Thursday, August 31, 2006

a debate between an israeli and a lebanese - as moderated by BBC

FYI, here are the links to a debate/discussion organized by the BBC between an Israeli blogger (Lisa Goldman) and a Lebanese blogger (myself)

The BBC began the discussion by posing the question: who won the war? Lisa and I were then left to answer that question, and from there began the discussion. (Just for the record: I did not pose that question.)

in English:

in Arabic:

-Rania Masri
El Koura, Lebanon

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What I knew of Dahieh

What I know, or rather knew, of Beirut’s southern suburbs – the Dahieh – I learned through K.

His family has lived there for 12 years, since the civil war ended and they returned home from France. They didn’t particularly like it there – life in an over-crowded, under-served, traffic-ridden slum leaves much to be desired – but they had family living there, the rent was cheap, it was where all the other poor and lower middle class Shia lived, and after a while it became home.

The first time I went there, with K, I tried to act cool. I had been in the country long enough to know what I was supposed to see: signs commemorating Hizbullah martyrs, life size cut-outs of the various ayatollahs suspended mid-air, lots of wires crossing between apartment buildings, and women fully veiled in black. I wasn’t expecting all the children playing in the streets, stunning young women in skin-tight clothes, so many stores selling so much stuff. I wasn’t expecting the power cuts, which happen daily in Dahieh, and have been for years. I wasn’t expecting the convenience factor, with almost everything you could ever need within walking distance. And of course, I wasn’t expecting the overwhelmingly kind acceptance into K’s family that has kept me coming back for over five years.

After a while, I learned how to navigate Dahieh by myself, the basic location names and landmarks. Hay Madi, Masharrafieh, Mouawad, Haret Hreik, Bier al Abed, Jisr el Mattar, Ghobeireh, Hay el Sellum, Chiah. I learned to look for the clock on Moawad, and the dry water fountain. I learned to look for the Hi-Bye clothing store, for the Domex cloth and lingerie store, for the Club Sport adorned with Rambo paintings, for store next to their house that alternatively sells fruit and vegetables, or pajamas and scarves.

Not all of that is gone now, but much of it is. And what’s left, will never be the same. It was never pretty, or quaint, or charming. But it is home, to thousands of people. And while the political forces propagandize and politicize, Dahieh’s residents have been coming home, sweeping out the glass, washing away the dust, emptying the refrigerators and living.

None of the pictures below will shock you, they’re not new or dramatic, they’re just places that I knew. And all of the pictures were taken after the bulldozers carved roads and paths through the rubble. I should have written this weeks ago. I’ve been trying to.

1) The clock on Moawad Street.

For years this was my main reference point. Every time I got lost, I would ask for the clock, and find my way home from there. The clock has never, ever, told the correct time. The building K’s family first lived in is directly behind the main building in the photo, now surrounded on either side by the rubble of destroyed buildings.

2) The Hi-Bye store

The Hi-Bye clothing store is near the clock, and was another easy reference point. It was bombed, and then caught on fire, so you can’t see the truly scandalous clothing it used to sell.

3) Bier al Abed

Somewhere behind the rubble was a series of long, low buildings. Years ago a good friend left to go back to America, leaving behind a large carpet to be shipped. After looking for an hour, it was in one of these low buildings that K and I found a store which sold nothing but cardboard boxes, cartoneh, of all sizes. That’s all gone now.

4) The DVD and everything else store

Although Lebanon’s pirated CDs and DVDs can’t compare to Syria, it is still possible to find the latest film on sale for $4. On the ground floor of this building was a store that sold DVDs, and electronic trinkets, and pens, and notebooks, and cassettes and CDs, and probably a million other things. K’s sisters had just bought Munich from there a few days before the war began.

5) The Iraqi tailor

I never learned why he was in Beirut, when he arrived or how, but he was known throughout the neighborhood. He could hem pants in minutes, and finish more complication alterations in days. K’s sisters took me there, all of us getting turned around more than once. But everyone knew where the Iraqi tailor was. I don’t know where he is now.

6) Haret Hreik

I walked this street for the first time two months ago, with K’s sisters, looking for curtain rods. We didn’t find what I wanted, although there were a few stores I was planning on going back to. We then walked through Jisr el Mattar and Beir al Abed – two other neighborhoods. When Israel started bombing, they hit this street, Jisr el Mattar and Beir al Abed on the same day. It felt a little surreal. Meanwhile, my curtains still aren’t hung.

7) The spice place

Matahin Bin Jamal, affectionately known as the spice place, was probably my favorite thing in Dahieh – following K’s family. It didn’t belong on the side street from crowded Mouawad, full of traffic and motorcycles all day long. It didn’t really belong in the 21st century. So narrow two people could barely pass, it was filled ceiling to floor with ancient wooden bureaus, each tiny drawer for a different spice. Three types of sumac, five types of zaatar, various peppers, sage, cumin ground and in seeds. I used to go just to breath in the air, and play with the drawers. Open one, and you see bright green zaatar (dried, crushed thyme) from Jezzine. Next to it, the deep earthy brown of crushed nutmeg. Cardamom, he only sold as seeds, because they lose their flavor so quickly once crushed. And everything was seasonal – you couldn’t buy zaatar or sumac in the spring, because it was already old and losing its flavor.

K and I celebrated finally getting our own apartment by going to the spice place and buying 150 grams of everything we could think of. Each spice you bought was placed in its own small paper bag, carefully weighed on a tiny scale, and stapled shut.

I’ve since run out of sumac and zaatar, but I can’t make myself buy from anywhere else. If I had known they were going to bomb the building next to my spice place, I would have bought a quarter-kilo of everything in every drawer. Then again, if you had told me they were going to bomb so heavily, so recklessly, I would never have believed you.

Sonya Knox

West Beirut

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

prison. museum. ruin.

you expect to witness destruction in Khiam. it is there in abundance. nowhere is it more poignant, though, than at the prison.

before 2000 – when the israeli army fled its 18-year-old south lebanon “security zone” – the “Khiam” of popular consciousness was less the town than its notorious detention centre.

run by the south lebanon army, then the israelis’ human sandbags in the zone, Khiam held lebanese suspected of co-operating with the resistance. sometimes that meant resisting the sla policy that gave southerners a choice of paying them extortionate fees or giving up their sons to militia service.

conditions in the prison were squalid, reports of kidnaps and torture commonplace.

in may 2000, then, Khiam was perhaps the most-hated symbol of occupation. one of the emotional highlights of the israeli-sla collapse was the “citizens’ liberation” of the prison on 23 may.

while representatives from the international committee of the red cross were searching for the sla leadership to negotiate the 144 detainees’ release, 500-odd villagers – evidently organised by hizbullah – stormed the facility and freed them. the sla had already abandoned the place.

it’s 19 august, 2006, about a week into the present ceasefire, on the road from Nabatiyyeh to Khiam. traffic is surprisingly sparse, perhaps because of the israeli commando raid near Ba‘lbak the night before.

the sheer volume of destruction visited upon south lebanon in this war is mind-numbing. it’s accentuated by the fact that so much ruin is concentrated in such dense pockets: those villages israel singled out for punishment, and the flashpoints of resistance, are embedded within some of lebanon’s most beautiful and unspoilt country.

several motifs mark the passage. charred petrol stations, burnt fields – presumably the scuffmarks of launched katyushas – improvised roads carved through farmland – so merkavas could avoid roadside bombs – the mangled concrete of apartment blocks and ruined houses, schools and social welfare agencies.

numbness is punctuated by the unexpected appearance of unexploded israeli ordinance – their flanks often projecting from roads they were meant to cut – and dead farm animals, their owners unable to dispose of the corpses.

there is no sign of the israeli equipment hizbullah destroyed. one side or the other has removed it from the field.

Khiam itself is a mess. clumps of collapsed concrete and twisted rebar greet you around every corner. some rubble is adorned with the reminder “made in the usa” – not the brand-style banners draped over former buildings in dahiyyeh, but graffiti quickly dashed off with spray paint.

preliminary clean-up has begun. a bulldozer edges its way through a downed block of flats. shabab with push brooms and surgical masks clean the streets.

in front of one wrecked house, bags of portland cement are stacked hopefully – though they may antedate this war. a grim-faced ogero employee materialises in a sparkling white truck to inspect the public phones.

your party walks up the last kilometre or so to the prison.

over the six years following israel’s withdrawal, hizbullah transformed the facility into a museum, devoted to the cruelty of occupation and the resiliency of the detained.

plaques were erected to describe the routine function of each ward. here were the men’s cells, there the women’s. here was the exercise square. there inmates were “interrogated”. former detainees volunteered to describe their horrid experiences to visitors.

the site was gradually commodified. the prison courtyard was remade as an open-air museum of abandoned sla materiel – troop carriers, jeep, ancient howitzer. a canteen with pool tables sold soft drinks. a shop sold hizbullah memorabilia – tee shirts and flags, key chains and cassette tapes.

historians and museum curators might deride hizbullah’s hitching the Khiam facility, and human suffering it embodied, to the wagon of political rhetoric and public relations. it might be argued, though, that the israel’s leadership have contributed a volume or two to the book of bending history to a politics.

approaching the museum this day, it appears it has been miraculously spared annihilation.

though all the windows are smashed and the roof’s red tiles are scattered like playing cards, it’s still possible, you nod, to recognise the pool tables as “pool tables”. though the door to the drinks cooler swings ajar, there are still some drinks inside.

you glance, then, through the prison entrance and see the sky.

the men’s and women’s barracks immediately behind the canteen are merely shredded by shrapnel. the matériel still squat like iguanas in the sun.

the rest of the complex is powdered concrete. one colleague, who among you has returned to the museum most recently, reckons as much as 80 percent of the complex has been flattened. fragments of walls, concrete held erect by stubborn rebar, point mute to the sky.

you return to the car vaguely aware that you should be formulating some thoughts about how identity is an expression and improvisation upon memory, that the erasure of history, of memory is –

but you're empty of thought. just then, the man whose home is being bulldozed smiles a greeting.

“khalas! it doesn’t matter.” he laughs, gesturing nervously to the smashed concrete. “in another 20 years i’ll be dead anyway.”

Jim Quilty

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Exchanging Roles?

There are some challenging questions out of this latest war between Lebanon and Israel. Who won? At what cost? Who was to blame? Is it over or will there be yet another conflict on Lebanese soil? What will happen next? Will Lebanon survive this Israeli aggression economically?

Hizbullah has proven, as a local political party with a military wing, supported financially and militarily by its’ ideological strategic ally, Iran, that it could withstand one of the world’s mightiest and modern military machines through sheer internal organization, by coming from and fighting for the land they are on, by the knowledge of the enemy’s capacities and capabilities, the acquisition of appropriate military hardware (albeit missing the ground to air missiles) to resist, and a faith in God and in fighting on the cause of justice.

In this aspect Hizbullah has come out more or less victorious. The victory is one that is both national in nature and yet more importantly regional. Regional in a sense that it has sent shockwaves across the Arab world whose leaders have all, more or less, been infected by an inferiority complex when it comes to Israel from one angle, and been taken forever captive by economic and commercial interests with the U.S, denying them the ability to maneuver politically to even expel the Israel ambassador. Hizbullah has proven that the Israel army is not an invincible machine, and with strenuous preparation, organization, proper armaments, and faith, it could be put to a stop, although perhaps not defeated.

Hizbullah has stood up to a nation that has flouted almost every UN Council Resolution, undertaken a series of atrocities, and has considered itself above international law and more frighteningly, above all the peace negotiations with the Arabs. The Arabs meanwhile are left to moan about rights, international law, council resolutions and justice. And Israel does whatever it sees fit to ensure that the Arabs, including the Palestinians, stay weak and divided, within the so-called ‘New Middle East’ perhaps – all under the pretext of combating ‘terrorism’ and under their flawed terminology of ‘self defense’.

But the victory of Hizbullah is a victory for the Arabs only to the extent of emotion and semi-retrieved pride, yet is a potential defeat in that its accomplishments, especially of late, stem not from an Arab nation and its institutions as a whole, yet from an almost independently run political party with semi-autonomy from the central government (albeit it represents almost a third of the Lebanese population).

I say potential defeat because though the dichotomy between Hizbullah and the Lebanese central government served well in the past to limit Israel’s disproportionate firepower to Hizbullah and not the whole Lebanese state, it cannot proceed as it is, and as Hizbullah wishes it should, for two primary reasons.

The first reason is that this military achievement and self-confidence boost to the Arab peoples should be invested in the Lebanese government. Strength of nations surrounding Israel should no longer be viewed as a taboo or an impossibility. What harm would it bring if Hizbullah gave its military arsenal to the Lebanese army and trained the army about its historic methods in combating Israel? Why not include a strong regiment (of Hizbullah soldiers) in the army that applies ‘guerrilla’ warfare tactics, especially when a ‘classical’ army is absolutely useless in front of Israel? Why not arm the Lebanese army the same way that it has been armed, and teach it the same perseverance and decentralized command system of the Hizbullah soldiers? Some may say that that would produce an Israeli aggression on all of Lebanon, but that has already happened in this July-August war. If Hizbullah does not give its victory and its assets to the Lebanese army, with an agreed upon time-frame, then it is a failure, nothing more and nothing less. A failure that entails that Hizbullah’s achievements are beyond the scope and ability of any Arab government. This duplicity of resistance and government should be replicated throughout the Arab world in order to defeat Israeli aggressions.

The second reason is economic. Herein perhaps my opinion is a little bias towards the type of class I belong to (a middle class citizen) and the profession category which makes for my living (the Small and Medium Sized Enterprises - SMEs). Yet no business activity in Lebanon has been spared this time around, and the numbers (including myself) who are now lined at embassies for immigration purposes are greater than they were before, and they were abundant before. Who will compensate? Inevitably every house built in the South, South of Beirut, Bekaa… would be given money for reconstruction, yet what about all those SMEs? Can they for example show their past yearly and monthly balance sheets and be compensated for the direct damage caused and compensated for opportunities forgone? These SMEs are after all, the economic backbone of any prospering nation.

On this note as well, it is totally unacceptable that Hizbullah or any other party be allowed to compensate for the damages of this war (through its regional allies) unless Hizbullah accepts to become the government and the government a political party. All aid to the Lebanese people affected by this war must be done through governmental channels or at least through coordination with the central government, of which Hizbullah is a part. No longer should Hizbullah hold a semi-governmental character, and all its assets, both financial and military, should be transferred through the government. Or else why is there a government?

Finally, a further important issue to rise would be seeing Israeli politicians and generals fighting it out in Israel, blaming and criticizing each other for all their failures in this foolish war they initiated, and the expectation that their prime minister will fall. To some in Lebanon, this is seen as a victory, a victory that should ensure that such events do not occur, at least in public, between the Lebanese.

However, I see this as democracy. Israel is practicing democracy were actions are held accountable and though who have not done their jobs correctly, would be penalized by the system in place. In this sense, if the prime minister falls out in Israel, it is not a victory for us as much as a victory for their system of checks and balances.

In Lebanon, no voice should be silenced this way, silenced by blaming him or her of serving the Zionist state. This would be a crime in itself, a stopping of a nation that holds itself high in terms of discourse and harmony between sects and political parties. A crime against free expression of speech and progress.

I can only hope now that Hizbullah, and on whose southern lands they come from would rise to this golden opportunity to reveal its national character, which I always believed in, and play a vital role in strengthening the central government. Otherwise and again, Hizbullah should become the government and the government a political party.

Now the war should be next fought on lands which are still invaded, particularly Syria (as it is continuously in Palestine), and it is a message that Hizbullah takes to those lands that should be listened too and applied, not met by empty speeches praising Hizbullah and Lebanese blood as a model, and even getting political leverage from it, and yet go on in doing nothing for their own dignity, land and people except ensuring the survival of a Machiavellian elite.

Hassan Harajli, Beirut, Lebanon

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

a ballad of Rana and Ghada

let’s say you have two women friends. let’s say, for no good reason at all, that their names are Rana and Ghada.

you’re sitting between the two of them in the back row of a beirut cinema, watching the sam peckinpah classic “cross of iron” (1977). it’s about the final weeks in the life of a german soldier [james coburn] during the red army’s second world war rout of the wehrmacht.

it might seem an odd choice for this evening’s entertainment. it’s the evening of the first day of the ceasefire between hizbullah and the israeli army, a night of irritable calm after a month of scourging air strikes and inconclusive ground action – still continuing in a minor key – in south Lebanon.

it might seem an odd choice, but it’s not.

you met Ghada one evening a few years ago and immediately dismissed her as an easily-excitable backpacker – an impression reinforced by her odd tendency to jump up and down in her Birkenstock sandals when enthused. she later took a job at the same rag as you and revealed herself a fine linguist, an intelligent and dedicated political activist, and a preternatural organiser.

Rana is a dancer by preference, a film-lover by passion, and a fundraiser by vocation. as you follow politics and divert yourself writing about cinema, you met her professionally – quite natural as she’s a member of a politically minded film collective. being suspicious by nature, it took some time to resign yourself to the fact that she regarded you as a friend, and not just a useful promotional asset.

Ghada’s not a beirut native but she’s become wedded to the place in a manner you’ve witnessed before. she fell in with a good crowd of like-minded, fun-loving leftists and so quickly sunk a more varied root structure here than the average american expat, say, those who basically work and pal around with other foreigners then go back home when their time’s up.

it’s hardly unusual that in the process of sinking her roots into beirut, Ghada met a guy – let’s call him Ramzi. Somewhat more eccentric – at least amongst your circle of friends – was their decision to get married and so forth. that hasn’t happened just yet for reasons of life.

Ghada left beirut to continue her studies for a year or so. then after a spell of pennilessness, during which time Ramzi was doing his obligatory military service, she landed a job as an administrator at one of the several UN agencies that squatted here before the warplanes came back. seemingly settled into a good gig, the nuptials were further delayed because Ramzi got a scholarship to do some graduate work in europe.

Rana is inexplicably single. the occupants of an alien spacecraft – monitoring her movements from orbit – might assume that she simply has no time for anything but the dozen projects she’s simultaneously scheming at. the week before the Israelis launched their 2006 attack, Rana’s most-recent project had come to fruition.

she opened a cinema that runs non-commercial movies, something that lebanese filmmakers and film-lovers have been talking about – but doing little to accomplish – since before you washed up here.

it’s one of the eccentricities of beirut, and the middle east generally, that you can watch all manner of american schlock but seeing film from anyplace else in the world, including the middle east, is ghettoised within the confines of dvd rental and the odd film festival.

this nicely reflects the general state of the lebanese cultural condition, which involves people getting dolled up to go out to events – festivals, gallery openings, concerts and such. beirutis aren’t accustomed to reliable institutions like a good art-house cinema. beirutis aren’t accustomed to reliable institutions, period.

Rana’s unpretentious about the whole thing. she said she was tired of being able to go to any city in europe and see any film she could imagine – but unable to enjoy the same normalcy in her home town. she said she just wanted to provide a bit of choice.

“what’s on tonight, Rana?” you’d been itching for the comfort of a darkened cinema for a couple of weeks now but been too busy to do anything about it.

“Luis Buñuel,” she’d replied. “‘l’âge d’or’ (1930).”

spanish surrealism. just what the doctor ordered.

“it’s Buñuel tonight at Rana’s” you’d sms-ed Ghada. “?”

a few hours later the phone rang. “it’s not Buñuel tonight,” Rana said apologetically, “i was supposed to screen ‘cross of iron’ last night but we cancelled because it was unsafe. so i’m gonna screen it tonight instead. is that alright?”

“Peckinpah?” your head immediately filled with memories of a skit from monty python’s flying circus. called “Salad Days”, it’s their imagining a Peckinpah treatment of a light-hearted georgian picnic. the panama hats and stripped jackets, accessorised by glasses of champagne and lemonade, are gathered around a piano, singing.

the gaiety is reduced to chaos in short order. the piano player loses his hands when the keyboard lid crashes down on them. the other revellers are reduced to screaming paroxysms of agony by various means – impaled on one unlikely implement or another, gouts of blood shooting forth, geyser-like. for reasons now obscure to you, you always found the skit immensely funny.

“cool,” you’d said. “i haven’t seen Peckinpah in years.”

you didn’t bother informing Ghada about the change. though unlikely to be a Pekinpah fan, you reasoned she probably wouldn’t mind the programme change – just because seeing a film, any film, would be far closer to her pre-war routine than her normal life these days.

banned from doing proper work since the conflict began, Ghada’s been busying herself with refugee relief for the last month. she went about it with the matter-of-fact enthusiasm you’ve come to associate with the inveterate left – which, in its various factions, leapt into the vacuum left by an irresponsible state when displaced people began camping in beirut’s public gardens.

though Ghada’s social life hasn’t exactly withered on the vine, you get the impression she does some things with certain people less – if only because your circle of friends is deeply infiltrated by hacks who’ve spent little of the last month doing anything not connected to working or getting pissed.

Ghada bounces into the cinema two seconds before the film starts.

“hi!” she laughs, assessing the empty cinema.

“it’s not Buñuel,” you gesture to the screen. “it’s Peckinpah.”

“Peckinpah?” the enthusiasm on her face collapses into distaste.

“Sam Peckinpah.”

“having trouble finding a seat? the back row,” Rana gestures graciously, “is most comfortable.”

thanks to late-night television, “cross of iron” must have been visited upon all north americans at some time or another but you don’t recall ever seeing it. it’s immediately obvious why it’s been programmed, though.

the opening credits’ newsreel footage of smiling patriotic german faces c.1944, played out against a soundtrack of children singing nursery rhymes, is all too evocative of the propaganda footage spawned by this present conflict.

repeated images of fictional shelling, themes of patriotism and party loyalty, humanity and inhumanity, are all redolent of contemporary realities.

the bad acting is highly evocative of the rogues’ gallery of politicians and so-called statesmen who have perpetrated this evil month and allowed it to continue for so long.

you have occasion to glance over at Rana and Ghada at various points of the evening. Ghada’s face is a shifting landscape of amusement and bemusement. Rana’s is knotted in a grimace for most of the proceedings – she didn’t programme this particular film.

Coburn erupts into his incongruous – evidently improvised – laugh. the film ends.

Ghada leaps to her feet and makes for the surface. it seems Ramzi’s been trying to reach her for some time. you wait for Rana to collect the dvd from the projection room – it’s hard to lay hands on proper films when you’re in the midst of an ongoing, month-long siege.

“i don’t know how much longer i can do this,” Rana says. “i can’t get any movies. i’m running out of mazout [diesel, for the generator that keeps the electricity going through spells of rationing]. running out of money –”

when her cinema’s opening event – a week of films from cannes – was disrupted by the war, Rana shut for a couple of days. within a few days the madina theatre, the space that houses her cinema, had transformed itself into a refugee-relief centre where ngos and artists have been running programmes for displaced kids and their parents.

Rana reopened the cinema to screen her original programme, augmented now by morning and afternoon programmes for kids and teenagers. she’s been continuing with these and working with some local filmmakers to screen thematically relevant dvds – thus “cross of iron”.

for those aliens observing Rana’s travails from orbit, she’s already demonstrated remarkable resilience over the last month. Rana herself is more sceptical.

“i don’t know if what i’m doing has any value or not,” she said a couple of weeks into the war. “i’m screening films but no one’s coming except a few of the displaced people staying in the theatre. the people who’d usually come are either glued to their televisions or getting drunk someplace.

“a group of muhajiba [veiled, and therefore devout muslim] girls staying here wanted to come to one of the european films we were screening the other night.

“i explained to them that they'd probably see some things they were uncomfortable with – sexual intimacy and so forth. they insisted they wanted to come in. i don’t blame them. i’m sure they’re bored senseless.

“so the movie starts. they sit through it for the first half hour. then one girl’s father comes in, sees what’s on the screen and yells at her to come with him. so all the girls get up and leave.”

you’re standing outside the cinema now. Ghada is nowhere to be seen.

“can i drop you?” Rana invites. “come on. look, the needle is still above the ‘E’!”

when you reach the old airport road, the main artery connecting dahiyyeh to northern beirut, you encounter an ad hoc celebration. cars and mopeds are driving up and down the autostrada, horns blowing, all bearing flags of hizbullah and amal – the country’s two shi‘a political groups. it’s like the evening of a brazilian world cup victory, but with different flags.

“i can’t believe they’re celebrating,” Rana grips the steering wheel more tightly and curses under her breath. “what have we won? the country is in ruins. over 1000 people have been killed. the israelis are still in our country. i wish someone would tell me what we won. i want to celebrate too.”

standing on the terrace of the Qasqas flat with a beer and a fag, you survey the dark spaces of the ruined dahiyyeh.

you’re mapping out the chapter of the book you will never write about this conflict. the chapter struggles with how such a tiny country can generate such a breadth of experience – ranging from utter deprivation to hyper-privilege – and the disparate opinions that this range of experience generates.

born into a family of leftist intellectuals, Rana is hardly to be counted amongst lebanon’s privileged classes. she’s simply a middle class beiruti who wants to make her country more like other places she’s lived.

aside from the million people displaced by israel’s bombing campaign, it’s people like Rana and Ghada who are most torn by this conflict. hizbullah doesn’t speak to them in any way, but the issues of social justice that the party has taken as its own – at the centre of which is the injustice of Palestine – do. the very rich who are indifferent to issues of social justice feel no such ambivalence.

the phone rings.

“hi,” says Ghada. “sorry about the disappearing act. Ramzi’s a bit freaked out because they announced that the new recruits are being deployed in south lebanon.”

the deployment of Lebanese troops in the south alongside a strong european force, is one of the preconditions of the israeli withdrawal from lebanese soil. “i thought they were deploying veterans.”

“nobody knows anything for sure. the defence ministry announced the new recruits are going down. that means Ramzi’s going down. now some cabinet ministers are kicking up a stink. so they made the call before they know for sure.”

“that blows.”

“blows? if Ramzi can’t finish graduate school because of this it’ll be a disaster for him.”


Jim Quilty

What remains

The families, those that can, are leaving for their homes.

It should be joyful. The sun should shine and the traffic flow in happy caravans and the families, all united, all healthy, all carrying extra supplies, ought to set off for Beirut’s suburbs, the South and the Bekaa Valley like rosy-faced pioneers reclaiming what is their’s, yet again.

But the sun can’t really shine, because the sky is full of the dust from collapsed buildings. The traffic can’t flow (it never does, anyways), and Israel has refused to lift its air and sea blockade. So there’s increasingly very little gasoline in the market, making transport home difficult and expensive.

Most families still aren’t united – the ICRC did another tour yesterday through Beirut’s schools looking for families from the Bekaa. They’re not healthy – although epidemics have not broken out in the schools – as 33 days of living with 200 other people, with very little fresh fruit or vegetables or meat, wears down the immune system. There are no extra supplies, because aid is delivered daily, and, again, Israel’s blockade has prevented most aid from being delivered at all.

And they’re certainly not rosy-faced. Not when Israel, despite accepting the UN Resolution, has issued warnings against civilians returning to their homes below the Litani River. Not when yet another civilian car was bombed last night, killing a family of five. Not when Israel bombed Beirut’s southern suburbs 30 minutes before the ceasefire took place. Not with over 1,000 Lebanese civilians dead, and entire villages in the South flattened. Not when most families don’t know if they have a house to return to. Not when their only guarantee of safety is a poorly worded, loop-hole infested UN resolution that seems to have been designed to fail.

But they’re going home, to what remains of home, defiantly.

Meanwhile, like some historian in a Marquez novel, I spent the day entering two-week old data from doctors’ visits to the refugee families in the schools.

Fatimeh, 26. Panic attacks.
Samir, 78. Arthritis and diabetes.
Ali, 14. Asthma.
Mariam, 5. Conjunctivitis.
Sawsan, 21. Respiratory difficulties.
Yasser, 33. Panic attacks.
Maya, 4 months. Skin rash
Ahmed, 45. Upper back pain and tension headaches.
Mahmoud, 9. Screaming nightmares.
Khadija, 47. Diabetes, hypertension and foot pain.
Hayat, 16. Panic attacks.
Rami, 13. Skin rash.
Souad, 69. Lower back pain and panic attacks.

The families are going home, to what remains. The other remnants, they will carry with them.

Sonya Knox
West Beirut

Monday, August 14, 2006

So why did Israel launch this war against Lebanon, again?

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday met with the parents of
abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers Eldad Regev and Udi
Goldwasser and told them that Israel will negotiate with
over their release. Defense Minister Amir
Peretz also attended the meeting."

Source: Ha'aretz

-Rania Masri

another reason why this is a US/Israeli war on Lebanon

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.


According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah - and shared it with Bush Administration officials - well before the July 12th kidnappings. "It's not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into," he said, "but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it."

Seymour Hersh's article Watching Lebanon in the New Yorker

-Rania Masri


Dear Friends
We have received an urgent request from the BirdLife Partner in Lebanon,
SPNL (Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon), asking for
support to help them deal with the humanitarian crisis which is
devastating their country and having a direct impact on both people and
environment alike. Most of you may remember that BirdLife, as part of our "emergency
response procedure", has in the past promoted and co-ordinated similar
relief initiatives from the Partnership. It has been the case for the
Tsunami in South East Asia and the Pakistan earthquake, where social
disruption was also directly impacting the environment, IBAs in
particular. Our slogan is"Together for Birds and People" and there
cannot be clearer situations than these where helping people also means
helping biodiversity. This is definitely also the case for the current
Lebanese crisis. Most notably, some of the IBAs that the Lebanese
Partner has been most actively involved with (Ebel es-Saqi, located near
Marjayoun and Hima Kfar Zabad in the Bekaa) are directly affected by the
displacement of families who are trying to escape from the centres of
the conflict.

The number of displaced families has exceeded 750,000 so far. Kfar
Zabad village alone has received around 120 families so far and the
human situation for all the displaced families is devastating. They
urgently need:

* Blankets.
* Children food (especially milk & water).
* Sanitary detergents.
* Medications.
* Kitchen utensils.
* Electrical Generator.
* Tents.

In response to SPNL's request, we would like to invite you to consider
supporting our Lebanese Partner in helping the communities displaced in
the IBAs, as well as the resident community and local SPNL groups that
have to deal with this crisis while minimizing the environmental impact
on the IBAs. Please send any donation as quickly as possible directly to the Lebanese
Partner, whose details are below. This will make the relief operations
quicker and more effective.

SPNL bank account for cash donations:

Al-Mawarid Bank, s.a.l.

Address: Hamra Branch, Abdel Aziz Street, Beirut, Lebanon

Tel: 961-01-734040 961-03-330821


Account number: 215375 001

Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon-SPNL

Messages, mixed and otherwise

Israeli jets announced Israel’s official acceptance of UN Security Council
Resolution 1701 – calling for a cessation of hostilities – by bombing Beirut’s
southern suburbs 20 times within two minutes.

The Israeli Cabinet’s decision had just appeared as breaking news on the TV
broadcasts when the bombing started. Over the next few minutes – as the
bombs continued to explode, and as the kids ran inside yelling, and as I flipped
through all the channels trying to figure out where they were hitting – the
breaking news continued with the specifications of who had voted how in the Israeli Cabinet.

“The Israeli (BOMB) Cabinet has announced its accep(BOMB)tance of
Resolution (BOMB) 1701. The ceasefire (BA-BOMB) will take effect (BOMB) as
of 0800 tomorr(BOMB-BOMB)ow morning local time (BOMB). The Israeli
Minis(BOMB)ter of Defense abstained (BOMB BA-BOMB) from voting (BOMB).”


The other night, R. tried to talk to an Israeli.

“I figured, the Israeli military is always calling our phone lines with recorded
messages, writing comments on our blogs, dropping flyers onto our streets,
saying they don’t have partners for peace and all that crap… So I decided to
see what they’re like, you know, to talk to them personally.

“So I went onto some of the IRC internet chat rooms and tried to find an
Israeli. But I couldn’t find any Israeli who would agree to chat with me, so
then I entered a chat room called ‘Israel’.

“But I guess the program recognized my internet connection address as coming
from Lebanon, because I didn’t even get a chance to write anything. They
kicked me out, directly.”

“How did they kick you out? The program closed on you?”

“No, they kicked me out, and a box appeared on the screen saying ‘Shit-listed!’”


There’s a new joke going around Beirut.

- What does it mean when Hizbullah leader Nasrallah makes the victory sign on TV?
- That there are still two buildings standing in southern Beirut.


The other day the Israeli army dropped propaganda fliers over Beirut,
again. The message, like always, was about Hizbullah. But it didn’t really

The fliers, white pieces of paper, came drifting down slowly. It was one of the
rare sunny days – most days the skies are full of the smoke from collapsed and
burning buildings – and the papers sparkled in the sun as they fell.
Thousands? Hundred of thousands? Without the context of daily bombings,
atrocities and starving families, it was almost beautiful, like a surreal moment
in an Asian art film.

The sky filled, and still they fell. And then the streets filled with children.
Refugees staying in West Beirut, they ran around, skipping and laughing,
grabbing at the falling papers and spinning around.


So the big international aid agencies have all arrived by now, their fancy
international crisis staff in tow. A friend, a doctor who’s helping coordinate
medicine distribution between the government and the aid agencies, shows up
to dinner in a foul mood.

“These stupid foreigners. They think we’re completely backwards. Don’t they
know that we’re a developed country?

“They don’t know that you can just ask any Lebanese mother which
medications her son needs, and she’ll know. They don’t know that you don’t
need to go around offering immunizations because everyone’s already had their
shots. They don’t know that they don’t need to bring truck drivers to deliver
their medicines because we know how to drive here!

“Would someone please send them a message before they come next time
telling them that Lebanon is not Djibouti?!”

Sonya Knox
West Beirut

Sunday, August 13, 2006

...It is 1984 ...

Okay... The Israeli government agrees to a ceasefire - to start Monday morning.

And in the days hence, what has the Israeli government done?
and Kill again.

I don't understand.

Today alone, the Israeli army destroyed 11 buildings - residential buildings - in the southern district of Beirut. Overly optimistic displaced families - hearing the news of the ceasefire - returned to their homes. They were killed. That was not enough. A hospital was attacked. Intense bombardment in the South. The targets? Civilians. Families. Mothers. Fathers.

Today alone, the Israeli army has destroyed a rubber factory, a paper factory, and a wood-products factory. Are these military targets? We add these destroyed factories to the list of other destroyed factories - including a milk factory.

I don't understand.

There is no military reason for these massacres.
There is only the desire for killing and destroying itself.
Why all this hatred against us?

Forgive me if I'm not being coherent today. There is something intensely illogical that when a government declares there will be a ceasefire, it intensifies the fighting against civilians and against the economic infrastructure before that date. (And there is something quite sad that too many people have come to accept this behavior with outrage.)

The targets that Israel has chosen in this day, this (allegedly) last day before the so-called ceasefire, demonstrate quite clearly the purpose of the Israeli war against Lebanon: to kill and terrorize the Lebanese people, and to weaken the Lebanese economy.

What will it take to cause serious outrage in the world? Do the people killed have to be white?

-Rania Masri

on terrorism and virtue

The last two issues of The London Review of Books have run some excellent pieces on the Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The 3 August issue (Vol. 28 No. 15) has a triptych of articles from Elias Khoury, “Do I see or do I remember?”, Rasha Salti, “Siege Notes” and Karim Makdisi, “How the War Will End” – see:

The 17 August issue has another brace of articles. Particularly impressive is this one from Israeli dissident Yitzhak Laor. It comes to us from our friends at the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel –

You are terrorists, we are virtuous
Yitzhak Laor | London Review of Books | August 17, 2006

As soon as the facts of the Bint Jbeil ambush, which ended with relatively high Israeli casualties (eight soldiers died there), became public, the press and television in Israel began marginalising any opinion that was critical of the war. The media also fell back on the kitsch to which Israelis grow accustomed from childhood: the most menacing army in the region is described here as if it is David against an Arab Goliath. Yet the Jewish Goliath has sent Lebanon back 20 years, and Israelis themselves even further: we now appear to be a lynch-mob culture, glued to our televisions, incited by a premier whose ‘leadership’ is being launched and legitimised with rivers of fire and destruction on both sides of the border. Mass psychology works best when you can pinpoint an institution or a phenomenon with which large numbers of people identify. Israelis identify with the IDF, and even after the deaths of many Lebanese children in Qana, they think that stopping the war without scoring a definitive victory would amount to defeat. This logic reveals our national psychosis, and it derives from our over-identification with Israeli military thinking.

In the melodramatic barrage fired off by the press, the army is assigned the dual role of hero and victim. And the enemy? In Hebrew broadcasts the formulations are always the same: on the one hand ‘we’, ‘ours’, ‘us’; on the other, Nasrallah and Hizbullah. There aren’t, it seems, any Lebanese in this war. So who is dying under Israeli fire? Hizbullah. And if we ask about the Lebanese? The answer is always that Israel has no quarrel with Lebanon. It’s yet another illustration of our unilateralism, the thundering Israeli battle-cry for years: no matter what happens around us, we have the power and therefore we can enforce the logic. If only Israelis could see the damage that’s been done by all these years of unilateral thinking. But we cannot, because the army – which has always been the core of the state – determines the shape of our lives and the nature of our memories, and wars like this one erase everything we thought we knew, creating a new version of history with which we can only concur. If the army wins, its success becomes part of ‘our heritage’. Israelis have assimilated the logic and the language of the IDF – and in the process, they have lost their memories. Is there a better way to understand why we have never learned from history? We have never been a match for the army, whose memory – the official Israeli memory – is hammered into place at the centre of our culture by an intelligentsia in the service of the IDF and the state.

The IDF is the most powerful institution in Israeli society, and one which we are discouraged from criticising. Few have studied the dominant role it plays in the Israeli economy. Even while they are still serving, our generals become friendly with the US companies that sell arms to Israel; they then retire, loaded with money, and become corporate executives. The IDF is the biggest customer for everything and anything in Israel. In addition, our high-tech industries are staffed by a mixture of military and ex-military who work closely with the Western military complex. The current war is the first to become a branding opportunity for one of our largest mobile phone companies, which is using it to run a huge promotional campaign. Israel’s second biggest bank, Bank Leumi, used inserts in the three largest newspapers to distribute bumper stickers saying: ‘Israel is powerful.’ The military and the universities are intimately linked too, with joint research projects and an array of army scholarships.

There is no institution in Israel that can approach the army’s ability to disseminate images and news or to shape a national political class and an academic elite or to produce memory, history, value, wealth, desire. This is the way identification becomes entrenched: not through dictatorship or draconian legislation, but by virtue of the fact that the country’s most powerful institution gets its hands on every citizen at the age of 18. The majority of Israelis identify with the army and the army reciprocates by consolidating our identity, especially when it is – or we are – waging war.

The IDF didn’t play any role in either of the Gulf wars and may not play a part in Bush’s pending war in Iran, but it is on permanent alert for the real war that is always just round the corner. Meanwhile, it harasses Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, to very destructive effect. (In July it killed 176 Palestinians, most of them from the same area in Gaza, in a ‘policing’ operation that included the destruction of houses and infrastructure.) They shoot. They abduct. They use F-16s against refugee camps, tanks against shacks and huts. For years they have operated in this way against gangs and groups of armed youths and children, and they call it a war, a ‘just war’, vital for our existence. The power of the army to produce meanings, values, desire is perfectly illustrated by its handling of the Palestinians, but it would not be possible without the support of the left in Israel.

The mainstream left has never seriously tried to oppose the military. The notion that we had no alternative but to attack Lebanon and that we cannot stop until we have finished the job: these are army-sponsored truths, decided by the military and articulated by state intellectuals and commentators. So are most other descriptions of the war, such as the Tel Aviv academic Yossef Gorni’s statement in Haaretz, that ‘this is our second war of independence.’ The same sort of nonsense was written by the same kind of people when the 2000 intifada began. That was also a war about our right to exist, our ‘second 1948’. These descriptions would not have stood a chance if Zionist left intellectuals – solemn purveyors of the ‘morality of war’ – hadn’t endorsed them.

Military thinking has become our only thinking. The wish for superiority has become the need to have the upper hand in every aspect of relations with our neighbours. The Arabs must be crippled, socially and economically, and smashed militarily, and of course they must then appear to us in the degraded state to which we’ve reduced them. Our usual way of looking at them is borrowed from our intelligence corps, who ‘translate’ them and interpret them, but cannot recognise them as human beings. Israelis long ago ceased to be distressed by images of sobbing women in white scarves, searching for the remains of their homes in the rubble left by our soldiers. We think of them much as we think of chickens or cats. We turn away without much trouble and consider the real issue: the enemy. The Katyusha missiles that have been hitting the north of the country are launched without ‘discrimination’, and in this sense Hizbullah is guilty of a war crime, but the recent volleys of Katyushas were a response to the frenzied assault on Lebanon. To the large majority of Israelis, however, all the Katyushas prove is what a good and necessary thing we have done by destroying our neighbours again: the enemy is indeed dangerous, it’s just as well we went to war. The thinking becomes circular and the prophecies self-fulfilling. Israelis are fond of saying: ‘The Middle East is a jungle, where only might speaks.’ See Qana, and Gaza, or Beirut.

Defenders of Israel and its leaders can always argue that the US and Britain behave similarly in Iraq. (It is true that Olmert and his colleagues would not have acted so shamelessly if the US had not been behind them. Had Bush told them to hold their fire, they wouldn’t have dared to move a single tank.) But there is a major difference. The US and Britain went to war in Iraq without public opinion behind them. Israel went to war in Lebanon, after a border incident which it exploited in order to destroy a country, with the overwhelming support of Israelis, including the members of what the European press calls the ‘peace camp’.

Amos Oz, on 20 July, when the destruction of Lebanon was already well underway, wrote in the Evening Standard: ‘This time, Israel is not invading Lebanon. It is defending itself from a daily harassment and bombardment of dozens of our towns and villages by attempting to smash Hizbullah wherever it lurks.’ Nothing here is distinguishable from Israeli state pronouncements. David Grossman wrote in the Guardian, again on 20 July, as if he were unaware of any bombardment in Lebanon: ‘There is no justification for the large-scale violence that Hizbullah unleashed this week, from Lebanese territory, on dozens of peaceful Israeli villages, towns and cities. No country in the world could remain silent and abandon its citizens when its neighbour strikes without any provocation.’ We can bomb, but if they respond they are responsible for both their suffering and ours. And it’s important to remember that ‘our suffering’ is that of poor people in the north who cannot leave their homes easily or quickly. ‘Our suffering’ is not that of the decision-makers or their friends in the media. Oz also wrote that ‘there can be no moral equation between Hizbullah and Israel. Hizbullah is targeting Israeli civilians wherever they are, while Israel is targeting mostly Hizbullah.’ At that time more than 300 Lebanese had been killed and 600 had been injured. Oz went on: ‘The Israeli peace movement should support Israel’s attempt at self-defence, pure and simple, as long as this operation targets mostly Hizbullah and spares, as much as possible, the lives of Lebanese civilians (this is not always an easy task, as Hizbullah missile-launchers often use Lebanese civilians as human sandbags).’

The truth behind this is that Israel must always be allowed to do as it likes even if this involves scorching its supremacy into Arab bodies. This supremacy is beyond discussion and it is simple to the point of madness. We have the right to abduct. You don’t. We have the right to arrest. You don’t. You are terrorists. We are virtuous. We have sovereignty. You don’t. We can ruin you. You cannot ruin us, even when you retaliate, because we are tied to the most powerful nation on earth. We are angels of death.

The Lebanese will not remember everything about this war. How many atrocities can a person keep in mind, how much helplessness can he or she admit, how many massacres can people tell their children about, how many terrorised escapes from burning houses, without becoming a slave to memory? Should a child keep a leaflet written by the IDF in Arabic, in which he is told to leave his home before it’s bombed? I cannot urge my Lebanese friends to remember the crimes my state and its army have committed in Lebanon.

Israelis, however, have no right to forget. Too many people here supported the war. It wasn’t just the nationalist religious settlers. It’s always easy to blame the usual suspects for our misdemeanours: the scapegoating of religious fanatics has allowed us to ignore the role of the army and its advocates within the Zionist left. This time we have seen just how strongly the ‘moderates’ are wedded to immoderation, even though they knew, before it even started, that this would be a war against suburbs and crowded areas of cities, small towns and defenceless villages. The model was our army’s recent actions in Gaza: Israeli moderates found these perfectly acceptable.

It was a mistake for those of us who are unhappy with our country’s policies to breathe a sigh of relief after the army withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. We thought that the names of Sabra and Shatila would do all the memorial work that needed to be done and that they would stand, metonymically, for the crimes committed in Lebanon by Israel. But, with the withdrawal from Gaza, many Israelis who should be opposing this war started to think of Ariel Sharon, the genius of Sabra and Shatila, as a champion of peace. The logic of unilateralism – of which Sharon was the embodiment – had at last prevailed: Israelis are the only people who count in the Middle East; we are the only ones who deserve to live here.

This time we must try harder to remember. We must remember the crimes of Olmert, and of our minister of justice, Haim Ramon, who championed the destruction of Lebanese villages after the ambush at Bint Jbeil, and of the army chief of staff, Dan Halutz. Their names should be submitted to The Hague so they can be held accountable.

Elections are a wholly inadequate form of accountability in Israel: the people we kill and maim and ruin cannot vote here. If we let our memories slacken now, the machine-memory will reassert control and write history for us. It will glide into the vacuum created by our negligence, with the civilised voice of Amos Oz easing its path, and insert its own version. And suddenly we will not be able to explain what we know, even to our own children.

In Israel there is still no proper history of our acts in Lebanon. Israelis in the peace camp used to carry posters with the figure ‘680’ on them – the number of Israelis who died during the 1982 invasion. Six hundred and eighty Israeli soldiers. How many members of that once sizeable peace camp protested about the tens of thousands of Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian casualties? Isn’t the failure of the peace camp a result of its inability to speak about the cheapness of Arab blood? General Udi Adam, one of the architects of the current war, has told Israelis that we shouldn’t count the dead. He meant this very seriously and Israelis should take him seriously. We should make it our business to count the dead in Lebanon and in Israel and, to the best of our abilities, to find out their names, all of them.

3 August

Yitzhak Laor lives in Tel Aviv.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Hummers and have-nots

Before this war began the Lebanese business community were hoping this summer would prove that the country’s economy was back on the road to recovery after the upheavals of last year. Oil cash was flowing into the country and scores of luxury apartments and gated communities were planned. The smart downtown district was packed with flush Arab tourists who come here in their thousands to escape the oppressive summer heat of the Gulf and enjoy the libertine atmosphere of Beirut.

But all that is now gone and understandably there is anger at Hizbullah for dragging the country into a war that has destroyed this. Thousands of Gulf tourists and foreigners have fled the country, downtown Beirut, the showcase of Rafik Hariri’s reconstruction efforts is deserted and cash machines have stopped issuing dollars because people were hoarding hard currency.

Once again the media has portrayed Lebanon as a place of death and destruction, a clichéé that the country has worked so hard to shake off. Although investors in Lebanon have proven themselves to be a hardy bunch it remains to be seen whether they are willing to risk their money in a country that can be plunged into war overnight.

But there is a lesson to be learnt here that has been ignored repeatedly though out Lebanon’s history. Put simply, the country’s laissez faire system has ignored huge sections of the population and while many here have a great deal at stake in the country’s economy there are many more who don’t.

Beirut is a tale of two cities, and although the western media lapped up the pictures of pretty girls demonstrating against the Syrians in last year’s “Cedar revolution”, there is another side to the place that is ignored. Less than three miles from the luxury shops and Sushi restaurants of Downtown lie the southern suburbs, an area made up mostly of Shia, Hizbullah’s support base and the largest and most marginalized community in the country. Before the 1975-1990 civil war this area used to be known as the “belt of misery”” and although conditions have improved since then it is still a deprived place. Power supplies are sporadic, the streets are full of pot holes and government services are lacking. State control is weaker here and during the recent World Cup, tracer fire could be seen weaving up from the area every time Germany or Brazil won. The place is a world away from the corporate internationalism of the Downtown area that is advertised on CNN.

Although the southern suburbs is a diverse area and it would be foolish to speak for all of its inhabitants, one can say that complaints about the loss of tourism dollars were likely lost on many here. They do not own hotels or restaurants in downtown, have stakes in banks or have the wasta (political influence) that would get them a job that pays a decent wage. Many people here live on little more than $200 a month which for a family in Lebanon doesn’t go very far at all.

These people are made to pay for services that they don’t get. There is no income tax in Lebanon and in order to service the country’s $36 billion debt, the government has put 10% VAT on consumer goods as well as tax on other services. While Lebanon’s rich can easily afford to pay these increases and are probably very happy that they don’t pay income tax, for someone who earns $200 a month 10 percent on their shopping bill is a lot.

The debt was incurred during the post-war government in building prestige projects that would put Lebanon back on the international map and much of it was wasted by venal contracting and plain theft. Most of this debt is owed internally to Lebanese banks who have been doing very well out of lending the government money at very good rates. Lebanon has over 60 banks, and if were not for the business that the country’s debt payments brings then there would probably be far fewer.

The whole thing stinks of a scam and unsurprisingly the country’s poor are angry that they paying for something that they don’t benefit from nor have much say in.

In the midst of all this sleaze, Hizbullah stands out as the one party that doesn’t indulge (too much) in corruption and it attaches great importance to this image, acutely aware of how unhappy the Shia, and all of Lebanon’s sects, are with their dirty politicians.

Furthermore, Hizbullah is not only a militia but also a popular political party, and where the government falls short Hizbullah has stepped in and the party runs hospitals and schools in the southern suburbs and Shia areas around the country. When this current conflict comes to an end Hizbullah will likely step in and distribute aid from Iran among the hundreds of thousands of refugees and those who have lost houses in the Israeli bombardment. This will only serve to strengthen the party further.

Most Lebanese agree that this disparity between rich and poor was a reason behind the civil war, which in the beginning was as much about class struggle as it was about sectarianism. But despite this hard learned lesson, the Lebanese government appeared to be make exactly the same mistake in the post-war period. Now the middle class has gradually disappeared and has been replaced by Hummers and have-nots, the ostentatious rich and the invisible poor.

Although it is unrealistic to expect the Lebanese government to overcome the crippling internal divides it must find a way of taking responsibility for all its citizens. If this were to happen then perhaps this country could avoid the kind of incendiary politics that led to the current impasse. The southern suburbs are not the only area of the country that is deprived and much of the rural areas in fact face a lack of services. Protecting the interests of the hoteliers and bankers is not protecting the interests of all Lebanese. If the country’s poor had something at stake in the country’s economy then they might have more interest in safeguarding it.

Christian Henderson, Beirut, Lebanon

Global Lebanon Web Jam - 12aug, 15:00 - 19:00 PM

>>>Mrabba Electroni[c]que: Global Lebanon Web Jam. Stop the war!>>>

!!!!please note time change!!!!!!!

Saturday, August 12 2006, 15:00 - 19:00 PM CEST [--> 16:00 - 20:00 EEST]

Live audio/video streaming transmission from Waag Society in Amsterdam, in direct connection with Beirut and surrounding localities. The event was initiated by Streamtime, a web support campaign for Iraqi bloggers.

After one month of violence and carnage, this Global Web Jam brings together live interviews and conversations, video clips, cartoons and blog blurbs, soundscapes, DJs and VJs, a lively mix of information, art, protest, party and reflection. We feature the voices, images stories, reports and initiatives from Lebanon and beyond, with participation of activists, artists, bloggers, journalists, musicians and many others.

This is a call for an immediate end to the violence and destruction, in defiance of war, and in search for solidarity.

With contributions and participation of: Wahid el-Solh, Mounira el-Solh, Sonya Knox, Naeem Mohaiemen, Kanj Hamadi, Jim Quilty, Randa Mirza, Mazen Kerbaj, Raed Yassin, Charbel Haber, Nathalie Fallaha, Henri Gemayel, Fadi Tufayli, Tariq Shadid, Peter Speetjens, Chalaan Charif, Martin Siepermann, Arjan El Fassed, Ruud Huurman, Kadir van Lohuizen, Thomas Burkhalter and Anna Trechsel, Beirut DC, Tarek Atoui and many others.

This Global Web Jam is an initiative of Jo van der Spek, Geert Lovink and Cecile Landman (from Streamtime), Nat Muller, Paul Keller and Denis Jaromil Rojo in Amsterdam; and Tarek Atoui and Rawya el-Chab in Beirut.

info: | mail:

This project is supported by Waag Society, Novib (Dutch Oxfam) and X-Y Solidarity Fund

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Broummana Diary

Now I’m home.
Really home.
I can settle down in my native country, the greatest country the world has ever seen, and follow the news of the war that uprooted me from what had been a cozy little living in Broummana, Lebanon. Actually, it’s a full-time job to figure out what is happening in the land of the cedars, the country I have left temporarily. Here in Central California, the land of grapes and raisins, I’ve become a hard-core news junkie, searching for my hourly fix of the latest developments in the war between Israel and Hizbullah.

Boy, did I have it wrong. First of all, there’s that nasty old al-Jazeera. I can’t believe I wasted 20 fucking years of my life studying and learning Arabic. All I got out of it was the false belief that this fighting had something to do with, well, for example, the promotional spot that al-Jazeera had come up with: “The Sixth War Between Israel and an Arab Side,” if you accept a quasi-literal translation. Over at al-Jazeera they’re fiendishly clever, that’s for sure. They thought they had produced a slick title since it covers all of the major conflicts that have broken out since 1947, when the United Nations stuffed Palestine in a box and told the world, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, watch me saw this lady in half.” They should have just given the whole piece of territory to the Zionists and prevented all these troubles. After all, the Zionist settlers had shown up there, hadn’t they? They did take the trouble of actually going to Palestine, and claiming it, so why shouldn’t they get the whole thing? If the UN had been a bit more courageous and stood up to Kofi Annan, or whoever was in charge then, we could have avoided all of these headaches. The problem was that the UN didn’t have the guts to pass a clear, unambiguous resolution outlawing the Palestinians, and recognizing only Israelis and their right to exist. In fact, if the world community had shown a bit more imagination and foresight, it would have acted before the Zionist movement even showed up. All you had to do was set up a big trap door under Palestine, pull the lever, and whoosh, all the people disappear. And then the Zionist settlers could have arrived safely and we wouldn’t have any refugee or terrorist problems today.

But that’s all water under the bridge, whether or not it’s been bombed. There was the war back in 1948, and then there was
*1956, when the mighty superpower known as Egypt under Gamal Abdel-Nasser was threatening to let loose a storm of blood and fire that would have wiped the UK, France and the junior G-men squad in Israel out of existence. So they had no choice but to attack Egypt. First, of course.
*1967, when Israel launched a surprise self-defense attack, or defense of surprise attack, an attack of not-so-surprise defensiveness, or something like that, in the war to end all wars, at the time.
*1973, when Egypt and Syria tried to recover their occupied territory from Israel, but in a cunning attempt to confuse the Jewish state, decided not to tell each other what they really wanted to do, or how.
*1982, when a bunch of Palestinians who were bored with living in their own country and had taken over Lebanon, where the night-life was better, decided to threaten Israel with total and complete annihilation, with the rest of the world backing their evil plan. But in a big miscalculation by the Palestinians, the World Cup was taking place, so no one ended up helping them out. Israel was forced to kill nearly 20,000 terrorists in Lebanon, to beat back that life-threatening, um, threat.
*And this time, 2006, is War number 6. What a confusing bunch of crap. I’m glad I’m back home, since CNN can just sum it up for me: “Mid-East Crisis.” On Fox News, it’s “Mideast Turmoil.” Now these are ideas we can understand over here. It’s the crazy old Middle East, there’s a crisis or turmoil of some kind, like bad weather or something, and it’s certainly not a case of the Israelis calling everybody in the world a terrorist or aspiring terrorist and shooting people who are much weaker than they are, who can’t fight back in any serious way, in the heads. In the back. In the face. With internationally banned weapons. Nope, that’s not what’s happening. And describing such a thing would require a silly title, like “The Israeli Butchery Show, Thanks to American Self-Delusion, Indulgence and Weapons Technology.” Nope, “Mid-East Crisis” is much more accurate. And it’s also easier to say.

When I was living in Lebanon I wasted so much time looking at all that coverage, all of those photos of dead Lebanese and others who were in the wrong place, etc. They looked like they had been killed in pretty graphic ways, and I saw those images of corpses, and parts of corpses, with the guts and brains hanging out. And then there was that doctored photo, you know, the one with the smoke? Those crafty Lebanese were actually trying to fool the world into sympathizing with them by making the smoke over the southern suburbs of Beirut look a slightly darker shade of gray, or even black! Because if the world had seen very dark gray smoke, and not medium-gray smoke, the outcry would have been enormous and stopped Israel from any further terrorist cleansing operations. Now the shock of war is fading for me, as I recover my wits back home… I’m beginning to remember that earlier this summer, I overheard Lebanese, especially the Hizbullah people I know, whispering things about producing hundreds and hundreds of stuffed humans, basically cloth fixed up and painted up to look like dead people, to be used if the Israelis were to attack. I mean, they were saying, that “when Iran and Syria push the remote control button on the 12th of July and send that robot patrol of Israeli soldiers near the Blue Line, for us to act like we’re capturing it, we’d better have those stuffed people corpses ready to go, because all those gullible international journalists are going to show up.” Of course, it sounded so far-fetched at the time, but if I had reported it then, I could have had a real scoop. If you think about it, the cloth dummies that are supposedly “corpses” are pretty easy to spot: some of them come in these weird shades, not the kind of colors you see when people are killed normally, and they have all these strange spots and markings, like the cloth had been left too close to a kind of, um, chemical fire, for example. It’s an obvious giveaway that they’re not normal dead people.

Marlin Dick, west of the Litani River (near Fresno, California)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Israel "warns" journalists

To members of the foreign press,

The IDF has announced a limitation on travel in any kind of vehicle in all areas south of the Litani River in Lebanon. The limitation took effect at 22:00 on August 7, 2006, and will remain in effect until further notice.

Information regarding the limitations was communicated to the population in southern Lebanon via media outlets and leaflets as well as through local channels.

Passage of humanitarian convoys continues throughout all of Lebanon in coordination with the IDF.

We would like to stress that these limitations apply to journalists as well.

Please understand that this is a combat zone from which terrorists operate, and as such, we cannot guarantee the safety of journalists in the area.

In fact, we have asked civilians in the area to leave for their own safety.

The IDF will do its utmost to keep civilians, and journalists among them, out of harm's way.

However, we are obligated to remind you that journalists are acting at their own risk and are requested to comply with the recommendations provided to the civilian population.

We urge you also to heed the advice of your own country's consular advisors as to safety during the conflict.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Party for peace

What to do?

"What to do?" That is the recurring question.
"I feel helpless, what can I do?"
"What good would any of it do? This war is bigger than any of us."


What we know for a fact is that doing nothing will result in nothing.
Doing something will result in the possibility of a positive change.
A possibility.
Given the assault, the aggression, given the need, a possibility is a rather large re-assurance.

So, what to do?

Previously, I listed funding options. If any of you want a list of where to send your money to agencies doing necessary work on the ground in taking care of the displaced, email me.

What is most critical in the actions that we do is that we do not decontextualize. The 1 in 4 Lebanese that are displaced are displaced as a direct result of the US/Israeli bombs, the US/Israeli attacks.

And there is more.

See: to read about a civilian convoy that is planned to break the isolation of the south and to demonstrate solidarity. Want to join us?

And see: for video presentations of protests around the world calling on an immediate ceasefire.

And, above all, believe in the power to change.
Perhaps we won't be able to stop the assault, to stop the war. Perhaps.
Perhaps we will.

Perhaps we won't be able to reach out to the almost one million displaced.
But we can definitely reach out to a few.

-Rania Masri

More of the same

In the past few days, we've had more of the same. "More of the same."
* More of our roads destroyed. Friday morning, I awoke to the news that the highway from the North to Beirut was bombed in three places, rendering movement from the North to Beirut difficult. The Civil Defense Forces then closed the sea-road (the longer, older path) on Friday due to fears for people's security. I felt trapped. Trapped out of my capital. Trapped out of my city.
The sea-road has since been opened. The 1 hour drive from the North (specifically, the northern point of El Koura) to Beirut (hamra) took 2 hours on Saturday. But there was a road. As I was driving down, I thought of each bridge I was crossing and noted that if the (US-supported) Israelis were to destroy this bridge, movement would really be crippled. What would I rather - be trapped outside Beirut or trapped inside Beirut?
Since then, other roads, other bridges, have been bombed. Their existence rendered too destructive to the Israeli-sense of security.

* More massacres. More massacres. Do not think only of Qana. Remmber, the Qana massacre was not the first massacre in this US/Israeli war on Lebanon. And the aggressors have made sure that it would not be the last massacre. After Qana, the Israelis gave us the Qaa massacre (in el Beka'a). 33 farm workers, 33 laborers, killed. In broad daylight. In two attacks. One after the other. While they were picking fruit amidst a clear fruit orchard. In northern Lebanon. What excuse will the Israelis use now? There were Hezbollah fighters hiding amidst the trees? These fruits may be eaten by someone who supports the national resistance? What rubbish will be given - has been given - and swallowed by the US mainstream press as the truth? And after the Qaa massacre, the Israelis gave us the Hula massacre in the South. 3 residential buidings destroyed. The number of killed is still unknown. The number trapped in the buildings still ranges from 50 to 70. Are they alive? Are they suffocating? Are they dead? And then the Israelis gave us the Shiyah massacre in Beirut. 200 people have fled from their homes in al Shiyah to join the hundreds of others now seeking shelter in a park in Beirut.

What will the Israelis give us today? What will the Israelis give us tomorrow?

-Rania Masri
El Koura, Lebanon
(still traveling to Beirut)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Biq‘a diary, 2

“that’s it. stop here.”

the BMDahiyyeh grinds to a halt. its contents – a theology student from juba and a trio of hacks (dutch, canadian and scots) – look up from their conversation. so do the pair of lebanese army soldiers standing on the side of the road. the theology student reverses the few dozen metres that would put you within walking distance of the ruined carapace that used to be Liban Lait.

you’d never been here before, but you immediately recognise “Candia”, lebanon’s most popular brand of uht milik – the tetrapack stuff that, by some ghoulish cunning that you prefer not to contemplate, has been processed so that it never seems to spoil.

as soon as you climb out of the car, the soldiers ask what you want. you reach for your passports and explain that you’re journalists from beirut, in the biq‘a to look at the bomb sites. you’ll have to get permission from their co, they explain.

“it’s not that we don’t want you to look …” one apologises.

the army is based in a large if nondescript-looking building next door to liban lait. the CO, dressed in fatigues and olive drab tee shirt strides across the parking lot to greet you, smiling broadly. the scot explains why you’re nosing around and the CO bursts into a chorus of “ahalan wa sahalan” [“you are welcome”].

on your way back to liban lait, it occurs to you how odd it is that, with the country at war, a milk factory gets taken out of commission while the army headquarters next door remains untouched.

it’s one of the eccentricities of this country that the lebanese army isn’t really a fighting institution but a political one – one of the few in the country where lebanese mix at a inter-sectarian level.

the army was more or less neutral during the ‘58 troubles, for instance, and sat out most of the 1975-1990 civil war. when it did get involved, in the wake of the israel invasion of 1982, it splintered into sectarian kindling.

the army rarely even really gets involved in repressing civil unrest – if you put aside the odd bit of unfortunate bloodshed, like in the southern suburb of hayy al-silloum a couple of years ago. that job falls to the troops in the internal security forces.

this isn’t the army’s war but hizbullah’s. that’s not to say the army hasn’t been taken some losses in this conflict.

the israelis have killed over a dozen soldiers, often in their barracks. it’s assumed, without hard evidence, that the army positions are hit because they were coordinating with the resistance.

on the other hand, given the patina of psychological warfare that’s tinged so much of this offensive, it may be that israel targeted the army to alienate the army leadership and rank-and-file from hizbullah – which, according to the israeli state’s narrative of this conflict, is responsible for lebanon’s present suffering.

then again, the air attacks have been so indiscriminate outside of beirut that the israeli air force can hardly be expected to care if it takes out a few soldiers as well.

a moustachioed liban lait employee peers out from a guardhouse-like structure to tell the scot that the plant manager will be waiting for you at the factory. he isn’t, but the skeleton crew manning a second security gate eventually let you through anyway.

the most high-profile plant to be bombed in the biq‘a, liban lait’s products can be found in kitchens all over the country. a local concern, it employed 400 people, once you included those involved in distribution.

the place is still burning here and there when you arrive. a couple of you pick your way through a breached wall and stick your nose into the production area. a mass of twisted metal, melted plastic-and-cardboard packaging and ash greets you. the site is thick with flies, feeding off milk spoiled in the intense heat.

a matter-of-fact crater has been sunk deep into the ground where the factory floor used to be. when you lose patience with trying to capture the scale of the hole, you wander through the rubble to examine the back of the factory.

unlike the production floor, the warehouse hasn’t been bombed and you stand there in the midst of an odd incongruity. it’s not unlike standing on your terrace in beirut – so far exempted from israell’s air war on lebanon’s civilians – looking on as the dahiyyeh is systematically destroyed.

reminded of beirut, you recall that the tawwaniyyeh in sabra [the co-op grocery store closest your flat] has been sold out of candia uht milk since the first week of the attacks. it only sells powdered milk now.

you walk outside and the others join you.

“there’s scads of milk here. should we take some with us?”

“that’s war profiteering,” the netherlander says immediately.

“i’m not going to profit from it,” you reply. “i’m going to put it in my coffee.”

“yeah,” says the scot. “go on, then.”

“i wouldn’t,” rejoins the theology student. “there’s cameras all over the place.”

the theological argument wins the day and you leave liban lait, sans lait, to search out Maliban.


Maliban glass factory has been something of a rarity in lebanon. in an economy where the tertiary-sector rules, maliban was an industrial success story - both in the biq‘a and the region.

the region's second-biggest glassworks, it shipped glass products around the region, with customers in egypt, jordan, syria and turkey. servicing a-list companies like coca-cola, the factory worked 24 hours a day, it had so many orders. production, you’re told, came to some 200 tons a day.

“i came back here to work 41 years ago," says Salah Barake, surveying the ruin before him. “they destroyed it in two minutes. millions of dollars wasted." Barake is, or rather was the glassworks’ floor manager.

maliban was one of five biq‘a factories destroyed in the israeli onslaught. the attacks have been at their most ferocious in shia regions, and the biq‘a, with its mixed shia-sunni-christian population hasn't been spared.

it's obvious from a distance that maliban was bombed, but it is only from within that it's possible to see how exacting the attack was. Barake leads you up two flights of stairs to the roof of maliban's offices, where it's possible to gaze down upon the ruined factory floor.

from this vantage, it's impossible to discern what this space was used for. all that's visible is churned-up soil with twisted metal, powdered glass and wrecked machinery. it is possible to discern the cause of the disruption, though: four or five distinct craters have been gouged out of the floor. Barake reckons there may have been as many as six bombs altogether.

"the planes came around 12.45, so most people were at lunch, fortunately. two people were killed, indians, and two injured. if they had come an hour earlier or later it would have been a massacre. you see," he points to the far side of the factory floor, "they even destroyed the workers' residence.

"i don't understand why they bombed this place," he says quietly. "we don't look to anyone. we have christian employees and muslim, sunni and shia. all we did was do good work."

israel claims to be destroying hizbullah infrastructure with its air attacks, but the targeting of lebanese industry betrays a more cynical reasoning: since hizbullah fighters are difficult to find, the israeli military is systematically punishing the shia community, much of which provides hizbullah's constituency. maliban was destroyed because it employed shia.

Barake turns away from the chaos and his eyes fall upon a 15-meter-long steel beam, now resting at his feet. "this piece of metal came from below – "he gestures to the factory floor. "how many tons of explosive did it take to blow this up here?"

maliban was founded by anglo-indian investor Manubhai Madhvani, whose family made its fortune in uganda. the factory employed between 380 and 400 workers – though Barake points out that the knock-on impact of maliban was much greater. "when you include casual labour, drivers, those who provided sand for production ... many more people benefited from this company."

another big-ticket victim of the israeli attack was Dalal industries, a multi-faceted factory whose products include prefabricated homes and which directly employed 400 workers. one of dalal’s biggest customers, amusingly enough, is the american military in iraq and afghanistan.

the impact of this war upon biq‘a's working class has been devastating. one estimate has it that 1,500 biq‘a residents have lost their source of livelihood.

Barake has led you down from the roof to the factory floor.

it's impossible to penetrate far past the wreckage. "you laugh and cry after this," he says. "you laugh because you're alive. you cry because everything is finished."

he reckons the impact of the war goes far beyond industry.

"the people who work in the fields here are in terrible shape," he says. "with the roads bombed, they can't get their produce to market."

the netherlander asks Barake if all this has made him angry at hizbullah.

"i'm angry at myself for being here," he laughs, "and not someplace else."


Jim Quilty

Two views on Israel's military offensive in Lebanon

Palestinian historian and activist Bishara Doumani, these days in Nablus, provided these two very interesting analyses on the Israeli military offensive.

Michael Davie is a historical geographer (among other things), who is now in Beirut.

Uri Avnery is the head of a small but most determined and consistent peace movement in Israel. He has been around for a long time, fought in many wars, and knows the players very well. Of course, he has an axe to grind with the political establishment and that can be see from the tone of his essay. Nevertheless, the insider's perspective and the insistence that this war is just as much about ineptness as it is about grand strategies are worth reading.

A view from Beirut

To date, the Israeli strategy in Lebanon has not shown any tactical or strategic surprises or innovations. It is being lead as a classical military operation against regular armed forces, with the destruction of bridges, roads, telecommunication infrastructures, depots, and command centres. The premise is that Hizballah is a “classical”, “normal” enemy, that can be defeated by “classical” and “normal” means: total command of the skies, massive armoured movements, saturation artillery, well-trained infantry. Thus, by destroying the bridges and roads, no supplies or reinforcements can be sent from central depots or barracks to the various fronts. By destroying the telecoms, no orders can be sent to the local commanders. By destroying the deep bunkers of the military HQ, and thus by killing the officers, the chain of command is decapitated.

Also, by destroying Lebanon’s economic capacity (factories, agricultural produce) and by displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians the State would surrender on Israel’s terms, i.e. order Lebanon to forcefully engage Hizballah to disarm it.

However, Hizballah is not a classical army. It is not even organized in the usual pyramid-shaped command structure. It has no central HQ. It has no chief of staff as such. It has no permanent barracks. It has no tanks, no navy, no airforce, no transport trucks, no nuclear capability, no arms of massive destruction; no drones. Its communications are not entirely based on military equipment. Its intelligence does not rely on the myth of constant and omniscient surveillance. Its “soldiers” are neither conscripts nor full-time.

As such, any “classical” tactics are bound to be inadequate: large-scale tank manoeuvres, beach landings, helicopter attacks or paratroop descents would be of little tactical use. The failure of the Golani Brigade to take Bint Jbail using classical tactics is an indication of the problems encountered.

It was only at the end of the first week of aerial bombing and artillery barrages that the Israelis discovered to their surprise that Hizballah was completely intact. Its stock of ground-to-ground missiles was intact, as was the capability of the local commanders to lob them deep into Northern Israel. There could thus be no quick, classical “military” solution, as was the case in 1982, on exactly the same terrain, against the PLO and the Syrian Army.

For the first time, the Israeli Army was confronted by a well-trained armed group, perfectly familiar with the local terrain, with a very clear ideology to which all of its members totally adhered. Its military intelligence is superior to that of most Arab armies, its theoretical and strategic thinking is sophisticated. Its organization and planning is superior and not at all comparable to, say, the PLO’s, or even to Hamas’s or the Al-Aqsa Brigades. In the field, it does not need sophisticated communications equipment (and thus vulnerable to electronic countermeasures). Hizballah has digested the experience of many wars: from the Vietnamese to the Iran-Iraq conflict, for example. But also the Yougoslav conflict, and the Iraqi insurrection. It learnt from the successes and mistakes of the PLO in Lebanon, but also of the Intifadas and the on-going actions in Palestine. It’s fighters have no fear of death, quite the contrary, and their commitment to defending their allotted military position is total.

For these reasons, Israel’s military war against Hizballah (Israel’s political war against the Shias and against the Lebanese power structure is a different point all together) will certainly be bloody and difficult. Their failure to take Bint Jbail can be put forward as an example of the difficulties on the field ; their reliance on massive air strikes to prepare a (failed) raid on Baalbek is also an example. Their very slow progress to occupy villages just one or two kilometers from the frontier, even after massive air strikes and artillery barrages, are other examples. All Hizballah leaders, interviewed by the Lebanese and international media have given the same message: “we are ready and we will resist for a very long time if the Israelis think they can dislodge us quickly”. This, of course, is a psychological problem for the morale of the Israeli civilian population, which has massively abandoned the North of Israel for (up-to-now) safer places in Central or Southern Israel. This surprise and would partially explain some of the completely militarily-useless actions taken by the Israeli forces: the destruction of factories, diaries, wheat silos, medicine depots and transport, well-drilling equipment, etc. The destruction of fuel tanks for an electricity station at Jiyeh was completed by the targetting of its anti-pollution walls, creating the worst ecological disaster in the Eastern Mediterranean (and also militarily counterproductive for any planned amphibious landing). One can only explain these actions, and that of the Cana massacre, as a loss of nerve by the higher-echelon officers, who saw, to their horror, that their well-oiled plan wasn’t working.

Seen from Beirut, the Israeli plan to “finish” the Hizballah in 10 days brings amused smiles to many observers. The Israeli claims that the stockpile of missiles has been reduced to critical levels seems contradicted by even heavier and deeper daily volleys into Northern and Central Israel (Afula, Beisan).

Claims of extensive deaths in Hizballah’s ranks are either unverified by neutral observers, or turn out to be civilians killed in their houses or shelters, as confirmed by the Red Cross. While, undoubtedly, some Hizballah fighters have been killed or wounded (probably on the same ratio as the Israeli military casualties) their numbers are still intact, especially where ground combat has not taken place (between Bint Jbail and the Litani, the coastal plan to the South of Saida, Southern, Central and Northern Bekaa, the suburbs of Beirut). Hisballah has also come out on top of the psychological war in Lebanon itself. The blanket sending of SMS propaganda messages and telephone calls to the Lebanese, or the hacking of al-Manar television for a few minutes, has not changed the Lebanese’s positive attitude towards Hizballah’s military actions.

This, of course, brings us to the point of the missiles sent into Israel. If the Israeli Army can advance further than the few kilometers around Taibe, Houle, Maroun al-Ras, Marouahine, etc. it still has to confront forces deployed further back, either South of the Litani (the general area around Tibnine, the coastal plain, Tyre or the Marjayoun-Ain Ebel-Khiam triangle)or North (Nabatiye, the hills blocking the access to the Bekaa). These are the main advance routes used ever since Pharaonic times, so there can be no strategic surprises; these are also the exact same routes used by the Israelis since 1978. But the problem of the missiles will not be solved by occupying these areas. The option of pushing up to Rayak, Baalbek or Hermel (ie occupying all of the Bekaa, and thus half of Lebanon) seems improbable. Advancing up the Bekaa (in pure “classical” military style, as was the case in 1918, 1943, 1978, 1982 etc.) implies a “classical” war between armies, which is not the case today. It also brings strategic centres such as Damascus and Homs (Syria’s petrochemical and industrial centre) unacceptably close to Israel’s army with the risk of an all-out regional conflict. While the Hizballah missiles might now be out of range of Israel, the Israeli Army would now be in very close range of Syria’s own missiles, whose deployment there are not contravened by the 1974 disengagement agreements over the Joulan/Golan. The Israel itself and the Israeli forces in Lebanon would also be in close range of the Syrian SCUDS.

But of course, one could also suggest that the Israelis should lunge even deeper into Syria (Hama, Aleppo, Soueida) to get rid of the Syrian missile threat… but that would put these forces into an even closer position vis a vis the Iranian missiles. Et cetera, ad infinitum.

Whatever the case, Israel would still have to control the territory it managed to occupy. While it’s troops battle against small, but determined positions in house to house and hand to hand combat, their positions would suffer by roadside attacks, snipers, and possibly even suicide operations, all reminiscences of the previous Israeli occupation of Lebanon.

Several questions emerge. The excuse of the two soldiers abducted on the frontier (the official Israeli excuse for the war) is of course secondary, and only used for internal propaganda. The real reason for the destruction of Lebanon must be sought elsewhere, with C. Rice and G.W. Bush giving tell-tale hints about a ‘New Middle East’ being prepared in Washington with Israel being used as the local military vector. However, “crushing Hizballah’s military capacity” could take months, with no real long-term solution in sight, creating a real internal political, psychological, ideological and economic problem in Israel.

One could of course ask whether it was really worth it: surely the points of contention between Israel and the Hizballah (or between Lebanon and Israel) could have been settled by negotiation. It’s all about Lebanese prisoners still in Israel in spite of decisions by the Israeli High Court to free them; of continual and daily overflights of Lebanon by reconnaissance aircraft or of intrusiuons in its territorial waters; of killing of Lebanese and Palestinian activists in Lebanon; of the question of the Chebaa farms; of details along the Blue Line. The fact that this solution was not chosen by the Israeli power structure (who reject even the notion of a cease-fire even after international condemnation for the Cana massacre) points to a lack of understanding that the type of war has changed. It is not a classical war (as was the case in 1967 and 1973), nore an insurrection (the Intifadas), nor a guerilla war of liberation (the PLO in Jordan or Lebanon before 1982). One side is ready, the other not.

So the game will be played not in the field, but by diplomacy.

Michael Davie
2 August 2006.


The Day After the War

The day after the war will be the Day of the Long Knives.

Everybody will blame everybody else. The politicians will blame each other. The generals will blame each other. The politicians will blame the generals. And, most of all, the generals will blame the politicians.

Always, in every country and after every war, when the generals fail, the "knife in the back" legend raises its head. If only the politicians had not stopped the army just when it was on the point of achieving a glorious, crushing, historic victory.

That's what happened in Germany after World War I, when the legend gave birth to the Nazi movement. That's what happened in America after Vietnam. That's what is going to happen here. The first stirrings can already be felt.

The simple truth is that up to now, the 22nd day of the war, not one single military target has been reached. The same army that took just six days to rout three big Arab armies in 1967 has not succeeded in overcoming a small "terrorist organization" in a time span that is already longer than the momentous Yom Kippur War. Then, the army succeeded in just 20 days in turning a stunning defeat at the beginning into a resounding military victory at the end.

In order to create an image of achievement, military spokesmen asserted yesterday that "we have succeeded in killing 200 [or 300, or 400, who is counting?] of the 1,000 fighters of Hezbollah." The assertion that the entire terrifying Hezbollah consisted of one thousand fighters speaks for itself.

According to correspondents, President Bush is frustrated. The Israeli army has not "delivered the goods." Bush sent them into war believing that the powerful army, equipped with the most advanced American arms, would "finish the job" in a few days. It was supposed to eliminate Hezbollah, turn Lebanon over to the stooges of the U.S., weaken Iran, and perhaps also open the way to "regime change" in Syria. No wonder that Bush is angry.

Ehud Olmert is even more furious. He went to war in high spirits and with a light heart, because the air force generals had promised to destroy Hezbollah and their rockets within a few days. Now he is stuck in the mud, no victory in sight.

As usual with us, at the termination of the fighting (and possibly even before) the War of the Generals will start. The front lines are already emerging.

The commanders of the land army blame the chief-of-staff and the power-intoxicated air force, who promised to achieve victory all by themselves. To bomb, bomb, and bomb, destroy roads, bridges, residential quarters and villages, and - finito!

The followers of the chief-of-staff and the other air force generals will blame the land forces, especially Northern Command. Their spokesmen in the media already declare that this command is full of inept officers, who have been shunted there because the North seemed a backwater while the real action was going on in the South (Gaza) and the Center (West Bank).

There are already insinuations that the chief of Northern Command, Gen. Udi Adam, was appointed to his job only in homage to his father, Gen. Kuti Adam, who was killed in the First Lebanon War.

The mutual accusations are all quite right. This war is plastered with military failures - in the air, on land, and on the sea.

They are rooted in the terrible arrogance in which we were brought up and which has become a part of our national character. It is even more typical of the army, and reaches its climax in the air force.

For years we have told each other that we have the most-most-most army in the world. We have convinced not only ourselves, but also Bush and the entire world. After all, we did win an astounding victory in six days in 1967. As a result, when this time the army did not win a huge victory in six days, everybody was astounded. Why, what happened?

One of the declared aims of this war was the rehabilitation of the Israeli army's deterrence power. That really has not happened.

That's because the other side of the coin of arrogance is the profound contempt for Arabs, an attitude that has already led to severe military failures in the past. It's enough to remember the Yom Kippur War. Now our soldiers are learning the hard way that the "terrorists" are highly motivated, tough fighters, not junkies dreaming of "their" virgins in Paradise.

But beyond arrogance and contempt for the opponent, there is a basic military problem: it is just impossible to win a war against guerrillas. We have seen this in our 18-year stay in Lebanon. Then we drew the unavoidable conclusion and got out. True, without good sense, without an agreement with the other side. (We don't speak with terrorists, do we? - even if they are the dominant force on the ground.) But we did get out.

God knows what gave today's generals the unfounded self-confidence to believe that they would win where their predecessors failed so miserably.

And most of all: even the best army in the world cannot win a war that has no clear aims. Karl von Clausewitz, the guru of military science, pronounced that "war is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means." Olmert and Peretz, two complete dilettantes, have turned this inside out: "War is nothing more than the continuation of the lack of policy by other means."

Military experts say that in order to succeed in war, there must be (a) a clear aim, (b) an aim that is achievable, and (c) the means necessary for achieving this aim.

All three conditions are lacking in this war. That is clearly the fault of the political leadership.

Therefore, the main blame will be laid at the feet of the twins, Olmert-Peretz. They have succumbed to the temptation of the moment and dragged the state into a war, in a decision that was hasty, unconsidered, and reckless.

As Nehemia Strassler wrote in Ha'aretz : "They could have stopped after two or three days, when all the world agreed that Hezbollah's provocation justified an Israeli response, when nobody was yet doubting the capabilities of the Israeli army. The operation would have looked sensible, sober, and proportional."

But Olmert and Peretz could not stop. As greenhorns in matters of war, they did not know that the boasts of the generals cannot be relied on, that even the best military plans are not worth the paper on which they are written, that in war the unexpected must be expected, that nothing is more temporary then the glory of war. They were intoxicated by the war's popularity, egged on by a herd of fawning journalists, driven out of their minds by their own glory as War Leaders.

Olmert was roused by his own incredibly kitschy speeches, which he rehearsed with his hangers-on. Peretz, so it seems, stood in front of the mirror and already saw himself as the next prime minister, Mister Security, a second Ben-Gurion.

And so, like two village idiots, to the sound of drums and bugles, they set off at the head of their March of Folly straight toward political and military failure.

It is reasonable to assume that they will pay the price after the war.

What will come out of this whole mess?

No one talks anymore about eliminating Hezbollah or disarming it and destroying all the rockets. That has been forgotten long ago.

At the start of the war, the government furiously rejected the idea of deploying an international force of any kind along the border. The army believed that such a force would not protect Israel, but only restrict its freedom of action. Now, suddenly, the deployment of this force has become the main aim of the campaign. The army is continuing the operation solely in order to "prepare the ground for the international force," and Olmert declares that he will go on fighting until it appears on the ground.

That is, of course, a sorry alibi, a ladder for getting down from the high tree. The international force can be deployed only in agreement with Hezbollah. No country will send its soldiers to a place where they would have to fight the locals. And everywhere in the area, the local Shi'ite inhabitants will return to their villages - including the Hezbollah underground fighters.

Further on, the force will also be totally dependent on the agreement of Hezbollah. If a bomb explodes under a bus full of French soldiers, a cry will go up in Paris: bring our sons home. That is what happened when the U.S. Marines were bombed in Beirut.

The Germans, who shocked the world this week by opposing the call for a cease-fire, certainly will not send soldiers to the Israeli border. That's just what they need, to be obliged to shoot at Israeli soldiers.

And, most importantly, nothing will prevent Hezbollah from launching their rockets over the heads of the international force, any time they want to. What will the international force do then? Conquer all the area up to Beirut? And how will Israel respond?

Olmert wants the force to control the Lebanese-Syrian border. That, too, is illusory. That border goes around the entire West and North of Lebanon. Anybody who wants to smuggle weapons will stay away from the main roads, which will be controlled by the international soldiers. He will find hundreds of places along the border to do this. With the proper bribe, one can do anything in Lebanon.

Therefore, after the war, we will stand more or less in the same place we were before we started this sorry adventure, before the killing of almost a thousand Lebanese and Israelis, before the eviction from their homes of more than a million human beings, Israelis and Lebanese, before the destruction of more than a thousand homes both in Lebanon and Israel.

After the war, the enthusiasm will simmer down, the inhabitants of the North will lick their wounds and the army will start to investigate its failures. Everybody will claim that he or she was against the war from the first day on. Then the Day of Judgment will come.

The conclusion that presents itself is: kick out Olmert, send Peretz packing, and sack Halutz.

In order to embark on a new course, the only one that will solve the problem: negotiations and peace with the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians. And with Hamas and Hezbollah.

Because it's only with enemies that one makes peace.

Uri Avnery
August 4, 2006