Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What's Going on

As before, no direct hits here, not even loud noises. The F-16s overhead are just specks in the sky (when the fog lifts) and their droning, clearly discernible, remains distant. We do, however, now have refugees in the public schools. According to one eye witness, the only response from the refugee aid organizers to those who volunteered was that it would be nice if someone would stop hundreds of children from running around aimlessly and noisily while their parents ponder their predicament. I wonder if my skills in dealing with up to 50 college-age students or just three pre-schoolers in my own home would be sufficient if I were to volunteer.

Cooking gas, which in Lebanon is distributed in propane cylinders, as well as gasoline, are being rationed. Some brands of baby formula and diaper wipes are not available in stores. Banks are letting us withdraw Lebanese money, but US dollars are in short supply. Nevertheless, electricity and water are still on, and yesterday we entertained some guests for dinner. This gave me a chance to hear more eyewitnesses of what is going on down the hill.

Apparently, now that all highway overpasses have been hit, and in parallel with the county-by-county sweep of the South, the laser-guided air-to-surface missiles are mostly attracted by trucks with cylindrical loads. Concrete plants, with their fleets of stationary mixer trucks, are taking heavy damages, and one assumes that the yoghurt plant destroyed in the Beqaa also used cylindrical tanker trucks for milk. Apparently, a few years ago, some Lebanese entrepreneurs with Belgian passports got a franchise from Yoplait to make that sweetened, creamy high-pectin concoction with Lebanese milk. I used to argue with my wife over her preference for spending money on these gulp-sized containers rather than pay two dollars for a four-pound bucket of regular plain yoghurt, which we would then mix with jam for the kids. About a year ago, the factory lost the right to use the Yoplait brand, probably because they did not want to keep paying the franchise fee, so "Libanlait" made its appearance in slightly different packaging and I acquiesced to buying no more than two four-packs per week. No more. I darkly wonder if, when the factory is rebuilt, it will be with cheap fast local resources like the Iraqis used on their own infrastructure after they were kicked out of Kuwait, or whether it will be with Haliburton-like levels of waste and fraud.

The Column

This segues into my darker ruminations about what would happen if I were completely misguided in believing that both sides want peace as opposed to total hegemony. Hezballah, after all, still insists that negotiations with Israel be "indirect". I have in my last posts been optimistic to assume that this means they are not ready to come down on either the Fatah side and grant Israel too large a bargaining position before bargaining starts, or on the Hamas side and preclude any possibility that any deal reached will be permanent as long as Israel exists. But it may be that Hezballah's undeclared bottom line is also one where say, a 100-year truce is all they plan to offer Israel. If that were true, I wonder if any sane person would refuse a rolling 100-year truce with a trustworthy opponent. But of course we will never know because negotiations are not starting.

As you may have guessed, I have a lot more to say about the Israeli position. Before I launch into why it seems more likely that Israel is looking for hegemony and not for peace, let me preface my comments by saying that that particular outcome would also not be all that bad, at least in the short run. So far, Israeli hegemony in the lands Israel rules have taken the form of "I need this lake, that hilltop, the other aquifer ... for the continued existence of the Jewish state." The world smiles and nods, and the Arab owners of the hill or lake either cower away or are dragged off by force while any sympathizers are deterred by the supreme air force in the velvet glove. For me this is not as terrible as living under Saddam or Asad or the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia or the Ayatollahs of Iran. But absolute power corrupts absolutely, and I would get my kids out of even the most benevolent of regimes with absolute power that refuse to acknowledge the perpetuity of our human, civil or property rights.

So what are the Israelis doing to bolster the view that they do not want peace unless it comes with hegemony?

  1. They are refusing to negotiate with anyone. This may be because they fear the Hezballah does not want to offer peace, or that any other interlocutor will too weak to stop Hezballah, but even they are not repeating that excuse anymore.
  2. They are repeating bald-faced lies against Hezballah as justification for the continued destruction of Lebanon. Again, the excuse might be that they are still reading from the "talking points" sheets prepared for a different enemy, because these talking points worked so well in the last war that thes do not need to be true to be effective. Do I dare assume that they believe them? I'm sure some people must. George Bush probably does, as do the less educated of that 80% majority of Israelis who support their government's actions so far. But the Israeli ambassadors, ministers, and generals who are reading the script and not just buying it have no credibility with anyone who has any access to historical facts. Provided this historical knowledge is fine-grained enough to distinguish between different groups that happen to have the same religion or ethnicity.

Lies I have heard

  1. Hezballah is shelling Haifa because Haifa represents a coexistence that it cannot accept. I had dinner yesterday with a family from Haifa that has not been there for almost 60 years. Hezballah is an active political party in a nation where coexistence is a world-recognized hallmark. If I were a broadband blogger instead of a modem blogger, I'd find and paste a link to what the late pope John Paul II had to say about Lebanon. There are Christians, Sunnis and Shiites who voted for Hezballah in the last elections, and Hezballah knows very well that it needs to be accepted by those communities in order to survive. I do not know if any non-jewish inhabitants of Haifa vote for Olmert. By the way, I know how deep anti-semitism runs in Lebanon, but unlike Israel's position towards my guest from Haifa, there is no law on the books that bans Lebanese or Syrian Jews from visiting their ancestral lands or voting in Lebanese elections (or Syrian elections, sham as those may be, if they are Syrian).

  2. Hezballah is a criminal organization. Unlike the Palestinian factions that imported arms after Israel gave them control in exchange for renouncing arms, Hezballah is under no such agreement. There is a very recent UN resolution (1559) that asks for Lebanese government control over all arms. I support 1559 and always have, and I know that Hezballah was negotiating how best to give the necessary high-level oversight to democratically elected civilians without compromising on the unique properties that gave their organization the power to deter any aggression from Israel's vastly superior air force. For a majority of Lebanese, recent events have vindicated the previously misunderstood stance that Hezballah held while negotiating with the rest of Lebanon's political parties over 1559.

  3. Hezballah's shelling of Northern Israel is the reason Lebanon is being hit. This is the most amazing lie to me since the actual event took place only one week ago! Hezballah abducted two soldiers, Israel hit Lebanon very hard, and only then did the missiles come out of their 10-year hiding places, precisely as agreed by Hezballah in 1996. Hezballah repeatedly proclaimed that they are ready to negotiate, as they had succesfully done before with Israel about a release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. Israel decided the time was ripe to change the rules of the game.

  4. Hezballah is a terrorist organization. Only by a legalistic definition similar in my mind to the one that redefined "torture" as "producing pain equivalent to major organ failure, without any intelligence objective". The latter definition received a lt of press, but the one I read inside the US lawbooks is no less disingenuous. Apparently, an organization that is accused of having abducted or harmed civilians in the past, and which is still able to do so by virtue of having any arms, is a terrorist organization by US law. As long as it is not the government of some country (e.g. Iran's president Ahmadi Najad participated in the abduction of US embassy employees during the Iranian revolution, and he definitely commands an army, but this is not enough. Iran is a "state sponsor of terrorism" not for that fault, but because they support Hezballah, which does fit the definition. In fact, Hezballah is in my view the reason why the definition is worded the way it is. Hezballah as an organization did not exist when the American civilians were kidnapped in Lebanon the 80s and the American embassy was razed to the ground by a truck bomb. But a link between the individuals who planned these acts and those who went on to found Hezballah is purported and, even though never proved in a court of law, is widely accepted to exist. But even if the individual perpetrators are incarcerated or die a natural death, the organization continues to bear the guilt forever according to the US definition. The organization can change its tactics, as Hezballah did, and become the most disciplined Arab force in history since the Ottomans. It can renounce all the tactics that anyone anywhere finds objectionable and seek success in the most confusing multi-confessional electoral system in the world, and still they are a terrorist organization by that law. Until and unless they lay down all arms. I've already explained why Heballah cannot lay down its arms if it is to remain a "resistance" force against possible real or imagined aggression. I've also explained how it can wiggle out of the definition by making its unique and valuable "organized militia" structure subject to oversight by a civilian body elected directly or indirectly by the people of Lebanon. The extreme anti-Israel conspiracy theorists assert that the real goal of the current attack is to preclude what would have been the imminent implementation of precisely this possibility. I'm sure Thomas Friedman (love that guy!) would be livid at the statement.

  5. Hezballah is Iran / Syria. They're all Shiites, so the Sunnni street buys it. They all hate Israel, so the West buys it. Hezballah's weapons and money came from Iran, via Syria, and with the support of a Lebanese regime under the stranglehold of Syria at the time. So many Lebanese buy it too. Is there any dissenting voice? Hezballah claims that Iran and Syria supported, for whatever own devices of theirs, legitimate Lebanese needs for defensive aid. Maybe they did and maybe they did not. The real issue today is two-fold.
    • First, as far as Lebanon is concerned, will Hezballah establish an Iran-style theocracy or a Syrian-style one-party state? Many Lebanese believed and feared the former, but Hezballah loudly and repeatedly renounced any goals of a Lebanese Islamic republic, and eventually Lebanon believed the combination of rhetoric, action, and rational analysis. Lebanon's multiplicity of communities would make such a republic hard to build and impossible to maintain. It would be crazy. And Hezballah's continued electoral success in the Lebaese system, especially after Syrian withdrawal, is evidence that the Lebanese do not think they are crazy. As for the one-party secular dictatorship in the Syrian mold, it seems even more far fetched, especially since not even the Syrians in their 20-year occupation of Lebanon were able to pull off anything remotely close.

    • The second and more pressing issue is whether Hezballah takes orders from Syria or Iran. Did this whole thing happen because Iran thought it would get a more gently treatment from the UN securityh council if Lebanon was being destroyed at the same time? Put that way, such an Iranian ploy would defy logic. It's not as if the UN has a finite supply of some magic fairy dust that it can use either to condemn Iranian nuclear ambitions or violence in Lebanon, but not both. To even suggest this is sheer jingoism to me. But actually, Hezballah may or may not be secretly beholden to Iraninan political dictates. This is a charge that Hezballah continues to work to disprove, and they must continue to work to disprove it as they negotiate with anyone else in Lebanon. There are parties in Lebanon that hold it in Hezballah's favor that it may take dictates from Syria (those rump one-party-state parties that never took hold), but no one in Lebanon trusts the Iranians - except Hezballah itself. Let me conclude this point by re-stating the only defense that Hezballah is able to offer to the Lebanese whose votes it needs. Hezballah has had all those missiles for years, and never fired one. They hid them well, and shouted out for the world to hear that whatever weapons they may or may not have are there to be used only if Lebanon is attacked. And, in negotiating with the other Lebanese parties over how best to proceed to build Lebanon after the Syrian dictators left, Hezballah secured a written Lebanese consensus that Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails were a Lebanese priority co-equal with Lebanese detainees in Syrian jails, and that all means necessary were to be sought for their release. Bush went on less when invading Iraq. Hezballah undertook a small military operation to capture Israeli soldiers to exchange for those very same prisoners that they had gotten Lebanese permission to free. The timing, as all of Israel knows and proclaims on the front pages of their newspapers, was dictated by only one consideration: as soon as an opportunity presents itself. It is a foregone conclusion that the opportunity presented itself last week. And that is the case for Hezballahs operational independence of Iran - take it or leave it, I'm not sure if I buy it myself, but I resent the distortion of facts to make it seem like a foregone conclusion one way or the other.

  6. Hezballah is Hamas / Al-Qaeda Only propaganda aimed at the West says this, since anyone else knows how different the Sunnis and the Shia are in their actual philosophy and community norms. The Sunnis are philosophically accustomed to being the rulers of a vast empire, so Hamas cannot accept Jewish rule over part of the old Islamic empire, and Al-Qaeda cannot countenance Christian-friendly regimes in the Islamic empire (even if the Saudis deport mere bible-study participants, their friendship with the US is too "Christian friendly" for Al Qaaeda.) Shiism, on the other hand, is heir to a tradition of being a prosecuted minority. They are philosophically able to live with any ruler who does not trample their fundamental rights. As long as Shia feel that Israel is such a power, and Israel does not demonstrate otherwise by negotiating in good faith, the enmity will continue. For your entertainment, I will recount an extremist Sunni conspiracy theory: The "real" reason the US invaded Iraq is to provide a Shiite state between Shiite Iran and Shiite-ruled Syria in order to buffer Israel from the god-sanctioned wrath of the Sunnis who are the only true and righteous existential enemies. Trust me, I have heard this first-hand from otherwise sane, educated, professional adults who say it with a straight face.

There are probably more accusations, but my butt is getting tired of this chair and I want to get online and post, then maybe watch some TV. The burning question on my mind is whether Tuesday's reduction in Hezballah missile attacks is due to depletion or destruction of their stocks (maybe some of those concrete mixer trucks really had missiles) or if it is due to a continuation of the old policy to reduce attacks when Israel reduced its attacks (which Israel did while the Americans and British evacuated citizens who were pregnant women or children.)

Other people's news

messages from my employer

I invite those interested to a meeting at 2pm to discuss possibilities for organizing faculty, and then perhaps later, students in efforts to help refugees. Already groups from the hospital and from the Faculty of Health Sciences, and perhaps from other Faculties/Schools are working with NGO’s. In this meeting, representatives from these groups will explain what they are doing. We can then discuss their and others ideas about how to organize and coordinate, to the extent possible, such efforts. Faculty members can bring their intellectual and analytical abilities and their organizational skills to volunteer efforts. If you are interested, please try to attend this meeting.

Dear Faculty and Staff members,

A number of individuals and families are leaving Lebanon as part of evacuation efforts. It is university policy that vacated apartments may be utilized on an interim basis by the university to house faculty and staff essential to operating the university and its hospital. Those departing should please store and if possible lock personal possessions in one room to free up the rest of the apartment. They should also inform our safety officer by email about the terms of their household help’s employment. Currently, individuals are making ad hoc decisions regarding housing and household help. The administration requests your cooperation so that we can make the best use of university resources in a time of crisis as well as to help protect the interests and well-being of on-campus household help.


  • At 22/7/06 4:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    very good job keep up the good work why cant the good people in this world see what is going on and get changes made ? didnt israel create the terrorists by stealing palestinian land killing sheep destroying orchards and a lot of other property they deserve everything they get i hope tenfold

  • At 23/7/06 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Actually, Israel bought the land and planted the orchards.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home