless, justified in its actions, and measured in its response. If you want, through eyes blurred by tears, to point a finger of accusation, to call someone to account, it's all Hezbollah's fault. Or Iran's, or Syria's, or Lebanon's. Just not Israel's.

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