Going downhill fast

‘The facts on the ground are clear: Even if it were inclined to take on Hezbollah, the Lebanese army couldn’t beat them. At election time, Hezbollah and its allies regularly win the maximum number of parliamentary seats allocated to them under Lebanon’s complicated and grossly unfair political system that divvies up seats among the major religious groups. If Lebanon were suddenly to liberalize its political system and hold a presidential election on the basis of one person, one vote, it’s not a stretch to imagine President Hassan Nasrallah—except that the Hezbollah leader doesn’t want the job. Besides, the last two presidents were ardent supporters of Hezbollah, as were all the prime ministers before Siniora. Even Siniora himself probably supported Hezbollah’s right to resist Israel in the south until its supporters started trying to force him from office. So, why the power struggle? It’s an increasingly tragic mix of local and international politics, with every group continuing the devastating Lebanese tradition of looking toward larger outside powers to bolster them against their domestic rivals. Hezbollah and its allies are backed by Syria and Iran, whereas the government and its mostly Christian, Sunni, and Druze allies rely on U.S., French, and Saudi support. Each side accuses the other of being foreign agents without a hint of self-awareness of their own duplicity.’

The above is Mitchell Prothero writing in Slate: he talks about some neglected aspects of last Sunday’s electricity riots in this excellent article (linked to by Angry Arab) which offers a rare example of a lucid and impartial analysis of the Lebanese political situation in general. He also relates the following, truly scary but entirely characteristic story about the Lebanese Forces militia in neighbouring sectarian christian Ain al-Rummaneh: ‘By nightfall Sunday night, just yards from the Shiite demonstrators, the Christian neighborhood’s own version of the scooter kids had taken to the darkened street corners armed with sticks, rocks, and a few guns. From time to time, black SUVs filled with bulky men with shaved heads and leather jackets—the leadership of the Lebanese Forces political-party-cum-militia—would stop by to check on defenses and offer assistance to the “troops.” When asked what the nearby rioting was about, a block organizer named Milo, a fortysomething veteran of the civil war replied, “Outsiders. They come to our country as guests. And they demonstrate, throw rocks at our army, and burn our cars. We are only defending our land from these foreigners,” said Milo, speaking of Lebanese who have lived their entire lives just a few hundred yards from his home.’

On the increasingly interesting Menassat.com, Ibrahim Hachem analyses how Lebanon’s politicized TV stations covered the riots.

Saturday night, two PSP officials also came under automatic gunfire in the Beirut suburbs. I link here to Yalibnan, although they only take over the original Naharnet article almost verbatim, because they show the amusing pseudo-communist logo still carried by Walid Jumblatt’s sectarian druze party/militia, the hilariously named Progressive Socialist Party. The name made some sense when it was invented by Kamal Jumblatt, Walid’s father, who is still revered as a hero of the secular-progressive-leftist-PLO side during the civil war – although he was also a feudal landlord living in a castle served by lackeys and serfs, as his son still is. Funny how the whole civil war association of muslim=progessive=anti-imperialist=PLO=secular=leftist=guerilla/ fedayeen/ freedom fighter of the seventies and eighties has been completely forgotten and replaced by the muslim=fundamentalist=jihadi=terrorist equation of our own decade. The christian=fascist=pro-imperialist=sectarian=assassinating militia equation on the other hand has not changed one bit in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, as if the Lebanese aren’t perfectly capable of destroying eachother by themselves, the IDF has been at it again too: this Sunday (yesterday) they shot at Lebanese civilians across the border in two separate incidents, killing one Lebanese and wounding another. One of the incidents took place in Ghajar, an alawi village which has the misfortune to straddle the border – two-thirds of it lying in Lebanon and one third in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by Israel since 1967. As usual in this border area, the IDF describes its victims as ‘drugs smugglers’, even if they were actually on Lebanese territory while they got shot at by the Israelis. (See e.g. the Ynet article ‘Ghajar: Drugs for intelligence and protection’ (2005) for the Israeli vision on the ‘border problem’. See this article on Yalibnan – for once critical of Israel – about the Israelis stealing water from the local river.) The other shooting occurred nearby. According to the National News Agency (a state agency run by the Lebanese Ministry of Information), a third Lebanese citizen was ‘arrested by the occupation forces and taken into occupied Palestinian territory’, i.e. yet another Lebanese kidnapped by Israel – the only country on earth, by the way, where the Supreme Court has declared the taking hostage of foreign civilians a legal practice.

Meanwhile, there is more and more talk in the Israeli press about ‘the next Lebanese war’, for which the Winograd report is only one of the preparations. Take for example this report about a ‘military propaganda offensive’ telling people to prepare a ‘rocket room’ in their flats. The Israeli logic of aggression still doesn’t seem to be able to imagine the peace option, which is the only realistic chance of survival of the country whether as a ‘jewish state’ or not, and keeps thinking exclusively along the self-destructive lines of coercion, aggression and ethnic cleansing… As the Arabs frequently say, ‘if you don’t make peace with your neighbours and keep attacking them all the time, you will have to stay awake all the time. Because as soon as you fall asleep for even a minute, all your neighbours will come and take their revenge on you’.

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