Friday, August 04, 2006

Broummana Diary

“God keep him! May God come to the aid of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah!” the taxi driver told me, as I was closing the door of the car. I’ve been either living in or visiting Syria for the last 20 years, and it was the first time a Syrian taxi driver ever used that as an opening remark to me.

I nodded, and asked about the latest developments.

“They said the (Israeli) invasion was planned a year ago! Did you hear that on the news?” he shouted, as we sped off.

I had spent the first week and a half of the war in Lebanon, worrying about moving around in the Greater Beirut area and avoiding stray ordinance made in my country. Here in Damascus, there are really only two things to do these days: help refugees and follow the war through the media. Actually, there’s a third thing: put up pictures of Hassan Nasrallah and Hizbullah flags to show your support. The last time I was here was at the beginning of July, when Damascus was full of flags for the World Cup. Colors like green, red and blue kept appearing in my line of vision, since there were so many flags of Italy, Brazil and Germany, and even France and England, despite the recent bad vibes over these countries’ policies toward Syria. Those flags are almost all gone now, replaced by the yellow and black of Hizbullah, along with billboards that inform the public about ways to help those displaced by the conflict.

Public transport vehicles, shop windows, and billboards feature Nasrallah’s face, and there are many variations on the Nasrallah theme. Sometimes he’s pictured with Bashar al-Assad, or the late Hafez al-Assad, and sometimes with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. The support seems about as spontaneous as the earlier enthusiasm for the World Cup, although I didn’t bother checking which organization produces which version of poster. It’s enough to know that staunchly Sunni shopkeepers proudly display the photo of staunchly Shi’i Nasrallah, and that street vendors are doing a booming business selling Hizbullah paraphernalia.

Problems can arise, however, when the wrong types of icons try to horn in on the action. At the Information Ministry in Damascus, several reporters and I were sitting in the office of an official responsible for foreign media. As the official fielded a series of phone calls, I saw the face of Ayman Zawahiri of al-Qaida show up on al-Jazeera, for his recent, taped announcement. I caught the attention of the Syrian official and nodded toward the screen.

“What?! What the hell is this guy doing?” the Syrian official gasped, eyeing the television. “Where did he come from?”

Forget about Zawahiri’s poor delivery and vague rhetoric, which I assume won’t stick in the minds of western audiences. Instead, they will deduce that “one of those al-Qaida guys is on the same side as those Hizbullah people.” For people who are fans of Hizbullah, it was like seeing a member of the Ku Klux Klan backing you when you try to drum up support among African-Americans – the last thing you need. In Syria, and I assume many parts of the Arab world, al-Qaida is viewed with extreme disgust, due to the group’s tactics, and suspicion, due to questions about who is actually behind the organization.

One of the unquestioned victors in the war thus far is al-Jazeera, which must be the most popular medium for following the war, judging by cafes and stores where televisions are set up. At the coffee shop of the Cham Palace hotel, the patrons fall silent when al-Jazeera begins its top-of-the-hour news broadcast, as everyone strains to hear the first part of the bulletin. This is despite the fact that we have been reading a ticker with these latest items running across the bottom of the screen, right up to the beginning of the broadcast – as if things are moving so quickly, we still entertain the notion that the top of the hour might produce some new bit of information. Al-Jazeera practically corners the market when it comes to professional reporting, although Lebanon’s LBCI and New TV have had their moments, as individual correspondents log good performances. The Arab world’s satellite television stations are finding their unsurprising niches: Go to Hizbullah’s Manar TV if you want the party line, and a bit more on military information. If you want the pro-US and –Saudi regime line, with a dash of defeatism, go to al-Arabiyya or Future TV. For the opposite, i.e. triumphalist rhetoric wall-to-wall, try Syrian State television. The ostrich award goes to stations like Jordan, where you can catch up on any Arab soap operas you’ve been missing, and pretend that nothing’s happening. Forget the Israelis, for the most part. You can get it just as quickly on Manar, which dutifully reports the headlines of the latest things appearing in the Israeli media, without the downside of a military censor who only lets you know about Israeli casualties after Manar has reported them - not always accurately, but at least giving you an indication of where things are headed.

In downtown Damascus I reunited with my Shi’i friend from the southern suburbs of Beirut, who was still in a state of shock – at the hospitality of ordinary Syrians. Around 200,000 Lebanese have streamed across the land borders in the last few weeks, and the number of those in Syria could be much higher, according to officials. Some Lebanese have moved on from Syria to other countries, but the numbers are still huge. My friend and about a dozen extended family members were staying at the home of one of his Syrian college friends; she’s a working mother of two whose husband is out of the country. She took in her old Lebanese friend and his parents, siblings and their children, and wouldn’t have it any other way. My friend told me that he was still in awe of her gesture and was looking for a way to find a house for his family, should the conflict continue, in order to stop being a burden. But the burden he fears becoming has become a mark of honor for many Syrians. “When I went to a hospital here recently, to run some tests on my father, a Syrian doctor took me aside as soon as he heard my (Lebanese) dialect,” my friend recalled. “He tried putting keys in my hand, and telling me it would be an honor if a Lebanese family were to use his empty house during the conflict. It was very tough, but I finally managed to turn down the offer.” Public schools in Syria have taken in tens of thousands of Lebanese, but there are also huge efforts by ordinary people and civil associations, to put needy Lebanese in touch with generous Syrians, who might be offering their second homes, or services as doctors and pharmacists, for example. When you hear story after story like this, the impact of Hassan Nasrallah posters and the quality of media coverage fade in comparison.

Marlin Dick, Damascus, Syria


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you people would get a lot further by stating truthful comments. Hizbollah started this war by attacking Israel’s civilians. Hizbollah fires rockets at Israeli citizens while hiding behind Lebanese citizens, using them as shields. Hizbollah is responsible for all the deaths on both sides. Israel has every right to defend itself like any other country. Israel has over 1 million people forced from their homes (refuges as you call them). You should be saving the world from Hizbollah.

No matter how you feel about it, the truth is:
* If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence.
* If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Al Jazeera daily and a lot of times they do not tell the truth.

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rachel: Imagine yourself picking apples in a grove and looking forward to having lunch, as you have been doing for the last 5 years. You go into a warehouse along with 60 or so of your fellow workers, many of them family members or good friends. You open your “safartas” to bring your food out, which has been prepared by your wife or mother. You spread your food on a small plastic plate and sit around a few tables scattered around. Then a couple of precision laser guided bombs, blows you and all your co-workers up.

This is exactly what happened earlier this afternoon. A group of meager Syrian and Lebanese peasants came under attack by the mighty Israeli war machine on the outskirts of El Qaa, a village not in the South of Lebanon on the frontline, but in the northeastern Bekaa region about 90 miles north from the Lebanon-Israel border. This air raid left 33 men dead, bodies mutilated and an unknown number of injured.

Another massacre carried out by Israel!!

As I write this, news comes in of 57 people buried in rubble in two villages following Israeli air raids.

Is there no end to these monstrous acts? Will there be recrimination when the hostilities are over? Will Israel be held accountable for their actions? One wonders! In the meantime the human toll rises. The latest AFP report lists 955 Lebanese civilians dead, 30% of them children, and over 3900 injured.

The Israelis have bombed the main power station which feeds the South. Hospitals in the South of Lebanon report that they only have enough fuel to keep their emergency generators, which are now their only source of electricity, running for another 4 to 5 days. Another humanitarian disaster in the offing!!

In addition, people in the South scream out that water supplies are about to run out. The threat of disease is very real. And with Israel having bombed earlier this morning the remaining main route for humanitarian supplies when they bombed the bridges on the highway north of Beirut, yet another humanitarian front is about to open up.

This is just today's work. Today apple pickers, what will tomorrow bring!!

9:07 PM  
Anonymous saveaworld said...

Here is a tale of a Lebanese woman (video) goto http :

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rachel, are you another cyber-warrior (a bot, to be exact) commissioned by Israel? But if you're genuine, then by your logic-

1. Briton should have attacked Ireland to curb IRA.
2. India should have nuked Pakistan to stop exporting insurgents across its border.

Why didn't they do that?

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello!!!!! Israe does not want this war.
Hizbollah shot rockets into civilian areas of Israel ! If Israel were to stop they would be wiped off the map.
If Hizbollah stop, there will be no more violence. You must condemn Hizbollah.
Israel tries not to hit civlians. Hizbollah deliberatly hit civilians.
Do you not see the difference??

If you are in America or Britain and rockets started to wipe out New York or Londong, would you sit there and do nothing??!! and get wiped out??

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first thing that should be realized by the American public is that the Arabs are not in a fight against the Jews. The Arabs and the Jews are both Semitic people. There has to be a firm distinction made between Jews and Zionists. Israel carefully and jealously calls itself the Jewish state, whereas it is actually a Zionist state. Many Jews don’t identify with this ideology. The Zionist ideology is a racist one. Israel likes to call itself a democracy. But if you look carefully at the makeup of the Israeli society, it has encouraged migration of Jews from all Jewish minorities, from the extreme right to the extreme left. But they have been very careful to encourage migration from those who are mostly Zionists, whether they belong to the Likud or their “Labour” party. They have been careful to ensure that whatever government is elected it is ruled by Zionists.

Zionism has a stated aim to claim, by any means, military or otherwise, land that will fit 20+ million Jewish immigrants from all over the world, whether Zionists or otherwise. They realize that the land that they occupy now is not enough to fit all those people. Their doctrine, leading to their ideal solution of solving the problem, is to occupy the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. Their flag is the symbol of that. (The blue lines above and below the Star of David symbolize that.)

1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such fabrication. Where do you get this stuff. Israel only wants its little sliver of land that it has, and to be left alone. I bet you can't give me one reliable source for a thing you just made up.

6:46 AM  
Blogger freespeechlover said...

Rachel, yawn.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They aren't?? All their leaders go on TV and the Internet and say "We will destroy Israel." We will push Israel into the sea". You've seen and heard it dozens of times. Be honest with yourself.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous antiRachel said...

Yawn Rachel, take a break. Get a job or a life even.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Sarmad said...

Rachel, here’s something for you and anyone else who wants to understand the true doctrine of Zionism to read.

Avraham Stern crystallized the ideology of Irgun Zeva'i Le'umi. The Irgun used to murder British soldiers and hang them upside down on olive trees in Palestine from 1942 to 1947. The terrorist group whose leader was Menachim Begin who eventually became a Prime Minister of Israel.

This is what Avraham Stern called the "18 Principles of Rebirth":

1. THE NATION: The Jewish people is a covenanted people, the originator of monotheism, formulator of the prophetic teachings, standard bearer of human culture, guardian of glorious patrimony. The Jewish people is schooled in self-sacrifice and suffering; its vision, survivability and faith in redemption are indestructible.

2. THE HOMELAND: The homeland in the Land of Israel within the borders delineated in the Bible ("To your descendants, I shall give this land, from the River of Egypt to the great Euphrates River." Genesis 15:1 This is the land of the living, where the entire nation shall live in safety.

3. THE NATION AND ITS LAND: Israel conquered the land with the sword. There it became a great nation and only there it will be reborn. Hence Israel alone has a right to that land. This is an absolute right. It has never expired and never will.

4. THE GOALS: 1. Redemption of the land. 2. Establishment of sovereignty. 3. Revival of the nation. There is no sovereignty without the redemption of the land, and there is no national revival without sovereignty.

These are the goals of the organization during the period of war and conquest:

5. EDUCATION: Educate the nation to love freedom and zealously guard Israel's eternal patrimony. Inculcate the idea that the nation is master to its own fate. Revive the doctrine that "The sword and the book came bound together from heaven" (Midrash Vayikra Rabba 35:

6. UNITY: The unification of the entire nation around the banner of the Hebrew freedom movement. The use of the genius, status and resources of individuals and the channeling of the energy, devotion and revolutionary fervour of the masses for the war of liberation.

7. PACTS: Make pacts with all those who are willing to help the struggle of the organization and provide direct support.

8. FORCE: Consolidate and increase the fighting force in the homeland and in the Diaspora, in the underground and in the barracks, to become the Hebrew army of liberation with its flag, arms, and commanders.

9. WAR: Constant war against those who stand in the way of fulfilling the goals.

10. CONQUEST: The conquest of the homeland from foreign rule and its eternal possession.

These are the tasks of the movement during the period of sovereignty and redemption:

11. SOVEREIGNTY: Renewal of Hebrew sovereignty over the redeemed land.

12. RULE OF JUSTICE: The establishment of a social order in the spirit of Jewish morality and prophetic justice. Under such an order no one will go hungry or unemployed. All will live in harmony, mutual respect and friendship as an example to the world.

13. REVIVING THE WILDERNESS: Build the ruins and revive the wilderness for mass immigration and population increase.

14. ALIENS: Solve the problem of alien population by exchange of population.

15. INGATHERING OF THE EXILES: Total in-gathering of the exiles to their sovereign state.

16. POWER: The Hebrew nation shall become a first-rate military, political, cultural and economical entity in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean Sea.

17. REVIVAL: The revival of the Hebrew language as a spoken language by the entire nation, the renewal of the historical and spiritual might of Israel. The purification of the national character in the fire of revival.

18. THE TEMPLE: The building of the Third Temple as a symbol of the new era of total redemption.

The Zionists are blood thirsty warmongers who will not cease attacking their neighbours until they achieve their aims.

9:25 AM  

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