This is the way it works for Israel and the United Nations: Sentence first, investigate later.
First the Security Council votes to condemn Israel for "excessive violence" of security forces at the Temple Mount. Next it votes to "deplore the refusal of the Israeli government" to cooperate in a U.N. investigation of the "excessive violence." Neither resolution takes note of the stones showered on Jewish women worshiping at the Temple Mount nor of the subsequent murder of Jews in Jerusalem.
The United States joined in both resolutions, making them unanimous. Government spokesmen explained that President Bush was personally furious about the slaughter of 21 Palestinian rioters by Israeli security forces. (Why had they used lethal force against these demonstrations? Why had they not been better prepared with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, more men and non-lethal force?)
George Bush was also said to feel furious at the Israeli government's refusal to cooperate with a U.N. investigation of these events. It is only fair -- Bush is said to think -- to censure Israel for disturbing the peace of the region and ignoring U.N. resolutions when we are censuring Iraq for crimes against peace and ignoring U.N. resolutions. Moreover, sources said Bush feels heavy pressure to take a firm stand against Israel to preserve the alliance he has organized against Iraq.
In fact there is not even a superficial resemblance between Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the Israeli security forces firing into rioters at the al-Aqsa mosque. The one is a case of invasion and occupation of a whole country, a systematic deprivation of rights of a whole people, of torture and murder of many thousands. The other involves a single instance of excessive use of violence.
Iraq continues its violence against the Kuwaiti people. Israel officials took immediate steps to prevent a recurrence of the Temple Mount violence and instigated a special investigation of the surrounding events.
Why then do the Bush administration and the other member states of the U.N. Security Council feel the compulsion to treat unlike events in a like manner? The explanation is found first in the united front maintained by the Arab nations against the Jewish state and in the custom -- which is strong in the United Nations -- of deferring to the views of regional powers concerning a dispute. In the Arab case, respect for habit is reinforced by oil and money.
It has not mattered much that Arab nations have been implacably hostile to Israel, have doggedly refused to make peace with Israel and have ostracized Arab governments that broke ranks. If Arab states back an attack on Israel, most other member states of the U.N. do so also.
The decision to go along with the censure of Israel is made more credible by the fact that in responding to endless violent provocations the Israeli government has usually done something from which the "world community" can and does take offense. (Secretary of State James Baker said voting to censure Israel was "a matter of principle.") Harsh condemnations are then leveled against Israel for real offenses of which the "world community" would take no note were they committed by another state. But Israel is judged by the Sermon on the Mount, while other governments are judged on the curve.
No clearer example of this double standard can be found than in the U.N.'s treatment of violence in Lebanon.
Hundreds of Christian soldiers were killed in Lebanon by Syrian and local Moslem forces in Syria's latest push to consolidate power. Arms stiffened by death behind their backs testify that about 30 of them had been murdered after they surrendered. Many other Christians simply disappeared after Syrian planes dropped tons of bombs on the headquarters of Gen. Michel Aoun. Dany Chamoun, a prominent Christian opponent of Syria and his Moslem Lebanese allies, was murdered in cold blood in his house along with his wife and two small sons. But the Security Council has taken no note of serious continuing violations of Lebanon nor of the many resulting deaths.
The failure of the Security Council even to call for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon mocks that body's stated concern with national self-determination and with aggression. Its silence concerning the many Lebanese victims of Syria's expansion mocks its concern for excessive violence in Israel.
And the silence of the Bush administration with regard to Syria's bloody attacks belies its concern for "excessive violence" and its passion for "fair" and "even-handed" treatment of Middle Eastern cases. It has even been reported that concern with preserving the alliance against Iraq led the United States government to acquiesce in the aerial bombing of Christian Beirut that finally led to its surrender. How strange. I thought it was the United States that was helping Arab states of the Gulf to deal with Saddam Hussein.
It seems almost incredible that the United States should have tacitly accepted Syria's final aggression, though the report has come from "normally reliable unofficial sources" and has not been denied. Instead an anonymous official was reported to have piously "hoped" that the Lebanese would finally be in a position to get on with building a united stable government. That is like saying the Nazi conquest of France paved the way for strong executive leadership in that country.
Silence and inaction on Lebanon's conquest is made worse because both the United States and the United Nations Security Council so often expressed their commitment to a sovereign, independent, democratic Lebanon.
The destruction of an independent Lebanon is a grim reminder that a country that grounds its independence in international guarantees alone builds its house on sand.