This month marks the 15-year anniversary of the July War on Lebanon. I kept a diary at the time, and will be uploading excerpts from it over the coming 33 days.
I went up to Hamra last night and joined my friends doing the nightly ritual of following the news, listening for jets, making phone calls, and, well, drinking to calm frayed nerves. With the southern suburbs warned to evacuate, we had to suffer through images now of the aged, the handicapped, the indigent, the bedridden, waiting on sidewalks in the hot sun for Red Cross evacuation crews and buses to bring them only God knows where. There’s nowhere to go, and every moving vehicle is considered a target at this point outside of Beirut.
We followed the news concerning another useless day of the United States ignoring everything the Lebanese were proposing, were completely agreed upon, concerning their territory and land now destroyed, as if the “plan book” needed to be followed to the letter, as if Israel were meeting no resistance whatsoever, and as if everyone here were willing to just roll over and play dead, yet again.
We’re not. And this becomes the problem now.
Certain members of the Lebanese government are now realizing that they’ve aligned themselves with outside powers that now put them at risk once this is all over. Watch for a general shift to bring themselves into line with Lebanese popular opinion. Except for the ultra-right-wing Christian separatists (most of the “experts” you see on American television and “Lebanese” members of Congress), most people are supporting the efforts of Hezbollah at this point. Not as a military outfit, but as a valid part of the Lebanese government, political landscape, and population. “Getting rid of Hezbollah” means getting rid of Lebanon, which I don’t doubt Israel would love to do right now.
I went downstairs to the neighbor’s apartment in my friend’s building where I stayed when this all started and waited in the dark (the electricity was out) all night as I couldn’t sleep. At 4:30 a.m. or so (on schedule, right at morning call to prayer) they started their bombing of the southern suburb areas warned to evacuate the day before.
The sound of bombing reverberating through the whole city makes me physically ill.
I waited for the sun to come up and headed upstairs for coffee. We read the newspapers. There are pictures now of Israeli tanks, aflame, for the first time splashed across front pages.
And humor creeps into things. There is a joke that if you drive a Lebanese into the sea he will surface with a fish in his mouth. So when my friend went to get gas, and a Lebanese guy pulled up and offered to get him out of the two-hour line with slightly more expensive gas that he had from God-only-knows-where in jerry cans, my friend agreed, and was back up in the apartment within a half-hour. This is how Lebanon works….
I was sitting on their balcony when jets flew low overhead; I instinctively ducked (this is a ridiculous reaction, I realize, but it is involuntary at this point) and waited for an explosion. Everyone in the neighborhood was staring into the sky, and we waited to find out what was going on; we instinctively ran to the television, since there is a surreal aspect to television here, where you hear the bomb blast and then see it on television; a little “picture-in-picture” of reality; so when something happens, you expect to see it updated right away on TV.
They were dropping more leaflets, with propaganda stating that Hezbollah was “lying” to the Lebanese people.
Aid planes were landing and taking off from the airport, and their noise was disturbing, as that of the U.N. helicopters flying by. Any noise is picked up and distracts. No one sleeps.
At one point my friend pointed to the sky and yelled, “What’s that????” I turned around and squinted into the morning sun. “Uh, it’s a heart-shaped balloon. Maybe they’re attacking us with ‘Love’ balloons now!!!!” We both started laughing at our trigger-happy reactions as the balloon floated up and away….
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Joke going around: Man goes to his dentist completely distressed. Dentist says, “What is it? Toothache? Loose filling? What?” Man says, “Please, doctor, take out my bridges—before Olmert finds out about them!” So it goes.
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For every lighter moment as it were the rest is pretty much silent anger and anguish. Yesterday was an almost-breakdown point for me, when I saw the pictures of funerals that were bombarded. When you target people burying people who were blown up the day before you’ve reached some unfathomable level of hideous inhumanity—as if everything so far weren’t by far already quite enough.
Patrick Seale, Britain’s leading writer on Syria and the region, has the following to say:
In an orgy of destruction, the Israeli air force has flown over 6,400 sorties at 4,000 targets. It has smashed Lebanon’s national infrastructure, flattened whole villages and a large part of Beirut, killed more than 1,000 Lebanese, wounded another 3,000, and driven a million from their shattered homes, a quarter of the population.
This indiscriminate assault on civilians is a war crime. But it also points to a profound psychological disturbance, something like insanity, in Israel’s political elites, no doubt rooted in the ancient sufferings and fears of the Jewish people. The paradox is that the more Israel behaves in this barbarous manner, the more Arabs it slaughters, the less its future in the region is assured.
Long before the creation of the state, when the Zionists struggled to impose themselves on Palestine, their leaders like David Ben-Gurion came to believe that force alone could overcome Arab hostility. As the Arabs would never willingly accept an Israeli state in their midst, they had to be compelled to do so. Israel had to dominate the whole region militarily or risk annihilation. Every battle assumed an existential dimension. Every war had to be won!
This was the rationale for Israel’s early acquisition of atomic weapons and its present determination to prevent Iran, or any one else in the region, from doing so.
This dark view of the Arab and Muslim environment—allied to an insatiable appetite for Arab land—goes some way to explain the savagery of the last few weeks.
The problem here is seeking a psychological basis within a faith, or a people of such faith, as opposed to the genocidal intent inherent to settler colonialism. The barbarism is built-in.
Mitchell Prothero, from Salon:
Hasan Kang didn’t want to look in the cooler, but he had to identify the body of his son, Ahmed, who was killed Monday night when an Israeli missile struck a five-story apartment building in Beirut’s Chiyah neighborhood. The 13-year-old Ahmed was crushed in the building’s violent collapse. Just seconds before the missile hit, he had taken a break from playing soccer and walked toward the building to buy ice cream. Twenty other bodies had come out of the rubble by Tuesday evening, and rescue workers said as many as 26 more could be underneath the pancaked concrete floors.
The damage to Ahmed’s body was so extensive that the elderly woman who attended the “refrigerator,” or morgue, didn’t pull the body tray completely out. In the deathly quiet of the cold, dank room, Hasan’s two friends carefully unwrapped the top of the white shroud stained with the young boy’s blood. Still not wanting to look directly at his son, Hasan, a security guard for the Kuwaiti Embassy, dipped his head toward his son’s face and let out a horrible cry of anguish.
Beirut has been heavily bombed in the past few weeks, but the Monday evening strike shocked many in the city by its apparent arbitrariness. The Chiyah neighborhood is home not to members of the anti-Israel Hezbollah Party but its secular Shiite rivals, the Amal movement. Having apparently underestimated the tenacity and preparedness of Hezbollah fighters, the Israel Defense Forces appear to be frustrated and, in the eyes of many Lebanese, are lashing out with deadly abandon at an increasingly random range of targets.
Again, a typical lack of understanding of politics in the country and region, but at least an attempt to report a human dimension to the war.
This from the Times in the UK should be filed under “extreme chutzpah”:
As Israel wages war against Hezbollah “terrorists” in Lebanon, Britain has protested about the celebration by right-wing Israelis of a Jewish “act of terrorism” against British rule 60 years ago this week.
The rightwingers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister, are commemorating the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of British rule, that killed 92 people and helped to drive the British from Palestine.
They have erected a plaque outside the restored building, and are holding a two-day seminar with speeches and a tour of the hotel by one of the Jewish resistance fighters involved in the attack.
Simon McDonald, the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv, and John Jenkins, the Consul-General in Jerusalem, have written to the municipality, stating: “We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated.”
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I thought I’d provide a map of Beirut to give everyone an idea of what I’ve been talking about. It is a bit surreal, but we’ve been looking at Beirut using Google Earth, and there is something disquieting about knowing that much of what we can see in those maps is now gone.