Thursday, July 27, 2006

Evacuating Lebanon

Several days ago, while discussing the current madness in Lebanon, I found myself referring a friend of mine to the botched Canadian evacuation from the country. (Not only has my government taken to supporting violations of international law, it can’t seem to get its own people out of harm’s way.) She cut me off short—rightly in my view—to object to the evacuation in general.

Her point was simple enough. What sort of international standard do we set by removing tens of thousands of westerners from a war zone while we do relatively little for the local population? The evacuation, at least in appearance, has alarming overtones of racial and religious bias.

I objected that many of the Canadian citizens in question (of whom there seem to be more than any other foreigners in Lebanon) are dual nationals, carrying both Canadian and Lebanese passports. As such, many are Arab Muslims—at least the imbalance wasn’t entirely along racial or religious lines. But this, of course, just means that families were divided according to who did or did not hold a second nationality. Bias or no, the effect was bad.

Worse, the absence of foreigners from the country may give the Israeli air force a free hand to bomb with even less discrimination than they have displayed to date. They might well want to avoid repeating the recent deaths of several Canadian citizens, or the bombing of several UN observers—this sort of thing hardly helps them internationally. However, if they can bomb a country devoid of western citizens, they are all that much less likely to damage their international standing by killing foreign nationals.

Of course, killing any civilians is wrong. The mass evacuations currently underway—the UK has called their’s the largest since WWII—suggest that one’s right to life in conflict is determined not by one’s status as a combatant but by one’s passport. However pragmatically necessary they may be at the moment—western governments (my view) can hardly stand by and permit the bombing of their own people—they send a rather poor message.

In the last several days, the Canadian government seems to have gotten their evacuation in order. For better or worse, Lebanon is being emptied of most foreigners. It’s interesting to note, though, that all the evacuations implicitly say much the same thing as endorsements of Israeli bombing. Governments that have criticized Israel but evacuated their citizens have sent Lebanese civilians the same unfortunate message with their actions that the US and Canada have sent by their policy: you’re on your own.

Update:
Here are a couple of handy graphic representations of the conflict:
Deaths to date.
International support for a ceasefire (from the Guardian).
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