Palestine to Lebanon: So close, yet so far away

A Hamas supporter holds a Lebanese flag during a protest against Israel’s military offensive in Lebanon and Gaza during a rally after Friday prayers in Gaza City July 14, 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)


Anxious, frustrated and not knowing when I can return to Lebanon, my only recourse is to listen to the news as I sit in occupied Palestine.  It is difficult to watch Lebanon go up in flames from here.  Today I was at the beach in Jaffa watching helicopters fly up and down the coast.  The contrast of worlds so close yet so far apart is sickening.  The Israelis in Tel Aviv-Jaffa go on about their lives as if nothing is going on, as if they have no responsibility for what is happening in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon.  As citizens of an occupying nation they seem to care little about their role and I see people surfing, strolling, and dancing on the beach.  Perhaps one wonders what they can do, but seeing that they all have a close relative, a son, a daughter, a brother, in the army, I find something strangely disturbing that business can go on as usual.
 
Returning to Ramallah tonight, as if a prisoner returning to his cell after a day out in the fresh air, I am welcomed by  people celebrating in the Manara (downtown square) the success of Hizballah’s attack on an Israeli warship and raising the Israeli death toll.  I feel as though people have nothing better to do and want any excuse to celebrate and feel the shadow of hope.  But under the light of the full moon we know there will be no shadow casted and these celebrations by people numbering no more than 50 are borderline offensive.  The Palestinians should be mourning the deaths of over 70 Lebanese who have fallen not for any Lebanese cause, but for an Arab Palestinian cause.  A cause which every other Arab country and its leaders, considering their lack of support, cowardice to act and empty rhetoric, should be embarrassed to claim as their own.
 
Meanwhile in Lebanon, the survivors persevering (al-Samedun) are angry at Hizballah and their claim that they are defending Lebanon.  “Lebanon was doing just fine before Hizballah decided to act,” came my mother’s scream when I finally was able to get through to her on her cellphone.  She and my sister are doing fine but they are alone in Lebanon (my father is in Kuwait and my brother in the US).  They are in the Northern part of the country, in Jounieh, and she tells me she hasn’t heard the bombing from there.  The northern parts are not experiencing any action yet so they have been able to sleep and haven’t heard the bombing.  I cannot say the same for family in Mansourieh and Beirut; in Beirut they have had to leave their homes for the mountains and my grandmother made it to our place at the beach in the north.  Seems Mount Lebanon continues to offer some sort of safe haven even in 2006.  People in Lebanon are making jokes as laughter is probably the oldest form of resistance.  I speak to my mom on the phone and we laugh; I know our eyes would betray us.  But I also know we, not as Lebanese, but as humans, have a fascinating way of dealing with the bitterness of war, and the Lebanese have always been known to take things lightly.  Allah bi yefrejha (God will work things out)!  I suppose that is the mentality, for believers and non-believers alike.  I see the same resliliance and more as people speak to me about years of occupation in the Palestinian cities of Hebron, Jenin, Tulkarem and villages in between.
 
As I play back what I have seen and heard today in Ramallah, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and Lebanon, and as I see the Israelis unaffected and showing no mercy for the immorality of their state’s action, I can’t help think about what all this means.  Is it Lebanon’s fate to be the sacrifical lamb of the Middle East as the rest of the Arab leaders remain traitorous masters of rhetoric?  In all honesty, Syria, Iran, Jordan and Egypt should open their fronts.  But they won’t because they aren’t worth the dignity they claim as Arab.  If anything good comes out of this it is that no one should ever question the Arab identity of Lebanon. 
 
Somewhere not too deep inside I share in the joy and in the fact that they severely destroyed an Israeli ship.  Of course, the elation is short lived because this will only cause unimaginable destruction to Lebanon and exponentially increase the Lebanese death toll, not to mention the deaths in Gaza which now go unnoticed as Lebanon takes the headlines.  But how can I not be elated after seeing the prison of this two-state solution?
 
My response to my mother screaming “How is Hizballah defending Lebanon? Is this the way to defend Lebanon?” was that they are not defending Lebanon, “they are defending Palestine.”  Indeed, if they are, the sentiment from Lebanese I have spoken to is that this is no way to go about it because what is Lebanon to carry the burden of Palestine on its shoulders alone?  Who is Hizballah to do so?  Let the other Arab countries do something.  Let the Arab people, if not their governments, do something.  Instead, they only talk.  Al-Jazeera reports the opinion on the Arab street quoting people in Saudi Arabia and Sudan as saying we should fight the Israeli enemy.  Stop talking and come and fight then! 
 
From occupied Palestine, torn with thoughts about going back to Lebanon to be a voice from within, I comfort myself with the fact that I am doing research here for a good cause (the things we do to delude ourselves!).  But for you in Europe, America, and the treasonous Arab countries, you need to stop talking and start taking action against Israel.  If you want to do something and don’t know what it should be then besides putting pressure on your governments, the best thing you can do right now is to start a campaign to boycott Israel (its products, academia, investments and businesses working with or supporting Israel) in a manner that is targeted, sustained and visible in the media.  

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Sami Hermez is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at Princeton University and has recently moved back to his home country of Lebanon.  He is currently spending a month in Palestine working on an oral history project.