Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon after 22 years (according to British, Canadian, and Arab papers; the Israeli press spoke of 18 years of occupation, timing the count from the Israeli seizure of Beirut) was described variously as “humiliating” (the Guardian of London), “an admission of failure of the Arab-Israeli peace process” (the Financial Times), and a “proud retreat” (the Jerusalem Post). The Lebanese Daily Star headlined an article on the pullout, “The nightmare rushes to an end: SLA stampedes as Israelis slink away.” Ha’aretz of Israel said in an editorial Wednesday that the withdrawal “should not surprise anyone, and should certainly not engender humiliation. The [Israel Defense Forces] did not retreat from territory that belonged to the state of Israel, and is not giving holy places back to the Lebanese.”
The Guardian called it Israel’s Vietnam, “a place where soldiers went to die for a cause nobody believed in.” Columnist Jonathan Freedland said the joy of homecoming Israeli soldiers “will be coated with shame: Israel’s aura of military invincibility, established since the Yom Kippur war of 1973, has been punctured by the few, but unexpectedly skillful fighters of the Hizbullah. It could prove a devastating blow for the Jewish state—and for its leader.” A leader in Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph agreed that Israel’s “premature exit” was a “psychological blow.” It claimed that the “most powerful country in the Middle East has been humiliated by a bunch of guerrillas,” therefore “forces throughout the region will conclude that Israel has lost its pioneering vigour.” The Financial Times concurred, saying, “Israel’s image as a fighting power has been damaged by its hasty retreat.”
Many papers expressed sympathy for the South Lebanon Army, the Israeli-created and -armed Lebanese proxy. The Sydney Morning Herald described SLA soldiers as “hapless refugees and victims,” and an editorial in the Guardian called them “the real losers in Lebanon.” It concluded, “Much is being made of Israel’s so-called humiliation in south Lebanon. But the disorderly retreat of its soldiers from the occupation zone is a passing embarrassment, unlikely to have much lasting effect on the region’s military superpower. For the poor, bloody Lebanese, it is yet another disaster.” Thursday’s editorial in the Jerusalem Post began, “Among Israelis, three emotions are swirling around the closing of a chapter of the saga of Lebanon: relief, fear, and shame. … But the elation of being out of Lebanon is tinged with less pleasant symptoms of the day after: the fear of the future along the northern border and shame over the suffering of our Lebanese allies.” It said, “Israel cannot treat the SLA only as refugees who should be grateful for being gathered in makeshift camps; they are brothers who risked and lost their lives with us and deserve our best treatment in return.”
The standoff in Fiji continues (see the May 22 “International Papers“). It began last Friday when businessman George Speight took Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and several other parliamentarians hostage, claiming power on behalf of indigenous Fijians. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon and U.N. special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello had visited Fiji and told Speight that if the hostages were not released immediately, the country risked becoming an international pariah. According to fijilive.com, the indigenous people’s Great Council of Chiefs, while condemning Speight’s actions, ordered the formation of an interim administration—which would not include Chaudhry—and recommended pardon for Speight and his gang. As of Thursday morning, Speight had rejected the chiefs’ offer.
The SMH said that several Fijian-Indian villages outside the capital had been pillaged and torched in recent days. An editorial in the New Zealand Herald said that if the anti-Indian attacks have “stopped short of ethnic cleansing, that says more about the inaccessibility of firearms than the depth of resentment harboured by many indigenous Fijians. So powerful is their hatred … that it is not unreasonable to question the very future for ethnic Indians in Fiji.” The Telegraph of Calcutta declared, “There is little India can or should do. Overseas ethnic communities whose ancestors happen to be from the subcontinent are not New Delhi’s responsibility. … If, as seems likely, Mr Chaudhry is forced to step down from office one way or another and the Fijian constitution is further amended, India should demand Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth and seek to block the use of Fijian troops in UN operations. These are symbolic acts but curiously may do more damage to native Fijian sentiments than, say, economic sanctions which would hurt Indian Fijians the most.”
A British study reported in the Daily Telegraph suggests that keeping fit can damage your health. More than 820,000 Britons ended up in hospital emergency rooms in 1998 because of sports injuries. In addition to the obvious risks of rugby, soccer, and cricket, 11,210 were injured by “slipping gym mats,” 6,000 had collisions with goal posts, 508 people suffered pool-table-related injuries, and 39 had unfortunate experiences involving dartboards. And there’s apparently no such thing as a harmless household object in Britain: Flowerpots were involved in 3,554 of the 2.5 million accidents around the home, tissue paper felled 1,543, envelopes injured 723, and 449 Brits hurt themselves with clothespins. Meanwhile, populist tabloid the Sun ran the headline “It’s Stark, Chairing Madness” over a story claiming that a “government-backed booklet” called for musical chairs to be banned. The pamphlet condemns the game because “the strongest/fastest one who pushes the other children out of the way wins” and instead recommends “musical statues” because there are no losers. The Sun reassures, though, that “shocked parents, tots and nursery managers were outraged by the suggestion … and vowed to play on.”