Current events are like hot air balloons, says Arundhati Roy; they rise up into view and disappear out of sight again. This seems to be the situation now in Lebanon. Many friends and colleagues abroad are emailing to ask what’s going on, since Lebanon is no longer in the news. Our hot air balloons have already disappeared.
We are not in the news anymore, but this does not mean that war is no longer raging in Lebanon. The only difference between now and the summer, when we were in the news, is that quick death caused by immediate shelling has been replaced by slow, sporadic death caused by cluster bombs and soil and air contamination, and the brute power of Israel’s armed forces has been replaced by the soft power of UN political control.
Our hot air balloons have dropped from view, but meanwhile in Lebanon: Israeli reports are now coming out about their army’s use of illegal weapons during its summer war. First, we learned that the Israelis dropped over one million cluster bombs in Lebanon during the last 72 hours of the war, directly targeting civilian areas. Since the end of the war, dozens of Lebanese citizens have been killed and injured weekly by these bombs. A week ago, Israel admitted use of phosphorous bombs in Lebanon, after it had denied that many times during the war. This week a British study was released reporting that samples taken from different parts of the south have been high in radioactive levels, which means that Israel used uranium based weapons in its last war on Lebanon.
We are not in the news anymore, but meanwhile in Lebanon: The UNIFIL is changing its mandate by the day. It turned from being an international force to keep the peace to a force with the aim “to protect the state of Israel,” as German Chancellor Angela Merkel revealed once UNIFIL forces had already been deployed in the country. The UNIFL mission to watch over the seafront of Lebanon is being followed by requests for management of air and land. This does not mean, in any sense, blocking Israeli air raids over Lebanon - which have never stopped since the end of the war and are in direct violation of the UN resolution - but watching over weapons claimed to be smuggled to Hizbullah by air. This at a time when Israel is getting the latest and most advanced weapons flown and shipped in from the US as it wishes.
We are not in the news anymore, but meanwhile in Lebanon and as reported in today’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, France and the US are preparing for a UN resolution that will suspend the Lebanese constitution and (as has happened in the Ivory Coast) assign the prime minister responsibilities detailed in the resolution, putting Lebanon under direct control of the UN Security Council.
Our hot air balloons have floated out of sight, but meanwhile in Lebanon, UNIFIL is giving Israel what it could not get during its war on Lebanon, Lebanese citizens are still dying from the legacy of Israeli cluster bombs (and will later die from radioactive and chemical poisoning caused by Israel’s use of illegal weapons), the whole country is on hold and hundreds of thousands of Lebanese haunted by the memories of previous wars are leaving the country.
Yet we are no longer in the news. Our hot balloons have hit the ground. As to why, just ask Palestinians and Iraqis — maybe they can tell us from experience.
Mayssoun Sukarieh is a native of Beirut and a frequent contributor to Electronic Lebanon