Monday, July 31, 2006

To Qana and back

I took advantage of the promised 48-hour lull in airstrikes yesterday, and drove to the south with two middle-aged journalists-- a Swede and a Californian, both conflict addicts who would ordinarily be in Iraq. It took us six hours to get from Beirut to Qana [roughly 70 km], during which I was exposed to a noxious amount of vapid cyncicism, endless comparisons to Iraq and the "mooooj" (mujahadin), as well as periodic offers of hand sanitizer. Like many war correspondents, fresh off the boat from Iraq or Afghanistan, the Swede and the Californian were well equipped to brave the lush greenery of southern Lebanon in sand-colored multi-pocketed vests and matching combat trousers. "Dude, that was probably an old people's home", the Californian exclaimed as we drove by one of many flattened buildings, to which the Swede responded, "Well you know they are the chosen people." And so on and so forth.

Since Google Earth hasn't updated its satellite maps of Lebanon, nobody quite knows which roads are open. We drove around in circles a lot, trying our luck on the highway, until a collapsed bridge appeared on the horizon, drove through the Chouf mountains, dirt roads, banana groves and abandoned villages. There were heavy traffic jams on every road with people packed into cars-- some in brand new Mercedes, others in battered, windowless wrecks-- and vans trying to flee the south, UN aid convoys, as well as local traffic since anyone not fleeing was frantically running errands. I saw at least 50 or 60 bombed-out cabs, cars, vans, and ambulances on every route we took, even on the trek through the dense banana groves.

Half the country smells like raw sewage, the other half like burnt fuel from the Jiyyeh power plant that is still ablaze and leaking oil into the sea.

The village of Deir Qamoun an Nahar to the east of Tyre (Sour) was almost entirely flattened and abandoned. Rows of houses and shops completely leveled to the ground, crater holes in the middle of the road that leads through the village, and hordes of goats roaming around. We drove through a series of bombed out ghost towns, populated by nothing but mangled dogs, screaming cats, donkeys and cows. We occasionally saw people wearily emerge from their homes, so not everyone can or has evacuated. They were exceptionally kind and helpful, offered us chewing gum and directions. Makeshift hand-written signs posted everywhere say "To Beirut" or "To Tyre".

The international press was still in Qana when we arrived. Here 60 individuals were killed when a missile hit an apartment building over the weekend. Again, the house was completely flattened; the debris stood 20-foot high, and 1 or 2 surviving family members told their story. The two journalists-- Swede and Californian-- opted to interview the weary young man whose cousins (age 6 months to 10 years) were killed. He had told his story to at least a dozen television cameras in our presence. "Did you really dig through the rubble with your hands?", the Swede asked, shoving his video camera into the man's face.

Amidst the concrete remains of the houses were shoes, baby photos, sheets, teddybears, lingerie, handbags, yoghurt cups, operating manuals for refrigerators and DVD players, and mounds of math and French homework. One essay which was neatly transcribed into a school notebook tackled the issue if women and men are capable of performing the same jobs. The child-- maybe her or she was ten, judging from the handwriting-- argued, yes (in French), and gave examples from her own family; how strong her mother is, how they all take care of the animals and land, how things were different in grandma and grandpa's day.

A friend who works for the BBC arrived on the scene the morning after it happened, and detailed how they pulled one child after another, after another, their mouths frozen wide open, caked with mud, from the rubble. Since the bodies had been removed, all that was left was an egregious violation of intimacy; personal belongings exposed, the details of someone's private life rained down in a neat radius around where their home once stood, for all to see and poke around in, for foreign journalists to step on and photograph.

Waiting for the Swede and Californian to finish probing the survivors, I went and petted the cow in the field across from the ruin. Her utter was bursting at the seams; she seemed in great discomfort.

We left Qana, because the Israeli air strikes (during the promised cessation) resumed nearby, and were coming closer and closer. We stopped outside a pharmacy on the way out of town. The pharmacist was hurling boxes of medicine and sanitary items into his car, in a rush to deliver them to nearby villages. Swede and Californian sidled out and requested an interview. The pharmacist, a young well-groomed man sporting stylish flipflops, said he was in a rush; they took their time setting up their recording devices. "What is your name?" "Hussein." "Are you a pharmacist? "Yes, I am a pharmacist, but I am also a painter". "Were you here for the, you know, bombing?" "Yes, for about 6 or 7 days". [They meant the massacre that caught the attention of the world, not the continuous shelling and bombardment of the past 20 days.] "Were the Hezbollah here?", the Swede asked, while the Californian obediently scribbled notes: Hussein- circa 35- pharamicist...
"I dont know if the Hezbollah were here. I'm an artist. Not compatible with that, is it?" the pharmacist politely responded, pulling down the shutters on the storefront, and starting the engine of the car. "Look, I really have to go now."

The trip back from Tyre (Sour) to Beirut only took two hours. My friend H. who is working as a fixer and driver for the Swede, argued with the Californian that he was going to try to take the coastal highway. "But there is no coastal highway, dammit. Drive into the mountains!", the Californian commanded. H. didn't respond, and headed for the coast, while the Californian smacked his lips in disapproval in the backseat. We barreled through villages between Tyre and Saida, and crossed over onto an in tact stretch of the highway between Saida and Beirut. Soon enough, we approached our obstacle: a crater from two 2-ton bombs that had taken out all 8 lanes of the highway, sending it crashing into the sea below. "See, see what I told you?", the Californian haughtily exclaimed. H. didn't respond. We were now in bumper-to-bumper traffic, edging towards this abyss. Everyone was getting out of their cars and walking towards the crater. And there, I saw that the Israeli bombs had indeed destroyed the entire highway, save a 4-foot strip, along the ridge by the sea.

Someone had placed scraps of metal across that crumbling segment, and cars in both directions were crossing, one at a time, under the guidance of a dozen men, shouting and waving them on. All the passengers in the cars got out and crossed on foot, while the drivers alone braved the treacherous stretch. The elderly were propped up or carried to the other side, and a victorious mood prevailed, having defied the IAF-inflicted inconvenience. Soon we were barrelling down the highway again, and made it to Beirut in no time.
"Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs understands that today's conflicts are won by public opinion. They mobilize pro-Israel activists to be active and voice "Israel's side to the world." The Megaphone desktop tool, built by Giyus, which means "mobilization", sends desktop alerts on key articles on Israel and surveys, online polls where activists could click on the button to support Israel and click alerts to easily voice pro-Israel opinions."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Achrafieh in Exile & the Siege within the Siege

Faqra is a sprawling gated resort community at the bottom of the Ferraya ski slopes, where many rich Lebanese [mostly Christians, but also Sunnis], including the richest of them all, the Hariri family, keep "chalets". “Chalet” apparently refers to anything from a condo to a castle.

Responding swiftly to the laws of supply and demand, many Beirut nightclubs and restaurants moved their operations to Ferraya. The place is usually most popular during the winter, but this is no time to be picky about your party location. The nightclubs Element and Cactus, Al Balad restaurant of downtown Beirut, and Crepaway have all sought refuge in the hills. Crystal, a bar frequented by rich teenagers on Monot street in Achrafieh imports champagne and a sense of normalcy. Not even a war can put an end to its famed ritual of wheeling out a $5000 bottle of Magnum champagne to the pubescent buyer who is temporarily engulfed in a spotlight, for all to see. Reservations in a restaurant are necessary a few days in advance, parking impossible. Children are free to roam around on their bikes with their Filipino nannies in stiffly-ironed uniforms chasing after them.

I did not hear any news; there were no TVs blasting Al-Manar or even Al Jazeera; not in homes, not in bars, not at the pool, not at the club. Up there, you cannot hear the bombs, you do not see the smoke. My only exposure to the outside world came from a Spanish girl baking in the sun at the side of the pool. She occasionally retrieved news summaries from her cellphone, careful not to spoil her freshly manicured nails, and read them out loud: Ooh, Isra-ayl wizdrooh fram Bint Jbeil...”
Followed by, “Ooh, I zink I got sahnbernt. Let's dreenk Vodka Toneec. It's foh o'clock. Heppi hour!"

The owner of the bar and nightclub Igloo was in a near panic when he spied my camera. He grabbed my arm: Don't take pictures of people; a man might be here with a woman other than his wife". His anxious wife hissed, "It's not a joke. People are dying in the streets", as two champagne bottles and a chocolate cake whisked by, amidst a spectacle of flare candles, whooping and clapping. I asked her politely if it is the documentation or the act itself that renders this grotesque. She scowled at me, while her husband-- a fat, bald man in a T-shirt that says "The man" with an arrow pointing upwards, "The Legend" with an arrow pointing towards the general vicinity of his crotch, carefully selected music appropriate for the occasion: one meaningful song, followed by a fun song, followed by a tearjerker. A techno remix of Elton John's "Don't Go Breaking My heart", comes on the heels of Madonna's "Don't Cry for me Argentina", followed by John Lennon's "Imagine", followed by everyone's favorite, "I will survive" by Gloria Gaynor.

They don’t want their clientele to feel guilty, someone explained to me. Do you really think it will effect their spending and consumption, though? Guilt might be lucrative; people will drink more, I suggested.

Another woman wearing blue contact lenses, nearly spilled a cocktail over her little red faux-diamond encrusted dress, which was miraculously strap free: "Why do you want to photograph us, to make us feel guilty for having a good time?" She agreed to have her photo taken only after I guess which celebrity she resembles. "Penelope Cruze", I estimated, trying to make out her facial features through the thicket of makeup and silicone. "Julia Roberts!", she replied, before posing for the camera with her girlfriends.

A girl at the private pool club, informed me that in Byblos, a majority Christian port town, "we have 12,000 Shia", some of whom hoisted a Hezbollah flag to the top of their apartment building. The police rushed in to remove it. "Shia women all carry guns", she says. How else has the war effected you? "We are all unemployed now; there's no work in marketing and promotion."
The EU is "shocked" and "dismayed" by the massacre of 57 sleeping civilians (and 30-something children) in Qana.

Shocked? Dismayed?

Kind of like, "Jimmy, I am dismayed that you rode your brand new bike into a tree";
or "Bobby Sue, I am dismayed that you didn't share those cookies with your sister";
or "Judy is generally a good student. Her reading comprehension is average, and she showed some progress in learning basic addition. But I was dismayed by her abysmal performance in gym class. Better running shoes and a balanced diet would go a long way."

Qana & the mathematics of war

The Israelis are usually good at divvying up casualties, kind of like spreading food out on your plate and hiding some in your napkin, so as not offend your host at a dinner party: 12 here, 9 there, 21 over there-- that's the safe way to go.

All is fair in war, as long as you don't kill more than 50 people in the same place at the same time.

So what in hell's name went wrong in Qana?

Peretz ordered an inquiry. We will soon find out.
The "hiding among civilians" myth

Israel claims it's justified in bombing civilians because Hezbollah mingles with them. In fact, the militant group doesn't trust its civilians and stays as far away from them as possible.
A letter Angry Arab received:
"Dear sir,
I live in Israel and I am a Jew. We don't all support the policies of Olmert or the policies of the Labor party either. And many of us grieve for the loss of lives in Lebanon and Palestine just as deeply as you grieve for those lives. I am sorry that this is happening to your country and I hope and pray that your family and friends will be safe and I hope that not one more Palestinian must die for the crimes of the state, the Israeli state.
I would like to leave Israel before my son turns of age where he must serve in the military, I will not have my child be a part of an occupying army. I don't want my child to have the guilt of the death of your loved ones or of Palestinians on his heart.
Please know that we are all not like the thugs that visit your blog and say cruel and callous things. I abhor the messages they leave on your blog and they are not representative of Judaism. Zionism is not Judaism. One day the Jews around the world will realize this fact and I hope that when they beg you and Palestinians for forgiveness that you will forgive them for the spiritual malaise that has afflicted them.
In peace and in solidarity,

Friday, July 28, 2006

A tale of a tavern in wartime

Once upon a time there was a very vain man. Let us call him Hans. Hans was half Lebanese, half German, and he owned a tiny bar in a street lined with bars in Beirut.

He was one of those hands-on owners, who frequents his own establishment daily; he even placed a mirror at the entrance, in which he periodically fixed his hair throughout the course of the evening. Hans might well have been young with a premature crop of grey hair; but he was probably older and assumed this was well-disguised by dressing like a teenybopper in European club gear. He kissed and embraced the beautiful women as they came and went, by strategically placing himself near the door (across from the mirror). Sometimes he played records himself; he even had German music night on Tuesdays, where he subjected the crowds to Heimatmusik, much to the distaste of a certain German patron. His bartenders were permitted to get sloshed on the job and hit on some of the pretty and less pretty girls. Some of them even stalked the clientele. Hans' bar was always crowded, loud and open late, every night of the week.

Then came the war. All the other bars closed for the first week, in anticipation of air strikes. No one knew what to expect; everyone who could fled the country or sought refuge in the mountains. Others stayed home or packed up and moved to safer neighborhoods. Hans’ bar remained open, even though many of his regular guests, who were foreign passport holders, fled the country. Every night, the new clientele —-foreign journalists— would flock to Hans' bar to get shit-faced after a long hard day of covering tear-jerking evacuations. They asked to interview him; they wanted the story of the “other Beirut”, the one that persists in its hedonistic frenzy even when all hell breaks loose. Hans refused. His vanity was offended. After all, he was just trying to have a good time.

Soon some of the regulars started returning, with the promise of foreign flesh provided by the loose network anchor ladies from CNN and CBS and Japanese TV, and the other adjacent bars re-opened their doors. A jubilant atmosphere prevailed until the early hours of the morning on this tiny strip, in a ghost town, as the war raged on and on and on and on, forever after.

The End

P.S. If you recognize Hans, please don’t mention this to him. I too like to visit his establishment.

Well look what the cat dragged in...

Hey, who invited you? Party crasher.

Sales, sandwiches & shoe shiners

I've done all the shopping and hording I could possibly do, purchased reserves of toiletpaper, soap, candles, tuna, beans, water, olive oil, even though I never eat at home. They're just there for the emergency that's bound to happen. But when?

I eat shish taouk sandwiches for two days in a row, followed by a double dose of shwarma, and now falafel from Malik Batata (King of Potato). I have trouble keeping my food down when I see that poster on display of the blond vixen with french fies piled on her head, but my options are limited. I wouldn't have gotten myself into this messy habit of a sandwich a day keeps the IAF away, if I'd known this would go on for sooooo long.

Most of the clothing boutiques in Hamra are open, or in the process of running closing sales. Hey Gulf tourists! Yeah, you, the ones who left before the shit even really hit the fan: there's maaaassive sales on. Sure you don't want to come back for a little shopping? I'm sure your respective royal families can broker a ceasefire for the occasion.

Regusto-- a restaurant and bar on Hamra street that I used to frequent-- is finally serving $5 steaks and beer again; but I've become neurotic about the quality of meat, especially when the dogs in my neighborhood don't bark anymore. The shoe-shining boys with their portable koffers are working the streets; men in suits read the paper lifting one foot at a time to be vigorously polished. The remaining Filipino maids are now honorary Lebanese. They shop, they loiter, they chat up a storm. Waste and garbage are piling up; entire streets serve as garbage depots, because Sukleen-- the street cleaning company owned by Hariri-- is short on staff now after the exodus of south-east Asians and Syrian workers. Every other car has 'TV' stuck to the roof and rear window. Surely they can't all be TV journalists. They're trying to cheat death! Well, the IAF knows better. Behind every TV sticker is a soccer mom and her little terror tykes.

I detest this pseudo-normalcy. It is excruciatingly tedious. Probably this entire city is delirious from boredom; fear and anxiety turn to lethargy very quickly. Its not that fear is essentially a drab emotion, no more than glee or happiness perhaps, but one tires of the same sentiment.I'd prefer to watch the Teletubbies, photocopy volumes of blank paper, feed pigeons, fold napkins, polish silverware, than live like this for much longer. Oh, but I do vastly prefer this to random slaughter, ceaseless attacks, evacuation orders under fire, the absence of food and drinking water. Just for the record.

Theories of war, in circulation:

1) Everytime Germany loses to Italy in the World Cup, Israel invades Lebanon (1982, 2006)
2) Israel schedules invasions for the summer, so that students won't be around to protest (1982, 2006)
3) Israel is pounding Lebanese land in the hope of discovering oil
4) Lebanon is an expendable state for all its competing allies, destined for proxy wars, in part due to the opportunism and attention-seeking of its political class
5) Israel wants to cleanse the south of the Shia
6) Hariri wants to re-rebuild the country and will share the spoils with Saudi Arabia and the US

Feel free to expand in the comments...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

An ambulance hit outside Tyre.
Someone would prefer to be playing darts...

Peretz the Defensive Dove & Hezbollah's Costume Ball

I watched the Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz yesterday in an interview with Fionnuala Sweeney on CNN (is that her name? It sounds like something sprouting in my fridge, which hasn’t had power for the last 18 hours.) Peretz, “the dove”, is in many ways the Condoleeza Rice of the Olmert administration. She’s black and female, while he was born in Morocco and is a “civilian”; the affirmative action hire, the hawk in sheep’s clothing, so to speak. Why would an Arab-born peacenik want to kill women and children, right?

Peretz denied the intentional targeting of the UNIFIL troops. And he did so with the same tired bogus argument, the one you hear from people all around the world, who cannot accept that Israel went off the deep end a long time ago.
He said, “Why would it be in the interest of Israel to kill da UN peacekeepers?”, and he did it with that self-righteous grimace, of someone who has posed the ultimate rhetorical question, who knows he has had the final word (I wouldn’t expect too much resistance from a CNN anchor, either.)

Except that I don’t buy that argument; I hear it all the time. I tell a certain someone, “Israel used phosphorous weapons today against civilian populations in the south”. “I see no proof. It’s not in the western media. It hasn’t been confirmed”, is their first response. The second one is “Why would that be in their interest? It is not. It is tragic in itself, but even more tragic, because it is not in their interest”.

And at the heart of this not-in-our-interest argument lies another aspect of the existential victimization that Israelis are fed daily: the rest of the world hates us, they criticize us anyway, regardless of what we do. So, then the argument suffices for the majority of Israelis and her supporters: “Why would that be in our interest—to do something that will damage our reputation? We are after all the party in this conflict whose actions are governed by rationality; not the Arab terrorist masses.”

The truth is that many Israelis would also say that, they don’t care what the Europeans and the UN think, because they hate us anyway. Which is when the “Why should we?” becomes a “Why not?” And the answer to that, of course, is because they can. Least someone wants to argue against the fact that Israel can and does get away with doing what it wants, as long as the US doesn’t object.

I’m willing to learn; show me the evidence.

Israel has no love for the UNIFIL. In fact they’ve been wanting to get rid of them for a very, very long time; they claim they are in contact with Hezbollah (well of course; Hezbollah governs the south of Lebanon where they are stationed). They said yesterday that they don’t want another UN mission in the south of Lebanon; they’ll only settle for NATO. The US also has no love for the UN unless it can be used as a means to pressure a country she doesn’t feel like invading right now. And here’s the proof: “The United States blocked the U.N. Security Council from issuing a statement that would have condemned the Israeli action. Diplomats said the U.S. objected to one paragraph, which said the council ‘condemns any deliberate attack against U.N. personnel and emphasizes that such attacks are unacceptable.’”

I’m not one hundred percent convinced that they targeted the UNIFIL on purpose. But it amounts to the same thing if they were just blindly shelling the shit out of the entire area, followed by lobbing a few missiles into populated places. You cannot turn the tables and blame those who are blaming you by saying, “Why would we want to do that?” I’ll try that next time I get caught shoplifting; I’ll just keep a crisp $50 note in my wallet, and say, “Why would I steal? I have money. I'm swimming in it”.

The second part of that, “Why would it be in our interest?”-argument was pronounced by that Harvard-reared cowboy, Benjamin Netan-YAHOO! who said, “We are not using our full military might. If we were we could have leveled the entire country a long time ago...” So restraint amounts to only leveling half the country.

I think that part of the problem is that the Israelis know that Hezbollah will exist as long as there are Shia living in the south of Lebanon. And they can’t really picture “eliminating” Hezbollah with all those pesky Shiites around. Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. Restraint, restraint, restraint. How to eliminate with restraint?

This is how I see the Israeli dilemma from their point of view: If I was living with an infestation of cockroaches, and I wanted to practice restraint in eliminating them, what would I do? I would kill around half of them, and teach the other half a lesson. If the other half is not willing to learn, then I would practice restraint by not using the nuclear option of spraying them with OFF! but maybe I would just splurge on some of that organic stuff to kill them, slowly. But first I would call the landlord to get permission.

Peretz also claimed that he would not speculate on why or how the UN peacekeepers were attacked, but added —without speculating— that maybe the Hezbollah was using UN flags. Maybe they were also dressing up as toddlers in baby bonnets, disguised as voluptuous nurses hiding in the back of ambulances, and posing as milk factory employees. Very cunning. Lebanon from the north to the south, from the east to the Meditarranean coast, is just one big Hezbollah mirage. That’s because Iran supplies them with costumes, some of which are manufactured in Syria. Syria must at once stop providing costumes to the Hezbollah. And here's the headline to go with it: "Israel intercepts shipment of ballgowns from Damascus to Hezbollah".

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

IM'ing the war*

bombing beirut like crazy
right now
pound thud pound thud
boom boom boom
like an upstairs neighbor having an orgy
bam bam bam

[*IM refers to Instant Message]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Birthday Parties & the Ground War

It's Day 14 of the "July War". According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a "senior Israeli officer" (of which there are plenty; no breach of confidentiality concerns there) gave PowerPoint presentations to American and Israeli officials, detailing plans to "change Lebanon's political landscape" in three short weeks. That's only one more week to go! Except that they haven't fulfilled any of their objectives yet. Not militarily, not politically.

For a week, the Israeli army battled with Hezbollah fighters for control of the village, Maroun ar-Ras. A friend from Boston asked me how far the Israelis have invaded. "Like 30 miles?", he said. I told him that the Israelis could use a tennis racket to lob a ball and it would hit Maroun el Ras, "the strategic village", from the border. That's how close it is. Two days ago, Al Jazeera said there were 18 Hezbollah fighters to match 350 Israelis in and around that village. (I can't confirm that; I just saw it on TV.) Now the IDF claims they've surrounded the "strategic town" of Bint Jbeil, also only 4 km from the border. The Hezbollah denies this. Either way, the fighting rages on.

Lebanon might be miniscule in size, but in two weeks the Israelis have only -- at best, and by their accounts-- managed to take control of a border village or two. If they want to invade further into the country, with tanks and the whole shebang, they're going to be sorry for having taken out all the roads and bridges. Which reminds me of the bright young fellows who set fire to the Danish Embassy in Beirut last February-- from the bottom up-- and then had to jump to their deaths from the fourth floor.
Human Rights Watch accused the Israelis of using cluster bombs in populated areas. Well, "accused" might not be the right word. Cluster bombs are "unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable weapons", the report said, kind of like a clock that ticks too fast or a babysitter that's always late, not a weapon that-- when used-- intends to inflict maximum, indiscriminate casualties.
Michel Aoun's Party, The Free Patriotic Movement, which is politically allied with the Hezbollah, displays a minute-by-minute news ticker on their website. Yesterday, they listed the evacuation of foreigners from the south: 300 Canadians, 250 Spaniards, 11 Samoans, 9 1/2 Sudanese, and "300 Russian women". No, not Russian people, Russian women. In case you're not familiar with one of Lebanon's greatest peace time attractions, it's sex. If you're a foreign woman and someone asks you if you're from Russia, it means, "Can I pay you for sex", which is why its recommendable to introduce yourself, right off the bat, as "Hi I'm [name], and I'm not from Russia".

Russian women "perform" in institutions called "Super-nightclubs". They have a visa classification all to themselves: the Artist's visa. And no that doesn't include a stipend from the Ministry of Culture, it means you are required to be on the job 6 1/2 days per week, can only leave your house between certain hours accompanied by your pimp. You may not marry, you should not mingle with Lebanese off the job, and you may not visit Lebanon within a year of completing your contract.

Ironically, the Lebanese disdain for Bangladeshis, Srilankans, Sudanese, Syrians, and other service industry workers (of a darker complexion), is backfiring. Even the maids, many of whom were fired on the spot when their employers fled the country, are being evacuated by their respective governments. I wonder if some people are begging their maids to take them to Srilanka or Kashmir or Darfur. And many of the Lebanese are now dependant on the hospitality of the Syrians, who have proven to be very generous hosts to the hundreds of thousands of refugees.

And now this on my news ticker:
"Israel resumes its bombardment of Beirut's southern suburbs, ending a 24-hour lull that coincided with Rice's visit to the region." Lull, did you say? Doesn't that make it sound kind of dull, like running out of conversation material at your promotion party? To be honest, the "lulls" are almost unbearable, stifling. That's when the exhaustion sets in, and its impossible to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. When the bombing picks up again, you don't even need coffee in the morning.

I am throwing a birthday party for my roommate tonight. Alternative plans in case of a blackout include sitting in the dark, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey (no blindfold necessary), spin the bottle and looting the stores in our neighborhood.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Saving the Good Lebanese

Last night when I returned home to watch TV I saw that Israel is in fact interfering with the television broadcasts. I only noticed this on two stations: Al Manar (Hezbollah's TV) and NBN (Nabih Berri's TV), both stations watched by the most die-hard Hezbollah/Amal supporters. Al-Manar was interrupted to screen a text that warned not to support Hezbollah, who are "destroying the country", and NBN was kind of out of focus and fuzzy.

Unless the sole point of propaganda is to show the enemy's supporters that you have the power to disrupt their media, this is hardly effective. Again, disrupting cooking- and fashion shows is the way to go. Anyone now watching fashion shows is more likely to be swayed by the false promises of the advancing Israeli army than the Hezbollah supporters, especially if "surrendering" entails duty-free shopping trips to Tel Aviv.

It continues to surprise me how out of touch the Israeli propaganda machine is with the populations it is trying to bomb into submission. Ok, so the US doesn't know its ass from its elbow in the Middle East, but the Israelis have been doing it continuously for close to sixty years! And yes, they've managed to get crude autocratic regimes to whisper sweet nothings to them and have perfected, in many ways, the elaborate, humiliating and cruel details of the occupation of the Palestinian people.

But if the Israeli public is being sold that they are helping the "good Lebanese" against the "bad Lebanese" (an Israeli told me that), no one here buys it. Not even Tony the killer mechanic.

What they do buy, is that there's a consensus in the west that Israeli lives are worth more than Arab ones. In fact, two living Israeli soldiers and a few dead ones, are worth hundreds of Lebanese lives. They don't need John Bolton to spell it out in these terms: "There's no moral equivalence between the civilian casualties from the Israeli raids in Lebanon and those killed in Israel from malicious terrorist acts."

At the heart of this lies the fact that, the state or nation-state-- the entity that was sloppily and haphazardly forced upon this region, by those same Europeans (and now Americans) who now condone a ratio of 1:10 in Israeli-to-Arab "casualties"-- is deemed to hold a moral monopoly on violence. If you have a flag and an international airport, then you can kill people.

Condoleeza Rice came to Beirut today and said, "We all want to urgently end the fighting", after she claimed yesterday that it was "too early" for a ceasefire, having rushed a fresh shipment of bombs and planes to the Israelis. Priority mail, free shipping and handling. It looks like Condi is here to save the ass of Saniora's government; when the dust settles, he's not going to look good having been so opportunistic and eager for Bush's support for the past year, and even now while the country is under attack by the US's closest ally. He grossly miscalculated. At the end of the day, the Lebanese hate the Zionists more than the Syrians. And Hezbollah will have proven its point for all Lebanese to see: that Israel is the greatest threat. Now Saniora and his friends can *officially* re-join the private sector. Unfortunately, Condi left before we could wheel out the flowers and baklava. Such is the nature of "shuttle diplomacy". You have to offend the Arab hospitality, in the process. Maybe next time.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Winning the Hearts and Minds...

I get a huge kick out of the Israeli radio interception. Halfway through a news broadcast on the Lebanese Communist Party radio station, a monotonous, droning voice interrupts to address Hassan Nasrallah and the Hezbollah fighters (in Arabic): "Come on, oh Hassan, you coward. Pack your bags and go to Masnaa [the remaining border crossing to Syria, last time I checked].. come on, you brave men hiding in your tunnels and caves..."

Couldn't they do that to the TV stations, too? It might diversify the content a bit, if we weren't just seeing bombs and dead babies. Also, I'd love it if they dressed up like "real Arabs" to interrupt the broadcasts. That would be ultra-effective; a guy in a turban interrupts a cooking show or, say, Fashion TV, which is also still broadcasting, to say, "Surrender now, Jesus... I mean, Allah loves you".
Intercept every media outlet and tell the Lebanese what to think and do; then you will be welcomed with flowers and baklava. Do they have figures on how successful the conversion rates are from their propaganda? More successful than penis-enlargement spamming? Surely not. People aren't grateful for being bombed. That's a tough lesson.

The UN is re-routing aid packages to Lebanon, marked "To Baghdad". Well, it is all the hellish "Middle East". And everyone loves peanut butter in their care package, from Kabul to Cairo. Just leave out the Danish dairy products.

While the majority of Lebanese are now unemployed, the Phoenician entrepeneurial types can work for the international media as fixers and drivers, and risk their lives for a few dollars. But please bring your own sleeping bag and bulletproof vest, if you're a local. The BBC can't afford one for you, darkie.
Or they can deal drugs. An acquaintance told me that it's easier to deal drugs now, what with the police not around quite as much. He detailed how his distributor, who is usually extremely cautious, now whips out bags of various shapes and sizes and content, and goes into full marketplace bargaining mode, right in the middle of the street. Lebanon, the heartland of supply and demand. The vast service industry here can apparently adapt and revamp with ease; although beauty parlors are still in business, they might soon be better advised to start frying people's brains rather than their hair. Everyone wants drugs to take their mind off what the post-American and -European evacuation phase will bring.

It's bizarre driving around Beirut, and making mental notes of places to avoid, places you would bomb if you were the Israeli Air Force. Bridges and major roads are obvious (and all that silly civilian housing in its midst). What they are aiming for is to make life more inconvenient, without unleashing a barrage of inconsequential protests from Kofi & co.

Speaking of which, what did Kofi say on TV tonight, and why did it take him close to five minutes? "I am in favor of...a.... eh... ceasefire. Diplomacy is, eh, um, sheesh, pff, I dunno, taking...hold". I guess repetition makes the tongue grow tired; or that gun that's been cocked and pointed at the back of his neck has taken the last semblance of life out of him. Or maybe it's pre-retirement blues. I'm worried about you, Kofi. You've lost your unique style of fiesty, bold statements. "I am in favor of milk in my, eh... civilian, I meant, tea... If the US doesn't mind too much. Oh no, there's that maniac John Bolton running towards me, fresh falafel crumbs in his moustache, from celebrating imminent victory with the Guardians of the Cedars!"

Well we'll see who we get next, after Kofi goes home. Hopefully someone with the same first and last name again. I always loved saying, Boutros Boutros Boutros Ghali.

Back to Beirut:
Ironically, the rule of law in Lebanon was still in its birth pangs before this "July war" errupted (that's what they're calling it here. Only 8 more days to go!) When I first arrived in Beirut ten months ago, there wasn't a one-way street you couldn't barrel down at full speed in the wrong direction. Then sometime around last March, the Internal Security Forces sent text messages to the million-or-so mobile phone-wielding Beirutis that read, "As of tomorrow, traffic laws will be strictly enforced." They were, of course, not enforced, but the police did install a lone speed radar camera, near the Phoenicia hotel. Today, driving by there with a friend, we hesitated for a second before running the red light. Such are the minute pleasures of war.

Old habits die hard, despite the short-lived and symbolic phase of law and order and the era of "national dialogues". A friend who is working as a fixer for Norwegian TV says he saw 30 Druze men in military garb with AK-47s training up in Mukhtara (where Druze leader Jumblatt has his house). Now thirty men is not a hell of a lot, but maybe they are just the official PSP welcoming committee for the Israelis, should they make it that far north (which I doubt). For those of you unfamiliar with what I'm implying: Lebanon is going to have an ugly situation on her hands once the dust settles. I could be wrong, though; the Jumblatt followers could be getting ready to fight Israel, if it comes down to it. Depends how their master is feeling today, doesn't it?

Logical fallacies galore

US hypothesis Nr. 1: Israel does not attack civilians and civilian infrastructure.
US hypothesis Nr. 2: The US "is concerned for the personal safety of American citizens due to the current security situation in Lebanon" because "major roads … are subject to an air strike at any time" (according to an email I received from the US Dept of State)
In short, Americans in Lebanon are in danger of being hit by an Israeli bomb.
US hypothesis Nr. 3: We must evacuate all American civilians.

We must evacuate all American civilians, for they are in danger of being attacked by Israel, which does not attack civilians.

The American civilians who are in danger must all be human shields for Hezbollah or hiding Katyushas under their beds. Why, oh why, would they be in danger, if Israel is attacking Hezbollah, rather than everything that moves?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Naswallah, the almighty

I haven't seen any decent analysis in the western media of Nasrallah's rhetoric, his appeal and leadership qualities. You might not know him from Bin Ladin or Ahmedinijad, if you consult western media sources and don't watch Arabic TV. My brother tells me Fox described Hezbollah as "Al Qaeda with a country". The Al Qaeda part is laughable; and, in fact, if it weren't for Hezbollah, Israel would have had Al Qaeda along its northern border a long time ago. Let's not forget that Zarqawi's dying words, before he was blown to bits by F16 fighter jets and then sent to the plastic surgeon for his photo op, were that Hezbollah should be disarmed. In fact, Zarqawi (of the eminent “Mesopotamian” branch of Al Qaeda) accused Hezbollah of upholding the status quo between Israel and Lebanon on the border and condemned the group for not allowing Al Qaeda and other groups to attack Israel from Lebanese territory. There are many many fundamental differences between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, which I won't go into now.

For those of you not familiar with Nasrallah, the public persona and politician (and he is first and foremost a politician, not an armchair cleric), picture the appeal of a really articulate 12-year old genius with a lisp. Although he is in his mid-40s, and most 12-year olds don't sport full beards and turbans, he seems talented beyond his years and -- at the same time-- youthful. And he does have a bit of a speech impediment, which affects the way he pronounces "R"-- a crucial letter indeed.

Although he might be better known in the west for his firey "Death to Israel!" remarks, which make for popular cellphone ringtones here, he is very confident, calm, collected, even soft-spoken and personal when he is interviewed. And the rhetorical device he avails of most frequently is logic and rationality, as well as-- occasionally-- humorous jibes to disarm his enemies. He recently suggested that the Israelis consult the old guard, or something to that end, which is -- of course-- a reference to the comatose Ariel Sharon (who is drueling on his pillow, dreaming of Lebanese falafel, as I write).

In a very long interview on Al-Jazeera Thursday night, Nasrallah casually rattled off facts and figures regarding Israel's military performance and refuted claims that he is doing the bidding of Iran, that Hezbollah's leadership has been harmed by the Israeli military campaign, and that Hezbollah's arms and infrastructure have sustained serious losses, in a convincing manner. And indeed, unlike the other Lebanese leaders’ inflated and self-important wishful thinking vis-à-vis their foreign patrons, I get the sense that Hezbollah has realistic expectations of Iran. They have a mutually beneficiary relationship, and Nasrallah no more does the bidding of Tehran than Olmert does for the US. In fact, arguably less. Nasrallah responded to the accusation that he is doing Iran's bidding by saying something akin to, would I put my children and wife in danger and lose my home for some other country? Unlike Bin Laden, Nasrallah doesn't much like living in a cave. He's a family guy. That shit is for bachelors or polygamous Saudi weirdos.

Nasrallah also responds to every accusation of "terrorism" or "adventurism" that is leveled at him by Israel, the US, the Saudis and his internal political enemies, and he justifies every attack against civilian infrastructure in Israel as a response in the interest of balance and deterrence, rather than wrath, retaliation, anti-Semitism, etc. [And indeed, terminologically, one might excuse a "crude missile" for performing less accurately than a "smart bomb" or "precision bomb".] He also always promises "surprises", which makes every day of this war feel like Christmas! But not really.

In short, Nasrallah re-inspires confidence amongst his supporters, whenever he makes an appearance on TV; and Israel has not been able to stop him from giving interviews, even though Lebanon is not much larger than Sharon’s pre-feeding tube belly. Despite the repeated bombardment of Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV station, its still up and running (because its underground. Duh.) A friend of mine-- a secular leftist type—goes stark raving mad when he sees Nasrallah perform: "He's a political genius!" And Nasrallah also plays the anti-imperialist card, and he plays it quite well. His supporters do not think that they are dying in vain, nor do they all seek death or martyrdom. They trust that he knows what he is doing. I'm just not sure they'll be around to find out what exactly that is.

Shortages and more shortages

No Almaza beer left at Cafe De Prague. Only Heineken. Yuck.
The price of everything has gone up. Tranquilizers and anti-depressants are sold out. I had a 10$ salad at City Cafe yesterday and they dished up 4 pieces of lettuce. Try eating four pieces of lettuce for your first meal in 24 hours. I nearly cried when I asked for bread. "No bread, madame. Sorry". Could I have some paper napkins with ketchup then, please? No napkins, sorry, only diapers. Not really of course (the diaper part).
There's also an acute shortage of roads, bridges, ports, airports, and electricity towers. No shortage of Israeli planes, missiles and bombs, thanks to this timely and generous donation.

We're doing fine here in Beirut, compared to everywhere else in the country. Half the country would be thrilled if a beer shortage topped their list of woes. I wonder if that bar Layla's in Saifi (Christian neighborhood)is still serving "Cedar Revolution wine". I'm sure the demand for that has gone down.

I'm waiting for Maronite Patriarch Sfeir to ask his buddies, the Americans who air-shuttled him to Lebanon yesterday, to stop Israel from bombing the electricity facilities in the Shia areas and villages. Because you all know how blackouts lead to baby-making, and the patriarch is most concerned with preserving the demographics of Christians vs. Muslims. But then again, demographic denial is something both the Israelis and the Christian Lebanese have in common. So maybe they can work together on this one...

After 11 days of ceaseless bombardment...

Hezbollah is proving a tough opponent for Israel because of its of tunnels in southern Lebanon, the authoritative Jane’s Defence Weekly magazine said on Friday.

Alon Ben-David, a Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent, said that intensive Israeli air raids had done limited damage to Hezbollah’s defensive fortifications, despite IDF special forces launching small incursions into Lebanese territory.

And now we turn to Mustapha with the weather/war report...

In reporting on the Lebanese-Israeli war, Al Jazeera has adopted the model of the weather report. A man in a suit stands in front of a fullscreen blue-boxed map of Lebanon and Israel and points to places that have been attacked, while maintaining eye contact with the camera; he uses the same sweeping gestures to signify raids by Israeli fighter jets as weathermen ordinarily do to illustrate the movement of storm clouds, hot air and hurricanes. The 23-ton bomb the Israelis dropped over Bourj Barajneh the other night (which flattened the house of a man who gave me a ride home, just an hour later) definitely resembled Hurricane Katrina.

Soon Lebanon will resemble the weather report, after the climate apocalypse:
And here, the conveyor belt has broken down, the Gulf stream has ceased to flow sending northwestern Europe into the ice age, the east coast of the western hemisphere has been flooded in a gigantic tsunami wave and the glacier icecaps have all melted. Mother Nature released a statement saying that she had not intentionally targeted the glaciers, but that weather reporters were hiding there and using it to launch long-range attacks against the moon. A spokesperson for God said that Mother Nature has a right to defend herself and her allies, the moon and the sun, and described the end of the world as... "unfortunate".

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tony the killer mechanic & Lebanon against itself (again)

I visited my Lebanese Forces source today-- a cheerful, tubby, dirt poor auto-mechanic who lives in a tin shack in an upscale Christian neighborhood. His wife and children have re-located to the mountains; he is staying in Beirut to sell their plot of land. I met him when I first arrived in Beirut, while I was staying in a hotel near his house. I didn't at all suspect his political affiliation until I was invited over for a barbecue, and saw that most of his shack is plastered with posters of Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces (his supporters call him "Doctor" (Hakim) because he sat in on a couple of pre-med courses, before becoming a full-time militiaman.)

Let's just call him Tony, which is a popular name among Lebanese Christians.

Tony fought with the Lebanese Forces during the civil war; they were officially disarmed and disbanded in the early 1990s. When the Danish Embassy in Beirut was attacked last February in protest against the prophet Mohamed cartoons , I saw Tony leave his house with a gun, and head towards the area where the rioters where attacking churches, smashing cars and torching the Embassy (in Achrafieyeh, a Christian neighborhood.)

The day after the embassy riots, I was sitting with Hassan, a grouchy, clinically depressed(Sunni Muslim) employee of the hotel, when Tony popped in to say hello. I told him that I saw him with a gun tucked into the side of his shorts. He started to rant about the "fucker Muslims" and how they were attacking his Church, right in front of Hassan (the Sunni Muslim). Hassan remained silent for most of this, until I interrupted Tony, and pointed out that not all "Muslims" were "fuckers", and that Hassan in fact was a Muslim, naively hoping that he might temper his tone in Hassan's presence. He did not. Instead Hassan-- who only ever mumbles or growls-- piped up for the first time in days, and started relaying how Tony killed 50 Palestinians on a bridge during the civil war and had raped lots of Muslim women. All the while Tony was simulating a "gang bang" behind Hassan's back. Hassan then got up and left, and Tony proceeded to boast that it was all true, staring me in the eyes, and trying to convince me of the "Muslim threat" to his Christian existence.

So today, I visited Tony and asked him if he was getting ready to fight against the Hezbollah. He said that he was getting too old (he is in his early 40s), and that the 18-year olds were mobilizing, but that they don't have machine guns now. I asked him if they would receive weapons from Israel. He said, "No, Israel is the enemy. Before it was different. Israel doesn't care about any of the Lebanese." He prophesized that a civil war will break out a month or two after the Israeli bombing stops, and that Christians, Sunnis and Druze will fight the "fucker Shia", with arms from the US and France.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The coming war within the war

My car rental agent is looking beefed up and has shaved his head. He told me that he is "preparing" to fight on behalf of the Lebanese Forces-- a right-wing Christian militia led by Samir Geagea, that killed a lot of Muslims (and Christians, for that matter) during the civil war, and is now allied with the March 14th ruling coalition (i.e. the esteemed Lebanese government that Israel, the US, France and the UK have so much faith in). "Fight who?", I asked. "Hezbollah". And then he added, "and Israel". I'm not sure I believe him that the LF would fight Israel, their former ally, but that certainly would be an interesting development.

Michael Aoun, the former head of the Lebanese Army who has about 80% of Christian support and is politically allied with Hezbollah, said that the Israelis are bombing the Lebanese Army radar outfits so that they can then smuggle weapons in. Who will they arm? Whoever's willing.

I discussed all this with the head of entertainment on the Desert Queen cruise ship that is evacuating Americans to Cyprus. He said he also knows a lot of people in Achrafieyeh-- a Christian neighborhood-- who are willing to fight.

Shwarma shortage & the rules of war

If I have to eat another Shish Taouk chicken sandwich, I'm going to evacuate. No shwarma in sight! Do the Israelis have shwarma shortages? Of course not. Here some of the Sunni Beiruti cornershop owners are hiking the price of everyday items. That's war profiteering on a petty scale. But with the current tense atmosphere, it's not adviseable to hurl that insult around. And there are more serious shortages: medicine, food, water, and housing for 500,000 displaced persons.

Speaking of the tense atmosphere, I have seen at least 5 fights in the past two days. A car accident on Hamra street turned into an all out brawl, until the army intervened and arrested two people; the Amal supporters in the neighborhood next to mine were firing at something or someone the other night. There's a lot of shouting followed by deathly silence, followed by explosions when the night raids begin.

There are patterns and rules to war, according to my friend Rami, and everytime it's different. The Israelis are offering us a diverse program these days, full of surprises, which makes it hard to figure out "the rules". For two nights in a row, they start bombing the airport or Dahieyeh (again) at 3am. From 3am to 5am, a bomb drops every 15 minutes. Then from 5 to 7am, they step it up and bomb every two to three minutes. You hardly wake up, because your body and REM adapt to the IAF's agenda. But then they go and switch it all up, and it's very confusing. But you learn to anticipate a bomb, because sometimes you can see flares, which are like gigantic spotlights. Then the sky turns pinkish, the birds start chirping. Then the bomb drops. And then, then the dogs start barking like crazy. I thought dogs were smarter than that, but they give us no forewarning. No wonder the Chinese eat dogs.

Bombing changes the climate. The smoke clouds from the suburbs sometimes obscure the whole sky over Beirut, and so we have cool and cloudy days in July! Thanks, Israel, for sparing us the ruthless sun and brutal humidity! I know its meant to be a remedial effort: You bomb the electricity so we have no fans or airconditioning, but eventually, due to the cumulative effect of the bombing, the sun no longer shines. Appreciate it. Really.

Cruisin' the Mediterranean

The American evacuation might take as long as 10 days. The Israelis have given guarantees to a handful of governments-- the US obviously, Germany and a few others, (but not to the Australians who arrested a Mossad agent a few years ago), that they will not attack their convoys and ships. The consensus here is that once the evacuations are completed, the shit will really hit the fan. How much more can it hit? A lot more. It seems other militias in the country are getting ready for battle. More on that later. The German embassy called today and told me that there's a 10 KG limit on luggage, and that I should try to bring a "ball-point pen" ("Und bringen Sie wenn moeglich auch 'nen Kugelschreiber", she said, for all you Germans out there.)

A few hundred Canadian awaiting evacuation were congregating on the seafront in Beirut, outside the sprawling mounds of sand which cover the landfill of garbage that was dumped into the sea throughout the 15-year civil war (1975-1990). They had been waiting for five hours when I arrived. Everyone was complaining and shouting about how unorderly and "un-Canadian" the evacuation procedures were, and some were scaling the fence. A soldier was calling out names through a megaphone, in an attempt to get angry Canadians (picture that!) to proceed in alphabetical order. Then they decided to hand out numbers instead. And then, women, children and the sick and elderly were given priority. In the meantime, noone was let in. Everywhere, there are camera crews on site from all around the world to cover the plight of the evacuating Europeans and Americans.

The American, Greek and British evacuation is taking place at the Beirut Port. They have a series of warships, some British, some American, and luxury cruiseliners. Yesterday, the HMS Gloucester-- a British anti-air warfare Destroyer-- evacuated a few hundred Americans and some Britons. Naval officers handed out pamphlets detailing the history of the Destroyer. It was a grotesque spectacle; 100 media outlets gathered for the parade. 2,200 Marines are on sight to help with the evacuation of 10,000 Americans. Are they going to carry people out on stretchers?

Today, the Orient Queen cruiseliner will evacuate 1,000 Americans to Cyprus. Entertainment will be provided on deck by a Brazilian- and a Bulgarian band; there are two swimming pools, a casino, a theater, a spa, and duty-free shopping.

Juliet, a middle-aged, impish US embassy employee with a clipboard and a whistle around her neck, is in charge of coordinating the evacuation. She sports a red poloshirt, kake pants, white sneakers and an androgenous haircut. I asked her if they would evacuate me in a few weeks, if I wanted to leave then rather than now. She stared at me with that look of moral righteousness, characteristic of dental hygenists and librarians when they confront someone with long-overdue books. "Listen here, Sweetheart," she said, squinting to stare me in the eyes. "This is not happening at your convenience." "I understand that, Ma'am", I obediently responded, because she seemed poised to blow her whistle in my face. "Well, as long as we've established that. We will evacuate every American that wants to leave." I asked her if they would rescue the Americans trapped in the south, which is under heavy bombardment (and now, invasion). "We are working on it". The party line. "When we give that last call, you better be on that boat." And then she was gone, followed by a trail of news teams from NBC, Australian- and Greek TV.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israeli children at Kiryat Shmona writing messages on shells that are fired into Lebanon
Oh, Hillary. I never liked you anyway, nor was I going to vote for you in 2008, you cowardly opportunist. But I will never forget this. And what the hell does "speaks up" for Israel mean? Is that what political courage amounts to today in US and A? Does Israel need anyone else to endorse its exclusive right to violence?
I am keeping a list of all the courageous Democrats (not to be confused with democrats) who are coming to Israel's defense in her hour of need.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Some Advice

1) If you are fleeing or have to drive anywhere, use your World Cup flags and strap them to the roof of your car. That's what the busses evacuating the Europeans are doing. Let's see if the Israeli bombers target more Germany or Brazil fans. My guess would be the former (for obvious reasons), but the international outcry would be greater (lighter skin).

2) If you're home has been laid to rubble by the Israeli bombers and you were lucky enough to escape, the palaces of Jumblatt and Hariri in Ras Beirut remain empty and are available for squatting. As veritable 100% Lebanese leaders, I'm sure they won't mind extending their hospitality to persons from different sects.

3) To Hezbollah: Change your name and/ or logo. It worked for Philip Morris.

2,000 protest in Tel Aviv, chanting "Yes, to a prisoner exchange"

Evacuation Season

From a distance the Israeli bombs sound like some illtempered brat slamming a door. When they hit nearby, you start to shake, unwittingly and against your best intentions. And when they are overhead, and they flatten your house or the car you are traveling in, you make the news for a second, if you are deemed innocent or are from the west.

The mood on the streets of Hamra (which I have been confined to in the past 48 hours) changed overnight. Walking to and from the office today, I was the only "westerner" and also the only woman in sight. People's expressions have changed, hardened; they look at me with suspicion, rather than curiosity or desire.

My roommates left today, both of them Lebanese, and they are not coming back. They didn't call to say they were leaving; they didn't leave a note. But they did leave a stereo, clothes, rollerskates, mounds of trash, dirty dishes, wet laundry, files, books, and an entirely furnished house behind. Our apartment building is inhabited now by dozens of displaced persons. From where they come I don't know; the list of villages and neighborhoods that have been attacked and destroyed grows longer and my memory hazier, but they don't respond to my courteous smile and "Assalamu alaikum". I don't blame them. They sleep on matresses on the floors of the two unfurnished apartments in the building; they look out of place in upscale Clemenceau. In five days, the Israeli bombers can change the entire demographics of a city.

I flagged down a car that said "PRESS" on it today and the al Jazeera correspondent hastily gave me a ride to my destination, although he was in a rush to pick up a tape of the massacre committed today in Sour (Tyre). I'll be relying on the kindness of strangers more often in the coming days and weeks and I hope I can extend the favor to others. I hope these anonymous acts of kindness will outweigh the moments of suspicion and hostility.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lebanese Bloggers reports,
Update: Tyre has been hit severely. A 12-story high building for the Lebanese Civil Defense have been shelled. Tens of dead and wounded reported. Also a residential building in Tyre has been destroyed, with reported of about ten dead already.

[Disclaimer: While I frequently link to Lebanese Bloggers and am very grateful for their updates, I do not in the slightest bit share the political views of their contributors, in particular not Doha's who seems to be the lone contributor these days. She is in Washington D.C., which might explain her pro-US, sentimental, simplistic opinions. And I'm not Lebanese, so I am exempt from abiding by the pact of "unity"]
Nasrallah is speaking on TV.
According to my crude translation, he said, let them invade by land, so they stop hiding behind their planes, and we can have a direct confrontation. He also said that Hezbollah does not target civilian sites, but only military ones and settlements. But that when the Zionists attack and kill civilians, they have no choice but to do the same.
Nasrallah is going to speak to make a televised address soon. People are expecting him to announce another "surprise". Shimon Peres is apparently calling for calm. Israel's key demands for a ceasefire (communicated through Italian mediators) are no longer the disarmament of Hezbollah; they will settle for the return of the two soldiers and that Hezbollah retreat to the Litani river. Neither will happen, in my opinion, without the release of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.
Many villages in the south are reporting food and water shortages. Nobody can leave under heavy Israeli bombardment. Apparently, a five-story appartment building was just hit in the southern coastal city of Sour (Tyre). The number of casualities have not been determined.

Now they're saying the building in Tyre was the civil defense department. Dozens have been killed and wounded.

My roommates are leaving for Syria today. They will not return. This morning I was the only woman out on the streets. The atmosphere has changed. The streets are really empty now. Everyone has that clamped down expressionless look as they barrel through the streets in cars at top speed.
Hezbollah fired at least 20 rockets at Haifa this morning, killing ten people and wounding forty. President Emile Lahoud accused Israel of using banned phosphorous incendiary bombs on the southern Lebanese villages, al-Habariyye and Qlayle. Israel leveled the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh last night. At least 10 civilians have been killed in the south in the last few hours. A friend whose grandfather lives in a village in the south says his village is running out of food and water. "They are telling them by plane to leave, while they shoot at everything that moves." I also suspect they might bomb the south to smithereens and then invade (the bombing I don't suspect, it's happening as I write.) I am dying to write a substantial post about how I feel towards Hezbollah, the homeless people squatting in my apartment building, the various scenarios for a regional war and/or a civil war. Hopefully, I'll get around to it before it actually happens, but I am busy writing for a new newspaper. More on that when we go online.
A dear friend reminded me thatI said something stupid and sentimental a few months ago: that I wouldn't leave Beirut until it broke my heart. While I'm no longer anticipating heart break (my love affair with this city ended a long time ago), I am disgusted and by what's happening here. And sad. But I'll feel even more hopeless if I leave. So I'll stay. For now.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Central Beirut under attack!

The Israeli Air Force is now attacking central Beirut and Christian areas. They just bombed the lighthouse on Corniche al-Manara (next to the American University Beirut), the port of Jounieh (a Christian town) and the port of Tripoli. They want the Christians to rise up against Hezbollah. I think they don't mind if they start a civil war in the process. For the time being, the Christians' and Beirutis' anger will be directed at Israel. An older gentleman next to me just said he opposed the kidnapping of the soldiers and doesn't like Hezbollah, but he is supporting them against the Israelis.
What an American mediator with Hezbollah has to say:

Hezbollah and Israel stand along this border every day observing each other through binoculars and waiting for an opportunity to kill each other. They are at war. They have been for 25 years, no one ever declared a cease-fire between them. … They stand on the border every day and just wait for an opportunity. And on Tuesday morning there were two Humvees full of Israeli soldiers, not under observation from the Israeli side, not under covering fire, sitting out there all alone. The Hezbollah militia commander just couldn’t believe it -- so he went and got them."
MK asked for pictures of the Israeli warship that was hit by Hezbollah last night.

Since I'm once again below the ground, the fighter jets overhead just sound like someone's watching war movies on TV (or a chorus of old men passing gas, or foaming milk with an espresso machine).
I witnessed a friendly tiff between a Sunni Beiruti and a Shia whose bedroom but not house has been leveled. The Sunni Beiruti was complaining how he can't go clubbing these days, and how he would be at the beach if it weren't for the Shia who are always causing trouble. I asked him how he felt about the initial Hezbollah operation. He said he didn't really mind, but the timing is bad (tourist season, beach time, lots of loose expatriote Lebanese girls to hit on). The Shia said, that they have nothing to lose, and then told me to fly to New York and take the Sunni Beiruti with me.
The Israeli ambassador to the UN addressed the Security Council yesterday. While he made his case for Israel's right to defend itself against the "bloodstained long-reaching arms of Syria and Iran", his speech was also an attempt to fan the flames, internally, in Lebanon. His references to "the country whose fun-loving, business-minded, entrepreneurial and liberal population has been tormented by decades of oppression, sectarian strife, fundamentalist violence, religious conflict, Syrian control, political assassinations, terror and full-fledged civil war" was a call to arms for the Beiruti Sunnis and Christians, who miss the good old days.

Have you ever heard the representative of a country that is at war with another country, speak in such a condescending, belittling and manipulative tone to his counterpart? Yes, we know what's best for you, Lebanon, while we're bombing every road, bridge and airport in your country and slaughtering dozens of civilians. How out of touch is this guy? He must be taking cues from Michael Totten, whose selective memory from many a boozed up night spent chatting with the funloving offspring of Christian militiamen in a bar in Gemmayze, left him with the misconception that the Lebanese all long for the day when they can vacation in Tel Aviv.

Israeli ambassador to Lebanese ambassador:

"Your Excellency,

You know, deep down, that if you could, you would add your voice to those of your brave countrymen. You know, deep down in your heart, that you should really be sitting here, next to me, voicing the same opinion. You know that what we are doing is right, and, if we succeed, your country will be the real beneficiary. I am sure many of our colleagues around this table and in this chamber, including many or our neighbours, share this sentiment."

Needless to say, the Israelis have contributed more than their fair share of terror, political assassinations, oppression (during the 18 year occupation) and sectarian strife (suport for the Christian rightwing militias, the murderous proxy Southern Lebanese Army, etc). But it is also indicative of the misconception many Israelis have of Lebanese society. Reading through the comments on Jamal's blog posted by Israelis, I get the sense that they think the Lebanese can be bribed into submission, with the promise of free-market capitalism, trade with Israel, prosperity, etc. It's touching that they think the Lebanese want to be just like them, if they could only rid themselves of Hezbollah. And to be sure, many a Christian do. But that limited view neglects two simple facts: 1) that Lebanon, as some Christians in Broumana-- a very Christian village to the north of Beirut-- admitted a few weeks ago when Hezbollah supporters rioted over a sketch mocking Nasrallah, is now a "Shia country"; at least demographically, the Shia have a plurality, and by any demographic forecasts, will someday soon hold a majority. And the Shia overwhelmingly support Hezbollah. We're talking close to 90% of them. 2) The Shia of the south are the actual neighbors of Israel; not the Beirutis, not the Tripolians and not the Mount Lebanonese, nor the Druze of the Chouf. Of course there are Christians, Sunnis and Druze who live in the south, and of course-- Israel also bombs other parts of the country. And let us not kid ourselves about Lebanon being a sovereign and free entity. She is not, and will not be until the confessional system is abolished, the warlords and embezzlers are brought to justice, and Saudi Arabia, France, the US, Israel, Syria, and Iran (the list goes on) stop meddling and molding. Given that fact, the Shia will only protect and pursue their interests.

Friday, July 14, 2006

I wrote this last night, but couldn't post:

They destroyed Nasrallah's residence and the Hezbollah headquarters (and surrounding homes), as well as bridges and roads and tunnels in and around Beirut. There's a victorious mood here (in the Internet cafe) and on the street outside, after Hezbollah rockets sunk an Israeli warship off the coast of Beirut. Certainly on Al Manar. For now. The Israelis said 4 crew members are missing. (Update, they found one of the bodies in the wreckage).
Angry Arab, who left Beirut just a few days before the bombardment started, analyses Nasrallah's speech and the Lebanese public's sentiments on day three of the Israeli attacks. His sources in Lebanon observe that some people who were previously sympathetic to "the resistance" towards Israel are questioning the wisdom of the operation to kidnap the Israeli soldiers, in light of the Israeli massive bombing campaign, the cost in lives and damage to infrastructure and homes. Lebanon is now under near complete siege: the international airport has been bombed over and over again, as well as two smaller airports (Hariri managed to salvage his fleet of 3 planes which flew to Amman before today's attack); the seaports are blocked, the main highway to Damascus is heavily damaged, as well as many many other roads and bridges. To my knowledge the route via Zahle to Syria is still open, and another through the north. Since I have been somewhat limited in my movements and contacts to the people in this Internet cafe, my friends and taxi drivers, I have this to contribute:

Except for one person that I have spoken to, everyone thinks Hezbollah and in particular Nasrallah is handling the situation well (final disclaimer: yes, I know, this is not indicative of all of the Lebanese). They trust that Hezbollah know what they are doing, what their capabilities are and those of the Israelis, and for many many people this is about meting out some justice for the bloodbath in Gaza. Not about distracting from Iran's nuclear ambitions, and certainly not upon orders from Damascus. Every retaliatory strike by Hezbollah, in particular the electricity black out in Safad, Israel, and the destruction of the Israeli warship, are cause for celebration. Most of my friends have not been directly effected by the Israeli military strikes, except for losing power and sleep to sonic booms; but the people who live in areas that have been bombed -- Dahieyeh in the Beirut suburbs-- are the ones crying with joy for every retaliatory measure and symbolic victory against the Israelis, even if the cost in lives and damage is on the Lebanese side. All of the die-hard Hezbollah supporters that I have encountered, and these are the people whose homes are being destroyed, some of whom are sleeping in this Internet cafe tonight, are solidly behind Hezbollah. And they are paying the heavy price, not the Beirutis who are skipping out on the beach for the sanctuary of the mountains.

Nasrallah declared an "open war" for the destruction wreaked in Dahiyeh (Shia suburb of Beirut) today, and announced that the Israeli warship that did the damage would be destroyed; this was apparently pre-recorded. As his speech was aired, the camera cut to the scene of the warship off the coast of Beirut under attack as it went up in flames. Four crew members (or whatever you call those aboard a warship) are missing. A definite contender for top ten moments in TV history.

Someone asked me to comment on the Shia- Sunni/Christian dynamics: I haven't consulted any of my rightwing sources. None of the Sunni/Druze/Christian politicians can afford to say anything against Hezbollah. On wednesday, day 1, GeaGea, Samir Franjieh and a few other marginal March 14th figures complained that a party other than the state was handling foreign policy by attacking another state (as if Israel were just any old state). The Lebanese ambassador to the US was withdrawn, for making statements in defense of the "resistance". That was when the harm to the tourist industry was still of greatest concern. But the Israeli escalation has effectively silenced any criticism of Hezbollah for now. Hariri hasn't said anything at all. The Israelis want him to, but that would be political suicide. Enter the House of Saud who beg to distinguish between "uncalculated adventures" and "legitimate resistance". The Hariri press made this their headline, while Hariri remained mute from his private jet. Jumblatt used the opportunity to try to get in good with Hezbollah again and declared his support for the resistance. Aoun said something to the effect that disarmament is not up for discussion while the country is being attacked.
But, from parousing blogs like, I know that many people are enraged by Hezbollah's actions, which are pulling the whole country into a state of war. I am certain that many people feel that way, and I can't say that it's not entirely unjustified. We have certainly not seen the worst of it yet. Certainly the cost in lives is appalling, and -- if this were only about the release of three prisoners and the Shebaa farms-- I would say that it hasn't been and will not be worth it. But I believe that this is about more, and I think that most people have their own reasons for or against Hezbollah's actions. This is about Gaza, and will also-- if negotiations take place for a prisoner exchange-- lead to the release of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian prisoners, which Hamas has been demanding. Hezbollah is in a much better position to make demands than Hamas for obvious reasons; Lebanon is not a besieged playground for the Israelis, Hezbollah is well prepared to fight a long drawn out battle, has weapons that the Palestinians don't have and all this on a turf that the Israelis were never able to control with a populace that was never forced into submission. One of the young men sleeping in the cafe tonight, whose neighborhood was heavily bombed this evening, says that they have nothing to lose. While that's obviously not quite true, one has to remember that the Israelis have not respected Lebanon's sovereignty over the past six years since the 2000 withdrawal and that this is an issue and a score-- aside from the Palestinian one-- that remains to be settled. Most Lebanese, on an average day, see Israel as a threat. Israel regularly violates Lebanese airspace, assassinates Lebanese citizens, and then retaliates with deadly force if these assassinations are avenged with strategic non-deadly attacks. While this episode is not going to eliminate the threat (no one forsees the elimination of the Zionist state from this operation), many people, in particular the Shia, are prepared to fight and sacrifice in this war. And these are not suicidal maniacs; my roommate today said, this is war and we are prepared to fight it.

And finally, a friend who was present at the Security Council meeting today has this to report:
"News from the security council, it looks like the US is prepared to stand back and let Israel finish the job. They are considering this an interstate conflict, and mostly an issue concerning Iran (and Syria). I'm not optimistic that the UN will be able to do much in this situation, considering that hezbollah has to be dealt with one way or another, and no one has proposed a serious international solution that can respond quickly enough to the crisis. Only on a diplomatic level, and here there are no parties to negotiate with."
Hezbollah has offered to negotiate from the very beginning for a prisoner exchange. And the Israelis know that they will not secure the release of their soldiers through any other means, whether they have been transferred to Iran (which I doubt) or are being held in a cave. Tonight, I fear, Beirut will go up in flames. (Update: Beirut did not go up in flames)
The Israelis are bombing Beirut from warships off the coast. I can't list places and casualties. For real facts, please read Sahar, if you are reading this, I hope its ok if Mohamed's family stay in your house tonight. They are destroying Dahieyeh. My friend was in downtown Beirut at the sit-in to protest Gaza, and they were told to leave because the bridge overpass by downtown that leads to Hamra will be bombed.
Just now, Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah gave a telephone interview on TV. He said that their patience had run out and that we (or they) should look out the window, because they will attack the Israeli warships off the coast that are attacking Beirut. Then they cut to the warships being attacked and burning at sea. People in the Internet cafe were crying, from happiness I assume. Others look quite terrified. I am terrified.
I've opened the comments section to non-Blogger members.
The IAF bombed the Jiyyeh power plant, so we have no electricity as of now. I am writing from an Internet cafe in Hamra, which is generator-powered. There are dozens of Americans faxing forms to the embassy. They might evacuate all US citizens. The German embassy says to stay put and avoid Hezbollah areas, power plants and airports. I was going to go picknick next to the powerplant. I am receiving e-mails from friends in the West Bank to be careful. People in the north of Israel being evacuated to Tel Aviv. Al Manar (Hezbollah's TV station) is playing "music videos" -- marching tunes to a montage of bombs falling, people shooting, praying, the Ala Aqsa mosque, etc.
The western and Israeli media just love that photograph of a group of children smiling and celebrating with Hezbollah flags, shortly after the two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped.
More soon, the IAF permitting.


This pamphlet was dropped over Beirut this evening. A translation will follow. According to Jamal of, it says:
Duck Motherfuckers!
Signed: The State of Israel

Thursday, July 13, 2006


I haven't posted anything of substance on the events in Lebanon and northern Israel, because I've been e-mailing and messaging and discussing for the last 36 hours. I'm tired and there's not much to say from Beirut; the streets in Hamra are empty except for the odd Filipino maid walking a dog, the sukleen workers and a few stray servis drivers. The supermarket shelves were cleared out; people were stocking up on non-perishable goods; there was a long line of cars waiting to get gas. Apparently there is a six hour wait at the Syrian border. People are paying up to $450 to leave the country by taxi. Soon we might have no electricity. Over 50 Lebanese dead today, and the Beirutis are worried about their lost revenues from Saudi sex tourism.

To stay abrest of detailed developments read the updates on

Update 1: Israeli planes flying overhead. They bombed Dahiyeh. I could only see anti-aircraft fire, and here what sounded like thunder. Here they are again. The electricity flickered for a second. I smell burning plastic. Dogs are barking like crazy. It seems they are returning every 20 minutes or so to bomb. More like every five minutes now.

I would like to use this opportunity to invite anyone reading this blog to post questions in the comments section. I received a lot of questions via e-mail and messages. Please re-post or post new ones, if I didn't answer them.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Some Photos from southern Lebanon today

Rashayyah Al-Fukhkhar in South Lebanon (thanks Angry Arab)

Qassmieh Bridge in southern Lebanon after bombing by Israeli Air Force (both photos from Angry Arab)

Haaretz: "widespread military escalation"

I know I am posting a lot from Haaretz today, but it pays to know what they are thinking. Here are excerpts from an editorial by Amos Harel entitled, "Israel prepares for widespread military escalation".
"Israel has until now responded with restraint by bombarding bridges in central Lebanon and attacking Hezbollah positions along the border. But considering the nature of the military high command's current evaluation of the situation, it is clear that the IDF is interested in inflicting a much sharper blow on Lebanon.

Senior officers in the IDF say that the Lebanese government is responsible for the soldiers' abduction. According to the officers, if the kidnapped soldiers are not returned alive and well, the Lebanese civilian infrastructures will regress 20, or even 50 years.

Lebanon has invested considerable resources in the rehabilitation of its civilian infrastructures from the damage sustained during its civil war in the 1970s and the years of war with Israel throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
From another perspective, however, the opening of a new front somewhat eases Israel's dilemma. It now seems that the government may be able to stop acting like it is walking on eggshells, as it has thus far.

There is every indication that Israel is on its way to a wide escalation of its military operations, both in the north and in the Gaza Strip."
On the upside, Saudi tourists seem to be fleeing the country.

A Palestinian friend suggested we draw up a list of "symbolic targets" for the IAF, should they feel the need to punish the "Lebanese government" for this "act of war". On that occasion, I am happy to declare that the "Lebanese government" is still the March 14th coalition, some of whose members have substantial assets that are eyesores in the Beirut landscape. There are a few luxury hotels in downtown on the Corniche that are not yet completed; personally, I wouldn't mind the bombastic mosque that Hariri built for the Saudis on the edge of Martyr Square to be taken out.

Just a thought. I would much prefer if the Israelis calmed down and didn't bomb anything, of course. What's wrong with negotiating for prisoner release? "We don't negotiate". Why is that considered cool?
The Australian CNN anchor: Hayz-bowla". The other anchor: "Hez-bow-LAAAA".


The Israeli army has called up reserve troops to invade Lebanon. Apparently, a 10 km buffer zone on Lebanese territory will be needed to protect the settlements of northern Israel.

From Haaretz, again:
"Olmert, who was to hold an emergency cabinet meeting later Wednesday, said the attack was not an act of terror but an attack by a sovereign state on Israel.
He [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] said that Israel held the Lebanese government responsible for the attack, vowing that the Israeli response "will be restrained, but very, very, very painful."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz also said that the responsibility for the sharp escalation on Israel's northern border lies with the Lebanese government.

Senior Israel Defense Forces officers said Wednesday that "if the abducted soldiers are not returned we'll turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years."

I was told that the Lebanese government is closing the air- and sea ports in preperation for an invasion. A friend from the Beirut suburb Dahieh (majority Shia) says his father called to warn that Israel will attack there."

People are very tense; the army is out in full force.


Israel is calling up reserve units for an operation into Lebanon to search for kidnapped soldiers. I failed to mention before that Hezbollah demands the release of Lebanese citizens held in Israeli prisons, including the longest-held prisoner, Samir al-Kantar.

Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers

A quick post before I go to the sit-in in downtown Beirut to protest the Israeli invasion and bombing of Gaza. Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers this morning. I can not confirm this but CNN is reporting that two rockets were fired into northern Israel wounding four people. Israeli forces are bombing the south of Lebanon, bridges, power outlets, etc. IDF ground troops crossed into Lebanon to search for the soldiers. Celebratory gunfire and firecrackers all around here in Beirut.

Haaretz reports:
IDF ground forces crossed into Lebanon early afternoon to search for the two kidnapped soldiers, Army Radio reported.

The radio said large numbers of troops, as well as aircraft, were taking part in searches on the Lebanese side of the border.

IDF responded to the attacks from Lebanon with heavy artillery and tank fire. Al-Manar television reported that IDF artillery was pounding the fringes of the villages of Aita el-Shaab, Ramieh and Yaroun in the hills east of the coastal border port of Naqoura. Israel Air Force struck roads, bridges and Hezbollah guerrilla positions in southern Lebanon, Lebanese security officials said. The air raids were apparently intended to block any escape route for the guerrillas who may be taking the captured IDF soldiers to areas further removed from the border in order to prevent an Israeli rescue mission.

Lebanese security sources said two Lebanese civilians were killed and a Lebanese soldier was wounded in an IAF air raid on a bridge in south Lebanon on Wednesday. The Lebanese casualties occurred in the raid on the coastal Qasmiyeh bridge.
This from Israeli news:
IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz stated a few minutes ago that "the period of quiet" has ended for Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon. Military sources said that the Israeli retaliation to the Hizbullah attack and apparent kidnapping of IDF soldiers will be extremely strong.

The massive Kayatusha and mortar shell attacks Wednesday morning injured at least four people, and one of them was reported in serious condition. They were ferried by helicopter to the Rambam Hospital in Haifa and to the hospital in Nahariya.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Alqaeda in Beirut update

The Al Qaeda suspect who was arrested on charges of plotting to blow up the Holland Tunnel in New York City lives a few blocks away from my house. His black jeep is still parked outside the front door with a "for sale" sign on it. Was he trying to sell the car to afford a few thousand pounds of explosives to blow up the tunnel? We talked to the fruit vendor across from his house. He said Mr. Hammoud was always polite. The politness of evil, indeed. Wouldn't you expect them to be gruff, to complain about the prices, to rant about how the decadent West invented pesticides? What kind of fruit do Al Qaeda members eat? Cherries? Strawberries? Watermelon? Do they buy local or imported?

The terrorist suspect, Hammoud (nom de guerre: Amir Andalousli), was arrested three months ago, in April. It is unclear on what charges he was initially apprehended, and why it was only made public this past week. He teaches economics at the Lebanese International University, and studied at Concordia in Montreal from 1995 to 2002. It took him seven years to get a Bachelor's Degree! At that rate, somebody else might have beaten him to it with the plan to blow up the Holland Tunnel. What else? Oh, he spoke German, English, French and Arabic fluently. He liked fast cars and girls and booze. Who doesn't? Apparently he lived a life of sin upon Osama Bin Ladin's religious orders, to disguise his real intentions. Al Qaeda really know how to make fundamentalism fun. His students say he dissappeared before the end of the semester and they thought he had been arrested on drug charges! He must have really been taking those orders to live in sin seriously.
I had lunch with a Lebanese establishment figure from Washington DC yesterday who believes that these "plots" are all related to the upcoming midterm elections in the US. Whatever your opinion on the matter is, it seems clear that monitoring chat rooms is not the best way to identify serious, imminent threats; nor is the casually expressed desire or intent an indication of commitment and means. Jeezus, people talk about all kinds of things in chat rooms. When I first started using the Internet as a teenager, I used to go into the AOL chatroom "Christian Divorced Over 40-year olds", and say all kinds of inflammatory things.
The issue is not being a member of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is an ideology, a model, that can easily be emulated. The radicalization of certain sectors of the Lebanese Sunni community proceeds without contact with Alqaeda proper. And Lebanese Minister of Interior Fatfat's licensing of radical Sunni groups with murderous ideologies does not, in my humble opinion, help. Even if he then goes chasing after suspected Alqaeda members to please his masters in the White House.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"The operations are being carried out through a variety of repetitive ground incursions, continued air strikes, artillery fire and other military means.

The defense minister also said diplomatic efforts are underway, in parallel to the military operations in Gaza."

A "variety of repetitive" maneuvers: invade, bomb, snipe, bulldoze. Why do they make it sound so boring? Because it's the order of the day. The soup de la semaine. Maybe next week they'll try something new. Olmert said that this war cannot "afford to budget a timetable". Sound familiar?
Enjoy the Summer Rains, Gaza. Raining bombs is better than no rain. They steal your water, and give you Operation Summer Rains in return.

This is an excellent editorial by Gideon Levy in Haaretz. I haven't read anything as lucidly and honestly argued in the Israeli or US press.