By Walden Bello*
BEIRUT, August 13, 2006: The wounds of war were evident shortly after we crossed the Syria-Lebanon border at 1130 in the morning on August 12.  At Haissa, about three kilometers from the Dabboussiyeh border crossing, we come across the ruins of a bridge hit by Israeli war planes just the day before.  Villagers tell us 12 people were killed and 10 wounded, all  civilians.

Twenty minutes later, at a place called Abu Shamra, we come across the remains of a gasoline station and bridge, the targets of an Israeli air-strike just eight hours earlier.  “Now, what was the military logic behind that?” asks Seema Mustafa, an Indian journalist with our international peace delegation of 12 people.  It is a question shared by the Lebanese who tell us what happened.
At three other places, Matfoun, Halat, and near the famous Casino du Lebanon at Jumieh, we have to take detours around bridges and vehicles destroyed by Israeli attacks.   These are sites very far from the front in Southern Lebanon, in a part of the country where Hezbollah, the movement Israel is fighting, has very little presence.  These fresh instances of destruction bring home to us one of the key features of the Israeli offensive:  it has deliberately targeted non-military infrastructure to raise the costs of the war for the civilian population.
With evidence of Israel's anti-civilian strategy fresh in our minds, we are not surprised when we hear, after arriving in Beirut, about the strafing of a convoy of civilians leaving the town of Marieyoun in the South.  On Friday, several hundred cars left the town, after negotiations between the Israelis and the non-belligerent Lebanese Army.  As it snaked up North, it came under fire repeatedly from Israeli planes with at least six people killed and many others wounded.  What was the reason for violating the agreement? The Israeli excuses ranged from “it was a mistake” to “suspicion that the convoy was carrying Hezbollah guerrillas.” Nahla Chahal, one of the coordinators of international civil society delegations to Lebanon, tells us: “The deliberate attacks on civilians is a new element in Israel's redrafting of the rules of war. It's nothing less than a war crime.”
Herbert Docena, one of the members of our delegation who spent time in occupied Iraq, says, “What is different between Iraq and here is that in Iraq, the US does seem to have a modicum of concern about international public opinion.  Here, the Israelis simply don't care about public opinion. So it's more dangerous.”
The delegation is told at a briefing on the evening of our arrival by our Lebanese hosts that the contrast between the war strategies of the Israelis and the Hezbollah is evident in the nature of the casualties: most of the more than 1000 Lebanese killed by the Israeli armed forces are civilians, while most of the more than 100 Israelis who have died in the war so far are soldiers.
There is, in fact, a strong sense of pride in the Hezbollah's military performance that is evident as we are briefed that evening by representatives of several of Lebanon's political parties, including the right-wing Free Lebanon Movement led by General Aoun, the centrist “Third Force,” the Lebanese Communist Party, and the Hezbollah itself.  According to Dr Issam Naaman of the Third Force, the war has now lasted 31 days, more than any of the previous Arab-Israeli wars. “At this point, it is clear that Israel has lost the war on the ground and is trying to get at the diplomatic front, with the support of the United States, what it has lost on the military side.”
The destruction of some 34 Israeli Merkava tanks in Friday's fighting, the death of some 19 Israeli soldiers — the highest so far in this month-long war–and the downing of an Israeli helicopter are cited as proof not only of a victory by the Hezbollah, whose resistance to Israel is, according to the polls, supported by some 87 per cent of the Lebanese people.  Equally important for the Arabs, we realise during their briefing to us,  is that the successful resistance of a few hundred well-motivated and well trained Hezbollah guerrillas has ended the era of Arab humiliation by Israel's military might.
"It's really quite interesting and exciting,” comments Seema Mustafa, the Indian journalist, “the way the Arab Street has come behind Hassan Nasrallah.”  Indeed, the man one Hezbollah representative at the briefing fondly refers to as “our baby-faced” leader is achieving a status once reserved for Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian leader.  This point was brought home to me by Taufik, the driver who ferried us from Damascus to Beirut, who said as he steered us through the detour around one of the bombed bridges earlier in the day, “I belong to no party except the one that can bring food to my family.  But I really like this man Nasrallah. He has brought pride to all of us Lebanese.”
*Walden Bello is a member of the 12-person Civil Society-Parliamentary Peace Mission that is currently in Lebanon.  He is a professor at the University of the Philippines and the executive director of the research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South based in Bangkok, Thailand.