|Lebanon: Fallouts from the Arab Spring
MAROUN EL RAS, Lebanon, Sept. 2011 – From the cliff top at this Lebanese border town anyone can see the lush fields of the Israeli Galilee roll like a green carpet right up to the wire fence dividing the two countries. On the Lebanese side of the fence the soil is dry, barren and the landscape is desolate.
The Arabs say the Israeli settlements, clustered in the valley below and the high plain above, have siphoned off all the available water resources leaving the Arab side bone dry. Of course the Israelis argue the Arab side was always bone dry and it was Jewish ingenuity and diligence that turned the barren High Galilee into a vegetable garden with orchards as far as the Golan Heights on the edge of the horizon. The Heights were snatched from Syria in the 1964 war.
The contrast in the look of the land is like a festering wound for Palestinians and Lebanese. It is also a constant reminder to the Jewish-Russian immigrants who the Israelis settled along the contentious border that their Arab neighbors believe the settlers have stolen the water from their wells.
The spark for fresh violence here is never far away.
Take May 15 this year, the 69th anniversary of the Naqba (the calamity) when Israel was proclaimed a nation with the result hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were turned out of their homes. On May 15 this year thousands of Palestinian refugees still living in camps in Lebanon flocked to Maroun El Ras to protest against this seven decade-old injustice. They shouted anti-Israeli slogans and demanded their homeland back.
Some youths began to throw rocks across the border fence.
As always the Israeli retaliation was swift, lethal and in tune with the call by militant settlers to shoot anyone throwing stones at them. What happened was not unlike the day Israeli commandoes in international waters boarded an international peace flotilla bringing supplies to Gaza and shot dead, execution style, eight unarmed Turks, obviously because the flotilla had set out from Turkey. The killing was a warning to all countries ‘we will kill your nationals if they try to break the naval blockade around Gaza.’
When the sporadic rifle fire from the Israeli border guards faded away at Maroun El Ras ten young Palestinians lay dead and 115 were wounded. The Lebanese army had to fire into the air and use teargas to stop the enraged crowd from storming the border fence.
The names and portraits of these new martyrs for the Palestinian cause are now plastered on the concrete walls of the dilapidated Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon (the homes of over 230,000 Palestinians) next to the portraits of previous martyrs and the ubiquitous photo of the late Yasser Arafat who is still considered the hero of the undying Palestinian aspiration: A return to the homeland. (Arafat’s successor, Abu Mazen, was always dismissed in the camps as a collaborator with Israel -- until he suddenly embarrassed Israel and its ally the United States with his request to the United Nations for a Palestinian State. This gave him a sudden halo – and may yet prompt the inmates to add his photo to the wall gallery.
If you visit a Palestinian refugee camp these days you are certain to be asked: “Do you really think the United States will veto the request for a Palestinian state?
What can one say? Only dreamers still believe the U.S. and some of its servile allies will not veto the request in the U.N. Security Council, though it is obvious their veto will have embarrassing and far-reaching consequences, not only here in Lebanon but across the Arab world.
It will debunk forever any lingering doubt about American honesty in the Middle East peace process; even stubborn skeptics will realize the U.S. political establishment is enslaved to a Jewish minority that constitutes barely two per cent of the American population but has pockets so deep they provide the campaign funds and the lobby required to win a presidency and a place in Congress or the Senate; the Arab Street buoyant on the Arab Spring will realize President Barack Obama is not different from his predecessors. In spite of his articulate rhetoric for the right to a Palestinian State the White House tenant, just like the members of the legislative chambers, will continue to whole-heartedly embrace Israeli interests and policies.
Obama’s support is based on a long list of ‘manufactured facts’ Israel promotes as the truth about its long bloody rift with the Palestinians.
“The worst of these is the pretense that Palestinians left their homeland voluntarily. Instead there were massacres, menaces and Palestinians were simply chased out. The Sabra and Shatila (refugee camp) massacres (in 1982) must be seen in that context,” said Qasem Aina, a leading Palestinian official here.
He, like others have realized long ago periodic ‘peace parleys’ to which Israel agrees are only used to placate international opinion. “They are no more then consultative dialogue not leading to any solution,” said Aina.
Perhaps the worst of these shams was the Oslo agreement, underwritten by the U.S. which was never implemented. Tel Aviv has always found a plausible though contrived excuse why it could not live side by side with a Palestinian state. The main explanation was that this new Palestine, poor and derelict as it would be, could not be trusted. The new mini-state encompassing land only 22 per cent of what was once Palestine would plan war on Israel, a nation today armed to the hilt with the world’s most modern bellicose arsenal – including the nuclear bomb.
The truth is different. The Zionists have always planned on a Greater Israel including all of the West Bank, the reason why they already have over 450,000 settlers there, the pioneers of an annexation process similar to the wagon trains that pushed West in the United States once upon a time taking away the land from native Indians and protected by the army. Eventually all these lands were incorporated into the United States of America.
“The Palestinians have three choices: They can live with us, they can emigrate or they can fight us,” is the typical Zionist formula.
Even in Lebanon, in and outside refugee camps, Palestinian do not enjoy basic human rights, not even U.N. rights allotted to refugees. Successive Lebanese governments have imposed the right of reciprocity on the Palestinians. This means no right to work, to health care, free movement or political participation because ‘their’ country must offer these same rights to any Lebanese living there. But since there is no Palestine State such reciprocal rights cannot be offered.
(Lebanon fears offering basic rights to Palestinian refugees would unsettle the country’s delicate religious balance with the Lebanese population divided between Moslems and Maronite Christians. With Palestinians comprising ten per cent of the population the balance would tilt towards the Moslems)
Surprisingly a new Lebanese coalition government in which the pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian Hitzbollah play a leading role has begun to tackle these fostering injustices against the Palestinians, a people, no doubt, the Hitzbollah see as their natural ally in the struggle against Israeli expansion.
Labeled ‘a terrorist organization’ by the U.S. government the Hitzbollah have embarked on a campaign not only to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of Palestinians but any visitor to Lebanon who may have influence back in his homeland. Educated, polite, erudite, Hitzbollah officials are easily approachable these days. The movement laid on checkpoints, crowd control, drinking water and first aid for the May 15 protests and seems to have taken the marginalized Palestinian refugees under its wings.
A fierce fighting force the Hitzbollah have built a huge war museum near this town where they exhibit the wrecks of the 21 Israeli tanks they destroyed during the 2006 war in which they claim victory over Israeli forces that had been occupying southern Lebanon.
Next to the Museum are the underground bunkers and tunnels used in the 2006 war against the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). These underground command stations are equipped with look-alike wax models, arms, kitchen and dormitories just as they were in the days of the conflict.
And just as the Ho-Chi-Minh Trail today attracts scores of visitors those tourists meandering through the underground Hitzbollah military complex take home the impression of an efficient and dedicated fighting force, disciplined freedom fighters and a far cry from the evil image of a bunch of terrorists perpetuated by the U.S. and its allies.
That too is a victory.
Uli Schmetzer is a former foreign correspondent for Reuters and the Chicago Tribune who periodically covered the Middle East. He is the author of ‘Times of Terror’ ‘Gaza’ and
‘The Chinese Juggernaut’ all available in print and e-book version on www.amazon.com