Monday, July 31, 2006

Staying On

Staying On
Why I'm not evacuating Beirut.
By Faerlie Wilson

BEIRUT, Lebanon.
From my balcony this afternoon, I watched as French, British, and American evacuees boarded chartered cruise ships in Beirut's port about a half-mile west of my apartment.

And over the last few days, while bombs and artillery pummeled the southern part of the city, I made the decision not to leave Lebanon. Explosions rock my building even as I write this, but I'm staying put.

I'm not crazy, and I harbor no death wish. This is simply the rational decision of someone who has built a life in Lebanon, who believes in this place and its ability to bounce back. I choose to bet on Beirut.

After five visits to Lebanon over as many years, I moved to Beirut from California this February. I'm a 24-year-old American with friends but no family here. But Lebanese hospitality makes it easy to feel at home; it's a warm society that exudes and embodies a sense of interpersonal responsibility. Live here for two weeks and then go out of town, and you'll get a dozen offers to pick you up at the airport upon your return.

So although I'm not Lebanese by blood, I have become Beiruti. There are plenty of us who fit that description, foreigners who fell in love with the place and its people. One friend, an American college student interning for the summer with a member of the Lebanese parliament, called in tears en route to the northern border to tell me her parents had forced her to leave.

"I'm going to stay in Syria as long as I can," she vowed. "In case things settle down and I can come back."

Until the war broke out last week, this was to be Lebanon's golden summer; last year's tourist season having been dampened by the brutal car bomb that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

This summer started off strong, with concerts by major Western artists that allowed the Lebanese to hope their country was returning to the prewar days when everyone who was anyone - icons like Ella Fitzgerald, Marlon Brando, and Brigitte Bardot - made regular stops in the country. Ricky Martin and 50 Cent performed in May and June, respectively, Sean Paul was on deck for July, and negotiations were under way to bring Snoop Dogg later in the summer. But the most anticipated concert was set for late July: the three-night return of legendary Lebanese diva Fairouz to the Baalbeck festival, where she first earned her fame in the 1950s and '60s.

The after-party for 50 Cent was typical over-the-top Beiruti, held at city's most decadent nightclub, Crystal. Lamborghinis and Ferraris crowded the parking lot; plasticated Lebanese girls in short skirts and spike heels danced on tables as waiters navigated the dance floor balancing trays laden with sparklers and magnums of champagne for high-rolling Saudi tourists, while Fiddy free-styled and openly smoked a joint.

Tourists from the Arab world, Europe, and North America flooded the streets of cities and villages throughout the country. Gulf Arabs in particular have been drawn to Lebanon, especially in a post-9/11 era when they felt unwelcome in the West (and often had trouble obtaining visas). Lebanon offered many of the same attractions as Europe, but in an Arab setting: temperate climate, good shopping, plenty of tourist activities, and most important, heady nightlife and a liberal social atmosphere.
Tourists partied till dawn, stormed the sales at Beirut's designer boutiques, and visited sites like Lebanon's ancient cedar groves and the Roman temples at Baalbeck.

Now those magnificent ruins are surrounded by newer ones: The city of Baalbeck, long a Shiite stronghold, has received a heavy share of the Israeli bombardment.

Falling bombs erase entire villages, fire and smoke cover the horizon, and visions of that promised summer have, in just over a week, evaporated. On the beaches of Damour and Jiyeh, the foreign visitors aren't European sun junkies but Israeli missiles. And the cruise ships docked in the port aren't bringing tourists to Lebanon, they're taking them away.

The contrast between Beirut today and Beirut two weeks ago is so stark, it would be unbearable if it weren't so surreal. This isn't my Beirut. This isn't anyone's Beirut. The frantic, vibrant city has shrunk into a sleepy town, with empty streets and only a handful of restaurants, bars, and shops open for business.

It's amazing how quickly you can get used to living under siege. We've taped our windows, stocked up on supplies, and settled into a perversion of normal life. Electric generators succeed where embattled power stations fail. I've learned what times the electricity, water, and Internet connection usually cut out, and I plan my days accordingly - an old Lebanese ritual from the days of the civil wars.

Candles we bought as decoration are scattered throughout the apartment, half-burned down from long nights without electricity. An Israeli propaganda flier dropped on a university soccer field sticks out of my roommate's copy of the now-obsolete July issue of Time Out Beirut, marking a page listing exhibitions at art galleries that have since boarded up their doors. The magazine only launched this spring, and it was easy to see it as yet another symbol that Beirut was finally being recognized as one of the world's great cities. Travel and Leisure magazine listed Beirut as the ninth-best city in the world for 2006. In this part of the world, fortunes shift very quickly.

Smaller explosions and the rushing of Israeli fighter jets overhead don't startle or frighten me anymore. We are exhausted and have to save our emotional energy for the moments where panic is needed. Still, when larger blasts rattle my windowpanes and make the apartment shudder, I rush to the balcony to figure out which part of my city is being hit. Sometimes, it's an easy game: Three days ago, my roommate and I watched as Israeli warships struck Beirut's port.

I know I'm reasonably safe in my corner of Beirut, and I have a place to go in the mountains if that ceases to be true. Unlike people in many other industries, I still have a job: The magazine where I work decided to publish an August issue - although it will lose money - as a sign of resistance and resilience.

There is painfully little we, the ordinary people of Lebanon, can do to help the situation. So, instead, we do what we can to help each other by donating food and supplies, opening our doors to friends and strangers, and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. We aren't giving up.

After the foreigners are gone, local wisdom predicts that the fighting will only get worse. At the very least, there will be less protective padding; a fear of foreign casualties that may have restrained Israel to some degree. Evacuating Beirut would feel a lot like abandoning it. I know that my staying won't keep the Israelis from intensifying their attacks, but at least I won't be complicit, seeing events unfold on a TV screen from the comfort of Cyprus.

So, I'll watch those ships pull away without regret. Lebanon has given me more than I ever could've asked: a home, a sense of belonging, an almost indecent number of happy memories. But aside from any debt to Lebanon, I won't leave because I know how miserable I would be watching the war ravage my country from the outside. As long as my feet are firmly planted on Lebanese soil, I somehow know the country will survive.

People ask me if I'm scared, and I am - but for Lebanon more than for myself. This place and its people deserve far better than what they're getting.

There's a sad, unstated "what will become of us?" question floating around the Lebanese who are left behind. I need to stay here, if only to learn the answer.

an israeli thought on Qana and its aftermath

When I heard the news of Qana today, my immediate reaction was to close my eyes and mutter: Shit.

I wont elaborate now exactly what it all made me think of Olmert and co., but I will say this: the biggest thing I fear of losing because of today, is the small progress that's being made by the people in the field. The small achievments, which are actually very big, like this blog and it's brother Joint Voices, the friendship that is the background for it, the other friendships and dialogs that are being forged every day throughout the web.

The comments I have seen today on various blogs are the worst I've ever seen. They frighten me. And their amount scares me most. In one day, it seems, all the understanding that's been achieved has been undermined by all the hate that's burst out.

Today was a horrible day. I don't know what will follow it. But I know that we mustn't falter and let ourselves be blinded by acts of stupidity, we mustn't let the anger get the better of us.

We gotta be strong. Intelligent, sensitive dialog is the only way.

Peace, mates.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Light in the Darkness

As darkness unfolds on the people of the Middle East in the form of attacks and counterattacks by Hezbollah and the IDF, a glimmer of hope like a light switched on will stay lit as those here who are peacefull will, and must, make a difference instead.

Let this blog be a connection between likeminded Arabs and Israelis to finally put their differences aside and let it prove that we can live together in peace, and indeed even be warm friends one day.

For the sake of our children and our common destiny, let us not allow those who derive their very identities by their hatred of one another to dictate our lives anymore.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Word from GreenLine Environmental

War in Lebanon Brings About the Biggest Environmental Catastrophe in the History of the Country 15,000 ton Oil Spill from Jiyyeh Power Plant Hits Most of the Lebanese Coast

Beirut, July 27, 2006 - The escalating Israeli attack on Lebanon did not only kill its civilians and destroy its infrastructure, but it is also annihilating its environment. Last week a 15,000 ton oil spill resulted from the Israeli air raid on the Jiyyeh power plant South of Lebanon. The power plant has 6 fuel tanks. Four of them have burned completely, while the fifth one, which is also the main cause of the spill, is still burning. The Lebanese ministry of environment is worried that the sixth tank, which is underground, is going to explode.

The oil slick appeared for the first time last week on the once beautiful beach of Ramlet El-Beida in Beirut, which used to be the only public beach in the Lebanese capital. Upon this finding, several environmental activists alerted the media on the spill, which in turn has mobilized the municipality of Beirut and the Ministry of Environment. After a few days of investigation it became obvious that more than 100km of the Lebanese coast, from Jiyyeh in the South to Chekka in the North has been hit by this oil spill.

This is definitely one of the worst environmental crisis in Lebanese history, declared a group of local environmental NGOs working on this issue (1). Just for the sake of comparison, in 2003 a 50 ton oil spill in the North was a huge blow to the Lebanese coastal environment. The current spill is 300 times bigger, and there is a big possibility that more oil will go into the sea.

These NGOs added that the Mediterranean marine environment will suffer tremendously for several years from this spill. The Lebanese coast is a very important site for fish spawning and sea turtle nesting, including the green turtle, which is an endangered species in the Mediterranean.

During the month of July, turtle eggs start to hatch and all baby turtles will need to reach deep waters as fast as possible. With the oil slick in their way baby turtles will have no chance of making it. Also, Blue Fin Tuna, which is a very important commercial species in the Mediterranean and which has been under severe stress from over-fishing, are present in the Eastern Mediterranean coastal water in this period of the year. The oil spill, of which part of it has settled on the sea floor, will threaten the blue fin tuna and other fish species spawning areas.

Another important impact of the spill is the effect on tourism in the future. The Lebanese coast is an important tourist destination, and after the war ends, Lebanon will need every source of income to rebuild its infrastructure. Now the beautiful Lebanese white beaches are covered with a black layer and the smell of fuel can be smelled a good distance in land, rendering them toxic and useless.

This oil spill is bigger than what the local authority can handle and urgent help is needed from outside, declared the NGOs. The Ministry of Environment has organized a team to follow on this issue, and have requested help from the United Nations Environmental Program and the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean (REMPEC). The Ministry of Environment in Kuwait has also promised to send equipment and expertise to help in the clean up. “We are in constant communication with the Ministry of Environment, and as Lebanese NGOs we are ready to help in the clean up when the necessary equipment arrive.

Nevertheless, the constant Israeli air raids will make the operation very difficult, and an immediate cease fire is needed if we want to save Lebanon and its environment (2),” concluded the NGOs.

Notes to editor:

(1) The Lebanese environmental NGOs include: Bahr Lubnan Association,

Union of Professional Divers, and Green Line Association; which are prominent local Non-Governmental Organizations known for their work in protecting the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon.

(2) Other Environmental impacts of this war include air pollution and chemical spills due to the targeting of industrial factories, fuel bunkers, and other flammable structures; the use of depleted uranium in Israeli bombs, and the huge waste and sanitary crisis resulting from the 750,000 refugees in Lebanon, which can lead to water pollution and the spread of diseases.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Way I See it

Concerning the Hizbullah - IDF attacks, the way i see it, the only way forward is through nogotiation, whether direct or indirect. But what is certain is that this macho, tough-guy, "nobody can touch me" attitude by those two has to go. Yet, can their egos handle the swallowing of their pride? This is the one of the main aspects in this conflict.. ego.

So how to satisfy the two parties' egos? Hopefully by a win-win situation, that their egos hopefully won't blind them into not seeing.

The way I see it, the conflict has created an opportunity. An opportunity to settle our differences once and for all, at least between Lebanon and Israel, and this can be done by:

- Returning the disputed Chebaa Farms back to Lebanon

- Exchanging Lebanese and Israeli prisoners

The equation is beautiful in it's simplicity and effectiveness. It does away with Lebanese needing to carry armed struggle against Israel, and hence guarentees calm along the border. Permanently. This is what citizens on both sides of the border want.

We can even go a step further and craft similar treaties between other countries, but that would be a topic for a different post...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Birth of a Problem

(Picture depicts the attack that the Irgun 'terrorist' group undertook in 1946 against British assets in Jerusalem)

This is an excellent article written by Correlli Barnett, a military historian at Churchill College. This man witnessed what he calls the first terrorism in the Middle East.

July 21, 2006
By Correlli Barnett

Several of my good friends are American, but this does not inhibit me from criticising George W. Bush's catastrophically misguided invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly, I have good friends who are Jewish, but this will not inhibit me from criticising the current 'total war' being waged on Lebanon by the Israeli state. The fact that some of my Jewish friends will read this article only makes me the more sad that I have to say, as a military historian, that this war is grotesquely out of proportion to the level of casualties and damage previously inflicted on Israel by Hezbollah. It is likewise grotesquely out of proportion to the taking hostage of two Israeli soldiers -- as are the ferocious Israeli attacks inside the Gaza strip in response to the taking hostage of just one soldier.

Certainly, Israel has the right to defend herself today as she has done successfully in the past. But surely her response to Hamas and Hezbollah should have been limited and precisely targeted rather than a version of the 'shock and awe' bombing which opened the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Israeli government should have learned that 'shock and awe' may only be a prelude to a protracted guerilla war. During the long and bitter struggle against the IRA in Northern Ireland, it never occurred to any British government that the IRA bases and arms dumps within the Irish Republic should be bombed by the Royal Air Force, let alone that whole districts of Irish cities like Drogheda known to harbour IRA terrorists should be destroyed. Equally, it has never occurred to a Spanish government that it would be right and proper to respond to the lethal, indiscriminate attacks by ETA (the Basque terrorist organisation) by savagely bombing and rocketing San Sebastian and other Basque cities.

Why should Israel regard herself as a p r i v i l e g e d exception? Why should 'the West' in general -- and Bush and Blair in particular -- also regard her as a privileged exception, rightfully entitled to conduct a savage total war in response to Hezbollah attacks no worse than those of the IRA and ETA? These questions are the more pertinent because Israel herself was born out of a terrorist struggle in 1945-48 against Britain, which then ruled Palestine under a United Nations mandate.

The so-called Stern Gang (after its founder, Abraham Stern) specialised in assassination, its most famous victim being Lord Moyne, the Colonial Secretary, shot in Cairo in 1944. But by far the most dangerous Jewish terrorist group was the Irgun Zvei Leumi (National Military Organisation) led by Menachem Begin, who after the creation of the state of Israel founded the Likud political party, and even finished up as prime minister. The group's propaganda stated its political aims with brutal clarity. First, what it called 'the Nazo-British occupation forces' must be driven out of Palestine. Then a Jewish state would be established embracing the whole of Palestine and Transjordan (as Jordan was then known). Too bad about the native population of Arabs, of course.

The group's logo, displayed on the fly-posters which I myself saw as a soldier in Palestine in 1946-47, showed a crude map of Palestine and Transjordan with an arm holding a rifle splayed across it. The Irgun's successful attacks included the demolition in 1946 of the wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem housing the secretariat of the British mandatory government and also the HQ of British troops in Palestine -- at a cost of 91 lives, Jewish, Arab and British, most of them civilians (for more info on this attack, click here . Another 'success' was the blowing-up of the Officers' Club in Jerusalem in March 1947. I saw the corpses lying on slabs in the morgue, spittle still bubbling out of their mouths. In combat with a terrorist group perhaps some 3,000 strong, a maximum of 100,000 British troops was deployed in a country about the size of Wales. There was a lesson here for George W. Bush and Tony Blair before their invasion of Iraq -- but of course a lesson unheeded by men with no interest in history.

In July 1947, the Irgun Zvei Leumi kidnapped two British Intelligence Corps sergeants as hostages to trade against the lives of three Irgun terrorists under sentence of death for an attack on Acre jail. Here is an exact parallel to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. But unlike the savage reaction of Ehud Olmert's government today, the British government in 1947 did not seek to apply pressure to the kidnappers by ordering the RAF to destroy large parts of Tel Aviv, and the Royal Artillery to bombard selected Jewish settlements suspected of being bases for the Irgun. In the event, the three Jewish terrorists were hanged -- and the Irgun in turn strung up the two British sergeants from a tree in an orange grove and booby-trapped their bodies.

Yet even then it did not occur to the British authorities to impose the kind of savage collective punishment that Olmert's government is now visiting on the Arabs of Gaza and southern Lebanon. A notice posted by the Irgun proclaimed that the two sergeants had been hanged because they were 'members of the British criminal-terrorist organisation known as the British Army of Occupation in Palestine', responsible for the murder of men, women, children and prisoners of war. The so- called 'murdered prisoners of war' were in fact terrorists hanged after due trial.This Irgun proclamation signed off with the warning: 'We shall revenge the blood of the prisoners of war who have been murdered, by actions of war against the enemy, by blows which we shall inflict on his head.' So blood- thirstily selfrighteous is the language of this long proclamation that it could just as easily have been written today by Hezbollah or Hamas or Al-Qaeda. The sacred cause may be different, but the language and the type of mind behind it remain the same.In the event, Jewish terrorism against the British finally succeeded. All attempts to negotiate a future for Palestine which balanced Jewish interests against those of the majority Arab population came to nothing. A project for a single state with Jewish and Arab cantons was rejected by the Arabs. An Arab proposal for a single state based on the existing Arab majority and a limit on future Jewish immigration was rejected by Jewish leaders. A two- state solution, proposed by a UN commission and favoured by Washington, was in turn rejected by the Labour Government, who rightly feared that it would be British troops who would have to impose the settlement on one side or the other -- or perhaps on both.

This, the chiefs of staff warned, would require two extra divisions on top of the two already in Palestine. With the Irgun campaign of bombing still going on, and the tally of British casualties mounting, Clement Attlee's Cabinet had quite simply had enough. They refused to impose the UN plan, and instead opted for unconditional withdrawal, even at the cost of (in the words of Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary) 'a period of bloodshed and chaos'. Another lesson here for Tony Blair in regard to Iraq? So Britain handed the mandate back to the UN and announced that British rule in Palestine would end in spring 1948. As it duly did. In the last months of the mandate, the security situation dissolved into three-cornered violence -- Jew versus British and Arab; Arab versus Jew and British; British versus both.

By the time the last British force had left, this violence had degenerated into anarchic civil war between Jew and Arab. It was just the prelude to the full-scale war between the new state of Israel and neighbouring Arab regimes wanting to extinguish it. The war ended in the successful conquest by Israel of the larger part of Palestine, and a tidal wave of Arab refugees into Lebanon and Jordan. Here is the origin of today's bitter Arab resentment of Israeli hegemony -- a resentment which powers Hamas and Hezbollah as they follow the path of terrorism first mapped out by the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvei Leumi in the 1940s.

CORRELLI BARNETT is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.