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Posts Tagged ‘Belen Fernandez

Southern Lebanon’s Martyrs, Memories, and Resilience

“All we see are dead people.”

A twenty-something college student named Hassan tells journalist Belen Fernandez as they drive through the towns and villages of Southern Lebanon, referring to the posters of martyrs that line every road and plaster every storefront.

Belen is an American, a journalist, a hitchhiking wanderer; Hassan is a Shiite Muslim from the battered border town of Houla who doesn’t believe in organized religion and despises the sectarianism that colors every personal and political interaction in Lebanon.

In her recently released travelogue, Martyrs Never Die: Travels Through South Lebanon, published by Warscapes in June 2016, Fernandez describes the tragedies Houla witnessed over the years:

Given its proximity to Israel, Houla enjoys a rich history. In October 1948, as the Israeli enterprise was getting into full swing, scores of villagers were massacred by Zionist forces.

During the occupation era, Houla was part of Israel’s “security zone,” which from 1985 until 2000 constituted an area of approximately 850 square kilometers—or 10 percent of total Lebanese territory—in which the Israelis ran the show along with their proxy, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), composed primarily of Christian and Shia Lebanese mercenaries…

The 2006 war brought new horror to Houla, as the Israeli military set about firing fatal projectiles into civilian homes and otherwise tormenting the population to which it had supposedly bid adieu six years earlier.

Houla is one of over a dozen locations that Fernandez visited during her weeklong journey throughout Southern Lebanon in February 2016.

The seventy-one-page travelogue tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary people Fernandez encountered as she traversed the embattled landscape of Southern Lebanon, scarred and bruised by decades of conflict and destruction.

Having traveled to the region once before, immediately following the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, (when Israel bombarded all the Lebanese territory, the bridges, the highways, the power stations…) and witnessed the devastating aftermath of that conflict (by the time she departed Southern Lebanon in November 2006, Fernandez wrote that “undestroyed buildings had begun to look odd and out of place”), Fernandez decided to return ten years later to see whether and how the place and the people had been transformed.

An avid and experienced hitchhiker – “I suspected one could sometimes learn more as a wanderer than as a journalist,” she writes – Fernandez relied on the goodwill of strangers for her daily excursions from the ancient Phoenician port city of Tyr, her chosen “base of operations,” to surrounding villages and towns, often flippantly designated as “Hezbollah strongholds” in mainstream Western media accounts.

The result is a refreshingly honest and human slice of Lebanese life, death, and resilience; a mosaic of martyrs, memories, and missing persons, woven together with threads of hope and an unwavering commitment to resistance.

Through her travels, Fernandez encounters fishermen, UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) troops, grandmothers, Hezbollah fighters, Lebanese intelligence officers, all of whom have a story to tell – of Israel’s twenty-two-year occupation beginning in 1978, of the 1982 war, of the 2006 war; of fleeing, of fighting, of selling out.

Both the landscape and the people are pockmarked by politics. The bombed-out remains of the notorious Khiyam prison, operated by Israel’s proxy, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), are still standing, a testament to the region’s dark history.

A former Hezbollah fighter shows Fernandez the scar on his neck, a bodily reminder of war. And the state’s institutionalized sectarianism, a result of a confessional system instituted by the French in 1926, “boils down to a forcible division of the population along religious lines so as to perpetuate an elite stranglehold on power,” Fernandez writes.

War is mundane here, and fresh wounds are layered atop old scars. Hezbollah fighters, who took on Israel in 2006, are now fighting alongside the Assad regime in Syria, and “a fresh batch of martyr posters has joined the existing multitude of faded remnants from the occupation era and less-faded remnants from 2006.”

Wars, even those past, are never really over. The state refuses to acknowledge its dark past; the country’s civil war is not even taught in Lebanese schools, “which allows sectarian leaders to continue disseminating their own divisive and politically-motivated versions of history to respective audiences.”

In Martyrs Never Die, decades of history and political strife are couched in the everyday stories of those on the ground who have lived, and continue to live, through it.

Fernandez’s personal politics are clear: She is critical of Western media coverage of Israel’s military offenses (in particular from The New York Times), the cult of personality surrounding political leaders in the region, and the role of the UN, which on several occasions has failed to protect, and sometimes even harmed, the Southern Lebanese community.

And yet, while much travel writing tends to be self-centered, self-righteous, and self-aggrandizing, Martyrs is none of that.

As The Nation editor Liza Featherstone writes, “Martyrs seethes with moral outrage, yet is never shrill or preachy.” Fernandez allows the characters she encounters to come alive and speak for themselves, never attempting to speak for or over them.

Her voice is full of personality, but not overbearing – the writing is accessible, sincere, and, on many occasions, downright hilarious.

Her anecdotes about the impossibly hospitable families who insist on constantly feeding her and the friendly stranger who casually suggests she should sleep with him provide a welcome sense of comic relief and lightness to an otherwise quite heavy subject matter.

Throughout it all, the reader can sense Fernandez’s genuine love for the people and the place, and a commitment to do right by them and their stories.

It is refreshing and rare to read journalism that is so human and that pays tribute to, as Fernandez writes, “the durability of the human spirit under fire.”

Andrew Bossone shared a link.
Journalist Belen Fernandez hitchhiked throughout Southern Lebanon to witness how the politics, landscape, and people have changed over the past decade.
muftah.org

 

Prominent American professor proposes that Israel

“flatten Beirut” — a 1 million-person city it previously decimated

Amitai Etzioni, who teaches at renowned universities, says Israel may have no choice but to destroy Lebanon — again

A prominent American scholar who teaches international relations at George Washington University has publicly proposed that Israel “flatten Beirut” — a city with around 1 million people — in order to destroy the missiles of Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.

Professor Amitai Etzioni — who has taught at a variety of prestigious U.S. universities, including Columbia, Harvard and Berkeley, and who served as a senior advisor in President Jimmy Carter’s administration — made this proposal in an op-ed in Haaretz, the leading English-language Israeli newspaper, known as “The New York Times of Israel.” Haaretz represents the liberal wing of Israel’s increasingly far-right politics.

Etzioni’s op-ed was first published on Feb. 15 with the headline “Can Israel Obliterate Hezbollah’s Growing Missile Threat Without Massive Civilian Casualties?” (the answer he suggests in response to this question is “likely no”).

Topics: ,

The rubble of Beirut’s southern suburbs in August 2006, after Israel’s war in Lebanon, which destroyed tens of thousands of homes(Credit: Reuters/Jamal Saidi). It also look as Gaza under the ruin.

“Should Israel Flatten Beirut to Destroy Hezbollah’s Missiles?” was the next, much more blunt title, chosen sometime on or before Feb. 16.

As of Feb. 18, the headline is “Should Israel Consider Using Devastating Weapons Against Hezbollah Missiles?”

Etzioni served in the Haganah — the terrorist army that formed Israel after violently expelling three-quarters of the indigenous Palestinian population — from 1946 to 1948, and then served in the Israeli military from 1948 to 1950. He mentions his military service in both the article and his bio.

(If a Palestinian or an “Arab” was discovered to have joined any military group, would he be teaching in the USA)

In the piece, Etzioni cites an anonymous Israeli official who estimates that Hezbollah has 100,000 missiles in Lebanon. In January, the U.S. government put that figure at 80,000 rockets. The anonymous official also says the Israeli government considers these weapons to be its second greatest security threat — after Iran.

Etzioni furthermore cites Israel’s chief of staff, who claims that most of Hezbollah’s missiles are in private homes. Whether this allegation is true is questionable. Israel frequently accuses militant groups of hiding weapons in civilian areas in order to justify its attacks.

On numerous occasions, it has been proven that there were no weapons in the civilian areas Israel bombed in Gaza.

Assuming it is true, the American scholar argues, if Israeli soldiers were to try to take the missiles out of these homes one at a time, it “would very likely result in many Israeli casualties.”

In order to avoid Israeli casualties, Etzioni writes: “I asked two American military officers what other options Israel has. They both pointed to Fuel-Air Explosives (FAE). These are bombs that disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel which is ignited by a detonator, producing massive explosions.

The resulting rapidly expanding wave flattens all buildings within a considerable range.”

“Such weapons obviously would be used only after the population was given a chance to evacuate the area. Still, as we saw in Gaza, there are going to be civilian casualties,” Etzioni adds. “The time to raise this issue is long before Israel may be forced to use FAEs.” (As people in Gaza were given 5 minutes to vacate an area and succumb to the shrapnel?)

Etzioni concludes his piece implying Israel has no other option but to bomb the city of Beirut. “In this way, one hopes, that there be a greater understanding, if not outright acceptance, of the use of these powerful weapons, given that nothing else will do,” he writes. (How about desist from the preemptive wars strategies and abide by UN resolutions?)

Lebanese journalists and activists have expressed outrage at the article.

Kareem Chehayeb, a Lebanese journalist and founder and editor of the website Beirut Syndrome, said in response to the piece “Should Israel kill me, my family, and over a million other people to destroy Hezbollah’s missiles? How about that for a headline?”

Chehayeb told Salon Etzioni’s argument is “absolutely absurd” and reeks of hypocrisy. “If some writer said the only way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just to bomb Israel,” he said, “people would go up in arms about it.”

He called it “ludicrous” that a prominent American professor “can just calmly say the solution is to flatten this entire city of 1 million people.”

“I’m just speechless. It sounds ISIS-like, just eradicating an entire community of people,” Chehayeb added.

Salon called Etzioni’s office at George Washington University’s Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies several times with a request for comment, but no one answered.

After this article was published, Etzioni emailed Salon a statement. “I agree with you that any suggestion to bomb or ‘flatten’ Beirut (or any other city) would be beyond horrible and outrageous,” he said. He said Haaretz had changed and then later corrected his headline.

“Ethics aside — Beirut is not where the missiles are housed,” Etzioni added. “The issue though stands how is a nation to respond if another nation or non-state actor rains thousands of missiles on its civilian population?”

Salon also reached out to the university. Jason Shevrin, a spokesperson, told Salon “the George Washington University is committed to academic freedom and encourages efforts to foster an environment welcoming to many different viewpoints. Dr. Etzioni is a faculty member who is expressing his personal views.” The spokesperson did not comment any further.

Etzioni is by no means an unknown scholar. He notes on his George Washington University faculty page that, in 2001, he was among the 100 most-cited American intellectuals. He has also served as the president of the American Sociological Association.

Israel has already flattened Beirut before

Writer Belén Fernández, an author and contributing editor at Jacobin magazine, published a piece in TeleSur responding to Etzioini’s op-ed, titled “No, Israel Should Not Flatten Beirut.” Fernández points out “that Israel has already flattened large sections of Lebanon, in Beirut and beyond.”

She recalls visiting a young man in a south Lebanon village near the Israeli border who “described the pain in 2006 of encountering detached heads and other body parts belonging to former neighbors, blasted apart by bombs or crushed in collapsed homes.”

Note: Hezbollah General Secretary, Hassan Nasr Allah, replied: All we need is launch a couple of missiles on the Ammonium plant in Haifa. The conflagration is a powerful as an atomic bomb.

Beirut Metropolis: Orientalism with a surgical twist

For much of its contemporary history, Beirut has been characterized as the Paris of the Middle East, a cosmopolitan metropolis that misfortune has placed in the middle of a region otherwise hostile to the civilized pleasures of material excess, free-flowing alcohol and exposed female skin.

Beirut’s Parisian charm has tended to become less apparent during periods of mass sectarian slaughter.

In the introduction to his Orientalism, the late US/Palestinian author Edward Said notes repercussions of civil conflict in Lebanon on the European consciousness:

“On a visit to Beirut during the terrible civil war of 1975-1976 a French journalist wrote regretfully of the gutted downtown area that ‘it had once seemed to belong to the Orient of Chateaubriand and Nerval [18th- and 19th-century French Romantic writers] ‘. This journalist was right about the place, of course, especially so far as a European was concerned. The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences.” (See link in note 2)

Belen Fernandez published in AlJazeera on Nov. 6, 2012 “Orientalism with a surgical twist: Beirut”

The ‘New York Times’ advertised Beirut as number 1 out of 44 ideal travel destinations in 2009 [Reuters]
Can the representation of Beirut as a “Middle Eastern Paris brimming with wealth” function on behalf of imperialism?
“The civil war may indeed have upset a regional landscape constructed over time by European scholars, poets, travelers and other self-appointed authorities, who, as late Edward Said argues, helped institutionalize Eurocentric prejudice, deny agency to the actual inhabitants of the romanticized exotic lands and thus facilitate imperial and colonial conquest.

The civil war did not, however, halt Orientalist traditions – made quite clear in manuscripts like From Beirut to Jerusalem, unleashed to wide acclaim in 1989 by former New York Times Beirut bureau chief Thomas Friedman.According to Friedman’s account, civil war-era Lebanon was populated by “buxom, Cleopatra-eyed Lebanese girls“, whose presence threw invading Israeli soldiers for a loop:”This was not the Sinai, filled with cross-eyed Bedouins and shoeless Egyptian soldiers“.

That such caricatures were permitted to pass as insight, exposes the delusional nature of Friedman’s subsequent complaint that “a toxic political correctness infected the academic field of Middle Eastern studies“.

Paris revisited 

In recent years, Beirut has reclaimed its image as the Paris of the Middle East, outfitted with expanded shopping opportunities and a spiffy new downtown erected on the former dividing line between the Muslim and Christian halves of the city.

A spate of Times articles about Beirut’s various amenities offers such trivia as that “[i]n a city of many faiths – Christian, Sunni, Shiaa, Druze – at least one religion is universally practiced: sun worship“.

The New York Times has dutifully taken on the role of PR firm for the resurgent Lebanese capital, advertising it as number 1 out of 44 ideal travel destinations in 2009.

Given that the specified temples of worship are high-end beach clubs where “hordes of heliophiles absorb ultraviolet rays and cultivate their bronzed exteriors”, it would seem that said religion is not so universal after all

– either from an economic perspective or one that recognises the incompatibility of certain prominent faiths with public bronzed exterior cultivation.

On the new Zaitunay Bay waterfront promenade, a “luxury playground” where “tablecloths gleam white and bottles of wine sweat in silver coolers”, the Times observes that the boardwalk planks, “a nod to maritime authenticity, present a design flaw perhaps foreseeable in this city: Women with Louis Vuitton handbags are forever extracting their spike heels from the cracks”.

Additional sights at Zaitunay Bay, itself described as “Lebanon’s latest effort to recapture the prewar 1960s – when Brigitte Bardot was a regular and Beirut was a fashionable port of call”, include an Iraqi immigrant in “leather miniskirt, thigh-high boots and a fur vest and whose fire-engine-red lipstick and long yellow hair” would have appeared out-of-place in her native land but “were right at home in Beirut”.

In other Beirut-centric dispatches, the Times raves about gay nightlife and restaurants offering beef and duck flown in from France.

The point of taking issue with such idealised odes to money and fashion is not to deny the affluence that exists in the city or the comparatively liberal nature of its society.

However, the marketing of a Beirut brand of “joie de vivre“, so blatantly equated with material wealth becomes morally problematic when we acknowledge the glaring economic disparity in the country, visible in the capital itself.

Consider, for example, the aesthetic differences between the refurbished downtown and the overcrowded and neglected Palestinian refugee camps and primarily Shia southern suburbs.

In these areas, recent infrastructure projects have included the rampant flattening of apartment blocks by the Israeli air force in 2006.

Needless to say, less sanitary aspects of life in Lebanon – such as the enslaved status of many migrants employed in the domestic help sector – have no place in the portrait of Beirut as a paradise of wealth, where tantalising opportunities await foreign visitors and their pocket-books.

Cleopatra on Botox 

Three decades after Thomas Friedman discovered buxom Cleopatra in Lebanon, another Western voyager by the name of David J Constable has confirmed that the women still “look like Cleopatra”, and that they have acquired new methods for enhancing their appearances – becoming in the process veritable ambulatory showcases for “tucks, lifts, firming, lipo, implants, grafting, tightening, otoplasty, mammoplasty, rhinoplasty and many other physical manipulations”.

A member of the Royal Geographical Society, Constable approaches his anthropological subjects with Orientalist vigour, compiling his findings in a Huffington Post report entitled “Boobs, Botox, and the Babes of Beirut“.

Constable dispatch begins with the curious hypothesis:

“For a largely Arab country it’s a bizarre thing that in Lebanon (Beirut specifically), women care more about their appearance than men.

Males lead a rather sullied existence, priming their closely cut mini-beards and, from my own observations, eating rather a lot.

The formula in Lebanon’s capital for women is fashion-forward, from their choice of cloth to the decisions they make surgically.”

Non-experts on Arab grooming habits might of course be surprised to deduce that men usually spend hours preening in front of the mirror while women mope about in filth.

Undeterred, Constable rumbles on: “Muslim, Christian and Druze women in Beirut dress surprisingly skimpy. There are vests and silks and bikinis and cashmere and come-hither off-the-shoulder numbers.

Constable warns, however, of occasional inauspicious outcomes among operated females: “Some look as if a drunken Picasso has drawn a face on to a balloon”.

In the very least, Picasso’s inebriated doodles attest to the European role in literally shaping the Orient.

Indeed, in 2006, the Israelis were presumably just as pleased as they’d been in 1982:  They discovered that not all Arabs were cross-eyed Bedouins, and Lebanon is still inhabited by bikini-clad plastic surgery recipients (and their slovenly overeating menfolk).

Field notes 

The Orient’s existence as a spectacle for the Westerner to behold and interpret is meanwhile made especially clear during Constable’s expedition to a nightclub “to witness the dolls and their dates myself”.

A power outage interrupts the exotic display but is fortunately resolved:

“The lights slowly raise and the permafixed smiles return. The waxed, toned limbs of party women begin to pop and gyrate again.

They’re back on show, electrified so their surgical enhancements, botoxed-brows and designer names can bounce off my eyes, competing in a variety of silk-cut blouses, Louboutin heels and over-night handbags.

At another rooftop bar, Constable surmises that “there are benefits to marrying/dating/having sex with a plastic surgeon, since surely no one can afford to spend that much of their own cash on reconstructive surgery and blow-me-up operations”. Case closed.

As with the New York Times‘ fixation with Beirut glamour, the effect of essays like Constable’s is to reduce the Lebanese to a superficial existence in which personal concerns are limited to inflating one’s lips and breasts and not getting one’s designer heels stuck in boardwalk planks.

Never mind that many Lebanese are faced with more pressing preoccupations, such as a southern neighbour with a penchant for massacring civilians, upending infrastructure and saturating portions of the country with unexploded cluster bombs to serve as post-conflict population control.

Some may argue that the Times Constable approach is less detrimental than other reductionist portrayals of the country, such as Lebanon equals terrorist den.

These reductionist statements helps propagate an ethnic stereotype that has been exploited to justify more than one imperial project in the Arab/Muslim world.

However, the representation of Beirut as a Middle Eastern Paris brimming with wealth and cleavage – a place the West can relate to on account of its fervent materialism – can also function on behalf of imperialism, eliminating as it does all context legitimizing other aspects of Lebanon’s identity, like resistance to Israeli regional designs.

Note 1: Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Workreleased by Verso in 2011.

She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blogAl Akhbar English and many other publications.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Note 2: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2008/10/12/culture-and-resistance-by-edward-w-said/

Note 3: I think Miss Lebanon of 2012 is the one on the far left, the tall blonde one?

Around the World Social Event Miss Lebanon 2012 In Las Vegas Lebanon


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