Welcome to Beirut
AP Photo: A resident stands in front of his
collapsed apartment building in the southern
Juan Cole talks about his visit to Beirut last month
I was in Beirut briefly in mid-June. I went downtown in the evening, where big LCD displays had been set up outside at the cafes, and thousands of people were enjoying the World Cup games. The young Lebanese, in jeans, were dancing to the new pop music of stars like Nancy Ajram and Amal Hijazi. Some had painted their faces with Brazilian flags. They were rooting for Brazil. The shops were full of fashionable clothing and jewelry, the restaurants tastefully decorated, the gourmet Lebanese food tantalizing. The bookstores were full of probing studies and intelligent commentary. The Syrians were gone and there was a lighthearted atmosphere. The snooty nightclubs at places like Monot street were choosy about who could get in.
I went to see publishers about my project, of publishing the works of great American thinkers in Arabic. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King. They mentioned about how the US did not have a good reputation and maybe not many readers would be interested. I said, maybe that is changing. Washington supports the new government, after all. We are your well-wishers.
Meanwhile, while Nancy was singing and Brazil was scoring, Halutz and Olmert were putting the final touches on their long-planned bombing campaign. They would go up and hit Tripoli's port, a Sunni area. They would hit the port at Jounieh, the trendy Christian city near Beirut. They would hit Beirut's port and its new shiny airport. They would hit the milk factory, the telecom towers, the roads, the bridges, and some clinics and hospitals for good measure. They would hit the fuel depots. It would be a total war on the Lebanese civilian population, setting 800,000 out of 3.8 million out from their homes or the rubble of their former homes, forcing them to other cities as homeless refugees, or abroad to Syria or Cyprus. They would reduce al-Dahiyah al-Janubiyah, the teeming Shiite slum to the south, to rubble and stray bloody fingers, feet and noses. They would say that these were all military targets, but they lied. Hizbullah is a political party with 14 MPs in parliament. It has political party offices, soup kitchens, clinics, in those Shiite slums. A lot of times it seems to be these that the Israelis hit. They lied and said that missiles were launched from Beirut, when they never were.
Israel's present policy toward Lebanon, of striking at so many civilian targets as to hold the entire civilian population hostage, is unspeakable.
I haven't complained about the Israeli border war with Hizbullah. I'm not sure it is wise, and I don't know how many Israelis Hizbullah even killed in, say, the year 2005. Is it really worth it? But I don't deny that Hizbullah went too far when it shelled dozens of civilian towns and cities and killed over a dozen innocent civilians, even in reprisal for the Israeli bombing campaign. (You can't target civilians. That is a prosecutable crime.) That is a clear casus belli, and I'd like to see Nasrallah tried at the Hague for all those civilian deaths he ordered. The fighting at Maroun al-Ra's and Bint Jbeil was horrible on all sides, but it was understandable, even justifiable. The fighting itself isn't going to lead anywwhere useful, though, and it is time for a ceasefire and political negotiations--the only way to actually settle such disputes.
What was done to Lebanon as a whole is among the most horrible war crimes of the young 21st century. And that it was done tells me that there is something sick in the heart of the Israeli military and political elite, a sickness of the soul that had better be faced and remedied before our entire world catches the contagion.
I mean, who talks like that? "if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land." . . . “Nothing is safe, as simple as that.” If they are the good guys, why do they talk like James Bond villains?
Yes, yes, Nasrallah and his shock troops are also evil. They are also sick in the soul. We have established that. Halutz can have the 5,000 fighters and the 12,000 rockets to do as he pleases to them. I have been to Haifa, too, and the city means a lot to me. I mind deeply when I hear that the mad bombers around Nasrallah have killed people there and done substantial damage.
But you will note that 800,000 Israelis are not homeless, that the ports are still operating, that Tel Aviv airport is open, that over 400 Israeli civilians aren't dead in two weeks, that factories, roads, bridges, telecom towers are still there. In fact, you will note that no flotilla of international vessels had to come to evacuate tens of thousands of foreigners from Israel. It is suffering, and that is wrong. It is not suffering what Lebanon is.
posted by Steve @ 8:34:00 AM