Hard News by Russell Brown

Free Press

If there has been one good thing to come out of the whole sorry debacle in Lebanon, it is the performance of Israel's liberal newspaper, Ha'aretz, which has reported bravely and accurately in circumstances where probably many of its readers, and certainly its government and army, would prefer that it didn't.

Of course, we read its English-language web version and not the print paper, but I don't think it's going too far to say that Ha'aretz has demonstrated the best of Israel. No other nation in the region would bear a free press at such a time. Well, perhaps one: Lebanon. Ironically.

Billmon takes from a Ha'aretz story the inference that the war may not last much longer than Monday, when the UN Security Council delivers a resolution And that, if so, Israel has calamitously failed to achieve its objectives.

Far from being eradicated, Hezbollah has explicitly been extended the power of veto on any ceasefire proposal - along with Syria for God's sake - by a furious Lebanese Prime Minister. If such a precipitous shift of power were to have to happened in isolation, it would have been greeted as a crisis. It appears now to be the new reality.

Nehemia Shtrasler laments that Israel missed its chance very early on, when it held the upper hand, to "stop the war, declare victory and move on to the diplomatic track." And an Israeli columnist's urging to press on regardless of the cost meets a fairly furious response from people in Haifa and elsewhere.

If we are looking at something like a result now, it doesn't seem good value for the price that has been paid in hate. And really, tell me you wouldn't hate the people who - by whatever moral calculation they devised for themselves - did this to your children? (NB: The link does not lead to grisly photos, I'm not really into that, but a heart-rending report from Qana and elsewhere.) And yes, I realise the hate Israelis must harbour over the death of their own children down the years. That's sort of my point ...

Meanwhile, the bizarre winger conspiracy theory holding that Israel was the victim of a hoax at Qana gets repeated airings on Fox News and the full welly from an Israeli "news" site. LGF Watch surveys the conspiracy in other quarters and notes that one of the chief promoters of the theories based his accusation that a "Hezbollah official" was directing operations at Qana on, um, "gut instinct".

In case anyone missed it, this is the Ha'aretz report from three days ago:

As the Israel Air Force continues to investigate the air strike, questions have been raised over military accounts of the incident.

It now appears that the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence of Hezbollah men at the time.

The Israel Defense Forces had said after the deadly air-strike that many rockets had been launched from Qana. However, it changed its version on Monday.

The site was included in an IAF plan to strike at several buildings in proximity to a previous launching site. Similar strikes were carried out in the past. However, there were no rocket launches from Qana on the day of the strike.

On the same day, a story by Dahr Jamail included this passage:

Qana had been a shelter because no rockets were being fired from there, survivors said. "When Hezbollah fires their rockets, everyone runs away because they know an Israeli bombardment will come soon," Abdel said. "That is why everyone stayed in the shelter and nearby homes, because we all thought we'd be all right since there were no Hezbollah fighters in Qana."

Lebanese Red Cross workers in the nearby coastal city of Tyre told IPS that there was no basis for Israeli claims that Hezbollah had launched rockets from Qana.

"We found no evidence of Hezbollah fighters in Qana," Kassem Shaulan, a 28-year-old medic and training manager for the Red Cross in Tyre told IPS at their headquarters. "When we rescue people or recover bodies from villages, we usually see rocket launchers or Hezbollah fighters if they are there, but in Qana I can say that the village was 100 percent clear of either of those."

Another Red Cross worker, 32-year-old Mohammad Zatar, told IPS that "we can tell when Hezbollah has been firing rockets from certain areas, because all of the people run away, on foot if they have to."

The official story has now been revised after an investigation. It was a tragic mistake. Indeed. The mercy being that Human Rights Watch has revised down the death toll.

You may have seen Salon's The "hiding amongst civilians" myth which contends that Hezbollah avoids (for practical rather than humanitarian reasons) population centres. I suspect it's not the whole truth, but it is based on direct reporting and it is certainly worth reading. And it's not as if the IDF hasn't used human shields in the past.

Finally, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has offered a fairly clear proposition. If Israel carries through a threat to bomb Beruit again, Hezbollah will - by some hitherto unknown means - attack Tel Aviv. But:

"Anytime you decide to stop your campaign against our cities, villages, civilians and infrastructure, we will not fire rockets on any Israeli settlement or city," he said in a taped television speech.

I hold no brief for Hezbollah. They're religious conservatives of a scary stripe. I wouldn't want them as my neighbours either. But surely there is a time to cut the losses and give peace a chance.

There's a potential good result in all this, and that's if it somehow spins - as Ehud Olmert suggested this week, enraging Israeli right-wingers - into a revival of the "convergence" plan which would see illegal settlements in the occupied territories closed down. But even then I think we'd be justified in wondering if there might have been another way.

Meanwhile, Media Matters lines up some more conservative defences of the rotten bastard Jew-hating bigot Mel Gibson.

Onto happier things: Jimi Kumara's Vietnam travelogue contains his usual blend of keen observation, dry humour and useless spelling.

You can vote for Kiwi gal Aly Cook - winning her a bunch of radio airtime - in the New Country Star Polls at this freakin' ugly website.

The Techsploder has Gangsta Ron Keepin' it Real in da House (just remember to push play).

Glen Barnes recommended this web mash-up, which plots real "Overheard in New York" street conversations on Google Maps. It could eat up hours of your life.

And from Jolisa Gracewood comes the tip (is it a jelly tip!?) for this awesome montage of 1960s New Zealand iceblock wrappers. When I watch it, my mind empties of everything else …