Opinion: Should charities help rebuild Lebanon?

Peter Stanford, a writer, broadcaster and director of the Frank Longford Charitable Trust

Governments, United Nations agencies and NGOs will meet in Stockholm tomorrow for an international aid conference to discuss the reconstruction of Lebanon. It is a sign of hope at a time when the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah still seems fragile.

Yet it raises difficult questions. Lebanon has spent much of the past decade rebuilding after the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. Much of that effort has been funded with money borrowed by the Lebanese government.

But much has also been financed with the help of the international community and charities anxious to see an end to the suffering of this beautiful but troubled country.

A good deal of the fruits of that investment has been destroyed by the Israeli onslaught on Hezbollah targets. Roads, public buildings and schools are in ruins. The intention now seems to be that the international community and NGOs will once again pay for rebuilding. Fair enough - but what if we transfer the scenario elsewhere? A charity pays for a new hospital in a British town. Intercommunal violence then erupts and the hospital is burned down. Would the charity open its cheque book again? Or might it ask that the perpetrators bear some responsibility?

In the case of Lebanon, the question of who foots the bill for reconstruction for a second time must surely involve some sort of debate as to culpability for the destruction. The Israeli government would say it is the fault of Hezbollah for launching attacks from bases in southern Lebanon and of the Lebanese government for tolerating this state within a state.

Yet many who witnessed the conflict spoke about the disproportion - a breach in the rules that govern warfare - between the damage Hezbollah inflicted on Israel and the thousands of Lebanese killed and the million people displaced by the Israeli bombardment. If such a disproportion existed, should not Israel be asked to make good some of the damage it has done by contributing to the rebuilding fund? If it was genuinely not targeting civilians, then it would be an act of good faith to help repair some of the destruction it has caused.

The international community has a poor record on being tough with Israel, so there is little chance that it will be any more insistent now. But for NGOs there remains an ethical dilemma in using reserves to pay for something they have already paid for once before.

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