What a beautiful day it was yesterday. The sky was crystal clear and the sun strong. The beach could have been an option to many of my fellow Lebanese. Moreover, a strange calm overtook the city, as if everyone was resting, like on a typical summer Sunday. I strolled around a downtown that was unusually empty, apart from a couple of people sitting nonchalantly in the shade of restaurants’ parasols. I sat and wondered if we ever had a day such as this since the beginning of the year.
By this time, Israeli warplanes had already hit several regions of south Lebanon, the Beirut airport, a couple of bridges, and had imposed a sea and land blockade of the country. If you did not turn on the TV you would not even guess that destruction was looming. But if you made the mistake of watching the TV you would have been drawn into a nightmare of punditry and information making things look like it was the Second World War all over again. I can only imagine what images and impressions people living outside Lebanon are conjuring up; fed by the various competing channels on the new “Israeli-Lebanese war”.
Yes, it was a big day for the media. Finally, they found something else to report other than the constant killing in Iraq. There was another Middle Eastern country under siege. There are more than ten channels reporting live from Lebanon and Israel; all of them saying practically the same thing. But in order to fill time with content for consumption purposes they bring “experts”: military officials, ministers, deputies, diplomats, and a litany of opinion and analysis producers in order to help the average citizen decide what has befallen them. The only time I was disturbed during my walk in our plastic downtown is when a French crew of journalists and other vultures came to phagocyte on the point of view of the average Lebanese, just to get the classical Lebanese answer to such events from another passer by:
Q: What do you think of the recent escalation of violence?
A: Well they always do it when the tourism season is just about to start. It’s a conspiracy.
Q: Do you have any moral stance in all of this?
A: Not the least except that I think Lebanese are always those who pay the price for others’ conflict. It’s the war of others don’t you see? All I want is to make my business prosper and live happily. We are a people of merchants.
Satisfied, the French vultures packed their stuff and went on to report that there is a Lebanese apathy towards the recent escalation of tension. This will contrast with what I would call “touristic” and other foreigner’s pseudo-intellectual stands in Lebanon that “support the resistance” and that think that Lebanese are just a bunch of bourgeois xenophobes living on their own disjointed time. These pseudo-intellectuals - just as the aforementioned French vultures - do not realize that they will go back home and get their social security and act like parasites on their overarching State while claiming solidarity with “the Palestinian people”, and other oppressed in the region. It is easy to take moral stands when you can drink potable water from the sink, my friend.
It is also a big day for oil producers, as the barrel shot up above $75. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia does not show its joy and criticizes Hezbollah for the recent “irresponsible” capture of prisoners. Iran is silent, and says that it will attack Israel if the latter tries to hit Syria. What about Lebanon? Is the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure not enough for you to attack Israel? The Americans and their European slaves walk behind the Israeli flag although the Europeans attempt to show more diplomacy by trying to get a UN resolution ready to condemn Israeli attack, while Americans veto it. And the Arabs … akh the Arabs … They completely support the “Lebanese cause” — whatever this means. Thank you, that’s nice; now you can go back to your obsolete political ranks and act as if you were statesmen.
But it is also a big day for Americans, as Israel is doing the dirty job for them by trying to get rid of the “terrorists”. This is so convenient for them when you look at the bigger picture (American/Iran confrontation) that I wonder if Hezbollah was not set up, as many pundits that feed the viewers through the various Arabic channels would already argue. The Israeli government is weak and they want to show that they can deal with the enemy forcefully. They open a front in Gaza and open another in Lebanon. This never would have happened under the Sharon’s time.
In the meantime, at night I go to sleep. I check my emails and I have 20 messages of inquietude waiting for me. So many people care for me it seems! I try to calm people down by explaining the perverse effect the media can have on them … And then I fall asleep only to be awakened by Israeli raids on the southern suburbs. I sit on the balcony and watch the light of the Lebanese defenses fill the sky like fireworks. I feel they are approaching and I wonder if maybe Israel decided to bomb a Christian neighborhood (perhaps the one where I live), just for fun. But I prudently go back into my bed and watch the fireworks from afar. Then, a feeling of certitude washes over me that Israelis would not do such a thing. On the contrary, in pursuit of their goal of fomenting sectarian strife, they will try to make as good friends as possible among the Christians, and the Sunnis.
Speaking of which, deep down some Christians may also think it is a big day for them. This can be derived from the same reasoning that prevailed under the 1982 Israeli siege that was supposed to “cleanse” the Lebanese territory from Palestinian political forces. Let’s hope not too many think this way, and that most of them, along with the Sunnis, stay with the classic attitude of “this is going to f**k up our tourist season”. I prefer such superficial reasoning than more militant one such as “this is a good occasion to federalize the country, folks”. As Israelis try to isolate the conflict to an Israeli-Shia one (with occasional collective punishments here and there, like bombing the airport), confessional escalation could happen. One has only to listen to the available luminary speeches by our many notable petty politicians in order to start being afraid. The specter of sectarian violence always looms in Lebanon. If words spill over into deeds, all hell will break loose.
For now, few are those who are trying to fix things. The Lebanese government is so incompetent on so many issues that it is not even worth demonstrating why they cannot do anything about it. In any case, their French and American mentors are backing the Israeli raids, so there you have it.
This is not a big day for those who want people to stay cohesive and try to find compromise. This is not a big day for Lebanese, or for Palestinians. This is not a big day for those who wished that national consensus could be reached in Lebanon and Palestine.
Bechir Saade is lecturer in Political Studies at the American University of Beirut. He maintains a blog on Middle East issues at www.remarkze.blogspot.com