My Israeli friend Moshe Behar has forwarded this letter from his friend Rasha. She is in Beirut:
I am writing now from a cafe, in West Beirut’s Hamra district. It is filled with people who are trying to escape the pull of 24 hour news reporting. Like me. The electricity has been cut off for a while now, and the city has been surviving on generators. The old system that was so familiar at the time of the war, where generators were allowed a lull to rest is back. The cafe is dark, hot and humid. Espresso machines and blenders are silenced. Conversations, rumors, frustrations waft through the room. I am better off here than at home, following the news, live, on the spot documentation of our plight in sound bites. The sound of Israeli warplanes overwhelms the air on occasion. They drop leaflets to conduct a “psychological” war. Yesterday, their sensitivity training urged them to advise inhabitants of the southern suburbs to flee because the night promised to be “hot”. Today, the leaflets warn that they plan to bomb all other bridges and tunnels in Beirut. People are flocking to supermarkets to stock up on food. This morning, I wrote in my emails to people inquiring about my well-being that I was safe, and that the targets seem to be strictly Hezbollah sites and their constituencies, now, I regret typing that. They will escalate. Until a few hours ago, they had only bombed the runways of the airport, as if to “limit” the damage. A few hours ago, four shells were dropped on the buildings of our brand new shining airport.
The night was harrowing. The southern suburbs and the airport were bombed, from air and sea. The apartment where I am living has a magnificient view of the bay of Beirut. I could see the Israeli warships firing at their leisure. It is astounding how comfortable they are in our skies, in our waters, they just travel around, and deliver their violence and congratulate themselves.
The cute French-speaking and English-speaking bourgeoisie has fled to the Christian mountains. A long-standing conviction that the Israelis will not target Lebanon’s Christian “populated” mountains. Maybe this time they will be proven wrong? The Gulfies, Saudis, Kuwaities and other expatriates have all fled out of the country, in Pullman buses via Damascus, before the road was bombed. They were supposed to be the economic lifeblood of this country. The contrast in their sense of panic as opposed to the defiance of the inhabitants of the southern suburbs was almost comical. This time, however, I have to admit, I am tired of defying whatever for whatever cause. There is no cause really. There are only sinister post-Kissingerian type negotiations. I can almost hear his hateful voice rationalizing laconically as he does the destruction of a country, the deaths of families, people with dreams and ambitions for the Israelis to win something more, always more.
Although I am unable to see it, I am told left, right and center that there is a rhyme and reason, grand design, and strategy. The short-term military strategy seems to be to cripple transport and communications. And power stations. The southern region has now been reconfigured into small enclaves that cannot communicate between one another. Most have enough fuel, food and supplies to last them until tomorrow, but after that the isolation of each enclave will lead to tragedy. Mayors and governors have been screaming for help on the TV.
This is all bringing back echoes of 1982, the Israeli siege of Beirut. My living nightmare, well one of my living nightmares. It was summer then as well. The Israeli army marched through the south and besieged Beirut. For 3 months, the US administration kept dispatching urges for the Israeli military to act with restraint. And the Israelis assured them they were acting appropriately. We had the PLO command in West Beirut then. I felt safe with the handsome fighters. How I miss them. Between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army I don’t feel safe. We are exposed, defenseless, pathetic. And I am older, more aware of danger. I am 37 years old and actually scared. The sound of the warplanes scares me. I am not defiant, there is no more fight left in me. And there is no solidarity, no real cause.
I am furthermore pissed off because no one knows how hard the postwar reconstruction was to all of us. Hariri did not make miracles. People work hard and sacrifice a lot and things get done. No one knows except us how expensive, how arduous that reconstruction was. Every single bridge and tunnel and highway, the runways of that airport, all of these things were built from our sweat and brow, at 3 times the real cost of their construction because every member of government, because every character in the ruling Syrian junta, because the big players in the Hariri administration and beyond, were all thieves. We accepted the thievery and banditry just to get things done and get it over with. Everyone one of us had two jobs (I am not referring to the ruling elite, obviously), paid backbreaking taxes and wages to feed the “social covenant”. We faught and faught that neoliberal onslaught, the arrogance of economic consultants and the greed of creditors just to have a nice country that functioned at a minimum, where things got done, that stood on its feet, more or less. A thirving Arab civil society. Public schools were sacrificed for roads to service neglected rural areas and a couple Syrian officers to get richer, and we accepted, that road was desperately needed, and there was the “precarious national consensus” to protect. Social safety nets were given up, healthcare for all, unions were broken and coopted, public spaces taken over, and we bowed our heads and agreed. Palestinian refugees were pushed deeper and deeper into forgetting, hidden from sight and consciousness, “for the preservation of their identity” we were told, and we accepted. In exchange we had a secular country where the Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces could co-exist and fight their fights in parliament not with bullets. We bit hard on our tongues and stiffened our upper lip, we protested and were defeated, we took the streets, defied army-imposed curfews, time after time, to protect that modicum of civil rights, that modicum of a semblance of democracy, and it takes one air raid for all our sacrifices and tolls to be blown to smithereens. It’s not about the airport, it’s what we built during that postwar.
As per the usual of Lebanon, it’s not only about Lebanon, the country has paradigmatically been the terrain for regional conflicts to lash out violently. Off course speculations abound. There is rhetoric, and a lot of it, but there are also Theories.
1) Theory Number One.
This is about Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah negotiating an upper hand in the negotiations with Israel. Hezbollah have indicated from the moment they captured the Israeli soldiers that they were willing to negotiate in conjunction with Hamas for the release of all Arab prisoners in Israeli jails. Iran is merely providing a back support for Syria + Hamas.
2) Theory Number Two.
This is not about solidarity with Gaza or strengthening the hand of the Palestinians in negotiating the release of the prisoners in Israeli jails. This is about Iran’s nuclear bomb and negotiations with the Europeans/US. The Iranian negotiator left Brussels after the end of negotiations and instead of returning to Tehran, he landed in Damascus. Two days later, Hezbollah kidnapped the Israeli soldiers. The G8 Meeting is on Saturday, Iran is supposed to have some sort of an answer for the G8 by then. In the meantime, they are showing to the world that they have a wide sphere of control in the region: Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. In Lebanon they pose a real threat to Israel. The “new” longer-reaching missiles that Hezbollah fired on Haifa are the message. The kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia issued statements holding Hezbollah solely responsible for bringing on this escalation, and that is understood as a message to Iran. Iran on the other hand promised to pay for the reconstruction of destroyed homes and infrastructures in the south. And threatened Israel with “hell” if they hit Syria.
3) Theory Number Three.
This is about Lebanon, Hezbollah and 1559 (the UN resolution demanding the disarmement of Hezbollah and deployment of the Lebanese army in the southern territory). It stipulates that this is no more than a secret conspiracy between Syria, Iran and the US to close the Hezbollah file for good, and resolve the pending Lebanese crisis since the assassination of Hariri. Evidence for this conspiracy is Israel leaving Syria so far unharmed. Holders of this theory claim that Israel will deliver a harsh blow to Hezbollah and cripple the Lebanese economy to the brink of creating an internal political crisis. The resolution would then result in Hezbollah giving up arms, and a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon under the control of the Lebanese army in Lebanon and the Israeli army in the north of Galilee. More evidence for this Theory are the Saudi Arabia and Jordan statements condemning Hezbollah and holding them responsible for all the horrors inflicted on the Lebanese people.
There are more theories… There is also the Israeli government reaching an impasse and feeling a little wossied out by Hezbollah and Hamas, and the Israeli military taking the upper hand with Olmert.
The land of conspiracies… Fun? I can’t make heads or tails. But I am tired of spending days and nights waiting not to die from a shell, on target or astray. Watching poor people bludgeoned, homeless and preparing to mourn. I am so weary…