Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Syrian Influence

It’s all over the news, Pierre Gemayel has been murdered in Beirut. Gemayel was a member of the Phalange party, who’s pro-Israeli militia in 1982 carried out a massacre of thousands of Palestinian women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. A lot of people are upset with the Phalangists since then, and recent developments haven’t helped. Namely the airborne demolition of the country by Israel last summer, which the Bush administration encouraged. Nonetheless, the corporate media is awash with President Bush announcing he will “stand by Lebanon.” It’s this sort of thing which often makes me wonder if people like him are living on a different planet from the rest of us, or some sort of parallel universe.

He could have stood by Lebanon when Israel bombed the country into rubble, erasing all the progress made during the post-war years, destroying it’s infrastructure, killing over a thousand people, one-third of them children, all on the pretext of two captured soldiers. But no, a Phalangist government minister has been assassinated, Syria is surely to blame for everything, and now we’re going to stand by Lebanon. All the talk is of Syria, and Syrian influence in Lebanon. Though the Syrian Army withdrew when the UN told them to, and were not in the country when Israel destroyed it, the talk is all about Syria.

I visited Lebanon just over a year ago. My friend Rana is from Beirut, and she has cousins all over the country – in her family there are Sunnis, Shia, Palestinians and Maronites. I saw as much of Lebanon in a week as it was possible to see. We visited a lovely castle that the Israelis bombed for good measure in 1996. We visited the liberated Khiam Prison, where we saw the tiny cages in which it was impossible to do anything but kneel, where they tortured those they suspected of being Hezbollah fighters. It looked just like some of the photos from Abu Ghraib. Former prisoners were giving tours of the prison. Children were having a karate test in one of the rooms that had been turned into a community center.

But Khiam Prison is now a pile of rubble, along with all of the bridges we crossed as we traversed Lebanon, north, south and central.

Condoleeza Rice actually talked about “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” As babies were dying along with their mothers, asphyxiated in their mother’s arms, as in one photograph. As other babies were arriving stillborn in the hospitals from their traumatized mothers. As other women in labor were unable to cross bombed bridges to get to those hospitals. There’s that alternate reality again, I guess.

I heard a Lebanese woman speaking from Beirut on a community radio station in California. She was talking about a joke that was going around Lebanon during the Israeli bombardment. Feyrouz, the famous Lebanese singer, sings a song called “The Bridge.” The Israeli military called her up and asked, “Ms. Feyrouz, where exactly is that bridge you sang about?” It seems that one way Israel’s foreign policy could be summed up is, once you burn your bridges, the next thing to do is to bomb them.

As excited as I was to see Lebanon when I visited, and as busy as my tour of the country was, I was staying up late every night in my hotel room, following news on the internet and on television. A massive hurricane had hit New Orleans, thousands were dying, the levees had broke. The National Guard was busy participating in the imperial adventure in Iraq, and nowhere to be seen on the Gulf Coast. The money that should have been spent on maintaining the levees was instead spent on the war in Iraq, and on military aid for Israel, among other things.

I was in a hotel room in a city that was well on it’s way towards rebuilding itself back into the beautiful, vibrant city that it was, back into the cultural and tourist capital of the Middle East. Sitting in Beirut, writing about another coastal city, another cultural and tourist mecca, another once-beautiful city, now destroyed. And now Beirut has re-joined New Orleans in the club of destroyed cities.

The destruction of New Orleans, though, was at least partially a natural disaster. The destruction of Lebanon was completely man-made. Planned and executed by Israel, made possible by American merchants of death, and constant use of US veto power at the United Nations.

The heat-seeking missiles dropped on the hospitals, fuel depots, cars, and bridges were dropped by American-made bombers, flown by Israeli pilots. The depleted uranium shells that destroyed so many houses in so many towns were made in the US, fired by Israeli tanks. The million-odd cluster bombs littering the countryside are yet another US-Israeli collaboration. Each one the potential death of a Lebanese child playing in the wrong field at the wrong time, sometime in the next few decades.

Israel, and the US, were everywhere, wreaking havoc, slaughtering the innocent, collectively punishing and killing the people of Lebanon. Syria was nowhere to be seen. Except, perhaps, in some parallel universe.

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