Paul Charney

Paul Charney

By Paul Charney

Emaciated bodies. Skin stretched to almost breaking point over bones. And those faces. The images that have emerged from Madaya, the besieged town where the residents have been literally starving to death, marks a new nadir in the Syrian civil war.

Five years since it started, the terrible conflict that has trapped millions of ordinary people between the Scylla of Bashar al-Assad’s barrel-bomb blitzkrieg and the torture-porn, snuff film Charybdis of Isis shows no sign of abating.

As humans, we have a responsibility to support those who have been impacted. 

As Jews, we must help those whose suffering echoes our own darkest chapters. And as Zionists, we must call out the perpetrator of this atrocity: Hezbollah.

To many in the West, this name may come as a surprise. For years, Hezbollah has benefitted from a myopic, reductive understanding of the Middle East that casts Israel as the primary villain in the region. Anyone who supported “the Palestinian cause” was therefore on the right side of history, irrespective of how that support manifested itself.

This led to some particularly ugly snapshots of the fabled ‘green-red’ alliance in action. Jeremy Corbyn, in the now-infamous video clip where he called Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” while inviting them to Parliament, described these Islamic statelings as “social justice movements” – almost as if they were just the local equivalent of the Suffragettes. Like any ideological absurdity, the proof of how badly this paradigm describes reality is in how badly it explains reality.

If Hezbollah really were just the Lebanese branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, then there is no reason for it to be sending its members to fight and die in the single most dangerous spot on the planet. Wouldn’t those brave militia men be better used defending their borders from inevitable incursions from rapacious Zionist soldiers and/or chickpea-based food products?

Of course, if you understand that “the Party of God” is a proxy army of Iran, its recent actions make more sense. Syria is one of the few Arab states friendly towards the Shia-majority country and therefore Hezbollah, true to its fascist nature, “just follows orders” – Tehran’s orders that Assad cannot fall and all who oppose him must be crushed.

There is a grotesque irony here. Draw a Venn diagram of those in this country who were happy to whitewash Hezbollah and there would be
a huge overlap with those obsessively concerned with Israel’s human rights record. Chief among their charges would be that Israel was imposing an inhumane blockade against Gaza, deliberately maximising the human suffering there.

Forget that Israel strives to facilitate the flow of goods in and out of the strip even during times of out-and-out war; the most rabid of these critics revelled in obscene (and, frankly, anti-Semitic) comparisons between the treatment of Hamas’ stronghold and the Warsaw Ghetto.
C
ompare and contrast with Madaya. Its 42,000 inhabitants represent no existential threat to Hezbollah. And yet, the town has for months been denied even the most basic foodstuffs, facing annihilation simply for having a dissenting opinion on how their country should be run.

It should be no revelation that the group that committed war crimes by firing rockets at civilians in Israel is once again committing war crimes by starving civilians in Syria. But as supporters of the Jewish state, there is a particular necessity for us to be highlighting this point.

Hezbollah is weakened, its reputation tarnished. In the same way the last Gaza war was triggered in part by Hamas’ political failings at home so, too, Hezbollah might decide that starting a fresh round of violence with Israel – bolstered by Iran’s newly-filled coffers – might provide it with a convenient shortcut to legitimacy. Such a war, and the ensuing rise in anti-Semitism, would inevitably increase the already credible risk to Jews across Europe.

When the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war erupted, hundreds took to the streets to declare “We are all Hezbollah now!” But now the recent photos from Madaya haven’t just shown us the faces of those suffering. They have once again shown us the true face of Hezbollah as well.

  • Paul Charney is Chairman of the Zionist Foundation