What’s been happening?
You know that a conflict must be serious when countries are making deals with human bodies as the currency. On July 16 2008, Israel and Lebanon negotiated the exchange of five Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters, for the dead bodies of two Israeli soldiers. In Lebanon, the day was pronounced a celebratory public holiday. In Israel, it was a day of mourning and closure.
This emotionally charged exchange marks the end of a long and bitter chapter of conflict between Israel and Lebanon. The whole affair can be traced back to July 12 2006 when armed members of an Islamist Shi’a organisation called Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others on the Lebanese-Israeli border. On a mission to retrieve the two captured Israeli soldiers, five others were killed. Israel declared these “acts of war,” and on 13 July, retaliated by bombing the Lebanon International Airport in Beirut.
For over month, armed members of Hezbollah bombed northern Israel, and Israeli soldiers attacked southern Lebanon by air and on the ground. The UN reported that 1, 187 Lebanese (most of whom were civilians) and 170 Israelis (mostly soldiers) were killed as a result of the conflict. Thousands of Lebanese and Israeli civilians were forced to leave their homes. Many Lebanese people had no home to go back to after the war.
But the trouble in Lebanon goes beyond its tricky relationship with Israel.
Shortly after the war with Israel, Hezbollah resigned from the government because they felt they were not being given enough power. Lebanese citizens witnessed frequent and violent armed clashes between Hezbollah supporters and pro-government groups. These fights happened all over the streets and all over the country. By July 2008, Lebanon was verging on civil war. And the last thing on the Lebanese government’s list of ‘things to do’ was going to war…again.
Instead, the government was forced to respond by creating a system they called the new ‘unity government’. Hezbollah and its allies were given 11 seats in the Cabinet. This means they now have veto power and are in a strong position to control Lebanon’s future.
What is Hezbollah?
Hezbollah means “Party of God,” in Arabic. Hezbollah is a Lebanese political party, led by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, with military and civilian arms. The party aims to resist Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon. Though Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah still regards an area of land called Shebaa Farms to be Israeli occupied Lebanese territory. Israel considers Shebaa Farms to be a part of the Golan Heights and a part of Israeli territory.
Hezbollah is classed as a ‘terrorist’ organisation by the United States, Australia and Israel, however this definition is disputed by many groups.
A wave of refugees
Since the conflict began, more than 700,000 Lebanese have fled their homes. More than 150,000 of these refugees are now in neighbouring Syria. The Lebanese government estimates that over a quarter of the entire population has been uprooted in some way.
300,000 northern Israelis have also moved south since the beginning of the conflict. But while Israel had the infrastructure to deal with the mass evacuations, there are people in Lebanon still without proper homes.
How did the war end?
A month after the war started in 2006, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on a resolution calling for an immediate end to hostilities by both parties. It also demanded the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon and the unconditional release of the two captured Israeli soldiers. Over optimistic would be one way to describe the plan.
Since the passing of the resolution in August 2006, relatively few of the conditions have been completely satisfied. Both countries have been found guilty of overstepping the ‘blue line’ border between the two regions. No information was released about the captured soldiers until July 2008, and armed groups in Lebanon continue to exist – most noticeably Hezbollah itself. The goal of a long term solution to the conflict remains a distant one.
What about NGOs?
After the war, non-government organisations around the world sprang to action with the goal of helping those in Lebanon return to a normal life.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) made a huge commitment to aiding displaced persons in the region. The Commission pledged $US18.9 million over three months to help all Lebanese refugees stay as safe and comfortable as possible. Since the initial aid effort, the UNHCR has continued to provide displaced persons with legal aid, education, counselling and resettlement options. Their aid budget in 2007 was US$11 million.
Loads of other organizations from all over the world including the Australian Red Cross and Medecins san Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) also pitched in to try and help the 100, 000 people who were unable to return to their homes.
What are Aussies doing to help?
AusAID (the Australian government’s overseas aid program) donated $A7.5 million in aid to the region after the conflict. In January 2007, Australia provided another $5 million donation to help rebuild Lebanese health facilities throughout the country and in Palestinian refugee camps, where many Lebanese citizens are now living.
This page was updated by kate elise
How do I know this?
AusAID, Additional Australian Humanitarian Assistance—Middle East http://www.ausaid.gov.au/media/release.cfm
Australian Government, What’s new? http://www.austrac.gov.au/whats_new/index.htm
Australian Red Cross, Around the world emergency relief, http://www.redcross.org.au/ourservices_aroundthewo
'Excerpts of draft UN resolution on Middle East', Reuters Alert News http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N05193632.htm
Gradstein, L, 'Echoes of Israel’s occupation of Lebanon', National Public Radio http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?story
‘Israel swaps prisoners for bodies’ BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7508715.stm
‘Lebanon announces unity government’ CNN World News http://edition.cnn.com/
‘Lebanon welcomes ‘heroes’ after Israel swap’ MSNBC World News http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25697873/
Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia, Lebanon crisis, http://www.msf.org.au/features/middle_east_crisis/
Mulholland, R 2006, 'Northern Israel exodus leaves old, weak and poor to face rockets,' Yahoo! News
, 4 August, http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060804/wl_mideast_af
Power and Interest News Report, Intelligence brief: Hezbollah in Lebanon, http://www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_printable&r
Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) http://www.unicbeirut.org/unic_editor/Download.asp?table_name=uploadDocs&field_name=id&FileID=40
‘Timeline:Lebanon’ BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/819200.stm
UNHCR, Lebanon crisis; Lebanon Global Report 2007, http://www.unhcr.org
UN News Centre, Amid ongoing fighting in Lebanon, UN continues relief effort, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=19420
UN News Centre, Security Council votes unanimously for an end to hostilities in the Middle East, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=19491
Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia, 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Israel-Lebanon_c
Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia, Shebaa Farms, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shebaa_Farms