Diaries: Live from Lebanon

Sowing the seeds of tomorrow's violence

The atmosphere of the Lebanese opposition demonstrations, which began last Friday and were planned in large part by Hizballah, Amal, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and their allies, has been very calm and festive, betraying the underlying tensions and outbursts of political violence in the country. In many ways, they exude a similar spirit to last year’s months of demonstrating by the March 14 coalition, in which there was constant music interlaced with speeches, and people waving Lebanese flags and behaving as if they had just won a football game or were at a concert. 

Historic Days in Beirut and a White Rose

December 3: Today is the third day of the great events in Beirut. A congregation of people, a coming together of individuals from all over Lebanon from all religious groupings, all seeking to change the majority ruling government of the country. All this is happening under the leadership of Hezbollah, which is being cool, keeping its alliances strong and its supporters disciplined. On the first day there were approximately two million people. If you were part of it you would not have been able to tell how many people were there. In the front of the event, very near the speakers’ stand where I stood with friends, I could see and hear but only a fragment of the crowd. 

We, Nahnu

Beginning Thursday evening the streets of Beirut were filled with anticipation. As with the night before the March 14th Coalition’s rally in Martyr’s Square after Pierre Gemayel’s assassination, cars full of Lebanese people flying various flags (national and party) outside of their windows cruised through the streets of Beirut honking and blasting music. The feel, at least from where I listened to this from my apartment, was of a small American town after the big Friday night football game. The following morning was one of intense traffic, bottlenecked because people were trying to get home or to work and so many of the streets in downtown Beirut were closed off and military installations were all over the city, including in my neighborhood, Hamra. 

From Hamra to Dahye

Tonight I caught a tiny glimpse of the anger that the masses might express here in Lebanon. Tonight’s confluence of national forces in the main squares of downtown Beirut were complemented by spontaneous action in the neighborhoods. Gift in hand, a great dinner invitation from a host and hostess who live in Dahye, and looking foreward to a wonderful home cooked meal, I found myself in a taxi with a driver patiently, and kindly doing his utmost to maneuver the side streets of various neighborhoods to avoid a huge demonstration on one of the main highways between Dahye and downtown. Suddenly he pulled a political photo from under a pile of papers on the dash board and placed it on top, face-up, as we passed small cliques of men and teenagers, some holding wooden sticks as weapons. 

Gemayel's assassination: What do Lebanon's Shi'ite think?

In the wake of Lebanese anti-Syrian Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel’s assassination on Tuesday the debate is raging on who was behind the killing and why. Thursday saw hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from all sects on the streets turn out for his funeral. They were there in genuine sadness at the murder of an elected cabinet minister and to show their disgust at the continued way violent killings are being used to conduct politics in Lebanon. The protest also saw calls for pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to resign and much anger directed against the also pro-Syrian Shi’ite group Hizbullah - whose supporters stayed away from the proceedings. 

Unity or Solidarity in Lebanon?

It was 4:30 PM when my students’ cell phones began receiving SMS messages. We had fifteen minutes left of class. They told me that Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel had been assassinated. One of my students fled the room in tears. I could hear students amassing outside in front of the AUB student union building just outside our window. The mood was tense. Students began with their theories of who was responsible: Mossad, Syria, the CIA. The usual suspects. The story was, of course, confirmed as I listened to the news reports in the office. Just a few hours before in front of AUB’s student union there was a display of national unity as people celebrated Lebanon’s Flag Day. 

Meeting Ahmad on the Burnt Side of the Border

I arrived to meet Ahmad after a highly emotionally charged trip through the destroyed villages along the Israel-Lebanese border. We stood there silently sobbing, watching the forbidden land that we consider Palestine as we puffed our cigarettes along with our frustration and helplessness. On one side of the border total destruction, burnt land and graffiti of resistance; and on the other side, green fields and tidily arranged houses protected by the Israeli military. All look serene, rendering the scene all the more brutal and surreal. Borders never looked more ridiculous and painful, a winding barbed wire with fences and military roads marking the separation, cutting through a land that looks very much alike. 

When Rain Becomes the Nightmare: National Day Against Cluster Bombs!

When it comes to cluster bombs, rain was again an issue; a big tent was put up in Martyr s square in downtown Beirut to host the event to avoid the pouring sky. Many NGOs, local and international, gathered to raise awareness about this indiscriminate weapon and to voice a demand for a ban on its manufacturing, distribution and usage. School children and adults toured the multiple sections of the event, an extensive photo exhibit revealing the perilous impact of these weapons in Southern Lebanon; a booth and area where specialists illustrated the stages in constructing prosthetics and artificial limbs, and where the public could also try them along with wheel chairs; and a puppet show for children raising awareness amongst the children. 

UNIFIL: What are they here for?

Resolution 1701 ignores, apparently deliberately, the investigations held not only by the United Nations itself, but also independent investigations conducted by international organizations like Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, and Amnesty International — only to name a few — which find Israel responsible for serious violations on many levels, some irreversible. Resolution 1701 equates between an act of invasion and aggravated damage to the Lebanese infrastructure, environment, and population both Lebanese and Palestinian, with the legitimate response and (in comparison to Israel’s military power) the microscopic military power of Hezbollah. 

War still keenly felt in Lebanon

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.