Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 13th, 2015

 

A history of cities in 50 buildings: Holiday Inn in Lebanon

Though Lebanon has been swept by a gentrifying and disfiguring development rush, some older monuments still stand tall.

Strolling downhill from the Clemenceau neighbourhood for a coffee on the seaside Corniche, you’ll see the towering building of the Holiday Inn: bullet-riddled and rocket-pierced.

The once-plush hotel, which opened for business just two years before the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, has remained in Beirut’s collective memory – not for its glamour or architectural design, but as a front-line, a demarcation between east and west, and a symbol of war.

Beirut’s bullet-riddled Holiday Inn

A history of cities in 50 buildings, day 28

The once-plush hotel stands empty as a reminder of the city’s brutal civil war, while the surrounding districts are swept up in glitzy redevelopments

Today, entry to Beirut’s Holiday Inn is forbidden to the public. The building’s 24 floors are desolate.

 

The Holiday Inn represented an affluent time for the city: the building became part of a luxury developmental bubble at a time when Beirut’s banks were growing fat on deposits from the region’s petrodollars.

However, the civil war obliterated the hotel’s ambitions of becoming a social hub, with cinemas and restaurants crowned by a rooftop rotating restaurant towering over the district.

In October 1975, just months into the Lebanese civil war, the hotel became part of an epic battle dubbed “the war of the hotels”.

It lasted until March 1976 and mobilised around 25,000 fighters from both sides, resulting in more than 1,000 dead and 2,000 injured.

Holiday Inn, Beirut

Pinterest
A pro-Palestinian fighter in the destroyed Holiday Inn hotel, after militias dislodged Lebanese Christian forces from the hotel. Photograph: Xavier Baron/AFP/Getty Images

The Holiday Inn was the biggest in an area already jammed with hotels – an area that became strategically important because of its proximity to the sea: it was located between the coastal neighbourhoods of Ain el-Mresi and Mina al-Hosn, on top of a hill overlooking the city.

As the civil war began to polarise the city into east and west, the two main antagonists – the Lebanese Front (Christian rightwing militias backed by the Lebanese army) and the National Movement (Lebanese leftist parties backed by Palestine’s PLO) – raced to capture the district.

Seen by militants as a strategic military asset, the Holiday Inn became a trophy in the battle.

“We descended on the hotel district from three directions,” recalls Abu Ali, 66, a veteran of the war on the side of the National Movement. “The battle to take the Holiday Inn dragged on. That building felt like an unshakable castle. The Christian fighters who had raced us to it managed to create supply lines that kept feeding their fighters barracked in the hotel, and positioned their snipers on the upper floors and rooftop.”

Heavy artillery was fired from surrounding rooftops, pounding the Holiday Inn and creating the damage that is still visible today.

“Shortly after the battle, hordes of scavengers entered the building and stripped it down to its bones,” Ali said. “The Holiday Inn was then sold on the streets of Beirut: beds, silver spoons, curtains.”

Later, after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut – in the second phase of the civil war – the Holiday Inn building was once again disputed turf, this time between former allies; with the al-Mourabitoun losing control of the building to the Amal Movement.

These battles were, in a sense, an introvert war fought by the city’s occupants who turned their own homes into an open battleground – a war fought from alley to alley, building to building.

A symbol of Lebanon's golden age, but also its brutal civil war, the empty shell of the Holiday Inn hotel could soon be redeveloped.

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A symbol of Lebanon’s golden age, but also its brutal civil war, the empty shell of the Holiday Inn hotel could soon be redeveloped. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP

Since the conflict’s end, the shareholders of the bullet-riddled building have been locked in a dispute over its future.

The Lebanese partners Compagnie Immobiliere Libanaise wanted to renovate the building and set up luxury lofts for rent or sale. However, the Kuwaiti group that owns half wanted to demolish it, and build a new tower block similar to those in the surrounding downtown area.

Today, entry is forbidden to the public. The building’s 24 floors are desolate: shrubs sprout from the concrete floors, the grey mouldering walls still bearing scars of countless bullet holes and political graffiti from a bygone era. Its Lebanese and Kuwaiti owners recently declared their intention to put the building up for auction.

Many years after the fighting ceased, the building has become a popular site for underground dance parties. On a Saturday night in 1998, many Lebanese mingled in the same building where 23 years earlier their parents had fought each other. I was one of the revellers: we snuck out of our parents’ homes and drank and danced until the early hours on a site still vividly synonymous with the 15-year civil war.

In spite of the postwar efforts to resurrect Lebanon’s elusive golden age, the country once more teeters on the edge of an abyss. Lurking in the background of the glitzy, redeveloped downtown district, the disfigured façade of the Holiday Inn stands as a reminder that Lebanon’s civil war politics are far from resolved.

 

Beware Tel Aviv: The Scottish Lion is roaring

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was labelled “Britain’s most dangerous woman” by some sections of the tabloid media during the run up to the General Election.

Some people fear that she’s on a mission to break up the United Kingdom in a bid to fulfil her independence ambitions. That may well be the case, but that soubriquet was also used by some of Britain’s most committed members of the pro-Israel lobby whose main national interests lie well beyond these shores.

The lobby saw some of their biggest political supporters fall in an astonishing electoral performance by Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP).

When the polls closed, the dramatic count that followed saw the emergence of a new political landscape. The leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and Israel’s biggest cheerleader next to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, lost his seat by 3,000 votes.

A former chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), Jim Murphy was ousted by the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald in Renfrewshire East.

Yvonne Ridley posted this Saturday, 09 May 2015

As the polling dust settled, the SNP had won an unprecedented 56 of the 59 constituencies across Scotland, turning them into Zionist lobby-free zones for the first time in decades. Indeed, the Westminster lobby groups of various political Friends of Israel were heavily depleted following high profile departures from the ranks of MPs which left the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats with just one representative in Scotland each.

To add to their woes, none of those left standing from the political blitz in Scotland are active supporters of the State of Israel.

A 20-year-old student, Mhairi Black, toppled Labour’s campaign chief Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfrewshire South to become the youngest British MP since 1667.

Alexander, who has visited Israel with the LFI, was first elected in 1997 in Tony Blair’s landslide victory. He went on to become Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs in 2004, until promoted to International Development Secretary by Gordon Brown in 2007 and ending up as Shadow Foreign Secretary under Ed Miliband.

Back in January 2011, LFI chair David Cairns MP said of Alexander’s appointment: “We look forward to working with him and engaging with him on supporting the UK’s close relationship with Israel, promoting a negotiated two state solution, and confronting the threats to regional stability posed by Iran’s illegal nuclear programme and Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s violent militias.”

Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who has also addressed Friends of Israel meetings, lost his seat to the SNP in Ross, Skye and Lochaber after representing the constituency for 32 years. Under pressure from the pro-Israel lobby 10 years ago he moved to sack one of his own frontbench MPs, Jenny Tonge, for saying that she could understand why some Palestinians became suicide bombers.

Dr Tonge had said repeatedly that she understood why militant Palestinians were driven to carry out the attacks in the face of the brutality of the Israeli occupation. And she insisted that living in the Middle East might have driven her to do the same. Kennedy “asked” her to stand down as the party’s spokeswoman for children.

“I was just trying to say how, having seen the violence, humiliation and provocation Palestinians live under every day, and have done now for decades,” explained the now Baroness Tonge. “I could understand, I was trying to understand, where they come from. If I had been a mother and a grandmother in Palestine living for decades in that situation, I don’t know, I may very well have become one myself.”

Kennedy had been under predictable and mounting pressure from pro-Israel groups in 2004 to act and his attempts to distance the Lib Dems from her views did not pacify the Zionist groups. Lord Greville Janner, who now faces accusations that he abused children when he was an MP, was at that time a vice-chair of the British-Israel parliamentary group. “The decision of the Liberal Democrats to sack Jenny Tonge is admirable and appropriate,” he said.

Other big hitters who lost their seats in the election included the President of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed. He was the longest-serving Liberal Democrat in the House of Commons, and while Berwick is perched on the English side of the border it was affected directly by the seismic changes in neighbouring Scotland, bringing an end to his 40-year political career in Westminster.

The SNP’s results, which saw the party win 1,454,436 votes, and the perception that there will be calls for a second independence referendum are set to cause David Cameron a major headache as a second term prime minister.

Moreover, the arrival of the new Scottish MPs is ringing alarm bells among some of the pro-Israel lobby groups in Westminster and Tel Aviv.

To add to the woes of the lobbyists, just hours after her party’s victory, Nicola Sturgeon’s office sent a message of goodwill to the organisers of a landmark conference in Glasgow this weekend. The “Ending the Scottish Arms Trade with Israel” conference received not only the first minister’s “best wishes” but also heard that although she is “understandably unavailable to speak”, she “hopes that the event will be a success.”

That wasn’t all. “As you may be aware,” added Sturgeon, “during the recent conflict in Gaza the Scottish Government wrote to the UK Government urging an embargo on arms sales to Israel. The Scottish Government is a firm friend of Palestine and we will continue to press this issue after the election.”

The Scottish lions’ roar will continue to be heard, and felt, from Westminster to Tel Aviv.

With the most pro-Israel British prime minister of all time back in 10 Downing Street, the SNP’s presence in such numbers has got to be positive for the people of Palestine.

Asad Ghsoub shared this link

Scotland and Ireland among the most important friends of Palestine in Western Europe “To add to the woes of the lobbyists, just hours after her party’s victory, Nicola Sturgeon’s office sent a message of goodwill to the organisers of a landmark conference in Glasgow this weekend.

The “Ending the Scottish Arms Trade with Israel” conference received not only the first minister’s “best wishes” but also heard that although she is “understandably unavailable to speak”, she “hopes that the event will be a success.”

That wasn’t all. “As you may be aware,” added Sturgeon, “during the recent conflict in Gaza the Scottish Government wrote to the UK Government urging an embargo on arms sales to Israel.

The Scottish Government is a firm friend of Palestine and we will continue to press this issue after the election.
The Scottish lions’ roar will continue to be heard, and felt, from Westminster to Tel Aviv. With the most pro-Israel British prime minister of all time back in 10 Downing Street, the SNP’s presence in such numbers has got to be positive for the people of Palestine.”

See More

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was labelled “Britain’s most dangerous woman” by some sections of the tabloid media during the run up to the General Election.
Some people fear that she’s on a mission to break up the United…
middleeastmonitor.com

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