Where do I stand?

A displaced family from Nahr al-Bared stay in a UNRWA school in Baddawi refugee camp, as Lebanese schools have not opened their doors to the refugees. (Tanya Traboulsi)

A dear friend of mine told me yesterday that I’m taking sides. That it seems as if I’m condemning only one form of violence.

I thank him for that note — it forces me to clarify my position. So, here is my position on what is happening now in Lebanon.

I wholeheartedly condemn the attacks against the Lebanese Army. I find it especially abhorrent that many of these soldiers were not killed in “battle” but where actually killed in their sleep, and killed in a most brutal manner.

I wholeheartedly condemn the random bombings (four so far) that have erupted across Lebanon (Ashrafieh, Verdun, Aley, and — yesterday — Dikwane). These bombs are designed to spread fear among the people and to destroy the (already non-functioning) (shopping) economy.

I understand the state of fear that people are living in, the great sense of insecurity that is gripping people, forcing them to return their homes in the early evening, making Beirut look like a deserted city by 8 or 9 pm.

And — simultaneously:

I also reject the collective punishment of the Palestinian refugees in Nahr al-Bared. The besiegement, the bombings, the destruction of homes, and the new-refugee status for the majority of the Nahr al-Bared residents. (Many of the “residents” in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee camp have been refugees several times over — first from Haifa, then from Tel al-Zaatar, then al-Damour, and then Nahr al-Bared, and now to Beddawi. Some of the families (hundreds, to be specific) who fled from Nahr al-Bared fled to the Ein al-Helwe camp in southern Lebanon, where they, in turn, fled again a few days ago.)

I reject the doublespeak of the politicians who say that “Palestinians are our brothers,” while they restrict access of aid to the besieged camp. They say that the “Palestinians are our brothers” (and many of them who make this statement they themselves had conducted massacres of Palestinians in Lebanon) and “ask” Palestinians to leave their homes while not opening up Lebanese homes, Lebanese schools, or Lebanese churches and mosques to them. (If I ask you to leave your home and claim you as my brother, the least I can do is share with you my home.) When we remember — as we should — that Palestinian refugees of Ein al-Helwe camp opened their camp to the Lebanese fleeing from Israeli bombardment in July 2006, that these Palestinians shared their limited food supply with the Lebanese, then the fact that the Lebanese have not even responded in kind should be all the more shameful.

I reject the physical harassment that a number of Palestinians have endured by both the Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces. And, yes, my friend is correct: perhaps we do not have documented cases of harassment to make a broad stroke against the army and the police. And, likely, it isn’t an official directive. But, there has been enough harassment to cause a significant portion of Palestinians to limit their mobility, and, consequently, to feel restrained from working, and consequently, to endure even greater limited income. Furthermore, as an Amnesty International representative (from the London office) told me today, the fact that thus far we have four detailed cases in different locations with people of different profiles is evidence that we have a situation approaching a noticeable pattern. Let me stress one point: these are cases that we know. Most likely, what we don’t know is significantly greater than what we do know; most likely, the cases of harassment are significantly greater than the number of individuals we have interviewed. Can we understand these attacks? Yes, if we also understand the vile sentiments of racism and understand how racism can be empowered by fear. Can we accept it? Absolutely not. It is specifically in these difficult times, it is specifically in times when our security is threatened, that we should cling all the more to our civil rights and reject all the more violations to our civil rights. Our civil rights. Any attack on anyone’s civil rights in one nation is an attack on everyone’s civil rights. I am not saying this as mere poetic words of alleged solidarity. I mean it quite literally. Furthermore, if we are to claim “honor and dignity” for the Lebanese Army — as the majority of Lebanese are publicly claiming — then we should become all the more indignant when that very institution commits wrongs.

I reject the ease at which too many Lebanese have dismissed the loss of Palestinian life. I reject the ease at which too many Lebanese reject the human suffering of Palestinians by simply placing all blame on the failures of the Palestinian leadership itself. I reject the philosophy of too many Lebanese that individuals who are non-citizens in Lebanon should not expect to receive the same rights (civil and human rights) as citizens in Lebanon. (For my US readers, does this philosophy sound familiar?) And I reject what this means: an abdication of a sense of individual humanity.

I reject that a political settlement was not more seriously sought. I reject that the Lebanese politicians placed the Lebanese Army in the sole position to “deal” with the crisis — and thus they have pushed the Lebanese Army itself into a lose-lose situation. I reject that the politicians who funded this militia known as Fateh al-Islam are now the ones claiming the moral high ground.

So, what am I for? As my dear brother Wael continues to remind me: it is not enough to state what we are against; it is more important to state what we are for. What do we want? What are we actually working to create?

I repeat here Emily’s words: “Support the army from those who put them at risk by funding Fatah al-Islam; prevent efforts to split the army along sectarian grounds; protect the army from orders to fight a dirty war against civilians and their homes, against waging a losing battle against a group that should have been denied access to this country, the camps, funds and weapons in the first place.”

One other point I’d like to make:

Again, I’m finding extreme similarities between what is happening here in Lebanon now and what happened in the US post 9/11.

The US government (both the neo-cons and their close cousins the neo-liberal Democrats) used the excuse of “national security” to commit horrendous civil rights violations against certain communities (Arabs, in particular, and less so, anti-war organizers). (As a side issue, it is important to remember that the first of the laws that began the destruction of civil rights in the US wasn’t by George W. Bush but was by Bill Clinton, that man all too wrongly loved by Democrats.)

The US government (both neo-cons and neo-liberals) used the language of “liberating the women of Afghanistan” while the US Army bombed and killed and occupied and imposed a puppet government. (I am not comparing the actions of the US Army to those of the Lebanese Army; I am merely reminded of the discourse.)

What does that mean, these small similarities? That we can learn from each other — we, the resistors, we, the ones working to create a better world, a different world, can learn from each other’s struggles.

Rania Masri is a writer and Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Balamand, Lebanon.

Related Links