Beyond all that remains

War returns to Lebanon, garbage returns to its streets. (Photo relief: Sami Hermez)


Garbage. Garbage piled on garbage. Garbage in the streets and along mountain bends. Remembering the aftermath of the 1975-1990 civil war and the garbage Lebanon was left with, I feel that today’s piling trash is a symbol of where this country is headed. Garbage in the streets is an emblem of active warfare. Driving through mountain roads, and from village to village I feel the effects of Israel’s invasion in the collapsing civil services of Lebanon. Today, in Mansourieh, Mount Lebanon, I saw a huge fire. It was not the effects of destruction but garbage burning and whirling in the wind. These are images of the long-term effects of a war that I remember. Garbage. And this is nothing to say of the heinous war crimes inflicted on the Southern part of this country.

This is not simply a political war of destruction, but more importantly, a long-term war on our economy, prosperity and well-being, all supported primarily by American arms and investments. In Lebanon, many of us are trying to work as best we can on the ground with limited supplies. We are determined to make the longer term impacts of this tragedy as painless as possible so that the Lebanese people can persevere against Israeli war and aggression. I have heard from friends abroad crying, screaming, and all the while feeling completely useless and frustrated. From inside war-torn Lebanon (I never imagined I would have to write that in the present tense), many of us are also feeling that we can and should do more. We are incapable of stopping or physically resisting the Israeli army’s aggression, yet this realization is incapable of stopping our conscience. The only thing lacking in this din of bombs and chaos is an audible voice.

So my plea to all of you around the world is to stop feeling sorry for us or pathetic and idle about our seemingly scripted fate. These are defeatist attitudes. They incapacitate and demobilize. Donate your money to Lebanon’s relief. Organize and attend demonstrations and make your voice heard. We need the violence to end and the humanitarian efforts to reach us immediately — and these actions help. However, the initiative must go further.

We in Lebanon and Palestine (and to a certain extent in Iraq though the strategy may be slightly different there) need you to be more active and to work on sustained approaches to resistance beyond donations and demonstrations. It is for this reason, as I watch the suburbs of Beirut in flames, that I call on the world to enact boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This is the most moral and non-violent form of resistance in which one can engage. Israel has destroyed the Lebanese and Palestinian economies with force and deliberation; it has destroyed our holy places and schools, while reaping economic benefits from investments abroad, sustainable through foreign purchases and business dealings. It is no longer time for dialogue or collaboration with Israel. It is impossible to dialogue or negotiate with a party that throws the scales off balance so radically, forcefully and unabashedly. Such “dialogue” postures — as Arabs have witnessed in every negotiation since the dawn of Zionism — result in terms that are dictated and enforced from above, with Israel’s rights taking precedence over those of Arabs. On these terms, economic, academic or cultural collaboration is a charade at best, and, at worst, a smokescreen for a crueler agenda. Contrary to the liberal notions that back these forms of engagement — those that try to show how “Arabs and Jews can work together” — it is apparent today how we, as Arabs, have no influence over Israel, whose strength is afforded by the world’s blind support. Such forms of “engagement” are falsities that only serve to make the world think that Israel is doing something towards peace. Thus, dialogue is not engagement; it is grounds for future capitulation to dictated demands and it will not yield justice.

Sustained and targeted boycott along the model of the anti-South African Apartheid movement is the only way an economic powerhouse like Israel, supported heavily by the West, can be forced, non-violently, to change its ways and agree to a comprehensive and just solution. While the personal boycott of products is noble, the more important task is to build BDS campaigns. In the Arab world, people need to lobby elite businesspersons to cut relations with companies doing business with Israel (For example, in Kuwait, people should target Al-Shayeh’ to convert his Starbucks operations into local coffee shops or shut them down and invest elsewhere). Arabs should also put pressure, en masse, on their people and governments to reinstitute boycott in their countries and coordinate across countries on the specific details; this should be a people’s movement rather than a government mandate like in the 1980s. Such boycotts should target industry leaders and begin with the most critical players involved in supporting Israel’s occupation and injustices. This long-term campaign will not be easy to implement, but its results will be lasting, and its precedent well-founded and therefore difficult to deter. These actions have brought down powerful regimes in the past (again, see the South African Apartheid example), and the shock and disgust at what is happening today in Lebanon and Gaza are ample fuel for reviving such a movement.

In the West, there are already successful BDS movements that are slowly creeping into the public view. These BDS campaigns are in or close to your area, awaiting your participation. If the events in Lebanon and Palestine have stirred your conscience then dedicate a portion of your time and life to ensure that violence and injustice do not continue unabated. Beyond donations or demonstrations, BDS is one way to effect a lasting change. Get together with people already dedicated to this and lobby your institutions (Churches, schools, universities, companies, etc.). The goal is to put pressure and create a comprehensive threat to boycott. There will be pressure and accusations trying to force you to quit. But always remember those of us who endure Israel’s wars, occupations and injustices, under the pressure of precision guided missiles, and misguided foreign policies, trying to force us to surrender.

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Sami Hermez is a Lebanese-American doctoral candidate of Anthropology at Princeton University working on violence in the Middle East. He returned to Lebanon in the middle of Israel’s invasion of his country to stand in solidarity with his family, his people, and a just cause. He can be contacted at shermez@princeton.edu