Friday, July 28, 2006

Two for one!

Ok, I've got to go do something with my time. But you should check out the two-for-the-price-of-one Salon advertisement and check out the two quite good articles on Lebanon and Hizbullah that popped up on the site yesterday.

The "Hiding Among Civilians" Myth

Watching Beirut Die (by Anthony Bourdain, who you might know from Kitchen Confidential)

Put your money where your mouth is . . .

. . . or something like that. For all this talk about Lebanon and Syria, isn't it kind of ironic that Syria's ambassador to the U.S. hasn't once been contacted by the White House in a year and a half?

Welcome to the dementia that is this administration's foreign policy.

Imad Moustapha says, "But I do now occupy the unique position of being the only ambassador of a rogue state in the United States," and then adds: "That's a joke. We are not a rogue state. But no other 'quote, unquote' rogue state has an ambassador here."

A kind of hilarious article.

Dept. of "What dope is this guy smoking?"

One can always count on Bush and Co. to fill us in on what the real picture is in the Middle East. Yesterday I heard him declare--no less than 5 times--on NPR the following:

"Hezbollah attacked Israel. I know Hezbollah is connected to Iran. Now is the time for the world to confront this danger . . . Now is the time to address the root cause of the problem and the root cause of the problem is terrorist groups trying to stop the advance of democracy."

You've got to be kidding me.

It's these ridiculous links that are made and repeated ad infinitum in the media that end up sticking in people's minds. I mean, all this is about democracy, for Pete's sake? Give me a break.

This is one big reason why when I tell my mother I'll likely be heading to Jordan in September on a quick job she asks me, "But don't you think it's unsafe?" Jordan is not its own entity, but rather one small part of an insane, monochromatic area of the world where terrorists run rampant and look to take out as many people as possible. And my mom's been to Jordan more than once herself--she's one of the more enlightened ones! Geez, this stuff gets so tiring.

"Who are the real terrorists in the Middle East?"

Wednesday's Independent has an excellent commentary by Oren Ben-Dor, an Israeli who's definitely not a fan of Israel's military adventures. Reading something like this is probably much better than listening to me rant on and on.

Here's a bit:

. . .While states should defend their citizens, states which fail this duty should be questioned and, if necessary, reconfigured. Israel is a state which, instead of defending its citizens, puts all of them, Jews as well as non-Jews, in danger.

What exactly is being defended by the violence in Gaza and Lebanon? Is it the citizens of Israel or the nature of the Israeli state? I suggest the latter. Israel's statehood is based on an unjust ideology which causes indignity and suffering for those who are classified as non-Jewish by either a religious or ethnic test. To hide this primordial immorality, Israel fosters an image of victimhood. Provoking violence, consciously or unconsciously, against which one must defend oneself is a key feature of the victim-mentality. By perpetuating such a tragic cycle, Israel is a terrorist state like no other. . .

Take a look at the rest--he's got some extremely valid points. Somehow I can't imagine coming across this one here in the U.S.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sad but true

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Israel Commits War Crimes in Lebanon"

Seen the latest from Robert Fisk?

. . . For the second time in eight days, the Israelis committed a war crime yesterday. They ordered the villagers of Taire, near the border, to leave their homes and then - as their convoy of cars and minibuses obediently trailed northwards - the Israeli air force fired a missile into the rear minibus, killing three refugees and seriously wounding 13 other civilians. The rocket that killed them is believed to have been a Hellfire missile made by Lockheed Martin in Florida.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Brand Israel: A Jordanian perspective

I just loved Ahmad's post a few days ago that takes up the idea of what Israel might possibility be thinking in terms of "branding" itself for the rest of the world. A great read!

Here's a snippet:

. . . Israel’s overwhelming firepower makes sure that the suffering it inflicts on Arab civilians is always greater than anything the other side can inflict upon Israel.I am not attempting a political or military analysis here. I am just wondering about Israel’s ‘branding strategy’ when it comes its neighboring audiences. We keep hearing from Israelis that all they want is to live in peace in this region. How does that fit with Israel’s actions that produce an image of a country that can only be seen as ‘barbaric’?

Your tax dollars hard at work

Just in case you haven't seen this one yet, Saturday's New York Times reports that our government is rushing a delivery of bombs to Israel (source). Too many civilians, not enough bombs . . .

WASHINGTON, July 21 — The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel’s request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A primer on Palestinian discontent

Gosh, it's so nice to engage in discussion with people truly interested to know about what's going on in Palestine and Lebanon. I was a bit early picking Issy up from his summer camp today, and two of his teachers sat with me and wanted me to tell them what Israel's problem is. They are annoyed with all the civilians dying in Lebanon and feel frustrated at how difficult it is to get information that's not pro-Israeli.

I told them a bit about my experience living in Jordan and what I know of how difficult life is for Palestinians. The questions kept coming, which is refreshing after feeling so insulated from everything all the way over here in the U.S.

And yeah, Palestinian suffering continues. It's been brutal--and going on for way too long, as this Salon article confirms. A fascinating read--especially for those of you who don't know a lot about the mass ejection of Palestinians from their homes early in Israel's history.

U.S. media vs. the rest of the world on Lebanon

Jefferson Morley over at The Washington Post site has an interesting comparison of international media outlets' take on Israel's war on Lebanon. Check it out.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

There's no grand plan

Again and again I keep hearing about the close connection between Iran, Syria and Hizbollah. This connection is there, to be sure, but the heavy emphasis we keep listening to our oh-so-knowledgeable American pundits go on and on about makes me more and more certain that Bush and Co.'s grand scheme to take on Syria and Iran has been an easy sell over here. My only solace is that I can't imagine how on earth this government would give a green light to start up more wars at the rate of debt we're accumulating in Iraq. Well, perhaps Israel will do the job for us (heh heh).

Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post had it right on NPR yesterday, when he said that Hizbollah's engagement with Israel has nothing whatsoever to do with taking orders from Iran or Syria. It's pretty plain and simple: everyone in the Arab World is fed up with Israel's apartheid state and the horrific treatment of Palestinians on a daily basis. Hizbollah considers itself at war with the Israeli state and so capturing a few "Defense Force" soldiers in no way differs from the acts of war Israel engages in daily against Palestinian civilians.

I just came across a great piece by Tariq Ali in the Guardian that's worth a read. Here are a few bits and pieces:

In his last interview - after the 1967 six-day war - the historian Isaac Deutscher, whose next-of-kin had died in the Nazi camps and whose surviving relations lived in Israel, said: "To justify or condone Israel's wars against the Arabs is to render Israel a very bad service indeed and harm its own long-term interest." Comparing Israel to Prussia, he issued a sombre warning: "The Germans have summed up their own experience in the bitter phrase 'Man kann sich totseigen!' 'You can triumph yourself to death'."

In Israel's actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the self-righteousness with which it wrecks the social infrastructure of weaker states, and a belief in its racial superiority. The loss of many civilian lives in Gaza and Lebanon matters less than the capture or death of a single Israeli soldier. In this, Israeli actions are validated by the US. . .

. . . I was in Beirut in May, when the Israeli army entered and killed two "terrorists" from a Palestinian splinter group. The latter responded with rockets. Israeli warplanes punished Hizbullah by dropping over 50 bombs on its villages and headquarters near the border. . . A protracted colonial war lies ahead, since Hizbullah, like Hamas, has mass support. It cannot be written off as a "terrorist" organisation. The Arab world sees its forces as freedom fighters resisting colonial occupation.

There are 9,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli gulags. That is why Israeli soldiers are captured. Prisoner exchanges have occurred as a result. To blame Syria and Iran for Israel's latest offensive is frivolous. Until the question of Palestine is resolved and Iraq's occupation ended, there will be no peace in the region. A "UN" force to deter Hizbullah, but not Israel, is a nonsensical notion.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fisk on Israel's latest slaughter of civilians

The news is driving me crazy. I'm sick and tired of the misinformation and ignorance of the reporting on events in Lebanon here in the U.S., and rather than rant on and on, I'm posting the entirety of Robert Fisk's latest article.

Paradise Lost
By: Robert Fisk, The Independent - United Kingdom

Published: Jul 19, 2006

In the year 551, the magnificent, wealthy city of Berytus-headquarters of the imperial East Mediterranean Roman fleet - was struck by a massive earthquake. In its after math, these a with drew several miles and the survivors - ancestors of the present-day Lebanese - walked out on the sands to loot the long-sunken merchant ships revealed in front of them.


That was when a tidal wall higher than a tsunami returned to swamp the city and kill them all. So savagely was the old Beirut damaged that the Emperor Justinian sent gold from Constantinople as compensation to every family left alive. Some cities seem forever doomed. When the Crusaders arrived at Beirut on their way to Jerusalem in the 11th century, they slaughtered every man, woman and child in the city. In the First World War, Ottoman Beirut suffered a terrible famine' the Turkish army had commandeered all the grain and the Allied powers blockaded the coast. I still have some ancient postcards I bought here 30 years ago of stick-like children standing in an orphanage, naked and abandoned.

An American woman living in Beirut in 1916 described how she "passed women and children lying by the roadside with closed eyes and ghastly, pale faces. It was a common thing to find people searching the garbage heaps for orange peel, old bones or other refuse, and eating them greedily when found. Everywhere women could be seen seeking eatable weeds among the grass along the roads..."

How does this happen to Beirut? For 30 years, I've watched this place die and then rise from the grave and then die again, its apartment blocks pitted with so many bullets they looked like Irish lace, its people massacring each other.

I lived here through 15 years of civil war that took 150,000 lives, and two Israeli invasions and years of Israeli bombardments that cost the lives of a further 20,000 of its people. I have seen them armless, legless, headless, knifed, bombed and splashed across the walls of houses. Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.

They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite. But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis - in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside - tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity? We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties - 240 in all of Lebanon by last night - with Israel's 24 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the capture of its soldiers by Hizbollah.

I walked through the deserted city centre of Beirut yesterday and it reminded more than ever of a film lot, a place of dreams too beautiful to last, a phoenix from the ashes of civil war whose plumage was so brightly coloured that it blinded its own people. This part of the city - once a Dresden of ruins - was rebuilt by Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister who was murdered scarcely a mile away on 14 February last year.

The wreckage of that bomb blast, an awful precursor to the present war in which his inheritance is being vandalised by the Israelis, still stands beside the Mediterranean, waiting for the last UN investigator to look for clues to the assassination - an investigator who has long ago abandoned this besieged city for the safety of Cyprus.

At the empty Etoile restaurant - best snails and cappuccino in Beirut, where Hariri once dined Jacques Chirac - I sat on the pavement and watched the parliamentary guard still patrolling the faade of the French-built emporium that houses what is left of Lebanon's democracy. So many of these streets were built by Parisians under the French mandate and they have been exquisitely restored, their mock Arabian doorways bejewelled with marble Roman columns dug from the ancient Via Maxima a few metres away.

Hariri loved this place and, taking Chirac for a beer one day, he caught sight of me sitting at a table. "Ah Robert, come over here," he roared and then turned to Chirac like a cat that was about to eat a canary. "I want to introduce you, Jacques, to the reporter who said I couldn't rebuild Beirut!"


And now it is being un-built. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its glistening halls and shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri's wonderful transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been levelled and "rub-ble-ised" and pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shia Muslims to seek sanctuary in schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hizbollah, another of those "centres of world terror" which the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands. Here lived Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God's leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man' and Sayad Mohamed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics' and many of Hizbollah's top military planners - including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pin-point accuracy - a doubtful notion in any case, but that's not the issue - what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?
In a modern building in an undamaged part of Beirut, I come, quite by chance, across a well known and prominent Hizbollah figure, open-neck white shirt, dark suit, clean shoes. "We will go on if we have to for days or weeks or months or..." And he counts these awful statistics off on the fingers of his left hand. "Believe me, we have bigger surprises still to come for the Israelis - much bigger, you will see. Then we will get our prisoners and it will take just a few small concessions."


I walk outside, feeling as if I have been beaten over the head. Over the wall opposite there is purple bougainvillaea and white jasmine and a swamp of gardenias. The Lebanese love flowers, their colour and scent, and Beirut is draped in trees and bushes that smell like paradise.
As for the huddled masses southern slums of Haret Hreik, I found hundreds of them yesterday, sitting under trees and lying on the parched grass beside an ancient fountain donated to the city of Beirut by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid. How empires fall.


Far away, across the Mediterranean, two American helicopters from the USS Iwo Jima could be seen, heading through the mist and smoke towards the US embassy bunker complex at Awkar to evacuate more citizens of the American Empire. There was not a word from that same empire to help the people lying in the park, to offer them food or medical aid.

And across them all has spread a dark grey smoke that works its way through the entire city, the fires of oil terminals and burning buildings turning into a cocktail of sulphurous air that moves below our doors and through our windows. I smell it when I wake in the morning. Half the people of Beirut are coughing in this filth, breathing their own destruction as they contemplate their dead.

The anger that any human soul should feel at such suffering and loss was expressed so well by Lebanon's greatest poet, the mystic Khalil Gibran, when he wrote of the half million Lebanese who died in the 1916 famine, most of them residents of Beirut:
My people died of hunger, and he who
Did not perish from starvation was
Butchered with the sword'
They perished from hunger In a land rich with milk and honey.
They died because the vipers and
Sons of vipers spat out poison into
The space where the Holy Cedars and
The roses and the jasmine breathe
Their fragrance.
And the sword continues to cut its way through Beirut.


When part of an aircraft - perhaps the wing-tip of an F-16 hit by a missile, although the Israelis deny this - came streaking out of the sky over the eastern suburbs at the weekend, I raced to the scene to find a partly decapitated driver in his car and three Lebanese soldiers from the army's logistics unit. These are the tough, brave non-combat soldiers of Kfar Chim, who have been mending power and water lines these past six days to keep Beirut alive.

I knew one of them. "Hello Robert, be quick because I think the Israelis will bomb again but we'll show you everything we can." And they took me through the fires to show me what they could of the wreckage, standing around me to protect me.

And a few hours later, the Israelis did come back, as the men of the small logistics unit were going to bed, and they bombed the barracks and killed 10 soldiers, including those three kind men who looked after me amid the fires of Kfar Chim.

And why? Be sure - the Israelis know what they are hitting. That's why they killed nine soldiers near Tripoli when they bombed the military radio antennas. But a logistics unit? Men whose sole job was to mend electricity lines? And then it dawns on me. Beirut is to die. It is to be starved of electricity now that the power station in Jiyeh is on fire. No one is to be allowed to keep Beirut alive. So those poor men had to be liquidated.

Beirutis are tough people and are not easily moved. But at the end of last week, many of them were overcome by a photograph in their daily papers of a small girl, discarded like a broken flower in a field near Ter Harfa, her feet curled up, her hand resting on her torn blue pyjamas, her eyes - beneath long, soft hair - closed, turned away from the camera. She had been another "terrorist" target of Israel and several people, myself among them, saw a frightening similarity between this picture and the photograph of a Polish girl lying dead in a field beside her weeping sister in 1939.

I go home and flick through my files, old pictures of the Israeli invasion of 1982. There are more photographs of dead children, of broken bridges. "Israelis Threaten to Storm Beirut", says one headline. "Israelis Retaliate". "Lebanon At War". "Beirut Under Siege". "Massacre at Sabra and Chatila".

Yes, how easily we forget these earlier slaughters. Up to 1,700 Palestinians were butchered at Sabra and Chatila by Israel's proxy Christian militia allies in September of 1982 while Israeli troops - as they later testified to Israel's own court of inquiry - watched the killings. I was there. I stopped counting the corpses when I reached 100. Many of the women had been raped before being knifed or shot.

Yet when I was fleeing the bombing of Ghobeiri with my driver Abed last week, we swept right past the entrance of the camp, the very spot where I saw the first murdered Palestinians. And we did not think of them. We did not remember them. They were dead in Beirut and we were trying to stay alive in Beirut, as I have been trying to stay alive here for 30 years.

I am back on the sea coast when my mobile phone rings. It is an Israeli woman calling me from the United States, the author of a fine novel about the Palestinians. "Robert, please take care," she says. "I am so, so sorry about what is being done to the Lebanese. It is unforgivable. I pray for the Lebanese people, and the Palestinians, and the Israelis." I thank her for her thoughtfulness and the graceful, generous way she condemned this slaughter.

Then, on my balcony - a glance to checkthe location of the Israeli gunboat far out in the sea-smog - I find older clippings. This is from an English paper in 1840, when Beirut was a great Ottoman city. "Beyrouth" was the dateline. "Anarchy is now the order of the day, our properties and personal safety are endangered, no satisfaction can be obtained, and crimes are committed with impunity. Several Europeans have quitted their houses and suspended their affairs, in order to find protection in more peaceable countries."

On my dining-room wall, I remember, there is a hand-painted lithograph of French troops arriving in Beirut in 1842 to protect the Christian Maronites from the Druze. They are camping in the Jardin des Pins, which will later become the site of the French embassy where, only a few hours ago, I saw French men and women registering for their evacuation. And outside the window, I hear again the whisper of Israeli jets, hidden behind the smoke that now drifts 20 miles out to sea.

Fairouz, the most popular of Lebanese singers, was to have performed at this year's Baalbek festival, cancelled now like all Lebanon's festivals of music, dance, theatre and painting. One of her most popular songs is dedicated to her native city:

To Beirut - peace to Beirut with all my heart
And kisses - to the sea and clouds,
To the rock of a city that looks like an old sailor's face.
From the soul of her people she makes wine,
From their sweat, she makes bread and jasmine.
So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire?
'Disgracefully, we evacuate our precious foreigners and just leave the Lebanese to their fate'