Archive for March, 2008

Geagea for president?

17, March, 2008

Samir Geagea, leader of the extreme rightwing christian Lebanese Forces, convicted for 4 separate assassinations including a Lebanese prime minister and rival christian leader Danny Chamoun, whose entire family was wiped out with him, is a man with probably more assassinations and war crimes on his conscience than anybody else in this country where war criminals are not exactly lacking. Yet when he visited the ‘you’re either with us or with the terrorists’ crew at the White House, he was warmly received by everybody on the Middle Eastern department there, all the way up to Rice. One man’s terrorist seems to be another man’s freedom fighter indeed. For an exhaustive list of the man’s insane acts (even under the circumstances), see here - the most shocking part is actually not even the assassinations and mass murders and torturing of civilians (including many of the christians he was supposedly defending) by his Ouet brigades – it is the one where he accepts to fill the land of the people he claims to ‘protect’ with imported toxic waste just to make a buck:

1986-1987 – Geagea’s militia buried nuclear and chemical wastes in self-controlled region in exchange for millions of dollars. The Lebanese army worked later on removing the wastes and exporting them. “Jelly Wax, an Italian company, had been paying the Christian militia led by Geagea to store the toxics in Lebanon, including in a quarry near Beirut that once held 16,000 barrels and 20 containers of heavy metals, toxic pesticides, and other deadly chemicals. The Italian chemical barrels began to bubble over and explode, so the Lebanese Forces [militia] asked Mr. Pierre Malychef, one of Lebanon’s most respected environmental scientists, to test them. He alerted the public that the barrels contain toxic chemicals, and he discovered other dumping sites scattered around the country. The Lebanese Forces [militia] were angered as their pollution kickback was threatened. The government jailed Malychef for a week for allegedly giving false testimony during an investigation of the dumping, but the charges were dropped. Months later, thugs paid by the Lebanese Forces militia severely beat him. By 1986, companies from Germany, Canada, and Belgium, secretly delivered toxic chemicals to other parts of Lebanon. Today, Lebanon is paying the price. According to a World Bank study, toxic dumping, along with Lebanon’s own sewage and toxic waste problems, has led to contamination of 70% of the country’s drinking water.”

Hey, what can you expect from a politician who puts mascara on to pose for election billboards… Franklin Lamb makes a lot of this visit (here on Counterpunch), and implies that Geagea might be the White House’s new favorite for the presidential post. I don’t actually think even the neocons would be so mad and ignorant as to try and impose this ruthless Bcharriote – the explicit candidate of Israel, by the way – on the Lebanese population. Unless they really do want to foment a civil war, because that would be the immediate (and probably only) result. Geagea is not even acceptable to 90% or so of the christians, let alone anybody else…

‘Las Vegas without the bars’

15, March, 2008

Those of you who read Dutch can find my article on Saudi Arabia here, on the website of the Dutch newspaper ‘Reformatorisch Dagblad’. I was on a research mission in Saudi Arabia in November and December of last year and interviewed a number of ‘liberal’ activists, journalists and academics who were mostly very enthusiastic about King Abdullah, his ‘liberal’ attitude (and advisers), his willingness to challenge the rule of the mashayikh (religious authorities) and (possibly, in the long run) to get rid of some of the more restrictive legislation. They contend that the ‘dark ages’ of the 80s and 90s are over. The title I proposed for the article (but which the editor of the newspaper changed) was ‘Osama bin Laden deserves a statue’, a quote from a member of the Royal Human Rights Commission installed by Abdullah, who states (along with others I interviewed) that 9/11 and especially the attacks of ‘al Qaeda in the Peninsula’ in Saudi Arabia itself in 2003 were the pivotal point that made the government and large parts of the population realize there was something not entirely sound about the religious fanaticism that was/is determining much of the country’s internal laws and politics. For me, it was the first time in the country, so I can’t compare it with the way it was before, but ‘liberal’ it is only in the economic sense and ‘liberated’ its people are definitely not. It’s true that there is a rather amazing freedom of speech in the press (relatively speaking and within certain clear limits of course), there have been partial elections at the municipal level, and the National Dialogue sessions are kind of revolutionary in that they forced the religious establishment to defend itself against its critics for the first time, and live on national TV for that matter. But the mutaween (religious police) still rule the streets, there is no public social life worth speaking of and everything remotely suspected to be fun is still mamnu3 (forbidden). Everybody still gets thoroughly brainwashed at school and knowledge about the world outside the kingdom, even the rest of the world, is very limited among the general population. Even at university level, such dangerous and insubordinate subjects as logic and philosophy are forbidden in an education system which remains firmly in the hands of the religious establishment, as does the justice system. While I was there speaking to the cautiously optimistic intellectuals (‘in 10 years’ time, all these silly laws segregating the sexes etcetera will be repealed’), a judge convicted a gangraped woman to prison time and whiplashes because she had been in the company of an unrelated man when the incident happened. (more…)

Of once and future wars…

14, March, 2008

‘“We breathe soot,” she declared. “The people of Lebanon were forced to breathe bio-accumulable and persistent chemical products that once inhaled, over time have been demonstrated to cause cancer.” The oil spill that was a consequence of the bombardment deposited into the Mediterranean 15,000 tons of crude oil, generating a spill measuring 150 km x 220 km, polluting the sea, the coast and the seabed causing long-term damage to the ecosystem that is impossible to quantify in its full entity with the current status of intervention. The destruction of the fauna was a consequence of this action, including the extinction of several rare species of turtles that have used this area for their reproduction since time began. Water wells were also polluted, and not in the south alone, rendering the potable water for personal and agricultural use nothing but a diseased source. The fishing industry was devastated as well by this disaster, and with it, the other major sources of income in the area, tourism, and agriculture. Priceless archaeological sites were damaged, including Byblos, one of the most antique settlements of humanity, which managed to survive other wars throughout the centuries. To date, the Lebanese government has not presented any compensation claims to the UN or any of its relevant agencies.’

Goksel believes the next war between Israel and Hezbollah will be different. “It will be much more violent and destructive,” he says. (…) Having witnessed 1,500 Israeli tanks roll across the Lebanese border at very short notice back in 1982, Goksel believes the current presence of over 13,000 peacekeepers — the majority of them Italian, French and Spanish mandated by UN Resolution 1701 to patrol below the Litani River — will make a difference.”They will take away the element of surprise from the Israelis, who cannot crash into south Lebanon while these guys are all there. Israel cannot afford to eliminate the Europeans, so they or their governments will get notice. If you see an exodus of UNIFIL countries, then you will know a war is coming.”‘

Speaker of his mind…

12, March, 2008

Nowlebanon: “Those who do not support the Arab initiative and [who] obstructed many solutions to the Lebanese crisis, including the French one; and those who did not condemn the Israeli violations of Lebanese territory in the last UN meeting; and those who remain silent toward the Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms and the village of Al-Ghajar; and those who refrain from condemning the millions of cluster bombs hurled by Israel following the issuance of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, in our lands and in the hearts of our children; and those who send their warships to protect Israel’s attacks on Gaza; and those and those and those: How do you want us to believe that you are concerned – much more than us – with seeing a new head of state who would dictate Lebanon’s unity and restore its institutions – all of its institutions, including the illegitimate government, the illegitimacy of which stems from the symphony you play every day about it being legitimate and being legitimately elected. They don’t even know that the government doesn’t get elected! Kindly review the minutes of the Security Council session yesterday that was dedicated to discussing Resolution 1701 and confirm the aforementioned accusations.” (more…)

The second act

10, March, 2008

The shooting of 8 students in the Jerusalem yeshiva was claimed – on Hezbolah’s TV channel al-Manar – by ‘the previously unknown group ‘Phalange of the Free Men of Galilee – Groups of the martyr Imad Mughniyeh and the martyrs of Gaza‘. So this is act two in the game started by the mossad (presumably) by killing Mughniyeh in Damascus. In one of the most extreme examples of the double standards applied to the Middle East, Bush, who had nothing to say about the killing of 120-plus Palestinians – including two newborn babies – by the Israelis in Gaza just days earlier, was quick to offer his condolences for the 8 Israeli dead. Even in death, all Semites are not equal… In fact, some of the dead don’t even have the right to be mourned: ‘Haaretz said that over the weekend, eight East Jerusalem residents were arrested in connection with Ala Abu Dhaim’s shooting attack. Abu Dhaim’s father, two of his brothers and two cousins are among those detained, Haaretz said on its website. It said that the father also removed Hamas and Hizbullah flags from a mourners’ tent the family had erected, after being instructed to do so by police.’

“Oh, I’m really not sure – about a billion this year, I think…”

10, March, 2008

‘(Forbes) ranked the leader of the parliamentary majority, MP Saad Hariri, in 334th place with an estimated fortune of $3.3 billion, up from 407th place and $2.3 billion in 2007, followed by his brother Bahaa Hariri in 349th place with a fortune of $3.2 billion, up from 432nd place and $2.2 billion. Forbes said the Hariri family’s wealth is derived from investments in Saudi Arabia and many other countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East in banking, real estate, tourism, telecommunications and media. Ayman Hariri and his brother Fahd Hariri, the late Rafik Hariri’s youngest sons, came in 524th place with $2.3 billion each, up from 618th place and $1.6 billion each last year. The late premier’s widow Nazek ranked in 843rd place with a fortune of $1.4 billion, up from 891st place and $1 billion in 2007, while her daughter Hind came in 1,014th place with a fortune of $1.1 billion. According to Forbes, that makes Hind Hariri the world’s youngest billionaire. Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his brother Taha Mikati ranked in 446th place with a net worth of $2.6 billion each, down from 407th place but up from $2.3 billion each in 2007. The magazine said the Mikati brothers made their fortune in telecommunications and have large holdings in the sector.’

Rumours and warnings

6, March, 2008

‘Nasrallah accused his Lebanese opponents of hedging their bets before an imminent war. “I regret to tell you that some parties in the pro-government group have again started to reassure their cadres and leadership that an imminent war will eliminate Hizbullah and the opposition forces,” Nasrallah said. Those sides banked on the destruction of the Shia military and political group, which is backed by Syria and Iran, in Israel’s destructive 2006 bombardment, he said. “They mentioned April, May and June. Therefore, they are not in a hurry and are not ready for any political settlement, regardless of the concessions made by the opposition. Their American master announced his rejection of the Arab initiative but they made no comment,” Nasrallah told the crowds in the southern suburbs.’
The same article, by Lucy Fielder in the Egyptian al-Ahram, quotes Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Hizbullah expert at the Carnegie Endowment Middle East Centre in Beirut: ‘”If there is another war it will be regional this time. I would say we’re even going to see backers of elements of 14 March supporting Israel.” Saad-Ghorayeb cited travel warnings issued by Saudi Arabia, then Bahrain and Kuwait to their citizens against coming to Lebanon as a possible sign of wider Arab knowledge that security would deteriorate further in Lebanon. Pro-opposition press reports over the past week have suggested Arab intelligence involvement in stirring up some of the clashes in Beirut. Saudi Arabia is a main backer of Al-Hariri and the “14 March” ruling movement.’
The US has followed suit today by urging its citizens to leave Lebanon or to ‘take care that they maintain a low profile in public and avoid predictable or habitual behavior.’ Meanwhile, they are replacing the USS Cole with 6 other vessels, including the USS Nassau – but there is something weird about this: (more…)

Cole khara!*

4, March, 2008

Franklin Lamb speaks to mujahedin in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Saida: “Our mujahedeen have learned much since we attacked the Cole in Aden in October of 2000. The Bush administration has learned nothing from history. Does Bush read? Does he know what happened when the US sent the marines and USS New Jersey in 1983? Does he think Lebanon forgets that it turned South Beirut and Mount Lebanon into rubble with 2,700 pound shells? We are waiting for these sardine cans packed with crusaders to be incinerated like the Merkavas in the July War. Let them come — they will leave — just like when Reagan sent them last time!”

Counterpunch also carries this analysis of the same ‘stabilising gesture’ by Ramie Amiri: ‘Retired Lebanese Army General Wehbe Katisha also recognized the true mission of the warships, stating, “Wars begin by an exchange of messages. The American decision is the first message to its opponents in the region saying ‘we are here.’”

*’Kul khara!’ = ‘eat shit’ in Arabic – in arabic script, kul is spelled the same way as Cole.

Touring the country

4, March, 2008

With all the political strife and impending wars, you could easily forget that Lebanon is actually a dream of a country with a near-perfect climate and gorgeous landscapes that offer surprising variation on a relatively small surface (Lebanon is only one third the size of Belgium). This variation is echoed in the people too: within the space of an hour or two, you can drive from a sunni coastal city via a druze mountain village and a Saudi holiday resort to a shia valley town, passing a few pockets of maronites, armenian orthodox and greek catholics on the way. The variety also shows in the ‘urban planning’ or ‘landscaping’: whereas in most of the country, construction is completely haphazard and unregulated, with no thought for the environment or even the touristic value of the landscape, I was surprised to find out that the Chouf mountains, home primarily to the druze and ruled by the feudal landlord family of the Jumblatts, is an exception to the rule. Turns out ol’ Walid is something of an ecologist and displays in this field exactly the kind of wisdom and longterm vision so sorely lacking in his political behaviour. The Chouf features the only real (i.e. actually enforced and protected) nature reserve of the country – Jumblatt even goes so far as to pay the farmers to keep their goats out of these pine forests. No building is allowed along the roads in between towns and villages, so you actually get a real, classic countryside feel driving around the Chouf, as opposed to the uninterrupted suburban overcrowdedness that is so prevalent in the rest of the Lebanese ‘countryside’. People also seem to avoid throwing their empty cans and packagings out of the car window as they drive, so you don’t even have the garbage-lining that characterizes mountain roads all over the rest of the country. In addition, in places like Deir al-Qamar, a real effort has been made to preserve the historic architecture intact, and not just in an artificial reconstructed 150 m² around the actual tourist attraction (like in Jbeil/Byblos), but the actual original stuff, and throughout the entire town. Contrast this with places like Bcharre in the northern part of Mount Lebanon, also a gorgeous little mountain town, located in a breathtaking spot on the cliff edge of the steep Qadisha valley. Bcharre is still pretty beautiful (at least from a distance) but well on the way to being ruined by concrete flat blocks and out-of-style, out-of-place random constructions, not to mention the ubiquitous sand quarries eating away at the mountains around. By the way, a bizarre feature of Bcharre which has been fascinating me since my first visit there, is that someone or some people there are evidently obsessed with original VW Beetles, which are scattered throughout the town in various states of decomposition and restoration. I haven’t worked out yet why this is so, and why only in Bcharre, although it is tempting to consider a link between Hitler’s car and Geagea’s town… All tips are welcome. (more…)

Lebanon Unite!

4, March, 2008

‘MP Samir Franjieh (Qornet Shehwan Gathering, a sort of ‘Phalanges-plus-some-independents’ that’s part of M14) urged the Lebanese to set aside differences and agree on a “safety dragnet” that can protect the nation from a regional war that is in the offing. Franjieh, who made the plea in an interview with Naharnet, accused the Hizbullah-led March 8 opposition of taking a “big risk” by keeping the nation exposed to threats. “They remind me of the Lebanese nationalist Movement in 1982 when it had indications about a possible Israeli invasion but failed to freeze the domestic dispute in favor of creating a safety dragnet, so Israel invaded a Lebanon incapable of resisting due to its internal differences and hundreds of other reasons,” Franjieh added. He said deployment of the USS Cole guided missile destroyer in Mediterranean waters off the Lebanese coastline is “not linked to the domestic Lebanese situation, but rather to the explosive situation in the region. It could signal the imposing of new sanctions on Iran. The situation is very serious in the region, which could be heading to a war. Would such a war serve the interests of the majority or the minority? Certainly not. It would serve interests not related to all those factions. (…) War is coming, let’s unite to avoid the storm.“‘ The problem with Lebanese politicos urging all parties to unite is that they ‘extend their hands to their rivals’ only after first insulting them for half an hour or so – witness e.g. Saad Hariri on the 14th of February. Frangieh proves no exception to this extremely inefficient (or hypocrite) practice…
The incumbent ‘compromise’ president and present army chief has signaled that the Lebanese army will not ‘stand by hands tied’, to use a franglais expression that is currently very popular in this country, if (sorry: when) Israel attacks: “Suleiman urged his commanders to “achieve high combat readiness of their units to confront all expected probabilities, especially defending the southern land, maintain domestic security and stability (…) He noted that the troops’ “basic duty is to prevent the Israeli enemy from occupying Lebanese territories or attempting to use them as a passage to launch an aggression against Arab brotherly countries.” Suleiman reiterated “the army’s determination, backed by the people and the resistance, to confront any new Israeli aggression with all available means and capabilities. Defending the land is a sacred right consolidated by international charters, it is a national priority that deserves unifying resources and efforts.” The army commander stressed that his troops would not fall back “if the enemy decided to occupy the south, because abandoning this territory means abandoning the whole of Lebanon.” ‘The resistance’, by the way, refers to Hezbollah, while the “Arab brotherly countries” mentioned can, geographically speaking, of course only be Syria. (more…)


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