Friday, July 20, 2007

[wvns] Lebanese Cheering Against Palestinians

Cheering to the beat of the Palestinians' misery
Sami Hermez
Electronic Lebanon

Displaced children from Nahr al-Bared camp staying at an UNRWA school
in Badawi camp. (Image courtesy of Marcy Newman)

A few days ago I woke in the morning to find the following email in my
inbox asking for my support and signature:

Our Army is our pride -- Petition

Our support goes to the Lebanese Army, our soldiers, our national

We send our condolences to the families and the martyrs
Always proud, always in our hearts, always in our prayers! God
Bless YOU and your families for the sacrifices you make each and every day

We bow in respect in front of their courage and devotion -- We are
a witness to the strength, honour, wisdom and patriotism of the
Lebanese Armed Forces as well as its glorious history and magnificent
skills and tremendous heroic sacrifices it gave our beloved Lebanon.

Support our army and our soldiers for all the sacrifices they are
making. They are the guarantee to our salvation.

In times of conflict people believe in writing petitions as a way to
protest or show their political positions nonviolently. However, this
particular petition infuriated me because it clearly reflects a lack
of moral compass pervasive in Lebanese society.

What is more disturbing is that the petition, with over 10,000
signatories thus far, echoes the general mood in the country, where we
have seen people take to the streets in support and celebration of the
army; and where people are expressing their hatred for the Palestinian
refugees by uttering such things as: "Let the army finish us from the
Palestinians once and for all." In other words, the "salvation" that
we are to be guaranteed of by our support of the army in this petition
is a salvation from the Palestinians. In our habitual, almost
instinctive resort to religious imagery, this petition claims the army
as Jesus Christ and the Palestinians as all things evil.

In Lebanon we have seen this before. In the 1970s it was the Christian
Phalange party among others who resorted to this language; today we
are hearing it across sectarian lines. Perhaps, as proof of a lack of
any moral direction, the Lebanese national narrative will once and for
all be determined through the claim of a common Palestinian enemy. And
I will remain disgusted!

Have those who signed the petition and who have celebrated the
Lebanese army in the streets not drawn any connections between the
army they are so fond of and their Zionist neighbors? In the first
three days of the recent events involving the Lebanese army and Fateh
el-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared camp, the Lebanese army committed what
would amount to war crimes in a similar fashion to that of the Israeli
army in Gaza and in Lebanon last summer, firing on a civilian
population indiscriminately. When the Israelis do this, we scream at
the injustice, but when the Lebanese army does it we applaud them.
These are double standards.

It is sad and distressing that over 30 Lebanese soldiers have been
killed as they pursue the fanatic group, Fateh al-Islam, but the blood
of those soldiers is on the hands of the Lebanese government who would
send them into combat without armor, training or proper intelligence.
Is no one blaming the government, internal security forces or the
Lebanese army itself for either their incompetence or complicity in
allowing this group, which is not Palestinian, to enter the country in
the first place? The onus is on the government which was responsible
for overseeing the borders, and, disregarding the conspiracies of
having been involved in arming this group in the first place, Fateh
el-Islam could only be what it is today because certain Lebanese
figures or groups allowed this to happen. Is anyone else finding it
hard to believe that a militia of a few hundred fighters could form in
a country the size of Lebanon, without the army or internal security's
knowledge? I wonder why it is, then, that the Palestinians alone must
pay the price while we cheer to the beats of their misery with utter

However, as many have argued, the deed is done, and the army was
attacked. At this point the army, realizing it was not trained for
ground combat, and that it could not enter the camps largely for
political reasons, decided that the only way to fight was by shelling
the entire camp. To gain popular and political support, it began using
the same language as the Israelis in the Occupied Territories and the
US army in Iraq: that of "terrorists" using "human shields" and of
civilian casualties as a regrettable necessity in the pursuit of these

I recall last summer that when Israel realized it could not
successfully enter Lebanon with ground forces to fight Hizballah it
decided to bomb the entire country. That summer, the country was the
camp. Today Lebanon enforces Israeli military policy on a smaller
scale. Rather than the annihilation of a country, what we were seeing
in the Palestinian camp of Nahr el-Bared was the collective punishment
of an entire civilian population through the indiscriminate use of
force on a hermetically sealed camp.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed what many Lebanese were
likely thinking, saying that "Lebanon is doing the right thing to try
to protect its population ... to assert its sovereignty and so we are
very supportive of the Siniora government and what it is trying to
do." The rhetoric seems all too familiar if one thinks back to last
summer and her position on Israel's targeting of the Lebanese
population. At least she is consistent. One friend tells me that it
all seems like a trap to bait the Lebanese into becoming a stronger
ally in America's "war on terror." I find it hard to disagree. Like
Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab countries before it, there will be
(or there already has been), in Lebanon, a sudden increase of
terrorist activity that will force the Lebanese government into
aligning its interests with the United States, thereby receiving
weapon shipments, which benefits the US government and arms
manufacturers, and perhaps later on, joint military training. Once
this occurs Lebanon will find its hands tied to other American
encroachments, primarily economic ones.

So now is not the time to be proud of our nation or to support our
troops. It is time to reflect and feel shame. Our government sent our
soldiers, weak and untrained, to their death and then stood by and
allowed them to commit war crimes. It sent our army into combat with
no clear goals or objectives, repeating Israel's mistakes from last

Sadly, accountability does not exist in Lebanon, and thus, there will
be no equivalent to the Winograd commission, no call for the prime
minister to resign, and no trial of the government or those
responsible for starting the current conflagration. The best way to
support the army and honor the dead Lebanese soldiers is to call for
an internal investigation. Anything short of that is clear proof of
our society's moral bankruptcy.

Sami Hermez is a doctoral student of anthropology at Princeton
University researching violence and armed resistance in Lebanon and
has been active in relief and redevelopment projects in the south of



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