Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Rasha Salti, "Day Six of the Siege," July 19, 2006.

Dear All,

(The generator shut down before I could end this entry. It's noon the next day now.) I’m drafting this entry in this unusual diary at 11:30 pm. I have about half an hour before the generator shuts down. Most of Beirut is in the dark. I dare not imagine what the country is like.

Today was relatively calm, but like most calm days that come immediately after tumultuous days, it was a sinister day of taking stock of damage, pulling bodies from under destroyed buildings, shuttling injured to hospitals that have the capacity to tend to their wounds more adequately.

The relative calm allowed journalists to visit the sites of shelling and violence. The images from Tyre and villages in the south are shocking. Images from Haret Hreyk (the neighborhood in the southern suburb that received the most "focused" shelling) are also astounding.

The number of deaths is yet uncertain, it increases by the hour as bodies are pulled from the landscape of destruction. In the southern suburbs, some people may be trapped in underground shelters under the vestiges of their homes and apartment buildings. And yes, there is a problem of space in morgues in the south and the Beqaa, because none of the towns and villages is equipped to handle these numbers of deaths. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has destroyed almost entirely the village of Aytaroun.

Some of the surviving wounded are Canadian citizens, like the eight who died in the building in Tyre (a building that housed the Red Cross and civil rescue), the Canadian government has had very little regard for them.)

Evacuations, Privilege, Solidarity

Today was a particularly strange day for me because I was granted an opportunity to leave tomorrow morning. I hold a Canadian passport. I was born in Toronto when my parents were students there. I left at age two. I have never gone back, for lack of opportunity and occasion, no other reason. I have the choice to sign up for the evacuation, but the European and North American governments have been so despicable, so racist that I don't want to subject myself to a discrimination of that sort.

The Swedes, Danes and Germans have evacuated their patriots with blond hair and blue eyes. The immigrants that were given shelter to their countries "out of the kindness" of their governments have been systematically left behind; and the guest workers who stayed to enliven their economies and their babies, who adjust the dynamism of their demographics, were left behind to fend for shelter under the shells. But I digress. The point I set out to make is that I refuse to be evacuated as a second tier denizen.

I had the opportunity to leave tomorrow by car to Syria, then to Jordan and from there by plane to wherever I am supposed to be right now. For days I have been itching to leave because I want to pursue my professional commitments, meet deadlines and continue with my life. I have been battling ambivalence towards this war, estranged from the passions it has roused around me and from engagement in a cause. And yet when the phone call came informing me that I had to be ready at 7:00 am the next morning, I asked for a pause to think. I was torn. The landscape of the human and physical ravages of Israel's genial strategy at implementing UN Resolution 1559, the depth of destruction, the toll of nearly 250 deaths, more than 800 injured and 400,000 displaced, had bound me to a sense of duty.

It was not even patriotism; it was actually the will to defy Israel. They cannot do this and drive me away. They will not drive me away. This is one of the most recurring mistakes that the IDF makes, this is how we see things: THEY have destroyed this country, THEY are taking an opportunity to turn it to rubble and to usher us into oblivion, if there is ambivalence vis-à-vis the wisdom of Hezbollah's capture of the two soldiers, there is unambiguous, unanimous solidarity to stand in the face of Israel's barbaric arrogance.

Some people see more in this war, some people see a moment of where the logic/values of the policies of the Mubaraks, the Abdullahs of the Arab world, i.e. the defeatist, pragmatic corrupt sell-outs will be humiliated as well. And I am sure other people see other things as well.

Hezbollah, Israel and America

These "siege notes" have been receiving a number of responses from Israelis. I have to say that most are of the annoying sort. First, they always begin by noting that I am intelligent and I get commended for my intelligence, like Colin Powell gets commended for his English language speaking skills, and you wonder what those making these observations expect from you and the world in the first place.

Second, they systematically mistake expression of dissent and critique with Arab regimes and official discourse as some sort of a favorable disposition towards Israel. In other words there is, falsely, a tautology between regarding Israel as an enemy country and endorsing radical ideologies of Islamic fundamentalism or rabid

As if being a democrat, an egalitarian and a feminist implied that one could not have even more profound grounds for being critical of Israel and regarding that country as an enemy country that has sponsored and produced nothing but war, violence, wretchedness, misery, banditry and usurpation. And so, heartened by my
ambivalence towards this war, they recommend that more conversations should take place between Israelis and me.

Of course most propose that I make the effort to seek out those Israeli interlocutors. This extreme form of Habermas-mania that assumes that deep conflicts can be "talked through" is the sum of hubris. The experience of the peace process is telling: it is clear that Israelis cannot, cannot, cannot accept Palestinians as human beings whose humanity is of equal value as their own. This is the bottom line. And until that bottom line is changed, there is nothing that a member of a society that builds walls around itself to shut itself off from the world and shut the world from itself can tell me. Punto final.

(There is something about stubborn misunderstanding in the US that betrays intent to see a crisis linger or even escalate. If Americans feel better being misguided idiots, Israelis should know better. If the Israeli intelligentsia wants to play deaf like Americans, the only outcome will be an Iraq scenario) I reiterate: Lebanon is not Iraq. The Lebanese are not, will not be Iraqi, and will not be manipulated into the barbaric sectarian horror.

We've tried that before and it does not work; we are tired of fighting each other.

Gross Miscalculation

The most gross miscalculation Israeli strategists are making is based on the assumption that Hezbollah is a) not a legitimate political entity in this country, b) its base is made up of extremists and c) its "elimination" would leave the Lebanese construct unscathed. In point of fact, pushing the Lebanese population to "rise up" against Hezbollah, or the scenario of a Lebanese implosion is the worst case scenario for all regional "parties", because the country would then become the jungle of violence and killing that Iraq is today.

Because I am a staunch secular democrat, I have never endorsed Hezbollah, but I do not question their legitimacy as a political actor on the Lebanese scene. I believe they are just as much a product of Lebanon's contemporary history, its war and postwar as are all other parties. If one were to evaluate the situation in vulgar sectarian terms, they certainly do a better job than all the political representatives presently and in the past when it comes to representing the interests of their constituency. It would be utter folly (murderous folly, in fact) to regard Hezbollah as another radical Islamist terrorist organization, at least in the ideological and idiomatic vein of the American intelligentsia and punditry.

Hezbollah is a mature political organization (It has matured organically within the evolution of Lebanese politics.), with an Islamist ideology that has learned (very quickly) to co-exist with other political agents in this country, as well as other sects. If Lebanese politics was a representation of short-sighted petty
sectarian calculations, the lived social experience of postwar Lebanon was different. Sectarian segregation was extremely difficult to implement in the conduct of everyday social transactions, in the conduct of business, employment and all other avenues of commonplace life.

And that is capital we all carry within ourselves; there are exceptional moments when the country came together willingly and spontaneously (as with the Israeli attacks in 1993 and 1996), but there are other smaller, less spectacular moments that punctuate the lived experience of the postwar that every single Lebanese can recall where sectarian prejudice was experienced as meaningless, utterly meaningless.

When former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated, the country seemed divided into two camps. The consensus was overwhelming however that we will not revert to fighting, to eliminating one another. If Israel plans to annihilate Hezbollah, it will annihilate Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its constituency are not only Lebanese in the perception of all, they are also a key, essential element of contemporary Lebanon. Moreover, the specifics of UN Resolution 1559 may have regional implications, but at heart and in essence they can only be resolved within the Lebanese consensus. Israel CANNOT take it upon itself to implement that UN resolution. It is sinister folly that Israel should implement any UN resolution, considering its stellar record of snarling, snickering and shrugging at every single UN resolution that did not suit its sensibilities.

Hezbollah is not al-Qaeda, but Israeli and US propaganda will portray them as such, and that is the downfall of public opinion - the tragedy at the root of the consensus that agrees to watch Lebanon burn. In more ways than can be counted, they are different political ideologies, groups and movements. First, Hezbollah are not suicidal. Second, they are not anti-historical. Third, they are a full-fledged political agent at the center of a dynamic polity. Their ideology is not an ideology of doom, they represent as much petty interests of their constituency as woven into the fabric of regional politics.

Israel and Channel 2

I was watching Lise Doucet on the BBC interview one of Elhud Olmert's underlings yesterday after the speech. This is the folly of the Israelis, and I believe it will be their downfall, ultimately. He was lamenting that Hezbollah hit the "peaceful" city of Haifa, an Israeli city that he described as exemplar of coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Haifa! An Israeli city? Haifa? The name is Arabic - the jewel in the crown of Palestinian cities, a peaceful haven of coexistence between Jews, Muslims and Christians?

My God! It took DECADES for Christians and Muslims to appear on the roster of "human beings" in the ledgers of the Israeli government - decades of struggle, riots, pain and suffering. And they are still second class citizens, and they are still unwelcome, pushed out, day after day, crushed by the Israeli machine.

This eloquent underling was making the argument that Hezbollah wanted to destroy the city of "coexistence." Of course he does not care that the city the IDF has currently under siege, the city they are bombing to rubble, the city where the Red Cross and civil rescue headquarters were shelled to the ground – Tyre - is itself a gorgeous jewel on the Lebanese coast. That it is a GENUINE city of coexistence amongst Christians, Shi'ites and Sunnis.

The delightful town of Marja'yun is also a city where sects and religions co-exist and Zahleh and so on... But no matter, the Israelis have always done this, and eventually, it catches up with them and in the end, they realize that their narrative is so far removed from reality they have to back track.

The key to understanding Israeli's relationship to our humanity lies in a text by David Grossman, one of Israel's foremost novelists, essayists and writers. He wrote it around the time of the First Intifada. Israel was then beginning to come into reckoning that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was no longer tenable or sound strategy for the well-being of its democracy.

Interview by an Israeli journalist

By the second or third of these "siege notes", the emails reached
Israel and Israeli blogs. A journalist from Israel's Channel 2
contacted me by email and asked for an interview. I was
uncomfortable with the idea at first, for fear that my words be
distorted and my genuine, candid sentiments quoted to serve
arguments I do not endorse. Exposing oneself with transparency has
its charm and price.

That journalist seems like a nice person, but I have no reason to
trust her and she understands my misgivings. My only defense is
transparency. She sent me the set of questions below for me to
answer so she can air them on TV or use them for some report. I
decided to share them with you all.

1. Question: How your day looks like from the morning. What you did
today? Did you have coffee? How do you get the news - television?
radio? Internet?

Answer: The routine of our days is totally changed. We now live
under a regimen of survival under siege. Those of us still not
wounded and not stranded do whatever needs to be done to survive
until the next day. Coffee, yes, I have coffee in the morning, and at
noon and in the afternoon. Perhaps I have too much coffee. The
passage of time is all about monitoring news, checking everyone's
OK, and figuring out what has to be done to help those in distress.
News is on all the time - all the time, whatever media works.
There is a great need for volunteers to tend to the hundreds of
thousands displaced now.

2. Q: Can you describe the neighborhood you live in? So will it be

A. No thank you. I live in a very, very privileged neighborhood, far
from the southern suburbs. After the evacuation of foreign nationals
(and bi-nationals) is complete, everyone is expecting doom - and if
Israelis decide to give us a dose of tough love as they did in the
southern suburbs, my life will probably be in serious danger as my
family's and everyone who has decided to stay here.

3. Q: Can you say something about yourself, like what you do for
living, if you can say.

A: I organize cultural events and I am a free-lance writer. I used to
live in New York City and moved to Beirut Tuesday July 11th. I have
no life at the present moment. I try to do a few things over the
Internet, but that's increasingly difficult.

4. Q: Are you Lebanese or Palestinian?

A: Both and it gets more complicated; I have Syrian blood too, and
Turkish and Bosnian. I am the product of the Ottoman Empire, and I
say it with pride. I know it tires a lot of people. But I am VERY proud
to claim my lineage. My father was expelled from Jerusalem in 1948;
he and his family lived in a gorgeous home in Talbiyeh. I think it is a
day care school now. We own property in old Jerusalem as well and
the Atlantic Hotel which was bombed by your "valiant" paramilitary
pre-national militias in 1946.

5. Q: In Israel our leaders think that by targeting Hezbollah and
other places in Lebanon will make the rest of the local population
against them. Is this true?

A: It is pure folly, but even if it were true it is a terrible strategy, an
imploded Lebanon is a nightmare to all, not only the Lebanese but to
everyone, does Israel want an Iraq at its doorstep? There seems to
be consensus now in Israel over the military campaign. It is because
Israelis are not yet pressing their leadership and military on the
smart questions.

Do you actually believe it would be possible to eliminate the Sh’ia
sect from Lebanon, and that it would go down easy in the region? If
the Americans are advising you, duck for cover or move. Need I list
their record of wisdom and foresight recently? Vietnam, Central
America, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq. If you need to listen to
imperialists, find less idiotic ones, who have a sense of history at
least. God help us all if Rumsfeld is also in charge of your well-being.
This war will bring doom to all. Stop. Cut everybody's losses. Wars
can be stopped before the body count is "intolerable" or an entire
country has been reduced to rubble.

6. Q: What is the atmosphere in the streets of Beirut, if you can tell.

A: Beirut is quiet, dormant, huddled. We are caged, but there is
tenacious solidarity. You have to understand that we see ourselves
under an unwarranted attack from Israel. The capture of two
soldiers DOES NOT justify Israel's response. There has been a status
quo for the past 6 years that was well managed. Hezbollah was not
in an impasse; the Olmert government was in an impasse. He ran on
a campaign to solidify the "new" (illegitimate) borders, finish the
wall and finalize the enclave, and withdraw into the boundaries of
that enclave. The Olmert government did not have the maturity or
intelligence to know how to deal with the Hamas government.

Your government was guided by arrogance. We, you and us, are here
today because your political class is not up to the challenge. I am
sorry, but the Hamas government was elected democratically, and
there were myriad ways to deal with them. MYRIAD. But this is the
stage of your destiny that you have reached, you build walls around
yourselves (you, to whom the Massada is a foundational trauma/
myth!)*, and you chase barefoot, toothless, illiterate, hungry people
with state of the art military arsenal. And you insist that you are
victims, and you insist that you are on the right side of history. All
this bullshit will catch up with you.

7. Q: What is the atmosphere among your friends?

A: The consensus is solidarity. Our country is under attack.
Otherwise, we are an exceedingly plural society - everyone has a
theory and a point of view, and we co-exist, humoring one another.
What do you do when you are under siege? Do you eat one another,
cannibalize on one another, or stand in solidarity to weather the

The largest, largest majority does not go to work; it is a form of
resilience. If the war goes on for longer, life will have to evolve a
different routine. A large part of the work force is impaired from
movement. And then there is the random shelling, it's also
dangerous to go out. This has gone on from the first day of the siege.
The south is now sinking in a humanitarian crisis. Beirut will soon.
(The new regulation by your glorious IDF this morning is to shoot at
all moving vehicles larger than SUVs. One was just shelled in
Ashrafieh. New danger, new things to look out for.)

It's dark now, and I am too traumatized. I just want this to be over.

I am waiting for a ceasefire. Are you? Is that too unmanly for your
society? What do you need to see before you cease your fire? You
want to hear me expire? You take down Hezbollah, and I am going
down with them. Do you know when Hezbollah was born? 1982.
Where were you? Was it an exciting summer for you?

Israeli correspondent: I went to my gym class this morning. I am at
home now, listening to the radio on one side, writing mails on the
other side. Air-conditioner is on, since it is extremely hot and humid
in Tel Aviv. I live in the center of the city. Later I will go to the office.
I think life in my city continues but in a lower volume. Life as it were,
or as previously understood, in my city has stopped.

Air-conditioning is dependent on electricity or generator working.
Power cuts are the rule now and the generator works only on a

Rashal Salit: I like it when Israelis report their weather, it ought to
have some cathartic virtue because it's like a reality check, one
of the few reminders they are in this region and not in Europe. So
yes, without air-conditioning and with power cuts, my "Semitic"
curls produce unruly coif and I have to admit, I am enduring siege
with bad hair.

I am on email, but that's intermittent between two bouts of
"breaking news".

I hope you will wake up to the nightmare you have dragged us into.
I hope you will want to have fire ceased as soon as possible. I hope
you will deem our humanity as valuable as your own.


* Massada

“Massada which means ‘the fortress’ is located in the Judean Desert
and overlooks the Dead Sea. It consists of a plateau that is about 11
acres in size. Its rough steep cliffs on all four sides make it almost
impregnable. Massada is best known as the place where 960 Jewish
zealots held off the Tenth Roman Legion that tried to conquer them,
but eventually committed mass suicide to avoid capture.

“In modern times the Israeli Defence Force holds its initiation
ceremonies on Masada. They use the story of the brave men and
woman who lived and fought here as an example of the courage that
they are looking for in their military.”
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