Musings of a Palestinian Princess: July 2006

Musings of a Palestinian Princess

I'm just your average princess just under occupation...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Paradise Lost: Robert Fisk's eulogy for Beirut

Thank you Halla for e-mailing this to me:

Paradise Lost: Robert Fisk's eulogy for Beirut
Published: 19 July 2006


Elegant buildings lie in ruins. The heady scent of gardenias gives way to the acrid stench of bombed-out oil installations. And everywhere terrified people are scrambling to get out of a city that seems tragically doomed to chaos and destruction. As Beirut - 'the Paris of the East' - is defiled yet again, Robert Fisk, a resident for 30 years, asks: how much more punishment can it take?

In the year 551, the magnificent, wealthy city of Berytus - headquarters of the imperial East Mediterranean Roman fleet - was struck by a massive earthquake. In its aftermath, the sea withdrew several miles and the survivors - ancestors of the present-day Lebanese - walked out on the sands to loot the long-sunken merchant ships revealed in front of them.
That was when a tidal wall higher than a tsunami returned to swamp the city and kill them all. So savagely was the old Beirut damaged that the Emperor Justinian sent gold from Constantinople as compensation to every family left alive.
Some cities seem forever doomed. When the Crusaders arrived at Beirut on their way to Jerusalem in the 11th century, they slaughtered every man, woman and child in the city. In the First World War, Ottoman Beirut suffered a terrible famine; the Turkish army had commandeered all the grain and the Allied powers blockaded the coast. I still have some ancient postcards I bought here 30 years ago of stick-like children standing in an orphanage, naked and abandoned.
An American woman living in Beirut in 1916 described how she "passed women and children lying by the roadside with closed eyes and ghastly, pale faces. It was a common thing to find people searching the garbage heaps for orange peel, old bones or other refuse, and eating them greedily when found. Everywhere women could be seen seeking eatable weeds among the grass along the roads..."

How does this happen to Beirut? For 30 years, I've watched this place die and then rise from the grave and then die again, its apartment blocks pitted with so many bullets they looked like Irish lace, its people massacring each other.
I lived here through 15 years of civil war that took 150,000 lives, and two Israeli invasions and years of Israeli bombardments that cost the lives of a further 20,000 of its people. I have seen them armless, legless, headless, knifed, bombed and splashed across the walls of houses. Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.
They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite. But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis - in some of their cruelest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside - tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity? We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties - 240 in all of Lebanon by last night - with Israel's 24 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the capture of its soldiers by Hizbollah.

I walked through the deserted city centre of Beirut yesterday and it reminded more than ever of a film lot, a place of dreams too beautiful to last, a phoenix from the ashes of civil war whose plumage was so brightly coloured that it blinded its own people. This part of the city - once a Dresden of ruins - was rebuilt by Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister who was murdered scarcely a mile away on 14 February last year.
The wreckage of that bomb blast, an awful precursor to the present war in which his inheritance is being vandalised by the Israelis, still stands beside the Mediterranean, waiting for the last UN investigator to look for clues to the assassination - an investigator who has long ago abandoned this besieged city for the safety of Cyprus.
At the empty Etoile restaurant - best snails and cappuccino in Beirut, where Hariri once dined Jacques Chirac - I sat on the pavement and watched the parliamentary guard still patrolling the fa├žade of the French-built emporium that houses what is left of Lebanon's democracy. So many of these streets were built by Parisians under the French mandate and they have been exquisitely restored, their mock Arabian doorways bejewelled with marble Roman columns dug from the ancient Via Maxima a few metres away.

Hariri loved this place and, taking Chirac for a beer one day, he caught sight of me sitting at a table. "Ah Robert, come over here," he roared and then turned to Chirac like a cat that was about to eat a canary. "I want to introduce you, Jacques, to the reporter who said I couldn't rebuild Beirut!"

And now it is being un-built. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its glistening halls and shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri's wonderful transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been levelled and "rubble-ised" and pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shia Muslims to seek sanctuary in schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hizbollah, another of those "centres of world terror" which the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands. Here lived Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God's leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man; and Sayad Mohamed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics; and many of Hizbollah's top military planners - including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pin-point accuracy - a doubtful notion in any case, but that's not the issue - what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?
In a modern building in an undamaged part of Beirut, I come, quite by chance, across a well known and prominent Hizbollah figure, open-neck white shirt, dark suit, clean shoes. "We will go on if we have to for days or weeks or months or..." And he counts these awful statistics off on the fingers of his left hand. "Believe me, we have bigger surprises still to come for the Israelis - much bigger, you will see. Then we will get our prisoners and it will take just a few small concessions."

I walk outside, feeling as if I have been beaten over the head. Over the wall opposite there is purple bougainvillaea and white jasmine and a swamp of gardenias. The Lebanese love flowers, their colour and scent, and Beirut is draped in trees and bushes that smell like paradise.

As for the huddled masses from the powder of the bombed-out southern slums of Haret Hreik, I found hundreds of them yesterday, sitting under trees and lying on the parched grass beside an ancient fountain donated to the city of Beirut by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid. How empires fall.

Far away, across the Mediterranean, two American helicopters from the USS Iwo Jima could be seen, heading through the mist and smoke towards the US embassy bunker complex at Awkar to evacuate more citizens of the American Empire. There was not a word from that same empire to help the people lying in the park,
to offer them food or medical aid.

And across them all has spread a dark gray smoke that works its way through the entire city, the fires of oil terminals and burning buildings turning into a cocktail of sulphurous air that moves below our doors and through our windows. I smell it when I wake in the morning. Half the people of Beirut are coughing in this filth, breathing their own destruction as they contemplate their dead.

The anger that any human soul should feel at such suffering and loss was expressed so well by Lebanon's greatest poet, the mystic Khalil Gibran, when he wrote of the half million Lebanese who died in the 1916 famine, most of them residents of Beirut:

My people died of hunger, and he who
Did not perish from starvation was
Butchered with the sword;
They perished from hunger
In a land rich with milk and honey.
They died because the vipers and
Sons of vipers spat out poison into
The space where the Holy Cedars and
The roses and the jasmine breathe
Their fragrance.

And the sword continues to cut its way through Beirut. When part of an aircraft - perhaps the wing-tip of an F-16 hit by a missile, although the Israelis deny this - came streaking out of the sky over the eastern suburbs at the weekend, I raced to the scene to find a partly decapitated driver in his car and three Lebanese soldiers from the army's logistics unit. These are the tough, brave non-combat soldiers of Kfar Chim, who have been mending power and water lines these past six days to keep Beirut alive.
I knew one of them. "Hello Robert, be quick because I think the Israelis will bomb again but we'll show you everything we can." And they took me through the fires to show me what they could of the wreckage, standing around me to protect me.

And a few hours later, the Israelis did come back, as the men of the small logistics unit were going to bed, and they bombed the barracks and killed 10 soldiers, including those three kind men who looked after me amid the fires of Kfar Chim.

And why? Be sure - the Israelis know what they are hitting. That's why they killed nine soldiers near Tripoli when they bombed the military radio antennas. But a logistics unit? Men whose sole job was to mend electricity lines? And then it dawns on me. Beirut is to die. It is to be starved of electricity now that the power station in Jiyeh is on fire. No one is to be allowed to keep Beirut alive. So those poor men had to be liquidated.
Beirutis are tough people and are not easily moved. But at the end of last week, many of them were overcome by a photograph in their daily papers of a small girl, discarded like a broken flower in a field near Ter Harfa, her feet curled up, her hand resting on her torn blue pyjamas, her eyes - beneath long, soft hair - closed, turned away from the camera. She had been another "terrorist" target of Israel and several people, myself among them, saw a frightening similarity between this picture and the photograph of a Polish girl lying dead in a field beside her weeping sister in 1939.
I go home and flick through my files, old pictures of the Israeli invasion of 1982. There are more photographs of dead children, of broken bridges. "Israelis Threaten to Storm Beirut", says one headline. "Israelis Retaliate". "Lebanon At War". "Beirut Under Siege". "Massacre at Sabra and Chatila".
Yes, how easily we forget these earlier slaughters. Up to 1,700 Palestinians were butchered at Sabra and Chatila by Israel's proxy Christian militia allies in September of 1982 while Israeli troops - as they later testified to Israel's own court of inquiry - watched the killings. I was there. I stopped counting the corpses when I reached 100. Many of the women had been raped before being knifed or shot.
Yet when I was fleeing the bombing of Ghobeiri with my driver Abed last week, we swept right past the entrance of the camp, the very spot where I saw the first murdered Palestinians. And we did not think of them. We did not remember them. They were dead in Beirut and we were trying to stay alive in Beirut, as I have been trying to stay alive here for 30 years.

I am back on the sea coast when my mobile phone rings. It is an Israeli woman calling me from the United States, the author of a fine novel about the Palestinians. "Robert, please take care," she says. "I am so, so sorry about what is being done to the Lebanese. It is unforgivable. I pray for the Lebanese people, and the Palestinians, and the Israelis." I thank her for her thoughtfulness and the graceful, generous way she condemned this slaughter.
Then, on my balcony - a glance to check the location of the Israeli gunboat far out in the sea-smog - I find older clippings. This is from an English paper in 1840, when Beirut was a great Ottoman city. "Beyrouth" was the dateline. "Anarchy is now the order of the day, our properties and personal safety are endangered, no satisfaction can be obtained, and crimes are committed with impunity. Several Europeans have quitted their houses and suspended their affairs, in order to find protection in more peaceable countries."
On my dining-room wall, I remember, there is a hand-painted lithograph of French troops arriving in Beirut in 1842 to protect the Christian Maronites from the Druze. They are camping in the Jardin des Pins, which will later become the site of the French embassy where, only a few hours ago, I saw French men and women registering for their evacuation. And outside the window, I hear again the whisper of Israeli jets, hidden behind the smoke that now drifts 20 miles out to sea.

Fairouz, the most popular of Lebanese singers, was to have performed at this year's Baalbek festival, cancelled now like all Lebanon's festivals of music, dance, theatre and painting. One of her most popular songs is dedicated to her native city:

To Beirut - peace to Beirut with all my heart
And kisses - to the sea and clouds,
To the rock of a city that looks like an old sailor's face.

From the soul of her people she makes wine,
From their sweat, she makes bread and jasmine.
So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

VOTE NO

Please go to the CNN link below and vote NO.

Spread the word.

http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/07/26/mideast.romeconf/index.html

Remember, poll results determine how the media covers the conflict.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

My New Look on Life

Yes, you heard right. I have a new look on life, I just got LASIK treatment for my eyes and I am pleasantly pleased. I tried to stay off the computer because I didn't want to strain my eyes, you know, not because I was avoiding posting, although that could have a little bit to do with it :P

So, I have been reading all the comments that were left and ofcourse if you read the comments from when I first started the blog till now, nothing really has changed and ofcourse we have not really changed, well, except for the problem that we are having in Lebanon now. I just want to say I really hope my girl Nancy Ajram is safe :)

I would watch the news in the US, but since the reporting here is too funny for words I prefer to talk to my cousin in Beirut for the latest. In the news here, "The Middle East Crisis" flashes on the screen periodically but I still do not get ANY information that will help me think about or formulate any real opinions on the situation. From what it sounds like Hizbollah is winning... The score seems to be 3 Hizbollah men killed, 30 some Israeli's, and a whooping 350 Lebonese, BRAVO BRAVO!

The Israeli's are freeing the Middle East of this terrorist organization called Hizbollah but ofcourse the Lebonese infrastructure down and out and ordinary people like you and me paying the price.

I am glad that something is being done with Hizbollah but this is not the way to do it and I don't think that this attack has anything to do with the 2 Israeli soldiers that were taken by Hizbollah. Israel with its superior intelligence and special forces should be able to do a better job of pinpointing and killing Hizbollah members.

I mean, Hizbollah has racked havoc all over the middle east, including countries like Turkey where innocent people were found dead by the dozens slaughtered and some even buried alive. Hizbollah is not good but the reaction that Israel has shown has done nothing to stop these freaks but instead ruined one of the BEST and DEVELOPED countries in the Middle East.

And I come to my last point. Lebanon famous for its delicious food, beautiful women (and men), great Arabic music, fashion, educated public, and becoming one of the top tourist destination in the Middle East may have started to become to powerful in the sense that they were getting the West to notice them for all the things that Arab Haters didn't want. A modern arabic public.

That would be an oxymoron and everything that Arab Haters could not use to make the ignorant west realize that us Arabs ARE more like the West than many would like to believe. By Western I mean, relatable. Because as much as I love USA and Europe I really love the traditions, culture and modesty of the Middle Eastern people.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Count Down Begins

I have exactly one more month till I leave. I just want to kick and scream, "I'm NOT going back." But I kind of have no choice. I am only here on a visitors visa and I have to take my sorry ass back to Palestine next month. I can't help but feel, uhh, helpless.

I try to enjoy every single minute that I am here. Even when I have nothing to do or no where to go, I close my eyes and try to savor that feeling because I know it will end in a month. After I get back and settled in at home, my "I don't want to leave the house" syndrome will hit. Here I am shopping, going to the cinema, bowling, dancing, mini-golfing, eatting out atleast every other day. There are things to do, places to go, people to see.

In Nablus, I put my self under house arrest. I am not comfortable hanging out, people don't even "hang out" in Nablus. Having fun has become a sin. I can imagine things are even worse now. When people are dying everyday and you are living under occupation, having fun, well, thats out of the question. It would just be rude and disrespectful to smile, to eat out, to do just about anything enjoyable under such circumstances.

So, since I don't have much more time left, please excuse me, I'm gonna go take a walk around the block. Its drizzling today but living life to the fullest, well, thats been my motto and always will be. I hope I can do this in Nablus one day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Changing the World

I don't think I am going to be able to do it. I know I am not. Hate is so strong, people. When I come on this blog to read the comments left to me, some of them are so self defeating that I wonder why I even bother to write. But then I remember, the purpose of this blog is my journal of what goes on inside my head, a kind of therapy.

Its so silly. When I write about how I feel what the Israel government is doing wrong, I am attacked by every Israeli Government supporter trying to find ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to justify how they are SOOO right and how I am SOOO wrong. Fine, you are right. You win. Thats the only way to win with people like that anyway. Tell them that they are 100% right and that you don't know what the hell is going on in your own country and that every bit of retaliation you personally feel is a figment of your imagination. Go ISRAEL. My new slogan for all the people who want to make me feel like I am wrong for what I go through at the hands of the Israeli government. Ofcourse, silly me, Israel is a PERFECT goverment, now how the hell do I get out of my own home so that all the zionists can come take over everything I have known my whole life and that my ancestors knew there whole life, a country where I supposedly dont belong and that was given to the Jews... (banging head on desk).

And then its so silly. When I write about how retarded I think Palestinians are when they don't follow established rules and guidelines of proper conduct so that we can maybe get somewhere peaceful and they resort to backwards and stupid stupid moves like throwing these stupid homemade missles into Israel. Ok, I understand that Palestinians are stressed out about the situation and feel total and absolute hopelessness but we are in a different era, the information era, and we can win this by peaceful, intelligent and informative ways. I hate it when I am attacked as a ZIONIST when all I want to do is better my people so that we can live normal like people in any other country. We need to educate and bring our communities to a respectful and respectable level. We are not ANIMALS even though we so feel like we are treated like one! The only slogan that would help me stay in tact with the people that criticise this is "Long Live an ONLY Palestine."

PULEASE PEOPLE... If I am going to get comments so deranged and one sided as the ones being left lately. Leave my blog and don't come back.

I am moderate, kiss my ass if you think I am a zionist or a jew hater.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

I need a Reality Check - Pronto!

So guys... I have been having this guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach and thought I should catch up with you all and get a reality check, yes thats right, I need a reality check.

With everything going on in Gaza I am just feeling so insane. I know this is not going to end and I know its going to get worse. I think the whole situation is odd. I know it is the Israeli government just showing the rest of the world its worth in bullying. Sending massive troops to terrorize Gaza is not only an act of plain old bullying it is to show the rest of the world to not mess with Israel.

I have about one more month until I have to return home and even though I miss my family, I can not say that I miss the daily treatment and feeling of isolation. I have gotten used to the smiling faces and the daily "normalness" of life here in New York. I am getting used to being treated human, I am not sure how I am going to handle going back, AGAIN.

Reality check please.