Monday, July 31, 2006

The oil slick reaches Beirut.

In Marion's report that I posted earlier today, she mention the oil pollution that resulted from the attacks on oil storage facility south of Beirut (see this story for further details). The slick has reached Beirut and Marion has taken the following pictures for us.

Beirut dispatch

Here is the latest dispatch from Marion in Beirut. Firstly it deals with the tragic airstrikes on Qana where over 50 civilians were killed, many of whom were children. Israel's strongest defenders have tried to explain the killings as Hezbollah's responsibility for operating close to civilians to gain shelter from them, some even more unsavourly blame the victims for not leaving the village as the Israelis warned. Leaving aside the very real fears that civilians in Lebanon have about moving after numerous refugee and humanitarian convoys have been struck causing many deaths, this argument seems as morally reprehensible blaming the people of Haifa or other northern Israeli towns, killed by hundreds of Hezbollah rockets that have been falling on Israel daily, for their own fate by saying "you should have left. Can't you see there's a war on?" You could perhaps argue that Hezbollah are purely targetting civilians, whilst the IDF is trying to hit military targets, but at best that only means they are callously indifferent about killing non-combatants. Better but not by much. Marion's report follow:

Once upon a time in the south of Lebanon, there was a joyful wedding in the village called Qana. Jesus Christ was amongst the guest and this I where he performed the miracle of turning the water into wine. This village’s name was written in the Bible thousands years ago, but it is written also in the history of Lebanon. But this time not as a joyful village celebrating a wedding and drinking red wine. But sadly as a village where the ground has been watered with blood and where the walls still recalled the screams of the injured and the shouts of the people who lost their beloved ones.

In 1996 during “Operation Grapes of Wrath” (remember the name Grapes) hundreds of Lebanese citizens were killed when Israeli artillery fire hit a UN camp where they were sheltering. In 2006, precisely this morning, the same thing happened once again. I wonder is there any relation between the red wine miracle at that wedding thousands of years ago and this mass killing in more recent times named after grapes? If the red wine at that wedding was made by a miracle from God, then is this blood from the murdered children and women now a curse from the Devil? Has the Devil been jealous of this happy village from long ago and got his revenge by turning it into a village of sorrow?

As a reaction to the brutal murder of the citizens in Qana today, thousands of people gathered in rage around the UN building in downtown Beirut, which is located next to the “Banks street” in the centre where I drive every day to work. The scenes on TV showed their anger and their frustration at seeing the UN hopeless, unable to find a way to bring about a ceasefire, a way to find some peace for this country.

I look back in time, and for many years now, Lebanon has been living a “false peace” with Israel. There were war times then there were ceasefires agreements, which only delayed the wars to later years. It looks like a vicious circle with no way out. If this war ends now with a ceasefire, Hizballah will still have its weapons and in the future there is good possibility of a clash in the south with Israel again. Then once again Lebanon will be back in this vicious circle.

There is a part of Lebanese society who believed this war might clip Hizballah’s wings that have lately been growing so strong. But then again they also wondered, what if Hizballah comes out winning? There is fear the Shiites may then run the country, or that Syria (and also Iran) will be back interfering in Lebanon’s economy and politics in the same way that it was for many years until it withdrew from Lebanon in 2005. However these people who do not want Hizballah still do not like Israel and blame it for ruining the country.

And talking of ruining the country; in addition to the billions of dollars worth of damage done to Lebanon’s infrastructure, the killing of more than 600 Lebanese so far, the displacement of hundred thousands of citizens from their homes, the blockading of the country by blocking the airport and harbours, there is now the pollution of Lebanese 80 kms of coastline from Saida in the south to Chiqqa in the north.

Sadly, around 15 000 tons of oil have spilled into the Mediterranean after the bombing of fuel depots south of Beirut in the early days of the war. It will not only take millions of dollars to purify the sea, but also will poison the fish and result in a big crisis for all Lebanese fishermen for a long time. The Ministry of Environment has urged the Lebanese to stay away from the seashore and beaches.

On Saturday, Hassan Nassrallah showed up once again on TV. His voice was trembling a little. The last couple of times he has appeared he only spoke of Islam. As a reaction, particularly Christian Lebanese felt threatened and insulted by his ignoring them as part of this nation. This time, somewhat surprisingly, he addressed himself specifically to the Christian community calling them as important as Muslims in the country and talking of Jesus Christ. He also thanked Christians and Sunnis and Druzes for opening their homes and their schools to the Shiites refugees from the south. He assured viewers that Hizballah’s victory will be a victory for all the country and not only for the Shiites and he asked all Lebanese religions to support him and be united in this war. By his words, he was attempting to placate the fears of those Lebanese who fear a new Shiite dominated-Lebanon, assuring them that this would not happen. He said that Hizballah needed the other religions’ blessings in order to go on with the fighting.

He also addressed himself to his soldiers in a beautiful and respectful way. I must say here, despite the many Lebanese blame him for this war and want Hizballah disarmed, virtually all agree how strong this person is as a charismatic leader – defying Israeli pressure. Also in his speech he agreed with the government’s proposals to reach a ceasefire. Central to these would be the redrawing of Lebanese territory, which means the Shebaa Farms issue; also deploying the Lebanese army across the whole country; Israel giving Lebanon a map showing where it has planted mines; and an exchange of prisoners. Most Lebanese regarded Nassrallah’s comment as a positive on the matter to a future disarming of Hizballah.

Yet despite these positive developments Hizballah is not ready to unilaterally stop fighting and so Israel will persist in attacking Lebanon and more innocent people will die. When will this nightmare stop? Will it ever stop? It is well known that every story that begins with "once upon a time" should end with the following "and they all lived happily ever after". Do you think dear reader, that there will come a day when Israel and Lebanon's story of conflict will have a happy ending? I shall leave the answer to your imagination.

Marion A.J. Beirut, 30 July 2006.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Armegeddon Days (Are Here Again)

For those of you who don't get the title, it's a song from the British post-punk group "The The" from the late 80s. I was well into them whilst doing my A levels (UK national exams you do at 18). They were that sort of band. They wrote the theme song for the rightwing US 'anti-terrorist' blogosphere 15 years before it had been invented ("Islam is rising/the Christians mobilising/the world is on its elbows and knees/its forgotten the message and worships the creed.") in the same way that Ronald Reagan's team thought that Bruce Springsteen had written "Born in the USA" for Reagan's re-election campaign - i.e. they didn't listen to all the words.

Anyway, I digress. Mike sent me the rather natty photo at the top, mainly I think because a) I'd asked him to and b) so he doesn't lose out to Marion who has become in a week first a journalist, and now a photo journalist. It's of the "International Christian Embassy Jerusalem" (ICEJ) down the road from him in Jerusalem. I know someone at Turku University who has literally written a book on Christian Zionism and their apocalyptic worldviews and saw her make an excellent presentation on Jerusalem's role in all this. They struck me as utter nutters; completely mad. But when they start influencing the US Congress you have to take them seriously. Anyway Mike says the ICEJ always seems empty except for the gardeners, but they are easy to find on the internet. He pointed me towards this document where they attempt to explain why they aren't as crazy as everyone thinks they are. This is at least honest, but after a skim read I can't say I'm convinced. Purely by chance linked on another blog I came across this collections of postings from a Rapture Ready website collected by Harper's Magazine. Mike had said in his email of ICEJ: "I believe [they] support Israel as a way to advance Armageddon. Sometimes I think they know something we don't." The people quoted on the Harpers website definitely think so!

BTW, the final verse of Armegeddon Days goes like this:

If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
He'd be gunned down cold by the C.I.A.
Oh, the lights that now burn brightest
Behind stained glass
Will cast the darkest shadows
Upon the human heart
But God didn't build himself that throne
God doesn't live in Israel or Rome
God doesn't belong to the Yankee dollar
God doesn't plant the bombs for Hezbollah
God doesn't even go to church
And God won't send us down to Allah to burn
God will remind us what we already know
That the human race is about to reap what it's sow


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Monday in Beirut

The following is Marion, recounting her first visit to central Beirut since the war started. Marion snapped the photo below outside the Egyptian Embassy, it shows the piles of bags of people waiting to Egyptians waiting to be evacuated by bus to Syria.

Monday 24 July

Since the start of the Hizballah-Israeli war we have been getting used to a new routine: waking up in the morning without the need to look at the watch since there was nothing awaiting us in the day; Watching TV and listening to the radio, following up the latest news of bombs falling and casualties growing in number in both Lebanon and Israel; hearing the Israeli planes above our heads. It’s strange how one’s way of living can change so radically, so quickly.

This morning, that new routine in my life was broken. I was going to work! Naturally our office has been closed since the start of the war, but it will be open a few hours a day from today. If the situation will be too dangerous, then the office will close its doors once again. I knew no work was awaiting me since the whole country has been paralyzed but I was looking forward to see my colleagues, getting out of home, and most importantly I was curious to see the heart of Beirut.

I went through the newspaper with zero advertisements in it. I guess that is also a new routine in our daily lives. I used to enjoy reading the ads in the papers each morning. Instead, now, all I could see were announcements of the closing down of bank branches in dangerous regions… Announcements for shopping malls’ early closing hours due to the situation…. Announcements of the new telephone numbers of insurance companies that moved their offices from Beirut to safer areas.

I was expecting to see at least hotel’s advertisements especially with the huge Lebanese flow of displaced refugees, yet did not find any. Maybe all the hotels were already full by now with the refugees who can afford to pay?

The main highway that connects the north to Beirut there was little traffic. On my way, I passed the Canadian Embassy and outside a long queue of people was waiting. Logically they were not Canadians, since they were evacuated sometime ago, but rather Lebanese trying to get visas in order to leave the country.

As I reached downtown Beirut there were army soldiers spread every few hundred meters just inspecting the roads. I continued my drive and the downtown that used to be the living heart of Beirut until two weeks ago now seemed like a ghost town.

From the “Bank Street” (a street with only banks on it!), I took the highway that went straight to the airport and the south. On this road, I had to cross the “Cola Bridge” (please don’t ask why its called that – I’m not sure!). This is a major bridge that many Lebanese feared would be added to lengthy list of bomb-out bridges in the country. Luckily it was still undamaged. The few cars crossing this bridge accelerated hard. I did the same, everyone fearing they could be bombed at any second.

After crossing the bridge, I took the exit toward my office. I wished I had the strength to continue my way on the highway and drive to the airport and continue to Saida’s city – surely at some point I would be stopped at a roadblock - but my courage did not quite match my curiosity.

On the way to my office lies the Egyptian embassy. I had to stop the car and wait for the crowds and their luggage blocking the road to clear the way. They were Egyptians waiting outside the embassy for the buses to be transported outside of Lebanon. What a scene!

The joy of seeing my office desk again and greeting all my colleagues was immense. It felt like ages since I last have been in the office. Each one of us had a story to tell in this war. I used to call our office “THE UNITED COLORS OF RELIGIONS”. It was a funny title that really fitted us perfectly. We were Lebanese Maronite Christians, Orthodox Christian, Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslims, Druze, Armenian Christians etc… I personally liked this mixture of cultures and religions.

I was eager to hear all of their points of views concerning this war. The Shiites were a bit reserved as we discussed the subject. They were very upset about what is happening to Lebanon; commenting on the casualties, the sad flow of refugees and they certainly want peace more than anything. Yet they did not comment when we all started speaking about Hassan Nassrallah. The Sunnis and Christians were of same opinion: Hizballah dragged the country into a war that could have been avoided. So naturally they blamed Hizballah totally. Our Druze colleagues who follow Walid Jumblat, the MP and leader of Druze community and an ally to Hariri, naturally were of the same opinion as the Sunnis and Christians.

There was one Palestinian colleague among us who responded in rage when I asked them everyone whether they would mind having peace with Israel. Hatred towards Israel runs in his veins, even though he lived all his life in Lebanon and has never been to Palestine.

The Sunnis’ and Christians’ answer was: if peace with Israel will guarantee us safety and long lasting peace then why not. As for the Shiites reaction, they replied that Israel was never to be trusted and if there would be peace, it will start putting its hands on our economy, our industry. I did not understand their point of view. Mind you, my Shiite colleagues are open and not conservative in comparison to the pro-Hizballah people living in Dahiyeh or in the south of the country.

In the flow of the conversation, we all agreed on one point: since we got into this mess, we were ready to bare it to the end despite the consequences but on one condition – that it would be the last time! We could not handle another war, another fleeing of refugees, another insecure period, another economic crisis, more people killed. We all have had enough despite our differences. The one word we could all agree on: Peace! But the question was how when there are so many conflicting forces in our tiny country?

During the four hours we stayed at the office, the phone only rang four times. They were no calls from clients, but rather calls from the girlfriends of the Sri Lankan janitor of our offices. He seems to be something of Don Juan and all his girlfriends kept on calling worried about him! It was the time when we all forgot this war for a few minutes and had a good laugh.

Time passed by quickly at work as we organized our database, filed documents and did backups of our computer files. Around noon I left the office and chose to pass by the Sanayeh public garden that now contains hundreds of refugees. There was terrible traffic on that street, at the main gate there were two army jeeps with soldiers inside and were standing next to the garden’s fences. I could not stop nor was I able to take any pictures, but from my car window I could see many women wearing chadors walking in the garden. Children were playing among the trees. Next to the garden was a help center. There were young people taking out packs of breads and cheese from there, carrying them to the garden’s refugees.

In central Beirut the rubbish bins were empty and the roads had been cleaned but during my drive I passed by other places where there were huge piles of uncollected trash in the middle of un-cleaned streets. When I got home, there was a report on TV concerning this issue. The Lebanese cleaning company Sukleen was suffering from a shortage of janitors. 70% of its employees were foreigners: Syrians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Egyptians. The remaining percentage were Lebanese but many had fled to safer areas. The constant bombing of the Dahiyeh area and the south has kept Sukleen from accomplishing its tasks there. Meanwhile and until it gets back its original employees, Sukleen was recruiting new employees – mainly Palestinians and some Lebanese in order to solve its shortage. Therefore it offered each rubbish truck driver 35$/day and for each bin man collecting the trash $25/day.

On TV CondoleezaRice’s presence in the Middle East was the leading the news. There is nothing on TV these days except news, national patriotic songs, 24 hours journalists’ coverage of different areas in the country and programmes where Christians and Sunni MPs debate live with Hizballah’s parliamentarians and exchange their views on the situation. Movies, series and other programmes broadcasted in normal times have been stopped. Each TV station has come up with a slogan which it displayed on its screen 24hours/day. Slogans differed according to each station: “JULY WAR 2006”; “SURVIVORS” with fist over a Lebanese map; and “WAR ON LEBANON” being some of the examples.

Finally, I would like to comment on Mike’s reports from Jerusalem. How the Israeli people are dealing with this war is something we do not see on or TV news. I hope both nations agree on one thing: let this war be the last one! We both have had enough and what we should aim for are security and peace for our children.

Marion A.J.

One Finn killed by Israeli strike on UN post

A Finnish UNIFIL observer was killed along with three colleagues, from Austria, China and Canada,when their observation post was bombed last night. I will check with this blog's former co-writer Charly, who is currently up to his eyes writing a history of Finnish peacekeeping, but I can't remember another Finn being killed in recent years on a UN mission. Other UNIFIL troops who attempted to rescue them were subsequently shelled. Israel's UN Ambassador has expressed Israel's "deep regret" over the matter but strongly denied Kofi Annan's suggestion that the attack was deliberate. The background to Annan's very strong claim seems to be that the UN had reminded the IDF of the post's already well known position only yesterday - BBC Radio 4 is reporting that shells had been falling near the post all yesterday forcing the observers into a bunker. The French general commanding UNIFIL had called the Israelis asking them to desist, but later the bunker was hit by one heavy bomb that destroyed the bunker.

The UN was criticised earlier during this crisis for turning away civilian refugees from their camps and bases in Southern Lebanon. The UN's justification for this is they did not want to risk another incident leading to mass civilian deaths such as happended at Qana in south Lebanon in 1996 during "Operation Grapes of Wrath". A UN base that was sheltering hundreds of Lebanese civilians was hit by artillery fire that resulted in 106 deaths and more than that injured, including UN forces. Hezbollah had been firing rockets from areas close to the camp. The return fire hit the camp and not the Hezbollah fighters. The debate over Qana continues to rumble on (see the Wiki talk page as an example, both semantics and facts are disputed) but whatever happened - the attack yesterday shows that the UN made the right decision in this crisis.

Update: The Finnish reaction from the President and Foreign Minister (who was in Rome representing the EU at the Lebanon crisis meeting) can be read in English here and here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thoughts from Jerusalem

Mike has sent me the following analysis of thinking in Israel. He considers what the Israelis do and don't see on their TV news, national and international, and how this effects what they think. He also looks at the past experiences that have shaped their policy now:

I get Sky, CNN, FOX and BBC World on cable, which just about spans the English speaking spectrum. One of the differences between Israeli TV news and international TV news is that, perhaps not surprisingly, Israeli TV concentrates more on its domestic horror stories. This consists mainly of people looking at holes in the ground and talking on their mobile phones. We also see the victims' bloodstains and clothing, but that it is a bit more familiar from six years of suicide bombings. Then we also see vague pictures of the IDF in action: I suspect more censored than on international news.

We also get many talking heads analysing what has and will happen. Talking a lot is an Israeli curse and blessing. It relates to Israel's 'PR problem' with the rest of the world. Politicians tend to rush to the worlds' cameras to express views in broken and incoherent English. This time at least the spokespeople speak good English, but this is not as helpful as it might have been 50 years ago since many international leaders now speak good English. There is a Hebrew word 'Hasbara'. It translates equally as PR, propaganda, and explanation. Which perhaps explains why Israeli spokespeople talk too much.

Anyway, the point is that the destruction of South Lebanon and South Beirut is not seen much on Israeli TV. It's all available of course: most Israeli are competent in English, French, Arabic or Russian and have the same international TV and internet news sources as I do. Whatever, there is the beginning of a peace movement with a biggish demonstration in Tel Aviv. Not many demos in Haifa or Kiryat Shmonah though.

I have to deal with what I see happening in Lebanon. So I thought I'd try and disentangle some background. What follows may not be true: it's just some thoughts. It's also not intended to be a justification either, but may serve as a partial explanation of Israel's reasoning.

First, Israel believes (with good reason, if you listen to Nasrallah and Iran) it could be wiped off the map. This they call its existential threat, which is nothing to do with Camus and Sartre. I can't think of another country (except perhaps North Korea) which feels the same. Certainly no democracies. There are frightening parallels. There are in Israel some 6 million Jews representing about 40% of world Jewry: the same numbers as for Eastern Europe in 1940. You hear the same sentiments amongst the European chattering class: 'those Israelis (read Jews) are so unpleasant and aggressive, they deserve to be taken down a peg'. A difference, of course, is that this is being said now by left wingers not right wingers. Israel sees the leader of a neighbouring country saying that Jews are sub-human, that their country should be removed from the map.

Second, Israelis don't see the same Lebanon that the rest of the world sees. It's not a cosmopolitan country where Arab and French culture meet on the beach and in the mountains. Israelis see a country that joined in the attempt by the united Arab armies to destroy the fledgling state of Israel in 1948. Unlike Egypt and Jordan there's been no peace treaty. As I understand it, Israel and Lebanon are still in a state of war from 48. Israel's occupation from 1982 to 2000 didn't exactly bring the two countries together.

Third is the Jenin story. So some background to bring you up to speed. On March 27th 2002 there was a suicide bomber in Netanya at the Park Hotel (a couple of kilometres from my house on the Mediterranean coast, a hotel I've been to functions in). Many of those there, mostly old age pensioners celebrating the Passover festival (freedom from Egypt), died. As a result the IDF moved back into areas of the West Bank they had left under the Oslo Agreement. One place was Jenin, famous as a centre of terrorists (or militants if you are the BBC). The IDF focused on part of the Jenin refugee camp, which they closed off and entered with troops. Then the media craziness started, with accusations of Israeli atrocities. Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, said on CNN: 'there's almost a massacre now taking place in Jenin. Helicopter gun ships are throwing missiles at one square kilometre packed with almost 15,000 people in a refugee camp. This is a war crime, clear war crime, witnessed by the whole world, preventing ambulances, preventing people from being buried.' This false claim was hysterically was taken up by the world media and in the UN (the same UN representative. I think, who's headlining the BBC saying same sort of things in the Lebanon as I write). In the event the death toll was 56 Palestinians, the majority of them combatants, and 23 Israeli soldiers. Time did an extensive report on the battle and it can be read here.

So what does this story mean for the current conflict? I think two things. Firstly; Israelis now discount the stories they hear. In fact, the more hysterical the stories are the more they are discounted. They say, how do you equate accusations of deliberate mass slaughter of Lebanese with the official toll of (I think) nearly 400, half (by some estimates) Hezbollah combatants. If the Israeli Air Force wants just to kill, is it so incompetent that it keeps missing all those lines of refugee vehicles that the TV crews can find? If the entire infrastructure has been destroyed, how come the non-Shiite areas still appear to have essentials like the internet and Nasrallah can appear on TV? If there wasn't always this automatic knee jerk hostile world reaction, Israeli might be more questioning about what is happening. Secondly; through Israeli eyes, they tried to avoid harming Palestinians civilians by sending in ground troops. And as a result they not only lost 23 of their 'boys', but were vilified by the rest of the world. The conclusion then drawn was 'Why didn't the IDF just destroy this part of Jenin from the air and save the soldiers' lives?' And no-one in authority could really argue against this logic. So increasingly military strategy is to attack remotely. We see this clearly at the moment.

Fifth is that Israelis cannot handle a basic conundrum of Middle Eastern culture. Put simply, if you go forward you invite justifiable revenge attacks. If you retreat you invite attacks to take advantage of your weakness, This seems to be a no win situation. And the Lebanon situation is a classic example: since Israel left Lebanon and withdrew to the international boundary, Hezbollah has thrived. So, goes the current interpretation, you move back in, beat the sh*t out of your enemy, and then withdraw again. This shows you are strong, but allows you leave safely. Its one solution to the conundrum, I suppose. I suspect that we'll see more of this variation of disengagement in the future.

Last, and this is my private nightmare, concerns the FOX news cliché that Iran and Syria are using Hezbollah for a proxy war. One take is that Israel may be using the Lebanon as a proxy war on Syria and Iran. Are we sending a message to Syria that if you use unconventional weapons, such as poison gas, Damascus will look like South Beirut? Are we sending a message to Iran that if you continue with your nuclear weapons program that we can ruin your country like we did to Lebanon?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Jerusalem dispatch

Marion has been in central Beirut today and says the army and police are everywhere. She'll try and get us a report tomorrow. The report below is from Mike in Jerusalem. I got it yesterday, so again apologies for the delay in posting it. He's looking at people displaced within Israel, and public opinion on the fighting:

"This Shabat we had as Friday meal guests a refugee family from Haifa (see map): a dentist, a lawyer, and their two very cute young boys. They're staying in the Jerusalem apartment of friends of ours who have left to the US for the summer. The kids are going crazy, their summer camp has closed down. They wanted to return, but on Friday there was a hail of rockets on Haifa. So they will wait a day or two. I see now that the rocket attack is continuing, so I assume they won't be going back soon.

My wife's cousins remain in Haifa, one of whom doesn't even bother to go to the shelter when the sirens go: she doesn't like it down there. My daughter has a friend who's nine months pregnant and lives in a (large) tent near the border: she's staying to look after her goats.

You may know that Israeli cities have public bomb shelters and that apartments have security rooms (stronger rooms, with gas proof windows and doors). Our guests reported that their building doesn't have a safe room, and the nearest shelter is 3 minutes drive away. This was one of the reasons they left. Most of the shelters have been used for years for other purposes: one near us is the centre of the national boxing club. When I visited a client last week in Tel Aviv they were looking forward to an alert, since the shelter below their office is used as a nightclub and so is well stocked with beer and vodka.

There are maybe 2 million Israelis within range and hence threatened by the rockets. Many are leaving, but I cannot find out how many. In some towns maybe half have left: in others very few. My guests said that families with children are more likely to leave. There are lots of offers of accommodation and of help. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is giving free admission to refugees.

My wife asked why we don't see pictures of our internal refugees on TV? I pointed out that pictures of families packing their suitcases and kids into their SUVs, driving down the highway and checking into hotels would be rather mundane on camera. The most excitement is that the kids are taking over and playing soccer in the lobbies.

Actually I was being rather simplistic, there is a problem. Many are not leaving by choice, but others have less choice. I suspect that the poorer people are staying because they can't just roll down south and check into hotels. Others are worried about their property. Our guests say there is a rash of burglaries in Haifa, and the police probably don't know about many others since there is no-one around to report them. Another problem is pets: people are taking trips back to feed them.

Most of Israel's Arabs live in the north. Many Arab kids are being evacuated to summer camps in the south it seems. But it also seems there are the usual irritable debates between leaders of the Arab sector (as they call it) and the Israeli authorities. Maybe they have been neglected? Maybe the authorities assumed Hezbullah would not aim for these villages: if so, they were very wrong. Two kids killed in Arab Nazareth and 14 injured in the mainly Druze village of Masjal Krum. Maybe the Arabs didn't prepare properly? I don't know.

We also will be having an overnight guest on Tuesday from Safed. She's the daughter of a friend from Australia who was working as an assistant at a religious youth hostel which has closed down. The director of the hostel sent us an email telling us about rockets landing in their backyard. Safed is a beautiful town on a hill a few miles south of the border, and has been badly hit. This is very sad: it's a special town, split between a deeply religious ultra orthodox community who are mentally in the 18th century, and an artistic community on the other side of town. It's not a threat to Lebanon: there probably isn't even a policeman in town.

The opinion polls say that 82% support the current military response. Everyone I've talked to agrees, but unhappily: “not back into Lebanon again, not another generation of our boys sucked in”. As I said before, there doesn't seem to be belligerent attitude. No dramatic rallies, no hysterical weeping in front of TV camera, no proliferation of Israeli flags.

I'm wondering who the 18% are? Maybe some think the response is not strong enough. My daughter's boyfriend, a 'Russian' (meaning those families that immigrated from Russia over the last 20 years) tells me that Arabs are universally hated amongst the Russian community. There are also still peaceniks. In Israel the concept of a legal conscientious objector does not exist, but some people refused to serve in the territories on moral grounds. Now, as reservists, they have to decide whether to be sent to the territories (bad) to replace combat troops who can then go to the north (good). The Israeli Arabs are distressed by the killing and destruction they see on Al Jazeera. Some are related to inhabitants of south Lebanon. So many of them may be in the 18%.

I assume that 82% is the peak. Look at how Bush's ratings have dropped as the body bags came back from Iraq. But we'll see: everyone agrees that this is yet another existential threat to Israel.

The latest Superman movie arrived last week. Unfortunately its slogan was 'on 20th July, look up in the sky'. If you're in the north, you won’t be looking for superheroes."

Sunday, July 23, 2006


I've just figured out what Rasta-IDF-guy must be doing: he must be in a signals unit.

"We're jammin', we're jammin', we're jammin', we're jammin'

We're jammin' the tactical communications frequencies used by the Hezbollah guerillas..."




-----tumbleweed blows past-----

So does that win today's "worst joke on the internet" competition?

Lebanon dispatch

(Marion's photo - left - shows an unidentified warship off Beirut, either part of the evacuation or part of the Israeli blockade) From Marion in Beirut. She sent this to me yesterday (saturday) apologies in the delay in getting it posted. Again I have added a few relevant links to things she mentions:

Saturday 22 July 2006

In the two previous reports I was so much taken with the political side of the Israeli-Hizballah war, that maybe now I should take the time to write about more ‘human’ issues and introduce myself a bit to my readers.

I am 31 years old, and come from a Christian Maronite background. I live on the periphery of Beirut, in a calm Christian area on a hill called Bsalim. From my balcony, I can see downtown Beirut(the pic is taken looking SE, with the airport in southern Beirut clearly visible - Toby.) the sea and the main highway that connects the north of the country to Beirut. Usually on a typical summer night or day, this highway has nonstop traffic. But since the beginning of this war, only a few cars are passing. For the last ten days the sounds of Israeli planes above our heads and the sounds of bombs exploding have been our daily routine. Luckily there has been no bombs on the area where I live yet. That has not been the case for thousands of others Lebanese who have not left their shelters so far. However, people living in my area are frightened that Israeli planes will target the power station just few hundred meters above my home. Some years ago this station was targeted and heavily bombed by Israel. I shall never forget the sound of that bomb and the sky’s colour turning from the black of night to the extreme red of the flames. Back then all the windows in our neighborhood were blown out, not to mention the terror it left us in.

This time, and with every sound of an Israeli plane above our heads, we pray they wont hit the power station. And luckily so far we have been spared. This means we still have electricity but not for 24 hours a day. This is in order to save fuel because the Israeli naval blockade is stopping any oil from arriving by sea. Sooner or later if this war will go on, the power stations will run out of fuel and we will be out of electricity.

Yesterday it was a bit quiet, not many Israeli jets above, so I took the opportunity to go to the supermarket. Naturally with the start of every war there is an immense rush by people to stock up on water and food supplies. On the news, I saw Israeli people rushing to get food supplies. The situation is no different in Lebanon. I went to the supermarket in my town and was surprised to see the huge amounts of people there. I tried to make my way down the aisles. Some shelves were still fully loaded with food and products. I stopped at the milk/yogurt aisle and was shocked to see the shelves almost empty. I knew that the big factory which produces milk and yogurt products under the brand name of “Candia/Liban Lait” located in the Bekaa Valley was bombed by Israel last week and therefore has stopped producing. Naturally I expected this brand to be out of stock in the shelves, but what I did not expect was the almost complete absence of any other milk brands on the shelves. I continued my round and was also astonished that all kinds of pasta, canned food and bottled water had sold out. Bread was still available in big quantities. When I reached the cashier, I witnessed a quarrel between a woman and the manager of the supermarket. She insisted on taking three bottles of milk. And he was trying to explain to her calmly she could not take three, but rather just one in order that to keep the other two for people who might also need milk. Finally the woman surrendered. I looked around me and was also surprised to see many Shiite women, wearing their distinctive chadors, who were with their families shopping for food. I have been in this town for all my life and have never seen a Muslim person here. I overheard them talk to each other and it turned out that they were indeed refugees from the south, finding shelter in the school in my town.

I left the supermarket having my share of surprises for one visit. The drive back from the grocery shop was not too surprising; fruits and vegetables were still all available although the prices have gone up. For example lemons that used to be 70 cents per kilogram are no $3.25. Quite shocking!

In the streets people’s faces seemed tired, not physically but rather mentally, from this situation. I stopped at two schools in the neighbourhood. They were both housing refugees from the south, yet not full. I have heard that schools in the heart of Beirut are more full. The site I saw was children playing on the playgrounds, women drinking coffee outside or boiling food on small fire ovens, others placing their laundry on ropes that they had managed to hang from one side of a wall to the other, men having the radio on and discussing the situation. Other cities have also opened their schools and churches for these refugees.

People’s views on this humanitarian crisis differ: the majority is offering help despite the difference in their political views and religion from the refugees. But they just try to avoid talking politics with them in order not to start any confrontations. Others who see flows of refugees in their cities prefer to refrain from helping and claim they will not help the people who dragged their country to destruction, people who still shout of the glory of Hizballah and who are going through this war with pride.

On the other hand, with the sudden flow of refugees and this mixture of religions together in one environment may cause a problem. Refugees who mostly are conservative Shiites are now living among more liberal Christian people who drink alcohol and wear the type of clothing a Shiia never would. Lebanon is one country but the communities are very different from each other. Hopefully this won’t result in clashes at some point.

The Government for its side, along with the help from the municipalities and the Red Cross in the regions, has opened operation bases with call numbers in order to receive calls from people in need. Yet sadly this is unlikely to help the people most in need where the huge amounts of destruction done to infrastructure like bridges and roads means that medicine, first aid and food supplies are not reacning some villages in the south. On our local TV, every day there are desperate pleas from specific villages that call for food/medicine. The hospitals in Beirut, and surrounding Beirut and in Christian areas, are not filled to capacity with injured. The major problem falls on hospitals in the south and in the Bekaa Valley where the major crises are: for example the hospital of Marj Aayoun reached the point were it was not capable of accepting more injured and desperately needs more medical supplies.

In a neutral local radio station “Loubnan Al Horr” (translated: “Free Lebanon”), there is a live programme every morning and I cannot help but shiver listening to people calling looking for their family members whom they have not heard from in unreachable villages on the border such as Rmeich and Ayta Al Chaab.

Monday, if the situation seems safe, our office will open for at least few hours. It will be my first visit to in the heart of Beirut since this war started. I will see what is happening in different areas. Expect a report from me at the beginning of next week, Inshallah (with god’s will).

Marion A.J.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rasta reinforcements for Israel's northern flank

In amongst all the suffering and sadness, occasionally you just come across some plain weird stuff. (AFP via the BBC)
Is that the craziest haircut in modern warfare or what? How d'ya get a helmet on that?

Update: Mike in Jerusalem notes that Ziggy Marley is in Israel currently for some concerts. Perhaps he's signed up to help out? If you click on this link for a picture of Ziggy you've got to admit the resemblence is freaky - just swap that guitar for an M16. We may have a world exclusive on our hands.

IDPs - Lebanon

Internally Displaced People or IDPs are refugees within their own country. Marion just sent me a brief email with figures from the Lebanese police and humanitarian organisations quoted in the Lebanese papers this morning. They gives a sense of scale to the problem:

"latest statistics, number of refugees in the public places only (and I mean by that gardens, schools, convents etc...) have reached 974436 refugees spread as follows: 39421 in Beirut, 40768 in Mount Lebanon, 1659 in the North and 2968 in the Bekaa."

Additionally, we should consider the numbers of IDPs not included in these figures because they are staying with friends or family elsewhere in Lebanon. Then there are the large numbers who left the country in the first days of the war - many going to Syria. Finally, amongst the well publicised tens of thousands of "foreigners" who have left the country with the assistance of their governments - many are dual nationality; Lebanese-Canadians or Lebanese-British etc. Lebanon's population is not that large, a bit less than 4 million, so these figure represent a significant proportion of the population.

Friday, July 21, 2006

From our Jerusalem Correspondent

Through the wonderful power of the internet, Northern Light now has a correspondent on both sides of the Lebanon War. In this post Mike S. takes us on a tour of his neighbourhood in Jerusalem where all is quiet, but not quite normal. We can get on to politics later:

"If I'm to write for a blog, I'm thinking it should start personal. So I'm setting off with you on a walk through my Jerusalem neighbourhood. I'm Mike and I'm with the family dog Hertzl, rescued from the streets as a puppy. Theodore Hertzl was the 19th century visionary who promoted a vision of a Jewish homeland. I wonder what he's thinking today. Dog Hertzl, however, has a vision not much past walks, bones, and sleep.

I'm outside our apartment building. Still not finished after seven years, our landlord seems to be waiting for the Second Intifada to finish to access his pool of cheap Arab labour from the West Bank again. I wonder what would happen with a rocket attack. We have a safe room, but, since every fitting in our rented apartment falls off whenever you touch it, I'm not sure. Anyway, there is an assumption that Hezbullah wouldn't rocket Jerusalem: maybe it's out of range, maybe it would just be too embarrassing if they destroyed the Al Aqsa mosque by mistake – although the Jews would be blamed anyway I suppose. Maybe Nasrallah would be concerned about the Arab residents: their nearest community is only 3 kms away, I run there and back many mornings. But then again he didn't seem concerned about hitting Nazareth and killing two Arab Israeli boys the day before yesterday.

I live in Old Kartamon. It's an upmarket area: old Arab houses mixed with uglier new Israeli apartment buildings. The new buildings are at least faced with local stone, a harmonious city regulation set up by the British at the beginning of the mandate. No Arabs here of course: they all left or were expelled (depends on your version of history) in 48.

We continue down the road. It's a bright sunny day, hot with a light breeze. The light is beautiful, the air clean. It's Friday, first day of the weekend, and people are preparing for Shabat, which starts at sunset.. I pass the childrens' park, with a rock I sometimes boulder* on - to the amazement of kids and parents: what's that old overweight guy doing?

Now I'm down the hill and I see a small round tower on the corner. I know it's called a pillbox since I'm British. It was a checkpoint back in the days of the Mandate. Now it's in the garden of Reuben, a refugee from Iran who sells plants. It has, I see, an Israeli flag flying from the top: some kind of historical irony I guess. I notice that there are not many flags around – not like the US, full of yellow ribbons and Stars and Stripes. As a generalisation, I think people here are not feeling belligerent.

Now we're crossing the disused railway. This was built in the 19th century by a French company under a franchise from the Turks. After being rebuilt recently, it ends not near the old city as it used to but at the new shopping mall further out of town. I'm passing a watermelon stand: the proprietor and a boy are playing backgammon. I'd expect them to be Arabs but they look European: I can't tell. Now we are entering Talpiot, where Jews and Arabs meet for mutually beneficial activities like buying food and getting cars fixed.

We've arrived at our destination. We have nine for dinner tonight, so I intend to buy the ceremonial breads for the Shabat meals. This bakery sells delicious western breads and cakes, and fantastic middle eastern breads and pastries. Hertzl is happy to wait outside: he's a fan of their products too.

I'm taking a different route back, via Emek Refaim, the “Valley of Ghosts”. Actually it's a busy street full of cafes. Next to the pizza parlour where my daughter used to work is Cafe Hillel where a few years ago a suicide bomber killed a bride on the night before her wedding and her father, head of the trauma unit at a Jerusalem hospital where he had worked on many victims of suicide bombers. The term homicide bombers doesn't seem to have taken off. The many cafes on this street have armed guards outside, which is reassuring since there is an alert: three days ago a Palestinian was caught nearby with a bag containing a bomb belt.

There's probably more English spoken here than Hebrew. Many modern Orthodox Americans and British live or are visiting here. I buy an English language newspaper, although I think I'm already surfeited with war news.

Hey, that's unexpected! A girl stiltwalker, with long clown's pants. She's advertising a craft and food market next Tuesday. Hertzl freaks out, the girl smiles from 20 feet above me.

This area is called the German Colony, after the German Templars who settled here at the beginning of the century in the time of the Turks. The Templars were a messianic Christian group, but then made the mistake of supporting the Nazis during the rule of the British. The British expelled them and their houses, made of massive blocks of stone and with German inscriptions, are now highly sort after by Israeli yuppies. Now I'm passing the Templar cemetery: closed as usual but once it was opened and I was able to talk to the American tidying the graves.

We turn left towards home. I stop to read a blue sign outside what used to be my daughter's school. Now it's a school for disabled kids. The sign says that the Palmah, one of the Jewish underground groups in the 1940s, camped there. The city council has been placing a lot of these historical signs recently: but their history only seems to cover the War of Independence.

Next is the International Christian Embassy: set up because most countries refuse to move their embassies from Tel Aviv, arguing (rather irrationally in my view) that Jerusalem is not Israel's capital. Now I'm passing my daughter's old school. It has a sculpture of a large fat man under a two-dimensional tree. Maybe it's Jonah under the Kikayon tree: but probably not, it's not a very religious school.

Nearing home I pass the Greek Consulate. It reminds me that the Greek Orthodox church is the largest landowner in Jerusalem.

At home I'm drinking a glass of water and considering watching Cable TV. BBC, FOX, CNN, Sky, or Israeli news? Or Eurosport to watch the Tour de France? I surf to Sky. Rockets hailing down on Haifa, buildings in South Beirut shattered.

I superimpose the pictures of the rockets and of Beirut upon my morning's walk and shiver."

Mike S. 21 July 2006.

I hope sooner rather than later when calm has been restored to Beirut, Marion can take us on a similar tour of her city as well.

*Bouldering for anyone interested is a sub-sport of rockclimbing, where the climber climbs on small cliffs or rocks no higher than she or he is happy to jump off from. Hence no ropes are needed. It is generally seen as training for 'real' rockclimbing, although many "boulderers" hotly dispute this. For some reason it has become a tradition for hard-core boulderers to take their shirts off but still wear a wolly hat. If Mike follows this fashion, it would account for the funny looks.

From our Beirut Correspondent

Marion has sent me her second report. I have added a few links to relevant stories:

Friday 21 July 2006:

The Israeli war on Lebanon is now in the beginning of its second week and so far the casualties have reached 310 and are still growing. In the South there were confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Hizballah with Israeli incursions into Lebanon. There are reports of heavy fighting in the village of Maroun El Rass and a number of Israeli soldiers have been killed. Hizballah’s own TV station, Al Manar, has shown weapons and other military equipment they claim was captured from Israel in the fighting. Last night I watched the interview with Hassan Nassrallah on Al Jazeera. He promised that nothing in the universe will make Hizballah release the kidnapped Israeli soldiers except for an exchange of prisoners with Israel. In addition he promised more surprises for Israel. What grabbed my attention was the comment from the reporter who conducted the interview. He recounted that he was taken blindfolded to where the interview took place and when he entered the room he saw Hassan Nassrallah sitting calmly and watching TV. He surely is taking this war in a very calm way whilst I am frightened all the time! And it seems now clear this war may take a long time.

So far, among other places in the country, Israel is still targeting an area in Beirut called Dahiyeh Jnouniyeh (the photo above is of Dahiyeh - Toby.) populated almost solely by Shiite Muslims. Naturally Hassan Nassrallah’s home is located there along with Hizballah’s operation base called Morabaa Amni (if I can translate it literally to English it means “the Secured Square”). This part of Dahiyeh has always been guarded by Hizballah soldiers with arms. Now not only have major parts of Dahiyeh Jnoubieh been destroyed, but also the “Secured Square” has been continuously bombed turning it to ashes.

For the last few days the evacuation of foreigners from Lebanon has not stopped. Some leaving from Beirut harbour and Jounieh to Cyprus. Others by road through Damascus. Others such as the American Embassy are evacuating some Americans in its helicopters from the embassy to Cyprus. And still the International Airport is closed. Lots of Lebanese who left for work trips or for holidays or honeymoon, are now stuck abroad with no way to enter the country until further notice. Are we Lebanese doomed to be deprived from being in our own country? What is going on? One day to another, we wake find ourselves still in a nightmare that does not seem to end.

Where is the Arab world and the international community? The USA and Britain? They support Israel totally and they still claim it is defending itself with its non-stop insane bombardment. Their main concern is Hizballah’s disarming, even if it would be at the price of the whole country. The Arab World? They gathered in a summit last week but got to nowhere beyond asking for a ceasefire. Egypt and Jordan, and especially Saudi Arabia, have directly blamed Hizballah for putting the whole country in this situation due to its “adventurism”. I personally welcome all those countries’ brave reaction, though so far this has not succeeded in the stopping the war, neither Hizballah or Israel have listened.

Years ago I used to view Hizballah as a group that sacrificed so many lives for the purpose of freeing their country at a time when the Lebanese army was not able to deploy in the south and confront the Israeli occupation. Hassan Nasrallah’s own son was killed a few years ago in an Israeli bombing. Yet even though Hizballah were very conservative Muslim group, they were very well organized and seemed concerned only about the south’s safety and security and fight against Israel. So many years ago it played its role in the south of Lebanon, but lately when there was the discussion of merging with the Lebanese National Army and it then deploying in the south, why did Hizballah refuse? If Hassan Nassrallah really was interested in the good of his country he should have accepted. Why can Lebanon not be a normal country where only the national army is holding guns?

That is why I started questioning Hizballah’s patriotism and now, after its kidnapping action that had been planned at the beginning of this year, I have lost all respect towards for them, and indeed blame them for what is happening. It surely was not expecting Israel to beg politely for their kidnapped soldiers to be released and nothing more? It must have known how Israel would respond and therefore I blame totally Hizballah for what is happening to us. As I wrote in the previous report I am convinced now that it works for Iran and Syria. What a pity! Really! But who is paying the whole price? The nation…

On Wednesday a Christian area called Achrafieh, next to Beirut’s downtown – which is usually filled with restaurants, nightclubs, offices and apartment buildings – was bombed by Israel (see last paragraph - Toby.). We all freaked out – why this bombing? It turned out that two trucks for water pumping, parked on Abdel Wahab El Engliseh street, were targeted by an Israeli plane thinking they were arms for Hizballah. Luckily for Israel, the bombs which hit those trucks small and they only destroyed the vehicles and nothing else. Previously Israel had, by dropping leaflets, threatened to hit any trucks out on the streets. It fears that they are moving weapons for Hizballah. As a result, people seeing trucks parked next to their homes are calling the police to get the truck drivers to remove their vehicles for the safety of the neighborhoods.

The head of Trucks Owners Association of Lebanon, Chafic Al Kassis, stated in the local Al Balad newspaper on Thursday 20 July that there are 16,500 trucks in Lebanon distributed all across the country. So far 400 have been hit by Israeli air raids. Is Israel going to bomb the remaining 16100 trucks? If so, how will food and water supplies be transported to villages in need? Sadly, truck drivers will have to put their lives on the line and just pray to God during their journeys.

Fouad Sanioura our prime minister called on the World yesterday to help disarm Hizballah. But the question is how? Hizballah is fighting its war, and in return Israel is continuing to bombard Lebanon. And we stand there in between… watching our country bleed to death and waiting for a miracle or some magic to happen…

Marion A.J. Beirut, 21 July 2006

Open Democracy on Lebanon

There are a number of good articles on today about Lebanon - here's a quick synopsis.

Paul Rogers, Prof. of Peace Studies at Bradford and OD's regular security analyst, argues that Israel had essentially no other choice to do what they have done because of the limits of their current strategic worldview. He argues that whilst in the short-term this might work, it can't work in the longer term because of two factors: 1) firstly the tactics necessary only further radicalise others against Israel meaning that, at best, more trouble is just pushed further into future; and 2) because of the increasing availability of hi-tech weapons from the Chinese and Russian arms markets will limit how successful these military responses are anyway. The heavy damage done to Israeli warship by anti-shipping missile plus the targetting of Haifa are indicative of this. So ultimately he argues that Israel will realise that a political solution is only way to gain security. I was quite pleased to read this as this as essentially it's what I have been arguing in various discussion as well. Indeed it looks kind of obvious from where I'm sitting. But of course no one has been trying to kill me with Katushas for the last week and a half.

Fred Halliday, Prof. at LSE, pulls no punches on Hezbollah when reflecting on two days he spent with them in 2004. It's a very interesting and slightly sad personal article - particularly listing a number of fellow leftwing intellectuals and writers, both Middle Eastern and Western, murdered by various Lebanese factions or other foreign governments all connected to the blood letting of the Lebanese Civil War. The article deserves to be read in full but here are some choice snippets from his interview with Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of Hezbollah:
"On the matter of political relations with Iran, the sheikh was absolutely clear. Hizbollah regards the Iranian spiritual leader, in this case Khamenei, as its ultimate authority; all major political decisions regard Hizbollah are referred to – when not actually taken in – Iran."
[T]here was no margin of doubt in the sheikh's view that Israel was an illegitimate state and that it should be abolished. This position was bolstered, as evident in his book, by the deployment of quotes from the Qu'ran denouncing Jews and calling for a struggle against them. I put it to the sheikh that this use of the Islamic tradition, in a context of modern political conflict, was racist, a point he evidently did not accept."

Finally, after two lefties, arch righty Prof. Roger Scruton of Oxford pertinently writes about how Hezbollah damages the idea of Lebanon as a sovereign state. He includes some interesting information on the Lebanese national army that I had not come across elsewhere:
75% of the Lebanese army is Shi'a. This preponderance is owed less to confessional bias (though that exists) than to the fact that young, unemployed Shi'a from rural districts are by far the easiest recruits – a demographic trend not foreseen when the confessional state was set up. Not surprisingly, the Lebanese army, confronted with the task of disarming Hizbollah, refused to enter into conflict with its co-religionists, and has relinquished the southern border to this heavily armed, and insanely belligerent Islamist faction." He also notes that the current Minister of Defence, a post always traditionally reserved for a representative of the Greek Orthodox community, is now also a Shi'a.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ethiopia in Somalia

Despite the ongoing war in Lebanon attracting the world's attention, things keep happening elsewhere. At the end of the BBC World Service news that I was listening to whilst cycling home from work (38 kms ridden today!), there was a report that a BBC correspondent had seen Ethiopian troops in Somalia near the seat of the provisional government in the town of Baidoa (see the BBC map to the right).

The Ethiopians are supporting the interim government against the Islamic Courts Militias who now control all of Mogadishu and large swathes of Somalia beyond the capital. The Economist described most Somalis as "loathing" Ethiopia so it does not bode well for stability - particularly because some of the senior activist in the Islamic Court Militias began their activism in secessionist groups within the Somali populated area of Ethiopia - known as Ogaden. This explains Ethiopia's support for the secular provisional government (that actually governs very little and currently meets in an abandoned warehouse) and its antipathy to the Islamists who it sees as a danger to its internal stability if Ethiopian ethnic-Somali Muslims become radicalised.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More Hezbollah

Wedenesday nights Hezbollah links follow.

I've been really quite suprised by how little people in both Finland and the UK who I've talked about this with know about Hezbollah. What Hezbollah is sets the context for Israel's actions and also explains the limited potential-next steps that the rest of the Lebanese government can take. It also is the reality-check for those who say flippantly that an international peacekeeping force is the answer; it may well be but it would not be an easy mission.

So here is some more good background stuff. On "Fresh Air" (you can listen via realplayer from the linked page), from National Public Radio in the U.S., today Vali Nasr was interviewed about Hezbollah and the rise in power of Shia Islam (Hezbollah being a Shia group) centred around Iran's desire to be recognised as a regional superpower. Nasr is a Professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. It's a good interview stuffed full of facts that connect what seems like disparate events. They also interview Jeffrey Goldberg who wrote an award winning two part article on Hezbollah for the New Yorker magazine in 2002. You can read it here (part I) and here (part II).

From our own correspondent

I'm very pleased to annouce that "Northern Light" now has its very own Beirut Correspondent! Her first dispatch on life in a city at war is below:

God once sat with one of his angels and told him of how he had created a beautiful country with high snowy mountains, a long coastline with a beautiful sea, and wonderful weather with four moderate seasons. He called this country Lebanon. The Angel looked at God and commented: “God, you have just created Paradise on Earth!” God smiled and replied: “Oh no… just wait until you see the neighbours!”

I was born in Beirut at the beginning of the war in1975 and was brought up on the sounds of bombs. With each war finished, I was promised it would be the last one. I grew up seeing my country being used for other people’s wars; be they Palestinian, Israeli, Syrian or American.

At the beginning of this summer the Ministry of Tourism promised a prosperous Lebanon. All hotels were fully booked in advance by tourists and all the festivals had been planned ahead. But there were still big conflicts within the country between different parties and forces concerning many issues. To resolve the issues, a roundtable was convened in the heart of downtown Beirut where all interested parties gathered to settle their problems and find lasting solutions.

The major issues were as follows:

· The disarming of Hizballah and the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south.

· “Mazaraa Chabaa” (the “Shebaa Farms”) that Hizballah, along with various Syrian-sympathetic groups, claim to be Lebanese territory still occupied by Israel.

· The disarming of Palestinian groups from the refugee camps in Lebanon.

· The debate over the presidency since the current President is a puppet of Syria and works against the interests of Lebanon.

· And last but not least, the continuing investigation into the assassination of the Rafik Hariri, our ex-prime minister.

All these issues were discussed many times around the table. The president of Hizballah Mr Hassan Nasrallah was present in all the discussions. Yet and sadly, not one issue was solved. There are so many parties still in power that still work in favour of Syria and Iran. Hizballah insisted on keeping their arms until Mazaraa Chabaa is free and refused to join the Lebanese Army or let the Army deploy in the South.

The question was and still is: why did Hizballah kidnap the Israeli soldiers at a time when the country was about to gain a lot of profit from its tourism? Why did Hizballah take that move and decide on its own the fate of a whole country? Why did Hizballah want to free one imprisoned man in Israel called Samir Kantar when in return they have imprisoned three million Lebanese? Some say that Hizballah executed the order of Iran to distract the world from Iran’s nuclear programme. Others say that Syria was behind Hizballah’s action in order to destroy Lebanon’s tourism industry and most of all to cause a crisis between Lebanon and Israel hoping that Lebanon would then beg for Syria’s army to return.

We are not sure what is the true reason behind Hizballah’s action. What we do know and is that this crisis has not knocked Lebanon back 20 years,as one Israeli general suggested, but rather, as our prime minister Fouad Siniora has said, 50 years. Indeed, I see my country being destroyed bit by bit. I see people forced to leave their homes to find shelters in safer places. I see children and people killed brutally. I see water and food supplies disappearing from some villages isolated completely in the south such as Rmeich, Aytaroun, and Ayta El Chaab.

I come from a Christian background, yet I do not differentiate between a Muslim or a Christian. True, I was brought up in a closed Christian environment during the war times, but where I work, my colleagues come from different religions. And I learnt to open myself to them and vice versa. Yet, despite all of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims and Christians blaming Hizballah, many churches, convents and schools have been opened to welcome the refugee Shia Muslims who need shelter. I went to a school yesterday next to my home and tried to help as much as I could. I saw devout Muslim families there all honouring Hassan Nassralla and supporting him even if his action have made them homeless. I tried to control myself and think of my help in humanitarian terms and not politically. Yet I wonder who on earth could be sane and still prefer war to peace? I myself hate Israel and the brutal way it is attacking my country. They claim they are defending themselves? How could this be when they are destroying this country in an insane way? Surely this kidnapping has helped Israel who were waiting for any excuse to hit Hizballah.

And the problem remains: what is the role of the Lebanese government and the president? The president is a puppet of Syria, so expect him to do nothing for the country. The government wants to send the Lebanese army to the south but is afraid of Hizballah.

What will happen to my country? I don’t know. No one knows. All we do is pray for the war to stop and Hizballah to surrender their arms to the Lebanese Army. Until then, I am out of work since the whole country is closed. I sit in front of the TV, watch each minute of breaking news of a bomb hitting somewhere, whilst listening to the sounds of the Israeli planes in the sky above and hope they wont hit us. So far we have electricity, water, food, gas, internet etc… but surely that is not the case for many others places in the country since the beginning of the Israeli war on Lebanon.

M. Beirut, 19th July 2006

Hopefully we'll hear more from M. over the next few days as long as electricity and telephone connections remain functioning in her part of Beirut.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Lebanon crisis: extra-credit reading

At work today I made a big effort to clear my desk of the last three months' worth of accumulated papers. Print-offs of newspaper articles; photocopies of journal articles or book chapters; things that have been sent to me. Lots unread, some half-read, some read and marked with highlighter and scribbled notes which were obviously meant to remind me to reference the article somewhere - I just can't remember where or why now.

A particular problem are the nice people at the American Resource Centre at Helsinki University. Every month they send out an email with a link to webpage that list abstracts of various articles in news magazines and academic journals that may be of interest. You tick a little box on the page next those that interest you and two days later an envelope full of perfect copies appear. It's research for the terminally lazy, and of course encourages you tick the boxes of things that aren't vital to your work, but interesting nonetheless. Then after someone has so painstakingly xeroxed them and posted them to you, of course you have moral obligation to read them and hence the "to read" pile just gets higher.

Anyway - somewhere amongst the piles of paper and dustballs I found the following: Lebanon: Finding a Path from Deadlock to Democracy By Julia Choucair published by the Carnegie Endowment; and "The Hizballah Training Camps of Lebanon" by Dr. Magnus Ranstorp of St. Andrews University and the Swedish National Defence College. It's a chapter from a book The Making of A Terrorist. I've read and heard so many opinions about Hezbollah (or Hizballah if you prefer - probably dependent on your Arabic accent!) over the last week its good to read some good old fashioned, in-depth academic analysis on the group. Not that there is anything dull about the subject, but you know what I mean.

I will reflect more on Ranstorp piece later, but crucially he charts the centrality of Iran to Hezbollah, whilst noting that the relationship is not a vertical one - it is one of partnership rather than master and servant. And secondly he explains the long history of Hezbollah's war with Israel, not only carried out in the Israeli-occupied Southern Lebanon through the 1980s and 90s but also through many probes and attacks within Israel itself using variously Palestinian groups as proxies or sympathisers with Western passports. None of this will be big news to Middle East politics train-spotters, but it is all there in one handy package.

Choucair's paper is an excellent primer on, or reminder of, the complexity of Lebanese confessional politics, and in particular she explains Hezbollah's popularity amongst the Shi'a of Lebanon. Essentially they are seriously under-represented within the political system where parliamentary seats are basically carved up amongst the many religious groups on the basis of the last national census, which was taken in 1932! A trade-off has never been made, so they keep 'their' private army until they get a better position politically within Lebanon. How the current crisis will change this remains to be seen.

Visitors from far off lands!

Some might have noticed that I added a "ClustrMap" to the side bar of this blog - where visitors are mapped according to their IP address (click on the little map to get a full size one). I don't understand too much about how the internet works but I believe that the IP address doesn't always mean that the visitor is in that exact geographical location, but nevertheless the map is good fun and it's very cool to see that people in Spain, Greece, Canada and the from around the US amongst others appear to have visited. Welcome all and leave a comment to agree or disagree if you wish, or just to say hi.