Wednesday, July 19, 2006

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.

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