Thursday, August 31, 2006

No one is all bad...

I'm no fan of Hugo Chavez. He tried in 1992 to stage a coup before getting elected President in 1998. That doesn't really establish your democratic bona fides does it? If you can't become pres of your chosen country by military force then give elected politics a go? So it's really depressing to hear self-described British or Finnish (and presumably many other nationality) left-wingers lauding him because he regularly tells the US where to go but for not too much else.

I'm sure he has done a lot in office to redistribute some of Venezuela's oil wealth to the poorest sections of society, but then goes and spoils all that by having a foreign policy that seems based on solely on "my enemy's enemy is my friend", but that could more accurately described as: "my enemy's enemy is totalitarian, human-rights-abusing, illiberal thug but - hey-ho! - who cares?". That has long been a feature of the US foreign policy that he never tires of criticising. From his famous sucking up to that well known defender of the best traditions of the European enlightenment - Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus (see above top-right) - via our chums in Tehran, to that pin-up boy of human rights activists everywhere, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, there doesn't seem to be any unpleasant dictator that Chavez won't dance a jig with if they're also dissing America.

But before anyone asks me for a paypal link to donate into the, I'm sure, already bulging CIA account entitled "for doing what we used to do so well - ousting Latin American lefty leaders" it must be said no one is all bad. The Mayor of Caracas who is a key Chavez supporter has announced he is seizing a number of golf courses in the city to redevelop them as low cost housing. Some say its part of a populist campaign in the run-up to the next presidential election in Venezuela, but perhaps Hugo is like me and just really, really hates golf.

Thanks to Mike for alerting me to the BBC story.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Birmingham - European cultural hub

The Complaints Choir of Birmingham

For those who haven't seen it, you must watch the brilliant "Complaints Choir of Birmingham" (or click here for a pop-up quicktime version). I first saw it as an installation at the Kiasma - the Finnish modern art museum - back in the depths of winter. I'm not very 'in to' modern art, we must have gone with visitors, but Brummies complaining to music was worth the five euros entrance on its own.

Helsinki and somewhere in Germany have since copied the Birmingham original doing their own versions, and with imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, this clearly demonstrates that Brum is a European cultural powerhouse... at least when it comes to moaning. As a West Midlander myself, I feel very very proud.

Here is the Finnish one with subtitles:


Thanks to Phil at Finland for Thought for reminding me about this.

Weekend Pics


An Adder (Vipera berus) seen at Haukkakallio cliffs near Ruotsinphytää in SE Finland. I was quite excited about this; when one of my friends spotted the snake, I was about 20 foot up a rock climb so had to climb back down to the ground, untie the rope and run over to take the pic. I spend a lot of time in the Finnish forests year round and have not seen one before and I don't remember seeing them in the UK either, where likewise they are widespread but rarely seen, so this was quite special. For people who live in warmer parts of the world, seeing snakes is probably not very exciting but in Northern Europe it seems there are generally only two types of snakes, adders and grass snakes, so spotting one is always exciting.

Haukkakallio is a good climbing venue for wildlife spotting on the side as we saw a pair of Ospreys soring above the cliffs earlier this summer, which are truely splendid birds.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Beirut dispatch

Marion sent me the following report at the beginning of this week. I apologise to Marion and to any interested readers for taking this long to post it. After a weeks holiday the previous week I got back to work and of course had to catch up with various things, so being busy was my excuse at the start of week, whilst for the last three days I've been in bed with the flu feeling generally crappy. Anyway at long last here it is. Some of the news events Marion refers to are now a bit dated, but as ever it gives a good insight into the diversities of positions within Lebanon.

Monday 21st of August 2006:

It is exactly one week since the ceasefire between Israel and Hizballah began and it has been calm except for the Israeli commando raid into the Bekaa, claiming it was planned to stop weapons shipments arriving for Hizballah from Iran. Alternatively the Lebanese minister of defence claimed the Israeli mission was made in order to capture a major Hizballah leader, and therefore failed as Hizballah fought off the attackers.

The situation today is the best since the beginning of the war:

There are no more bombers above our heads (until further notice); shipments carrying fuel and French UN troops have arrived in the south; refugees have been able to go back to their homes even if most of them found their homes turned to ashes; a few Lebanese parliamentarians have offered to rebuild some of the destroyed bridges from their own money; France has offered to rebuild six bridges as well; our Sunni Prime Minister walked side by side with Nabih Berreh, the most senior Shiite parliamentarian in the Dahiyeh district (the area most damaged in Beirut) inspecting the overall damage. This really comforted many Lebanese, as seeing the Sunni and Shiite leaders together, pushes away some fears that a civil war might start between those two Muslim groups due to the tensions resulting from this war.

On the other hand the Syrian president had a speech in which he not only supported Hizballah but also accused the Sunnis, Christians and Druze Lebanese leaders of being Israeli agents. Also he accused Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia for having supported the Lebanese government and not Hizballah. After his speech there was so much fury among the Lebanese politicians and each one had his reply to the Syrian president. I personally liked the Egyptian reply to Bashar al Assad which was very firm. As a result Syria apologized to Egypt by claiming it did not mean to accuse Egypt, but rather it had been a friendly jibe between two close Arab friends. If the Syrian President meant by his speech to separate the politicians in Lebanon or even establish fear among the Lebanese, I guess he was wrong since his harsh speech went back on him and his country only.

From its side, Hizballah has started paying cash, around USD 10 000, for each homeless family after the war. As a latest estimate, there have been around 15 000 homes destroyed by Israel. This huge amount of cash held by Hizballa was strongly questioned by the Lebanese government. Hassan Nassrallah assured them that it was not given to them by Iran, but who believes him? I wonder if those Shiite people whose homes were destroyed but who quickly were given money to rebuild their homes or to find homes to rent, will care at all if another war occurs if in they end they have lost nothing? They would not demand peace like the Sunnis, Christians and Druze are working for. And I think that is what makes Hizballah strong among this specific Muslim denomination.

But on the other hand though it looked strong after the fighting Hizballah is now gradually losing its power inside the country. Non-Shiite Lebanese who used to be neutral about them before the war, now hate Nassrallah for giving Israel the justification to destroy Lebanon, and for having decided the fate of millions of citizens without consulting the rest of the government. Ironically for Hizballah the Lebanese army has now deployed in the south: for many years leading up to this war Hassan Nassrallah threatened the Lebanese army not to come to the south where his troops, and secret tunnels and weapons warehouses are.

There is one additional thing to mention: Hizballah claims to have won this war, yet yesterday in a speech our Minister of Defence threatened Hizballah: saying that if any rocket is fired into Israel those responsible will be condemned and gaoled. Once there was a time when Hassan Nassrallah thought himself to be the only decision maker when it comes to Israel, a time when he thought himself to be the winner… I am sure now he will have to think again.

As for work, all companies are still working half day with some employees having half their salaries as I wrote in previous report. The Lebanese are divided into two parts: an optimistic half who are looking forward to a peaceful country once again, even if this will not happen for a month or two. The other half is extremely depressed; down, not motivated and most of all it has lost complete trust and faith in their Lebanon. This can be understood: it is not easy rebuilding the country once again. This portion of the citizens feels exhausted and need a little peace in their lives. We all want that, but I believe if we lose hope now, then we are giving up on Lebanon. The country is disfigured, strangled and needs the help of its people in order to get back on its feet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Marion's latest report: Monday 14th of August 2006

This morning precisely 8am, all Lebanese were awake checking whether the ceasefire would be respected by both Hizballa and Israel. Though both fighting parties said yesterday they will stop their fighting at 8am on Monday, the Lebanese were little worried.

Since morning, hundreds of cars carrying internal refugees were on their way to the south to their villages. I wonder how the Lebanese government agreed to this, especially when southern villages which witnessed heavy fighting are not safe, neither mines nor booby-traps are cleaned up. And indeed, today two cars hit mines on their way back to the south.

Though all Lebanese were relieved the fighting stopped, they are worried this war between Hizballa and Israel - which led to 1200 casualties, 250 000 citizens fleeing Lebanon and more than $6 billion dollars of damage - can again explode any day. Especially when Olmert announced today that Israel will be following Hizballa any place and all the time. In addition, Israel will keep the sea and air blockade on Lebanon, in order to prevent Hizballa receiving weapons and rockets from Syria/Iran.

Hassan Nassralla today showed up on tv, assuring homeless families that they will be paid monthly a sufficient amount of money to get decent homes and furniture until their homes are rebuilt; adding that he won’t wait for the Lebanese government’s long procedures to refund the homeless. So far, around 15,000 homes have been totally destroyed. I wonder where Hassan Nassralla will get the money? Surely from Iran and Syria’s pocket money.

In his speech as well, Hassan assured that there was no way to discuss Hizballa’s disarming before settling the hostage and Chabaa Farms issues. Meanwhile, there is big split within the Lebanese government. A majority want to put Hizballa’s disarming on the agenda as soon as possible, with another that includes the president totally refusing this. So, the fighting has changed from Israel/Hizballa to an internal Hizballa/government one. The majority of the Government that wants Hizballa to be disarmed as quick as possible is mainly concerned that no financial and investment companies will be investing one dollar in Lebanon as long as Hizballa will be armed, and that no safety and security will exist for the citizens. Sunnites, Christians and Druzes support this part of the government while the Shiites think differently.

The situation now can be described as ticking bomb which can explode any day, either again between Hizballa and Israel, or between Hizballa and the Lebanese government.

What is the state of mind and heart of the Lebanese Citizens? Depressed, worried, and scared of the further bleeding of their precious Lebanon.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Norway calling

I'm off to Northern Norway for the next week, all being well with the weather, to do some alpine climbs and and long mountain rock routes. My friend and colleague Charly will be minding the blog whilst I'm away and may post if he has time. Have a nice week all.

(there should be a little less snow around this time - I took the photo in april 05)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Marion's latest report:

Friday 11 of August 2006:

A month has gone by in this messy war and still no ceasefire. The Lebanese were a little more optimistic after the foreign affairs ministers summit in Beirut recently. However with delaying the decision of the UN and the push of large Israeli forces to the borders of Lebanon, it now seems unlikely that Lebanon will get its share of calm in the near future.

So far citizens have managed to be strong even though they all had their share of losses in this war. Some lost their homes, others their beloved family members. And others lost their businesses. Yet everybody is still losing everyday as long as this war is still going on.

At the beginning of July we were all working energetically, but then came the 12th when the war started. After that date, we kept on going to work for half days but there was no work to do in our offices. It was extremely frustrating for everyone, nevertheless at the end of July we were paid our full salaries.

But with the beginning of August, some employees have been asked to take their annual leave. Others have been informed they will be paid half salaries from now on. And other companies have urged their staff to take unpaid leave until the situation calms down. That was the case for a friend of mine, who is worried she won’t be get paid unless this war ends, but was still relieved somehow that she was not fired. A few of big employers have just started laying off a large quantity of their staff.

As for myself, I was fully paid last month along with all my colleagues. This month, we are still going to work half days yet we are not sure whether we will be paid full or half salaries. Mobile phone companies have delayed the collection of the bills from their customers. Banks which have given loans have not claimed their monthly repayments so far. I have a friend who has rented out his home to a family who have now asked him if they could delay paying their rent due to the situation. My friend told me the he really needed the money yet he could not bring himself to refuse the family’s request.

Luckily, in the middle of this financial crisis, supermarkets are still open and selling food though there are some shortage of specific products. Bakeries are still delivering bread. But the shortage of electricity is obvious throughout the country. In Beirut and suburbs electricity is available for ten hours daily yet areas in the south, Dahiyeh and in the Bekaa are in full darkness. There are government announcements on TV urging all municipalities to turn off the electricity in the streets at night in order to save power. This clearly shows that the power stations have not received yet their fuel to produce electricity.

As for the petrol, well here lies the biggest problem. The scenes of long queues of cars in front of petrol stations that started last month has not changed. There was a little increase in the petrol price in Beirut and its suburbs. But in the south, Dahiyeh, the north and the Bekaa, prices have been set much higher due to the dangers of transportation along with the cutting of bridges and roads. My cousin yesterday waited for 3hours in the queue for petrol. When her turn arrived, she was informed that the station had run out.

In order to avoid black market petrol selling, the government has settled a fine of 1350$ if any station caught selling petrol in large amounts. And indeed police are seen standing in most stations inspecting the petrol selling process.

Moving to humanitarian issues, refugees are still in the welcoming schools and public gardens across the whole country. The government has started worrying about the school year that should start at the beginning of September. Where will those refugees be taken in order for students to start their new scholar year? I read in the newspapers a group of foreign missions have begun looking for wide areas to build prefabricated homes to the refugees. But when will this project begin? And how long will it take? Sadly it seems schools problem will be added to the others crises in the country lately.

Yesterday at work we heard two bombs explode. Thousands of flyers were thrown from Israeli planes. We rushed to catch the leaflets, worried they would be an instruction to flee the area. But the flyers were only warning people against Hizballah. The notes were written in Arabic. Here is the translation:

TO THE LEBANESE CITIZENS:

For what reason “Hassan” attacked Israel?

Is it to free the Lebanese prisoners from the Israeli prisons?

“Hassan” could have freed them long time ago through negotiations without having brought Lebanon destruction.

“Hassan” decided to get into a dangerous adventure.

“Hassan” is playing with fire and here is Lebanon on fire.

“Hassan” has bet on all your futures and here you are paying the price.

ISRAEL

On the news just now, a plane in Amman (Jordan) witnessed a terrorism kidnapping attempt. The Lebanese basket ball team who was on that plane just informed our local TV station LBCI after the terrorist was arrested. In a while, more information will be announced about this issue. Is it pure coincidence with the terrorism planes in the UK today? Not sure.

Also latest news, is today Israel is threatening via flyers the Burj Al Barajneh, Chiyah, and Hay El Sellom areas with future bombing. In an hour 1200 citizens were evacuated from those areas and the rest are still fleeing. It should be remembered that these areas until today have welcomed a large number of refugees from the south. Police are handling the transportation of the people from those newly threatened areas to the north of the country since Beirut suburbs have already been saturated with refugees.

In the coming days more areas will be threatened with bombing. And the citizens will continue fleeing to safer areas, though it seems at this point nowhere is really safe in Lebanon.

Reuters is citing Jordanian sources saying it was a fight, not a hijacking attempt, that was witnessed on the flight to Qatar that Marion mentions above.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Beirut Dispatch

Marion's latest report (the photos Marion took of ad campaigns that have begun in Lebanon):

Monday 7th of August 2006:

Last night, on our local TV there was a programme “Al Hadath” (which translate roughly as “The Happening”) in which military experts from Dubai, Egypt and Lebanon debated the current crisis. Each of those generals put forward their points of view on the Israeli/Hizballah war tactics. Whilst one general spoke of Hizballah’s professional organization between its units, its possession of long distance rockets and its well planned attacks, another general stated that Israel had succeeded in destroying the major associations, homes, security headquarters, hospitals and charity departments all owned by Hizballah in various parts of the country – basically that Israel had managed to strike at the heart of Hizballah. Yet another of the generals said the only way to destroy Hizballah as a military force was to attack it in its underground hidden tunnels and have direct confrontations: soldier to soldier there. He believed that Israel’s infantry forces are not so strong as to seriously threaten Hizballah in this way.

Therefore the question is: who will come out of this war the winner? The irony is as follows: in the fight in Bekaa at the Shiite Hospital between Israeli commandos and Hizballah soldiers; Israel stated it succeeded in its mission by capturing a few Hizballah fighters whilst on its side Hizballah said it had proved that it was capable of repelling the Israeli raid and added that Israel due to a incorrect intelligence had captured the wrong Hassan Nassrallah who was hiding there (a mixture of names only). And few days ago, with the Tyr confrontation which Israel later stated as being an successful mission, Hizballah replied again that it had completely blocked the attack once again. Every day, I see on TV Israel claiming it killed a certain number of Hizballah soldiers and at the same time Hizballah confirming there were no dead nor injured or much smaller numbers than the Israelis claimed.

Who is telling the truth and who is lying? Each of those two fighting parties claim in the media that they are unbeatable. I don’t think either of them will come out the winner. However there is only one big loser: Lebanon – its economy bleeding, its infrastructure being destroyed, and ever growing number of casualties from the continuous bombing.

I wonder whether Israeli people are aware of the Lebanese citizens casualties growing number. As I write this report a new area, Chiyah has just been bombed. Two buildings were destroyed in which around ten civilians were killed and almost 30 injured. I don’t understand Israeli’s cruelty in killing civilians. If they claim to be targeting only Hizballah forces, then what is the explanation for the nearly one thousand dead Lebanese citizens so far? There is also the refusal to give security guarantees to the two ships at the sea carrying fuel and other supplies waiting to land. Very Soon Lebanon will be in full darkness if these ships cannot reach harbour. I wonder, is Israel enjoying strangling its neighboring citizens in every possible way?

I honestly don’t care about that war; I don’t want to see Hizballah winning or Israeli troops controlling the south. All I want is PEACE in my country. I see people whose homes were destroyed, family members killed due to this war and yet their only reply is: “we are ready to give up everything we own and pay the blood of our beloved ones just for the sake of Hassan Nassrallah”. Who could be sane and still let go the most precious thing: life itself?. Who would not mind living all their lives in war times and hiding in shelters? Sadly, there are a lot of Lebanese Shiites who think this way. The difference may be that Israeli men do care for their lives, while Hizballah’s soldiers ultimately wish to die fighting battles. And at that point, festivals are made instead of funerals and the martyr’s mother will be proudly walking among crowds. Weirdly, Hizballah’s slogan has always been: “Fight to death”. So how can any army defeat men whose precious lives on this earth mean nothing at all to themselves?

Why should there always be deep hatred and blood in order to achieve a goal? I am not a political expert but I strongly believe that the only way to stop this war will be through a diplomatic political agreement. Today Arab foreign ministers met in Beirut along with our Prime Minister, Sanioura. It seemed they all supported the Lebanese Government’s important points, among which is the deployment of Lebanese Army in the south and therefore disarming of Hizballah. With luck this meeting will contribute a little bit to the push towards the ceasefire and a permanent solution to this war where all are losing.

Monday, August 07, 2006

News from Lebanese TV

Marion just texted me - Lebanese TV has just had an announcement from the Lebanese Prime Minister that 15,000 Lebanese army troops will be deployed to the south as soon as Israel withdraws. Google news doesn't even have much on this yet but here's a wire report in the Bangkok Post that says pretty much the same.

Context? Well hopefully this could be the beginning of the end. Of course if the Israelis continue operations the Lebanese govt. doesn't have to act, but if Israel does pull back to the border and the Lebanese Army does go in this will be first time that the Lebanese govt. will have exerted full control over the south, which had been pretty much left to Hezbollah. The Lebanese govt. has been over a barrel to a certain degree knowing it doesn't have the power to face down Hezbollah militarily, but this announcement suggests that there might be an agreement between it and Hezbollah. Who knows, but fingers crossed.

Update: a second text message! Marion adds the pro-Hezbollah Shiite members of the government have agreed to this step which has to be seen a good thing.

Weekend pics


Saturday: is it a flower or is it a berry? I really don't know. Answers via the comments would be gratefully received.


Sunday: sea-kayaking off Helsinki.

Update: It appears that my mystery flower (not a berry) is Devilsbit Scabious (Succisa pratensis). What an odd name. There are some pictures of the plant from people who do know what they are talking about here and here. Thanks to Craig H on UKC for the info.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Jerusalem dispatch

This is a report from Mike, he is currently in South America but that's the magic of the interweb-thingy.


I’m in Venezuela at the moment. A long way in distance but I’m still obsessively watching TV. I have only FOX, which is still blindly cheerleading Israel, and CNN, which still lacks precision in its reporting. My Israeli access is from Web newspapers and news from home. Our apartment in Jerus is still full of refugees, apart from my wife’s cousin in Haifa who stubbornly refuses to leave or even go to the bomb shelter.

The conflict won’t leave me behind here, though. On local TV I see Chavez, its president, embracing the Prime Minster of Iran. (The one who’s name I can never spell, but who sees the lost, long dead Shiite Imam in the back of rooms). He may be certifiably mad, but that doesn’t help: the day after Chavez’s visit he was proposing the elimination of Israel as the solution. I have just passed a graffiti sign that said ‘Israel Assinados.’ (President Chavez also visited that great bastion of European democracy, Belarus, to hang with his homey Pres. Lukashenko - Toby.)

I hear about Israeli troops on the ground. Now they are in Lebanon they are over the event horizon: no information can return. I think of the brother of my daughter’s boyfriend. His name is Shimon. He came to Israel to Russia as a child. He’s tall, athletic, blond and blue eyed, and his ambition, like many Israelis kids, was to enter an elite Army unit. He volunteered for a special operations unit. One of the tests for candidates was to be dropped by helicopter into the sea, where they had to hide. The last ones found were selected. He was one of them. In training he aggravated a preexisting injury, and had to leave his unit. Now he is in the infantry.

He came back last week for a brief visit from Lebanon. He was a member of a unit that initially entered Lebanon to capture Maroun-el-Ras. Now he has returned to the machine that kills young men. He will be going into combat with a mobile phone, speed dialed to his parents.

Where he is, Israel lost more combat soldiers yesterday. Many of the regular soldiers are boys, not much past 19 years old. A year ago they were finishing high school. The biggest death rate is amongst their officers. The Israeli army has always been lead from the front.

There is much criticism of the war’s conduct within Israel. Why is the army so slow? To minimise civilian casualties is the reply. "Isn’t this Jenin again?" suggest the critics. They are being listened to and slowly we are moving to a war where, before advancing Israel blasts everything that moves, and most that does not.

There’s no doubt that Hezbollah is the toughest army Israel has met for a very long time. Tactically inept at times, (one Israeli veteran was genuinely perplexed as to why they thought they could take cover behind a tree) but they are suicidally brave, and well dug in, equipped and trained. As someone recently pointed out, there are no POWs in this war. Just dead soldiers on each side.

The international response I find bizarre. It feels as if the whole world turned against Israel. They must see that its very existence is threatened by this fundamentalist Islamic monster. And if they see it, and don’t support Israel’s security, then what other conclusion can I draw that that they agree with its destruction?*

  • This war was started by Hezbollah? Then we must have to have an immediate ceasefire to ensure that Hezbollah can stay in place unharmed.
  • Hezbollah are funded and trained by Iran? Then Iran must be sure to gain something (a nuclear weapons programme?) to stop its support of Hezbollah.
  • Hezbollah is supported by Syria? Then Syria must be rewarded with diplomatic help in its claim to the Golan Heights.
  • The Lebanese government relinquishes its military and foreign policy to a terrorist militia? Then it’s to be rewarded with Shebaa Farms, Syrian territory occupied by Israel.
  • Israel received an unprovoked attack from Lebanon? It will continue to be threatened across an internationally agreed border.

Some argue that Israel would have done better with more moral force and less military force. Many here thought that countering the Hezbollah attack would be seen by world opinion as a ‘moral’ war, unlike the Palestinean conflict and the 18 years of Lebanese occupation. Well, that period of moral superiority lasted about five minutes. An Israeli diplomat once quipped that the Palestineans ‘never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. Maybe Israel has missed a few opportunities too.

So now Israel is in a strategic box. It’s double or quits time. The only outcome that will work is routing Hezbollah’s military wing and so discrediting its claim to be the saviour of Lebanon. Then Israel can argue from strength, and have an effective veto over the idea to return to the status quo. The UN has no interest in Israel’s security – but that’s not new news. The votes of Israel’s enemies always outvote that of Israel in the UN, whatever the merits of the case.

Without America’s help, and vetos in the Security Council, Israel would now be looking at outlaw status. I’d imagine that more than a few of George W’s business friends are calling him to expedite an end to the war. Intel, Motorola, IBM and other such names have big investments here. The latest Intel chip was designed in their Haifa lab. HP only a couple of weeks ago just bought for 4 billion USD a company of Israeli origin called Mercury. IBM is offering a free month of backup and recovery computer services to companies in the north. Warren Buffet invested in a large Israeli engineering company recently.

Britain is also supportive, although it looks like Blair against everyone else. Israel historically has not trusted the British government. The Foreign Office is believed to still have a Lawrence of Arabia view of the heroic Arabs. Cynics just think that the Arab elite and ex British public schoolboys have interests in common that cannot be named in a family blog.

As well as American capitalism, their God may also be on Israel’s side. (Before you jump, I must assure you I’m not serious: my Ipod is loaded with early Bob Dylan, including the classic ‘Masters of War’.) Large Israeli flags fly over the International Christian Embassy down the road. Their web site informs me that ‘the Scriptures say "the set time has come to favour Zion; when the Lord shall build up Zion He shall appear in His glory".

There is a religious aspect to this conflict apart from Islamic and Christian fundamentalism. Yesterday was the Jewish religious day, called Tish a vav, that mourns the fall of both Jewish Temples. According to tradition the walls of the First and the Second Temples were breached on this day. Other tragedies happened on this day, such as the expulsion of Jews from Spain. I wonder whether Nasrallah and the Iranian PM were aware of the Jewish calendar when they threatened Israel on this special day?

Now there is no third Temple. But modern Israel is seen by most Jews, including secular Jews, as their Third Commonwealth. After waiting 2000 years, I can’t see it being relinquished without a near apocalyptic struggle.

*This being my blog I get the first right of reply to Mike's question. There are clearly many people and some states that do feel Israel has no right to exist but many also do not. It is self-evident to me that the lack of sympathy for Israel stems from the running sore of the occupied territories, leaving aside all of the micro arguments over rights and wrongs and recent developments within the territories. Until the occupation is ended and some sort of equitable two-state solution is negotiated Israel will continue to haemorrhage support from beyond the region whilst storing up a resevoir of hate against it within the Middle East. I would also say that clearly the attempts to find an agreeable UN Security Council resolution to divide the sides and disarm Hezbollah show there is international support for both Lebanon's and Israel's security, although of course both the Lebanese and Israeli publics would be perfectly justified in asking: "why did it take this much death and destruction for you lot to realise this?"

Friday, August 04, 2006

Beirut dispatch

(The picture taken by Marion shows an aid convoys arriving in Beirut) Latest report from Marion in Beirut. I should add that just after I got the report this morning she sent a text message saying that no one had slept last night as there was heavy bombing once again of the Dahiyeh area of Southern Beirut, and Israeli planes above through the night. Also an area near her office was hit by bombs. The New York Times has this graphic using satellite imagery showing the area of Beirut where Hezbollah is based before and since the bombing.

Friday 4th of August 2006:

A few days ago, it was the pollution of sea shores that dominated our TV news and the front pages of our newspapers. And before the Lebanese were capable of coping with this, the next big crisis has occurred: shortage of petrol in the country!

Lebanese people are accustomed to war, so everyone knows the two most important things you rush to buy when fighting starts is food for home and petrol for your car. This war was no exception. As people rushed to buy petrol, the government assured the public that there was good stock of petrol in the country, sufficient for one month. Yet for the last couple of days it seemed that alarm bell were ringing. Long queues of cars waiting hours at the petrol stations. The scene was the same in Beirut as across the whole country. I had the chance to take few pictures of various petrol stations in the Capital. Somehow I was a bit surprised to see a lot of petrol stations that used to open 24hours/day were now closed with red tapes blocking off the forecourts. Were they out of petrol stock? Or were they closing in order to make their depleted stocks last longer? Was all this crisis on petrol just an illusion from people? I carried out my investigations, checking out the newspapers and speaking to the manager of one station. I was informed that the petrol in this station will last only one more week and as I expected, the closing hours during the day were in order not to run through the supplies too quickly.

Almost all the stations as stated in the newspapers, were selling only small amounts of fuel to each customer each time. So in order to get a totally full petrol tank you would have to visit the station many times. On Monday, the petrol station association in the country met with the UN representatives in order to establish a secure passage to import more petrol. There is still no feedback about this matter. Additionally the Ambassador of the United States top Lebanon, after having met our foreign minister Fawzi Salloukh, stated that their discussions had been on the handling of important humanitarian supplies along with the petrol and other fuels for Lebanon. The Jordanian Minister for Foreign Affairs Abdelelah Al-Khatib when visiting Beirut recently promised that Jordan would also send petrol to Lebanon. Surprisingly, Syria from its side also announced its readiness to sell to Lebanon extra stocks of its petrol. I am sure that the Lebanese government is unlikely to take up Syria’s offer.

Whilst on the subject of Syria: one of my Muslim colleagues at work who left Lebanon for Syria at the beginning of the war, came back a few days ago telling us that the Syrians harassed her and her family whilst there. They told her that this war had only happened because Syria had been forced out of Lebanon, adding that soon Lebanese people will beg Syrians troops to enter the country again in order to stop this war. Hearing this news was very frustrating! Yet it is to be expected from a country that sucked Lebanon’s blood for many years until the Lebanese had the guts to push them out after the tragic death of Rafik Hariri.

Now back to the Israeli war on Lebanon, I came across an interesting statistics on the losses. Until 1st of August, Losses are estimated as follows:

-INFRASTRUCTURE:

-Roads: USD 349 million

-Airports: USD 55 million

-Electricity: USD 208million

-Telecommunication: USD 99million

-Water stations: USD 74million

-HOMES & BUSINESS COMPANIES:

USD 1.464 billion

-INDUSTRIAL COMPANIES:

USD 190 million

-PETROL STOCKAGE & PETROL STATIONS:

USD 10 million

-LEBANESE ARMY LOSSES:

USD16 million

TOTAL LOSSES: USD 2.465 billion.

How many years will it take Lebanon to get back these losses and for how long will the country be in debt?

And to make things even worse for the Lebanese, a new Israeli announcement has said they are considering bombing deeper into Beirut. If the heart of Beirut that has taken us so far ten years to rebuild, and for which Lebanon is still paying off debts, is bombed by Israel, then will our grand-children be paying the debts left by the Israeli-Hezbollah war of 2006? Just wondering…

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Beirut snapshot - update

It appears that the Beirut rumours that I mentioned this morning were right.

"Israeli Warplanes Pound Southern Beirut"

Beirut Snapshots: petrol panic

Marion has posted a few snaps of people queueing for petrol (or gas for the American speakers!) and closed petrol stations. Some rumours say the country is about to run out, others say it is just the petrol stations making big profits. Also people are scared in Beirut because, again, rumour has it that Israel will begin bombing the city again soon.





Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Celebrity gossip and anti-semitism

I'm not very good at celebrity gossip - being a news snob, plus living in a country different from my passport, I just don't read "those" type of papers. The Finnish tabloids are currently full of the new girlfriend of the Prime Minister and I really know nothing about her beyond that they met whilst shopping in IKEA. Somehow there is something faintly reassuring about this. Anyway I do like movies, good and trash, so I am very aware of for example, who Ms. Jolie is even if I can't remember what her and Brad's new sprog is called. And this brings me on to "Mel's booze hell". I had something of a teenage fascination with Australia - too much early, punky INXS and Midnight Oil I think. It seemed so exciting and, well to be honest, full of attractive girls in bikinis in comparison to my reality of dreary, damp central England. When I was 18 and finished school I flipped burgers in McDonald's for six months to raise some cash, got a working visa and headed off to find my Antipodean dream. It was great. I drank a lot and met lots of girls in bikinis. At 18 what more could you ask for? Without a doubt it was more exciting than dreary damp central England. This is by-the-by, really what I wanted to get to is that along with Australia I had a soft spot of Mel Gibson as well. As everyone knows, Mad Max is one of the great work of cinematic history. No - seriously it's a classic. I hitchhiked from the Snowy Mountains down to Melbourne and the dude who picked me up actually went a few miles off-route just so we could drive at high speed in his Ute down one of the highways in northern Victoria where one of the big car battle scenes had been filmed. It was great.

But I have to say now - Mel - you're completely f***ing bonkers aren't you?! Slate.com have a number of article on the utter crazyiness of Gibson's rabidly anti-semitic slurs that he let rip when he got pulled over by the cops in California for drunk driving. The Jews are really out to get Mel. Everyone knew he was weird after he made the Passion of Christ, but weird isn't the same as simply being nuts which is what the police records of the arrest suggest.

My interest in this was sort of sparked because last week Mike sent me another report from Jerusalem. I haven't posted it yet mainly because I've been a bit busy - so I apologise to Mike - but also because he was commenting on online discussions that we have both been involved in on a UK website over the current mid-East Crisis. So really part of the report wasn't from Jerusalem, it was a comment on the debate in the UK. The arguments hinged around the question of when anti-Israeli expression falls over the edge into anti-semitism. I used to think this was clear, and the anti-semitic claim was generally the last debating tool of the hardcore pro-Israelis when they had lost on most other points of fact and logic. But now I'm not so sure. I decided not to post Mike's thoughts on this because it its one of the great modern ethical dilemmas - one of those defining question for anyone who considers themselves to have a centrist or progressive/leftwing view on international affairs. Therefore I think on my blog if anyone is going to address it should be me. I will return to this when I have more time to consider it. But we can all thank Mel for showing clearly what complete and utter anti-Semitic lunacy looks like. And Mel, just a tip: calling a female police officer with a gun "sugartits" is never going to be a smart idea.
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