Lebanon…What I Pity

An Israeli armored personnel carrier rolls toward Southern Lebanon, as Israel’s assault on Lebanon continues, July 19, 2006. (/Inbal Rose)


To the indignation remaining in Suheil Idriss’ eyes.

I write these words as the Israeli aggression against Lebanon enters its seventh day, following military operation by the Islamic Resistance which resulted in the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of seven more. I flip through the television channels and the newspaper pages. It all makes me say, “What a pity, Lebanon.” Yet, I do not say this because I see Lebanon “stuck in a war created by the machinations of the Syrian-Iranian axis.” Such is the claim made by those who either neutralize Lebanon from the Israeli-Arab conflict, among them the February 14th bloc, or make its participation in that conflict contingent on the participation of all other Arab countries. Nor do I say it because I am skeptical about HizbAllah’s success in achieving its declared aims, i.e. the release from Israeli prisons of Lebanese prisoners, and perhaps Arab prisoners, too. Nor again do I say it because I bemoan (though truly I do) the destruction of the airport, bridges, and the rest of the infrastructure whose construction cost we Lebanese are paying from our own pockets and will continue to pay from our children’s and grandchildren’s pockets for tens of years to come.

Yes, Lebanon, I pity you. And yet…

What I pity about you, Lebanon, is that you should be afflicted by a leadership that did not take advantage of the liberation in 2000 to fortify the South and other areas against future Israeli aggressions. (And anyone who took into consideration Israel’s history and ambitions in this region could have seen that more aggression was not long in the waiting.) The successive Lebanese cabinets failed to build shelters, pave roads, or invest in the institutions that contribute to a populace’s steadfastness (such as hospitals, schools, universities, etc), despite the millions of dollars that were received from Arab regimes after each Israeli attack and were passed on to the Council for the South.

What I pity about you, Lebanon, is that you should suffer a leadership that does not provide its people with the means for self-defense, though most of its governments, including the current one, have been “on friendly terms” with the sponsors of the Cedar Revolution, the United States and France, both of which provide Israel with whatever arms it desires. No wonder, of course, when we consider that Lebanese authorities have consistently held for decades that “Lebanon’s strength… is in its weakness.”

What I pity about you, Lebanon, is that you should be governed—these days in particular—by a cabinet that does not “adopt” the capture of Israeli soldiers for the sake of liberating Lebanese prisoners, thereby officially orphaning the Resistance before the world, and indeed, providing a cover for the Israeli aggression. It is pitiful, Lebanon, that you should be stricken with a Prime Minister who condemns the Israeli aggression for its being “disproportionate” to the HizbAllah’s operation. Does that mean that he would have supported the former had it matched the latter, even though it is Israel, as belligerent and occupier, who provoked that operation (and all past, current, and perhaps future ones)?

How pitiful, Lebanon, that you should not be so lucky as to have a leadership that incessantly pressures “the international community” (whose praises it always sings) to compel Israel to pay reparations for its acts of aggression over the course of more than four decades. Indeed, how odd it is to hear principal members of the successive Lebanese governments praising the “shrewdness” of the Zionist lobby in the US, forgetting (or rather ignoring) all the while the fact that that lobby had succeeded, by 1998, in extorting $1.25 billion from Switzerland and $60 billion from Germany as “reparations” whose payment was forced on Europe “due to its rampant anti-semitism” both before and after World War 2. (See Norman G. Finkelstein, Holocaust Industry, Verso, 2000).

What I pity about you, Lebanon, is that you should endure a class of politicians and “analysts” who try to overwhelm us these days with two slogans: “bad timing” and “providing a pretext to the enemy.” The first has been the main concern of the February 14th bloc politicians, and the media that support them—as if they would have whistled and clapped for the operation had it occurred some other day. (Whatever day that might be, they noticeably do not specify.) The second has told us over and over that the operation presented a pretext needed by Israelis to carry out their aggression. This absurd logic completely ignores history: not once has the Israeli enemy sought a pretext to expand its aggression, occupation, and vengeance against Arab opposition. On the contrary, Shabak and the Mossad take any time they choose for aggression, even when operations against it have ceased. Moreover, this logic swiftly leads Arabs to submission and reliance on the same old pretenses: “realism” and “the eye cannot fight the chisel,” (though it did fight and triumph, in fact, on May 25, 2000).

What is pitiful too about you, Lebanon, is that your principal media outlets have been transformed into messenger boys for the American and French embassies as these call upon their citizens to leave a Lebanon that is no longer safe—though it has become so precisely because of US weaponry and American and French political support for Israel. And with their call to flee, these embassies facilitate the deployment of that weaponry against Lebanon, and probably against Beirut in particular. Speaking of the media, how pitiful for Lebanon too that no well-equipped television station such as Future TV has produced a video clip in support of the steadfastness of the Lebanese people while that television station produced more than one hundred songs and video clips (most of them exceedingly silly) in the weeks after the killing of Prime Minister al-Hariri. Or do the victims of Israeli aggression (as I write these lines there are over 210 Lebanese civilians dead) count for less than one Prime Minister Hariri?

What I pity about you, Lebanon, is your class of phony leftists (specifically the “Democratic Left”) who have no other concern but to suspect everything redolent of dignity and to seek out anything with which they can denounce the Syrian and the Iranian regimes, HizbAllah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP-General Command—anything, even that which might result in the ultimate release of heroes who paid the price of their freedom to attain ours. Indeed, some Hariri Leftists went as far as to claim that NasrAllah is the one who destroyed the Lebanese economy with his daring military operation, thus deliberately failing to remember how the policies of Prime Minister Hariri abetted debt, squander, and corruption (in coordination with some of his allies as well as leading figures in the Syrian regime).

This is not to say that those the February 14th Bloc likes to criticize are blameless. Least of all the Syrian regime, whose “strategizing” intellectuals (such as Dr. `Imad Fawzi Al-Shu`aybi) disgust me with their pouring praise on the Lebanese Resistance without once, for example, wondering aloud about the absence of official Syrian resistance in the Golan. Such praise strikes me as the other face of the position taken by the likes of MP Elias ‘Atallah (of the Décor-atic Left) who criticizes both the acquiescence of the Syrian regime in the Golan and also HizbAllah’s non-acquiescence and resistance in Lebanon! Would Mr. ‘Atallah like us to follow the Syrian suit in this case or not? Along those lines too, criticism of the Lebanese leadership, its political right and “left,” should not keep one quiet about the twisted logic of the Iranian regime which fights imperialism in Lebanon but collaborates with it in Iraq.

All the same, it is truly shameful that the February 14th bloc, along with its “theorists” and media figures, denounces the Lebanese Resistance‘s coordination with Syria and Iran, as if it were possible to stop American-Israeli war (or at least put a limit to it) without regional alliances. Rather, one would expect that if that bloc sincerely cared about the persistence of Lebanon, its dignity, and the security of its lands, it would immediately call upon the Lebanese government (of which it is the majority) to request military support from Syria and Iran, regardless of its alleged antagonism to religious or one-party rule. Or do the advocates of “sovereignty, liberty, and independence” believe that it is possible to confront American-Israeli violence with a vanguard led by tabbouleh, kibbe nayyeh, and home-brewed `araq; a rear-guard composed of dabkeh, the “Libinese” poems of Sa`id `Aql, and the conservative credo that rejects “the war of others on our land” (referring specifically to Syria, Iran, and the Palestinians); and a banner flapping in the wind above them, decorated with those symbols of co-existence, crosses and crescents?

***

Whenever anyone says, “I pity you, Lebanon,” solely to disparage HizbAllah, the Resistance, and all who raise their voices against America and Israel, they should be asked these questions:
Is there any way other than capturing Israeli soldiers to bring home Samir al-Qantar, Yahya Skaf, Nasim Nisr, and Ahmad Farran, not to mention—and as long as we are Arab nationalists and leftists, we must mention—thousands of prisoners of Palestinian, Arab, and other nationalities? Yes, one other way is for the prisoners to declare their repentance, and to swear to be decent, cooperative people. A possible second way is for the leadership of the Islamic Resistance to follow Oslo’s suit, vow to “renounce and denounce” armed resistance, and resort to the Security Council to request the return of its prisoners (as well as the liberation of its territories, the cessation of Israeli theft of Lebanese water,…). I have no doubt the Lebanese state may realize these demands after the repatriation of Palestinian refugees (in accordance with Resolution 194, and scores of other UN resolutions)! There may be yet a third way: if Sheikh Hasan NasrAllah changes his identity at the nearest notary public and takes the name “Mr. Hasan Karzai” or “General Hasan Lahd,” or “General Hasan Rajjoub.”

Other than arms, is there any way to intimidate Israel, if only a bit, before it thinks of strolling anew in Lebanon’s lands, waters, and skies, or expelling more refugees and committing more massacres in Al-Houleh, Kfar Kila, Al-Mansuriyyah, Qana, Marwahin, and ‘Aytaroun?

It feels banal to remind hip liberalists that history (Arab at least) has not witnessed genuine victories without bloodshed, arrests, torture, or death. Even non-violent struggle, such as strikes, boycotts, and divestment campaigns (in South Africa during Apartheid, in the Indian movement against the British led by Gandhi, and in Palestine during the first Intifada) does not escape bloodshed. Not that I think that those who oppose Lebanese armed resistance call, for instance, for the boycott of companies that support Israel, such as Nestle, Estée Lauder, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola. It is well-known that ministers in the former Hariri cabinet (such as Basil Fulayhan) ignored complaints submitted by local civil groups regarding the opening in Lebanon of Estée Lauder, a company headed by Ronald Lauder, president of the Jewish National Fund (the primary source of funding for new settlers in Israel). What is more, Mrs. Nazik al-Hariri (the wife of the ex-Prime Minister), in spite of vigorous public protest demonstrations, presided several years ago over the opening ceremony of the Aishti store in downtown Beirut that markets exclusively that company’s products.

Furthermore it will be extremely trite to remind those who spurn HizbAllah’s operation (and armed resistance generally) in favor of reliance upon the “international community” and “UN resolutions,” that United States (and occasionally Western Europe) have consistently refused to implement international resolutions against Israel. Quite the opposite, they recently decided to starve the entire Palestinian people because it had elected, through completely democratic procedures, the route of resistance to Israel.

If there remains no means to bring back Lebanese prisoners beyond that of capturing Israeli soldiers (a tactic whose success was confirmed in the recent past through operations carried out by PFLP-GC and HizbAllah among other groups), why condemn it? And why limit its application to Lebanese territory as long as Israel itself continues to detain hundreds of prisoners taken from outside Occupied Palestine? And what is all the more comical is that some politicians and the commentators in their pay (especially Future TV and LBC) when pressed aver that they are not against HizbAllah’s operation or armed resistance per se, but rather against undertaking resistance activities in the absence of a prior national consensus.

What national consensus are they talking about? Resistance needs neither national consensus nor national unity. That is a preposterous fib that is not supported by any historical instances, to the best of my knowledge. For example the French Resistance in World War II—a particularly important example as the February 14th bloc adores France, its civilization, and especially Jacques Chirac—did not by any means represent the majority in France when it was launched. Historian Elizabeth Thompson (Colonial Citizens, Columbia U. Press, 2000, p.196) shows that one-third of the bureaucrats in the Vichy administration in Lebanon refused to serve Charles De Gaulle and returned to France to serve the Vichy proxy government for the Nazis. Likewise the entire French military forces in Lebanon abandoned De Gaulle, except for a mere 3000.

Or take an example closer to home: in 1982, most Lebanese were terrified of the Israeli occupiers, and many tossed their weapons in public trash for fear of being caught “red-handed.” The nationalist resistance to the Israeli occupation of Beirut began with just a handful of fighters motivated by their self-respect. They stood up to the occupiers in the neighborhoods of Hamra, Concorde, and ‘Aisha Bakkar, …etc. They were hunted down, arrested, and killed by Amin Gemayel’s regime, the Israeli proxy. As days passed, however, that handful became a tide that freed Beirut and major sections of Lebanon from occupation. Still the resistance was far from enjoying any national Lebanese consensus (official or popular), despite its conjoining people from diverse sects by virtue of its secular and leftist character. Later, for a long list of reasons, HizbAllah came to the helm of the resistance and liberated most of what had remained under Israeli control, yet again without the resistance attaining any national consensus, despite its having become a roaring popular wave. Indeed, it remained basically confined to a single (albeit huge) sect. So why should the Resistance today seek a national consensus about its national, legal, and religious right? And from whom?

From the “Lebanese Forces” who collaborated with the Israelis for many years on the excuse of protecting the Christians?

From parties with ambiguous identities—sectarian and socialist and conservative—and whose leadership coordinated with Israeli occupation (as elaborated by Faris Abi Sa’b in an article published a month or so ago in Al-Diyar newspaper)?

From parliamentary “representatives” who would not have received one hundred votes in the last parliamentary elections if not for the funding of Sheikh Sa’d al-Hariri and for the exploitation of popular sympathy for his family following the assassination of his father?

From other MPs who confessed that they were forced to vote for President Emile Lahhoud’s unconstitutional extension in office, out of fear of the Syrian regime’s retribution lest they vote against it? Can people who betrayed the trust of their constituency represent a national consensus?

Indeed, did not Hasan NasrAllah, who already had in his possession Ra`ad, Zilzal, and Shihab missiles, show great patience in conferring hours upon hours with various Lebanese leaders (Michel ‘Awn, Sa’d al-Hariri, etc…) to attain their recognition of the Lebanese identity of the Shab’a Farms and Kafar Shuba, and the right to bring back Lebanese prisoners? Was that not enough before HizbAllah could undertake concrete action to obtain the prisoners’ release? After the “National Dialogue” and the slew of coordination meetings, was “national consensus” still necessary? What if a public referendum (not of the MPs, not of the party leaders, but of the people themselves) was held about the resistance? Would it result in anything less than a declaration by the majority of Lebanese (not all, since that would be impossible for any cause) in support for the armed Lebanese Resistance?

***

Lastly, what I pity about you, Lebanon is that, after your victory in 2000, you should be reduced once again by those who criticize Resistance to a site for mere business, tourism, and shrewdness (shatara). Business and tourist industry were hit by Israel and the US (which provides it with arms) not by HizbAllah’s exercising its right to free Lebanese prisoners. Beirut airport (which, incidentally, was recently renamed Rafiq al-Hariri International Airport without any national consensus, despite the fact that it is the entire national populace that is paying for its construction) was hit by Israel and the US, not by HizbAllah in 2006, nor by the Palestinian Resistance in 1968. (By the way, does not the destruction of the airport indicate Hariri’s gross mis-estimation of national priorities? Should the priority not be Lebanon’s image, as a “civilized” and “advanced” nation in the eyes of tourists, Orientalists, Gulf visitors, and the “international community,” but rather security vis-à-vis Israel’s belligerence?)

What I pity is that it should be said, “Lebanon paid enough for Palestine” so it no longer has to act in solidarity with the subjugated Palestinian people, not even through an operation whose prime aim is to liberate Lebanese prisoners but whose timing might coincide with the Israeli military machine’s pressuring the elected Hamas government. Is it too much to ask of you, Lebanon, that your quest to free your prisoners also relieves some of the horrific weight of the Israeli military from the shoulders of the Palestinian people simply by virtue of its timing? Have we forgotten already our bitterness, we Lebanese, when “the Arabs” were cheering for the Algerian team against the Polish at the 1982 World Cup but were utterly silent about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon? Do intellectuals and analysts who are so tired of Palestine want, today, to be like those “Arabs” they condemned?

Likewise, how pitiful for Lebanon that some of its residents of Palestinian origin, who came as refugees decades ago, acquired citizenship (contrary to hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians), attained wealth, today stress the importance of separating the fates of Lebanon and Palestine. Now that they have become Lebanese they even reject that the “timing” of HizbAllah’s operation should come to Hamas’ aid. This, in fact, is not so much a case of renouncing one’s origin, or neglecting one’s tortured people, as it is a case of forgetting an obvious historical fact: this entire region was one common territory for its residents before it got ripped apart by mandates and empires that separated Lebanese from Palestinians.

What would a Lebanon that is not pitiful look like? A dignified Lebanon would be the ally of a venerable Palestine. Indeed, it would not hurt Lebanon, but honor it, to help the Palestinian people and their democratically elected government to prevail, whenever possible, and especially when the principle aim is directly in Lebanon’s favor (as in the case of the Lebanese prisoners in Occupied Palestine). Regardless, the victory of the Islamic Resistance is “near, very near, truly near,” as swore the symbol today of Arab dignity (yes, dignity, dear liberals), Sayyid Hasan NasrAllah. That victory will also be a victory for Palestine. All that is necessary at this moment is a tenacious hold on principles, unswerving support for the Resistance, and serene patience.

It is the fate of Lebanon to be neighbor to a vicious enemy, Israel. But it is Lebanon’s ennobling choice to stand by the side of its heroic freedom-fighters, and by the side of Palestine.

Samah Idriss is editor-in-chief of Al-Adab Magazine. This article was translated from the Arabic by Kirsten Scheid. It will be published in the July/August issue of Al-Adab magazine.

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