Monday, July 31, 2006

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost: Robert Fisk's elegy 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 cruellest 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 façade 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

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

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

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 grey 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

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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Urgent Appeal



Relief Center – Sanayeh


The Israeli offensive against Lebanon is an act of aggression against the whole Lebanese people. The IDF claims to be attacking an "infrastructure of terror", but the attacks on bridges, roads, airports and ships are cutting the country into pieces, threatening to create a disastrous situation by impeding the transportation of food and medicines, and terrorizing everyone. Besides the hundreds killed and injured, thousands of people are fleeing the country, and thousands of people are fleeing from the areas where the bombing is heaviest into central Beirut. Even here in the "safe" parts of the city we can hear the bombs throughout the day and night, and electrical and water supplies are tenuous.

Political and civil society organizations here are organizing to help people deal with the effects of the invasion, but there is only so much we can do on our own. We are calling on our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world to do two things to help us.

First we call on you to protest at Israeli embassies and consulates, as we hear some groups are already doing. The Israeli government must be held accountable for its criminal and terroristic actions here and in Palestine. We also ask you to send us information about any such protests you carry out.

Second, we are asking you to help us with our work with displaced people here in Beirut. The group we are part of, the Relief Center - Spears, is working in 32 displacement centers in the central areas of Beirut, which were housing more than 6,000 people as of the night of July 16th (we don't know how many thousands more are in other areas). People there are sleeping 10 or 15 to a room without enough mattresses, and they are only receiving food and water irregularly from the government. Many are children or elderly.

Besides the humanitarian aspect of the situation, helping displaced people is crucial to the reconstruction of Lebanon after this crisis ends. One aspect of the Israeli offensive is an attempt to foment tensions between different cultural groups in Lebanon. This is the only way they can hope to achieve their goals without an all-out war, but in the end it would do more damage to Lebanese society than any amount of physical destruction. A broad relief effort is an essential part of avoiding such a disaster.

We urgently need money to buy the supplies we need to help the internally displaced population here. We ask everyone who can to send donations, however small, the Relief Center – Spears in the care of the following two people by bank transfer. Please contact your bank to find out how to do this.

c/o Georges Azzi:

- Bank Name: Credit Libanais SAL Beirut – Agence Sassine

- Swift Code: CLIBLBBX

- Client Name: M. Al Azzi Georges Chaker

- Account Number:

c/o Bassem Chit:

- Bank Name: Sociأ©tأ© Gأ©nأ©rale de Banque au Liban – Hamra Branch

- Swift Code: SGLILBBX

- Client Name: Bassem Chit

- Account Number: 007004362092875014 or 007004367092875014

These are difficult days for everyone in Lebanon, but we are confident that with your support we can overcome this situation as we have others before.

For more information, please contact: +961 3 647 605, +961 3 670 783,

Monday, July 17, 2006

Support the Lebanese People

Dear Friends,

you can find below the link to the blog where we (my civil society activist friends) will be updating news and info about what is happening in lebanon under the Israeli invasion, in addition to the relief work and all the calls for solidarity and help needed.

thank you all,
Relief Center

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lebanese Terrorists

Saturday, July 15, 2006

From Haaretz:

An IAF missile wrecked a van near the southern port of Tyre, killing 18 passengers and wounding six, police said. The van was carrying families fleeing the village of Marwaheen after Israeli loudspeaker warnings to leave their homes. A police spokesman said more may have been wounded as the vehicle was directly hit.

War on Terror

Do not visit if you have a feeble heart.
This is a Lebanese child cut in two. Apparently, he was a Lebanese terrorist.
I hope the Israelis and Nasrallah are happy now.
Some people live to spill other people's blood.
Some countries are made to spill other peoples' blood.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

We Lose, You Win

The radicals, on both sides of the border, win again.
Hard luck for us,
evil always wins in this game of politics,
and the ignorant are always the ones to laugh last.
Hizbullah, Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Israeli right-wingers, could not be happier, and those leftists in Israel, could not be dumber.