Relatively calm again: Version 1.3

"If I were Hezbollah, I'd be claiming victory too."
-George Bush on August 15th, 2006 (day after cease-fire)

I open this evening, having just arrived from Lebanon, which had just undergone a one-month dreadful war and is now undergoing a difficult post-war situation, or rather one might say a period of "being in-between wars." Since my task here is one of introduction, I will use this opportunity to give a brief and perhaps scattered narration of this war as a witness. To witness war is to feel the inexplicable sound of bombs, to fear death, to be in solidarity with others. To feel hate, anger, and negotiate violence. It is also to witness it in ways not unlike others: through TV and computer screens, reminding us of that saying, "wars now happen only on TV".

It is events such as the recent massive Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, with its combination of blatant criminality and inaccuracy, not to mention Hizbollah's apology towards Arab-Israeli victims, which makes our attempt to try to "understand" war a deeply unsettling endeavor. I am reminded of a passage in Tolstoy's _War and Peace_:

"The deeper we delve in search of [the] causes [of war] the more of them we discover, and each single cause or series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself, and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the event."

During the 33-day war, Israel dropped over 1.2 million cluster bombs, mostly in Southern Lebanon, many of which left unexploded bomblets. According to a commander in the Israeli occupation forces' MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) unit, the IDF had "covered entire villages with cluster bombs ... what we did was crazy and monstrous." These weapons were used in Lebanon despite the fact that they were known to be highly inaccurate (deviation rates reached 1,200 meters). The same commander noted that the reserve soldiers were shocked by the army's decision to use such rockets in Lebanon, because during their regular service, they were told these were "judgement day weapons" that would only be used in a full-scale war.

Yonatan Shapiro, a former helicopter pilot who had been dismissed from service in 2004 after signing a refusenik letter said that he had spoken with F-16 pilots who admitted that they either aborted missions or hit random targets because of suspicion of the accuracy of the intelligence information they were being supplied with. In an article published by the London-based Guardian, Shapiro said "some pilots told me they had shot at the side of targets because they're afraid people will be there, and they don't trust anymore those who give them the coordinates and targets."

The paradox of the Israeli logic of "smart" target killing which "avoids civilian causalities" can also been seen the recent use of an expiremental weapon in Gaza which is causing serious physical injuries such as amputated limbs and severe burns. It is a weapon similar to the one developed by the US militiary, known as DIME, which causes a lethal and powerful blast within a relatively small radius. Responding to critics, Yitzhak Ben-Israel, the former head of IDF's weapons development programs told an Italian reporter that "one of the ideas [behind the weapon] is to allow those targeted to be hit without causing damage to bystanders or other persons." A "humane" weapon.


Going into the second week of the war, the largely presumed scenario that the war was not going to last long became suspect. The bombardment of southern Beirut and many of the villages and road infrastructure in the south of Lebanon continued, and the Israeli army had already started its campaign for land invasion. A friend, who had lived in Beirut through the Civil War (1975-1990) called me up. In a serious and calm tone, he asked me, "we're getting some weapons, do you want one?" In the seconds before I replied, I conjured images of Israeli soldiers in my neighborhood streets, and me, holding a Kalashnikov from my window and pointing it at them. Such imagery, borrowed from 1982 when the Israeli army invaded Lebanon and made it all the way up to streets of Beirut, shocked me: I was - generally speaking - nonviolent.

The war continued to induce bizarre imageries; augmented by a pathological paranoia many victims of state harassment suffer from. In reflection, I am startled at the extent to which I was carried away in hallucinations. Like that one Hebrew book I have in my bookshelves, a book of photographs and texts made by an Israeli leftist (and presumably non-Zionist) of Arab Bedouins living within the state of Israel. The book was signed by its author, although gifted to me by an intermediary friend. The convoluted scenario went like this: some [Lebanese] militias would enter my apartment, find the book, and accuse me of collaborating with the enemy.

Throughout this period my mom, who had left the country via Syria, continued to call me. She desperately wanted me to leave. I kept assuring her that at the earliest moment I could find a safe passage to cross the border into Syria, I would leave. And as I watched from my balcony overlooking the sea foreign nationals leave through helicopter evacuations and ships, the Israeli army continued to bomb the Beirut-Damascus highway in an effort to "stop the shipment of weapons to Hizbollah."

I was lying to my mother all along. I had no intention of leaving. At every bombing of the Beirut-Damascus or the Beirut-Latakia road, I sighed a sigh of relief. In such situations, my mom preferred that I stay in Beirut than be on the road. There was no other reason for the desire to stay except simply the banality of wanting to stay. It was not an act of heroism or what was commonly referred to as "simoud" (to be steadfast), an Arabic word that has become intrinsically linked to Israeli aggression and occupation. Perhaps it was a war I wanted to live, rather than one I would watch. With no TV at my house, the refugees I had hosted first brought a battery-run radio to follow the war. Then a small TV set, around which they gathered throughout the day.

That is not stay that I did not, like many people, fear for my life, or that I would be stuck without electricity or water for months. But what frightened me most was what would happen to my family and close ones if indeed something happened to me. I was also frightened by other things: that a friend who I spent the first nights of the war with, would wake up one morning to find out that her 75-year old parents died under the rumble of their bombed house. And by other people's nightmares:

"2:45 PM, August 8: ... it was the second week of the bombings. i dreamt u were in ur house. i was not clear whether i was with you or just observed from afar. you were with some friends, some of whom i know. then your house was also hit. i saw you all being crushed, i knew you died. i was crying and screaming. it was a nightmare. i woke up crying. I felt lonely. useless. i just stayed awake, in front of tv news, smoking." (in a chat session, written by a friend living outside Lebanon)

From my roof penthouse apartment situated in the safer part of the city, the first bombardments left a nerve-breaking resonance throughout my body. Sitting in my balcony under the warm (and silent) summer sky, I would jump from the thunder-like sounds and go hide inside the apartment. It didn't take me long to realize that it made no difference whether I was inside or outside at the moment the bomb falls. When I had that revelation, I smiled at my stupidity. Even in war, there's humor. In fact, it demands it.


We had been, in the first days of the war, totally taken by the level of escalation. As the bombardment continued to intensify, hundreds of thousands of people started fleeing the south and southern suburb of Beirut and taking refuge in safer areas in Beirut or the mountains, and many left the country all together. Everyone had a deeply engraved image of the 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon and bombardment of Beirut. And the only thing people talked about was whether this was something that was going to end soon, or whether indeed it would become an open, protracted, and total war.

In some evenings, I would sit with my friends, drink, and analyze the "logic" of the war. Had it been prepared? Was an attempt to drag Syria and Iran into a regional war? Would they use that horrific weapon: the nuclear? But then, it was Israeli army Col. Gal Luft who said that the goal of the campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." For him, the aim of campaign was a message to Lebanon's elite: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land." With the historic and dangerous split now shaping within Lebanese society, his "military" strategy has been so far the most successful.

Two weeks after the cease-fire, I watched on TV with a group of friends Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah declaring that if we had known - "even one percent" - that their kidnapping would lead to a war of this magnitude, he would not have conducted the operation. "You ask me, if I had known on July 11 .. that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not ... We were always prepared because we always knew that the day would come when we have to fight this war." It was a rather striking remark. Although Hizbollah enjoyed widespread support across all Lebanese religious and political groups, for its impressive resistance against one of the most powerful armies in the world, it was criticized by some Lebanese for the kidnapping operation it conducted, on which Israel justified its assault. Here Nasrallah was admitting loss, in the gain-and-loss formula, while clearly coming out as victorious, by the admission of even Israeli officials and of course general Israeli public opinion. But then proclamations of victory and loss are nebulous by their own logic, and similarly of gain, cost, and loss.


In the early morning of July 25, an Israeli missle killed half a family in one strike. Ahmad Mohamad Hamza, a 56 year old Palestinian who had lived in the south of Lebanon all his life. He was married to a 47 year old Lebanese women by the name of In'am Abass El-Ezzi. With  them at the time was their son Mohamad (19 years old) and Chirine (21 years old). Chirine had survived the strike, having been burried underneath the rubble. The strike took away the life of her brother, mother, father, and four of their neighbors. Her sister Roula and younger brother Mahmoud had taken refuge elsewhere, and so they too had survived the attack.

Ahmad worked in the precarious business of coffee selling and with his death left nothing to support half of the family. In their quest for compensation, which was pledged by the government and Hizbollah for the victims of the bombings, they become oncemore victims of their nationality and the discriminatory Lebanese laws: because the father was Palestinian, the government could not compensate his family because such compensation was restricted to those with a Lebanese nationality. The law, according to Chirine's older sister who sought money for her hospitalization for injuries her sister had incurred, could only cover her Lebanese mother.

Hizbollah gave the remaining half of the family $4,600 for furniture and to repare their house which was no longer inhabitable. When I talked to Chirine, she told me all that she wanted was money for her university tuition. She was in good spirits. She made fun of my strange accent and shy mannerism. But she was bitter that no one would help her, and that some gave her false promises, and was apprehensive that she'd never have enough money to study. She changed her tone of voice and then told me "what is this life, I wish I died with them."


Surely the loss of human life is the most horrific aspect of war. But there are other causes of sorrow. I remember how deeply affected some friends were by the oil slick caused by the Israeli bombing of the Jiyyeh power station, which covered a large part of the Lebanese coast. Early estimates were that as much oil entered as during the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker incident in Alaska, which had led to serious ecological damage. Similarly, it reminded me of how, on the onset of the American invasion of Iraq, people were deeply affected specifically by the looting of the Iraqi national museum, or rather, by the imagery of it on TVs. Similar crimes were unleashed in southern Lebanon, which included centuries-old castles which the IDF claimed were hosting Hizbollah fighters, as well as old records.

Almost two months after the cease-fire, Abdulhamid Ba'albaki, who was a collector of old books, manuscripts, and art works gave a detailed account in a newspaper article of what he been had lost during the war. He had stored his collection in his house in the southern town of E'daise. Isreali soldiers occupied his house during the war and used it as a post.

Besides the destruction inflicted to the house, Ba'albaki lost much of his collection, which included letters written by the Egyptian national leader Mostafa Kamel and dated from 1899 to 1907, the half-century old will letter of Jamal al-Deen Abdullah Al-Tinoukhi, the great Druze leader, and seven old books written in the Armenian language, dated between 1722 and 1790. Ba'albaki considered books his only possesion in this world.

This hadn't been the first time Ba'albaki suffered such loss. During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) the southern suburb was bombed, and with it a large part of his previous collection. A ground-to-ground 155mm missle had destroyed almost 7,000 of the books, manuscripts and letters he had previously collected.