Ugly architecture, outdated laws and the Shebaa farms

Some interesting and (relatively) non-political pieces that have recently been published on Lebanon: AFP talks about the Ottoman and French-era laws that were never scrapped in Lebanon (reminiscent of that British law that still requires cab drivers to keep horse fodder in their cars): ‘The thousands of women parading along Lebanon’s sunny beaches this summer in skimpy bikinis or strolling the city’s pavements in miniskirts or shorts will all technically be breaking the law. More than 60 years after the tiny Mediterranean country gained independence from France, its penal code is still bogged down with archaic laws, some of which date back to the Ottoman Empire. “Some laws have not been amended for decades,” Judge John Azzi, an advocate for women’s rights, told AFP. “It is as though nothing has changed” since Ottoman and French rule over Lebanon, when the country’s laws were passed, Azzi added. One 1941 law, for example, still prohibits women from donning a two-piece and hitting the beach. Their punishment? A fine of 250 Lebanese-Syrian pounds — a currency that no longer exists.’

The BBC carries a piece by Natalia Antelava on the rather careless way in which Lebanese and Beiruti politicians and project developers -Hariri’s Solidere in the lead – are destroying this once beautiful city:‘”They have destroyed my city,” says Joe Kodieh, resident of Beirut and theatre director whose latest play deals with the loss of the city’s architectural heritage. “Beirut survived the war, but it’s not going to survive peace. What survived two decades of war, we are destroying now, in the name of modernity,” Mr Kodieh says. Across Beirut, hundreds of high-rise buildings have replaced old buildings. The city’s architectural heritage is being wiped out because there is no legislation to protect it. “What’s happening is very sad, but it’s not in our power to stop it,” says Rasheed Jalekh, representative of the Beirut municipality. “The municipality can only stop construction if we own buildings, but we don’t and we don’t have the money to buy them.” Mr Jalekh says that a handful of buildings could still be saved, if only parliament passed legislation that would protect them. But for decades Lebanon’s leaders have been preoccupied with political wrangling and crises, and issues like architectural heritage have struggled to get attention. Politicians have also failed to come up with a comprehensive urban development plan for Beirut, which has resulted in chaotic and disorganised construction.’

And some political pieces: not that there is any burning or breaking news about it, but Syriacomment recently provided an in-depth look at the history of that tiny piece of Lebanon which Israel keeps occupying to sustain Hezbollah’s credibility as a resistance against actually existing occupation (the zionist country desperately needs external enemies to keep its own conflict-ridden society from disintegrating into civil strife): ‘Located atop a hill, the Shebaa Farms (or hamlets) are important to both water resources and politics in the region. On May 21st, 2000, after Israel withdrew from Lebanon, ending its occupation that lasted over 20 years, Hezbollah and Syria claimed that the Jewish State still occupied a piece of land northeast of Mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights. That territory, which few had heard about previously, is made up of 14 farms. It is located at the three corners where Lebanon, Syria and Israel share a border. (..) Despite the Shebaa area being small in size (approx. 16 sq.m), the problem is difficult. The village of Shebaa is located in Lebanon, northeast of “Djebel ech-Cheikh” (Mount Hermon) while its farms are located south of the mountian. From the Mandate in 1920 to the Six-Day War of 1967, the farms were considered Syrian territories de jure, i.e. on the maps. During that period – and before – the Lebanese farmers used to cross the mountain area to reach their fields, which were cultivated with apple orchards. Thus, Lebanon and Syria were artificially separated in the Shebaa region by the Wadi el-’Assal, a stream. The Lebanese farmers considered that the river to be the border between the two countries. French authorities did not take into account the Lebanese farmers who crossed the borders to their who had to reach their farms. (…) In 1950, after the 1948 War, Syria installed an advanced military observation post and carried out topographical surveys in the farms. Thus, from 1920 to 1967, the Shebaa Farms were deemed to be Syrian land on military maps despite the fact that almost all the cultivator of the region were Lebanese and few Syrians lived there. In 1967, Israel invaded the Golan Heights and took the Shebaa Farms. The Israelis expelled the Lebanese farmers that were living there. (…) In 1978, the Israeli Defense Forces transformed the farms into a buffer zone and adorned them with Hebrew road signs. Israel distributed national ID’s that were refused by the majority of the farmers. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 after 18 years of occupation, the Shebaa Farms became central to Hezbollah’s continuing justification for war against Israel. In 2006, during the “33-days War”, the Shebaa Farms issue took central stage.’

Time magazine has Nicholas Blanford writing about Hezbollah’s (re)armament. Not that there is any burning or breaking news about it etcetera:  ‘Although Hizballah and Israel both insist they do not want another war, neither side has disguised its preparations for that possibility. Since the end of its latest bout with the Israeli military, in July and August 2006, Hizballah has built new defensive lines and firing positions, the fighters say, in the hills flanking the Bekaa and along the rugged, mountainous spine running up the middle of southern Lebanon. (…) Acting on an internal assessment of its military performance in the 2006 war, Hizballah is seeking to improve its capabilities by developing new tactics and acquiring new weapons. It is placing particular emphasis on improved air-defense systems to challenge Israel’s aerial superiority. Reports over the past year suggest that Hizballah has received advanced Russian shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, and some fighters have been trained in Syria on larger truck-mounted missile systems. U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources say Hizballah has also augmented its arsenal with larger, longer-range rockets with guidance capabilities. Many analysts believe that in the event of another war, Hizballah plans to strike strategic targets deep inside Israel. In February, movement leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah hinted that Hizballah now had the ability to strike targets in Tel Aviv. (…) Besides seeking new weapons systems, the Shi’ite militia is also finding innovative ways to utilize older armaments, such as the guerrilla-standard RPG-7 grenade launcher and the recoilless rifle, a near obsolete antitank weapon. “The RPG-7 is old but still a good weapon,” says Ali. “It’s how you use them that counts. We are always studying new combat techniques.” Israel’s heavily armored tanks are to receive a newly developed defense system that fires mini-interceptors to destroy incoming antitank missiles. Hizballah fighters, without revealing details, say they are training to overcome such sophisticated defenses by “swarming” Israeli tanks with low-tech antitank weapons. Hizballah’s battle plans may also include having fighters infiltrate Israel to carry out raids and sabotage missions — a move that would be unprecedented in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israeli doctrine is to fight its wars in the territory of its enemies rather than on its home front. Says Ali: “God willing, we will go into Palestine next time.”‘


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