Wednesday, July 19, 2006

After the fighting began the other day, I called a friend of mine, a Lebanese Shi’i, who lives in the southern suburbs of Beirut. As I expected, his situation wasn’t that good, so he’s up here staying with me now, up in Broummana, in the mountains. On the evening I realized that my friend was actually going to stay with me, I panicked and ran to the store, to get one essential item that I would need, a bottle of arak. Yes, Virginia, there is a non-Hizbullah Shi’i population in the southern suburbs, which have been getting blasted to shit the last few days by the Israeli air force. I picked up my friend in Broummana, the summer resort town where I live, a place that until now has been free of the bombing. Of course, we hear the Israeli warplanes go by from time to time. I asked him if there was anything special we needed to pick up before going to my apartment. I told him I had food and stuff like that. “Well,” he ventured, “do we need a bottle of anything?”

“Like what?” I responded.

“Like, whiskey?”

“Arak?”

“Good enough.”


My friend and I are the same age, just over 40. We poured two big glasses of arak and sat in the living room, with the tv news on in the background. For him, Hizbullah miscalculated, and should have thought long and hard before getting the entire country involved in such an event, with potentially or already disastrous consequences. On the other hand, he continued, most of Lebanon’s other politicians are a bunch of clowns, or worse… the ones who might gain domestically if Hizbullah is eliminated politically. As we talked, a friend of his called, and told him, jokingly, “Hey, you’re a journalist, spread the word that Hassan Nasrallah is hiding in Solidere (downtown Beirut). That way, the Israelis will bomb it.” The late Rafiq al-Hariri and the other groups who oversaw the country’s post-civil war reconstruction, with the downtown area as its centerpiece, were not universally respected, due to corruption, waste and massive public debt, among other things.


When the fighting began, my friend took turns sleeping at his home in the suburbs and at his office in the Beirut neighborhood of Hamra, where he works at a newspaper (not on the local desk). His original plan was to go to his village in the Bekaa on Monday, but we woke up late and then heard the news that the Israelis were bombing villages that are adjacent to his. We took turns on my computer, checking the internet, and then switched to watching tv news when there was electricity. He changed his plans, and will head back to Hamra soon; it’s one of the places that hasn’t been bombed, although the nearby lighthouse and port of Beirut have been struck.


We joke about the “club of the displaced” that we’ve formed. I might be evacuated soon, but the US embassy hasn’t made the official announcement about time and place. Of course, the two of us are in better shape than the casualties, or those who have been directly exposed to bombing. Along Lebanon’s coastline are mountain ranges, and those who can have literally headed for the hills, even though it doesn’t guarantee protection. Few places are truly safe. The capital and its suburbs have been targeted, along with other major cities, second-rank towns, and villages. And the roads between them. And the cars traveling on them. And so on and so on. Gas stations. Milk factories. Trucks carrying flour. Religious centers. Whatever.


The two of us are in a mountain resort town, trying to use a bunch of Gulf Arabs, perhaps unbeknownst to them, as “human shields.” The Israelis wouldn’t dare hit this town, which has some Saudi, Kuwaiti and other tourists, would they? My friend and I went to a local outdoor restaurant for lunch, relaxing as we sat among a bunch of well-to-do locals, Lebanese fleeing from the fighting, and Arab and foreign tourists. We wouldn’t get hit here, right? It’s not that civilians aren’t getting killed. It’s that for now, you’d have to be in the southern suburbs, the south, the Bekaa, or on a major road or facility like a port, to really up your chances. Did I mention gas stations? Then again, you could be told to leave your home in two hours and then get shot down on the road because no one, including the United Nations, gives you shelter. But being surrounded by tourists does make you feel better.


We were watching al-Jazeera when it began running footage of what was originally thought to be an Israeli plane shot down over Beirut (it wasn’t, although I hear different versions of what the object was). Someone at another table remarked, “That can’t be a plane,” as if to negate the possibility. “It’s only half a plane.” Then where the hell’s the other half, I wondered. I called another journalist friend of mine, who works for Hizbullah’s television station, al-Manar, and asked how he was doing. He said that he was just taking it day by day, trying to cover his two jobs – the other one is at a local newspaper. He’s not a member of Hizbullah, either. Yes, Virginia… “That’s my building, where I live,” my friend at the restaurant pointed and told me, when the television showed smoke rising in his part of the southern suburbs.


My friend has been calling his relatives throughout the day to see how they’re doing, up in the Baalbek area. We have been coordinating, by phone, various ways to get his nephews and nieces, along with mothers, over to Syria, where it’s safe for now. He tells his friends and relatives he’s staying with an American, which elicits various reactions. His parents, who know me, told him, “That’s the safest thing! Good work!” A female Syrian friend, who doesn’t know me, and who offered to arrange housing for the family members if they make it to Damascus, had a similar positive reaction, and then giggled, “Kill him and then get yourself over here!”

“Okay, okay!” he shouted as told me the story and we broke into laughter.


This violence could be stopped, in a second, if the White House, and the larger Washington establishment, acted on the basis of the reality of the region, and not cartoonish notions. Start with the idea that people here do not wake up and the morning and start screaming “death to Israel.” During days like these, the first thing they might do is ask “Where is Israel bombing today?” Israel can bomb much of Lebanon, to put pressure on Hizbullah, as if the entire population is a bunch of hostages to the party. The mass public will reject the resistance, the thinking goes, rising up against their evil jailors. The problem is that these “hostages” feel differently – it’s not a bunch of thieves holed up with the employees of a bank like in a movie, for Christ’s sake. Some support Hizbullah, others don’t like Hizbullah but dislike Israel much more, some want another strategy of resistance to be used, and others have no sympathy for the party, or resistance in general. But this tactic of waiting for anti-Hizbullah intifada will create division, and not consensus.


In today’s Devils’ Dictionary, an “enemy of peace” is someone who doesn’t like the terms set down by Israel and/or the US for a regional settlement. They’re also called “hard-liners,” whatever that means. If someone wants to take your house, and not pay you a fair sum, you’re a hard-liner if you refuse, I guess. Elsewhere, it’s called defending your interests. A century ago, Ambrose Bierce defined a democracy as a country where the newspapers are pro-American. The US might get such a democracy in Lebanon, and sweep the real problems under the rug, until the next explosion. My friend is over 40, and an ex-communist who is probably not going to be radicalized by this experience and join some armed group. But we’re not hanging out with young men in their 20s, who aren’t members of Hizbullah, and have been displaced, or know people who have killed during this onslaught. Their turn will come later, I suppose. Perhaps my friend’s even younger nephews and nieces will grow up remembering that when Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers to trade for Lebanese and Palestinian detainees and prisoners, Israel responded by bombing, almost exclusively, civilian targets in Lebanon. Probably several thousand by now. And the Israelis have killed more than two hundred civilians, supposedly for a bungled outing by a military patrol.


My friend and I talked about our extended circle of friends, and what they were doing these days, whether inside or outside the country. I sent an email to one of them, a Syrian who lives in New York City. We all studied in Damascus together, in the 1980s, when I was learning Arabic. In the email, I told our Syrian friend in New York that the refugee situation here was getting bad, and that our Lebanese friend was now staying with us, adding, “Wish you were here.” He thought it was a joke. When my Syrian friend called, I handed the phone to our Lebanese friend. After cursing me for supposedly misleading him in my email, my Syrian friend told us that in his Manhattan apartment building, an Israeli neighbor had repeatedly tried to “explain his point of view to me.”

“He finished talking, and I just smiled,” my Syrian friend said.

“Don’t you have a comment?” the Israeli asked.

“I just smiled at him,” my Syrian friend told me. “He explained his point of view to me once again, and then I smiled at him. He asked me again, if I had a comment… and I just smiled at him.”

Marlin Dick, Broummana, Lebanon

2 Comments:

Blogger Rajiv Iyer said...

Hope you are safe and continue to be safe in your stay in Lebanon ...... And hope that you stay there and continue to reveal to the world the Lebanese side of the story, that most Western Media establishments will never telecast

2:41 PM  
Blogger Amnon said...

Hi.

First of all, let me say that I sympathize with your story. I sat yesterday with my friend, watching TV with a glass of Whisky in our hands, trying to think wheather HZ will dare attack Tel Aviv (and I am sure that they will).

But let me introduce myself - My name is Amnon. I am an Israeli blogger, 31 years old, live in Tel Aviv and work in a hi-tech company. Although I strongly believe that this war was forced upon us by the Hezbollah and that we had no option other than this conflict, I still think of myself as a moderate left-wing person.

While usually my blog deals with futurism, technology, tourism and philosophy, the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah which has a dramatic effect on all the people in the Middle East, convinced me to try and communicate with other people from all over the world, to hear other views and get different perspectives. I believe that this is the true power of the information age – not just to be fed by the mass media, but the have the ability to say what is on your mind. I want to invite people from all over the world and especially from Arab and Muslim countries to write their thoughts and ideas about the current situation and the general situation in the Middle East.

I have traveled the world and had been to more than 30 countries in five continents and met many people from different races and cultures. I believe that although there are a lot of cultural differences between people, we all share the same wants and needs - we all want to be loved, to be appreciated, to be treated with respect and to raise our kids peacefully and quietly.


My address is:

http://www.tapuz.co.il/blog/UserBlog.asp?folderName=amnon&EntryId=746382


your comments are appreciated.

May we live to see a peacful middle east!

4:37 PM  

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