Tuesday, July 18, 2006

'Israel is a united and determined place on this, the seventh day of hostilities'

Received earlier today from Dan Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel (2001-2005) and the first holder of the S. Daniel Abraham Chair in Middle East policy studies at the Wilson School (see related story). He writes from Tel Aviv.

Israel is a united and determined place on this, the seventh day of hostilities in the north and the third week of hoy after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. In this respect, the current military campaign restilities in the south. Prime Minister Olmert addressed Parliament, the Knesset, yesterday and captured the national mood, i.e., Israel won't tolerate further kidnappings of its soldiers or threats against its citizens within the boundaries of the state.

I have had a chance to talk to senior military and political leaders. They believe Israel should have responded years ago to Hizballah terror, especially after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. In this respect, the current military campaign represents the pent-up feelings of a people who feel wronged by the world's tolerance of terrorism against Israel.

There are more than 120,000 Americans living in Israel plus many tourists and students. Like most of them, I haven't felt the tension or experienced the threatening atmosphere. Life in the the center of the country appears unaffected by this war. Incredibly, in the past two days, the Israeli stock exchange has risen and the shekel has strengthened against the dollar!

So, the Middle East has erupted again, unfortunately familiar to me, having served as Ambassador during most of the Intifada. The inevitable ceasefires and prisoner swaps will follow, but the underlying problems will remain.

Shalom\salaam from Israel. Dan Kurtzer

Related: Read the 'Prince' story on Professor Kurtzer's Feb. 16 lecture outlining goals for U.S. policy in the Mideast.

'We're basically coming and going as normal'

Omar Muakkassa '06 writes from Lebanon.

Hello everyone from beautiful Beirut!
So, I have a very different perspective on this conflict than does Jay. We come to Lebanon about every summer to visit family. I was born here and both my parents were here during the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990. We left in 1985 when things got really really bad.
Anyway, when Hezbollah captured those two soldiers, I predicted that things would get bad really fast, but nobody believed me. The next morning we heard that the airport had been bombed and that there was a naval blockade preventing us from going to Cyprus, as my parents did during the previous war when the airport had been closed.
My cousins left a couple days ago to Syria, but most of the roads to Syria had been bombed so they had to take a huge detour in order to get there. But, American citizens were urged not to go to Syria, so we had the really difficult decision of whether or not to go with them, ultimately we decided it would be best to wait for the U.S. evacuation.
But, during this whole time, I had the best "only in Lebanon" moment. Before my cousins left for Syria, we stayed in a hotel north of Beirut to make their trip easier. This hotel was an all out 5 star resort. Amazing pool and spa, very comfortable rooms, electricity generator, etc etc. The whole thing was operating as if nothing was happening. Pretty fancy for a refugee camp if you ask me.
Another really funny thing that happened was directly after the Hezbollah rocket hit the Israeli ship, I was at my cousin's house in a tall apartment building from which I had a full view of Beirut. When news broke that a ship had been hit, we saw fireworks erupting from the Hezbollah-dominated neighborhoods. At the same time, they were still firing anti-aircraft weapons at the planes. It was as if they were holding fireworks in one hand and anti aircraft weapons in the other. My cousin and I just started laughing. People here are handling things well. Those who don't want to leave are just waiting it out. They drink a lot.
After my cousins left, my parents insisted that we go back to Beirut. About our place in Beirut, it's about 2 miles from the southern suburbs of Beirut, which are heavily Hezbollah dominated. So when a missle hits that neighborhood, we hear a very very loud thunder-like noise, our building shakes, and our windows rattle. That happens about a dozen times a night. When my brother and sister and I expressed some interest in not being so close to the bombardment, my parents brushed us off. They were here when strikes were not targeted and there was a chance that their building could be the next one hit. Their advice was "just go back to sleep if the missile wakes you up." Psh. But luckily, our neighborhood isn't targeted at all, so things should be fine, if we can avoid going insane from the sound of the missiles.
So ... I write to you from an internet cafe in Beirut. We have no electricity in our apartment, so we are trying to be out of the house as much as possible. I echo Jay's sentiment about the boredom. Luckily I'm not in lock-down like he is. We're basically coming and going as normal. Beirut is definitely starting to clear out though, so there isn't a whole lot to do other than sitting here in the internet cafe reading news about our current situation.
As it stands, we are hoping for an evacuation tomorrow. We hear that the State Department has ships in Beirut, so we're hoping to get on one tomorrow or the day after.
Okay, it's 11:40 we are supposed to get home before the nightly bombing starts again. So I will try and update you on our situation if we aren't out tomrorow. And Jay, my number's [...] Call me if you need anything.


Update from Betty Saxon, Jay Saxon '05's mother:
"As of 10:30 am CDT Jay was on a freighter leaving Lebanon heading to Cyprus. More as we hear from him. Thanks to all for your thoughts and prayers."

-- Chan Sethi '07, Editor-in-chief

Palestine to Lebanon: So close, yet so far away

The following was written by Sami Hermez, a PhD student in the anthropology department, on July 14. Hermez, a Lebanese-American, is located between Ramallah and East Jerusalem. The piece was first published by the Electronic Intifada, which provides commentary from a Palestinian perspective, and is reprinted with permission.

Anxious, frustrated and not knowing when I can return to Lebanon, my only recourse is to listen to the news as I sit in occupied Palestine. It is difficult to watch Lebanon go up in flames from here. Today I was at the beach in Jaffa watching helicopters fly up and down the coast. The contrast of worlds so close yet so far apart is sickening. The Israelis in Tel Aviv-Jaffa go on about their lives as if nothing is going on, as if they have no responsibility for what is happening in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon. As citizens of an occupying nation they seem to care little about their role and I see people surfing, strolling, and dancing on the beach. Perhaps one wonders what they can do, but seeing that they all have a close relative, a son, a daughter, a brother, in the army, I find something strangely disturbing that business can go on as usual.

Returning to Ramallah tonight, as if a prisoner returning to his cell after a day out in the fresh air, I am welcomed by people celebrating in the Manara (downtown square) the success of Hizballah's attack on an Israeli warship and raising the Israeli death toll. I feel as though people have nothing better to do and want any excuse to celebrate and feel the shadow of hope. But under the light of the full moon we know there will be no shadow casted and these celebrations by people numbering no more than 50 are borderline offensive. The Palestinians should be mourning the deaths of over 70 Lebanese who have fallen not for any Lebanese cause, but for an Arab Palestinian cause. A cause which every other Arab country and its leaders, considering their lack of support, cowardice to act and empty rhetoric, should be embarrassed to claim as their own.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, the survivors persevering (al-Samedun) are angry at Hizballah and their claim that they are defending Lebanon. "Lebanon was doing just fine before Hizballah decided to act," came my mother's scream when I finally was able to get through to her on her cellphone. She and my sister are doing fine but they are alone in Lebanon (my father is in Kuwait and my brother in the US). They are in the Northern part of the country, in Jounieh, and she tells me she hasn't heard the bombing from there. The northern parts are not experiencing any action yet so they have been able to sleep and haven't heard the bombing. I cannot say the same for family in Mansourieh and Beirut; in Beirut they have had to leave their homes for the mountains and my grandmother made it to our place at the beach in the north. Seems Mount Lebanon continues to offer some sort of safe haven even in 2006. People in Lebanon are making jokes as laughter is probably the oldest form of resistance. I speak to my mom on the phone and we laugh; I know our eyes would betray us. But I also know we, not as Lebanese, but as humans, have a fascinating way of dealing with the bitterness of war, and the Lebanese have always been known to take things lightly. Allah bi yefrejha (God will work things out)! I suppose that is the mentality, for believers and non-believers alike. I see the same resliliance and more as people speak to me about years of occupation in the Palestinian cities of Hebron, Jenin, Tulkarem and villages in between.

As I play back what I have seen and heard today in Ramallah, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and Lebanon, and as I see the Israelis unaffected and showing no mercy for the immorality of their state's action, I can't help think about what all this means. Is it Lebanon's fate to be the sacrifical lamb of the Middle East as the rest of the Arab leaders remain traitorous masters of rhetoric? In all honesty, Syria, Iran, Jordan and Egypt should open their fronts. But they won't because they aren't worth the dignity they claim as Arab. If anything good comes out of this it is that no one should ever question the Arab identity of Lebanon.

Somewhere not too deep inside I share in the joy and in the fact that they severely destroyed an Israeli ship. Of course, the elation is short lived because this will only cause unimaginable destruction to Lebanon and exponentially increase the Lebanese death toll, not to mention the deaths in Gaza which now go unnoticed as Lebanon takes the headlines. But how can I not be elated after seeing the prison of this two-state solution?

My response to my mother screaming "How is Hizballah defending Lebanon? Is this the way to defend Lebanon?" was that they are not defending Lebanon, "they are defending Palestine." Indeed, if they are, the sentiment from Lebanese I have spoken to is that this is no way to go about it because what is Lebanon to carry the burden of Palestine on its shoulders alone? Who is Hizballah to do so? Let the other Arab countries do something. Let the Arab people, if not their governments, do something. Instead, they only talk. Al-Jazeera reports the opinion on the Arab street quoting people in Saudi Arabia and Sudan as saying we should fight the Israeli enemy. Stop talking and come and fight then!

From occupied Palestine, torn with thoughts about going back to Lebanon to be a voice from within, I comfort myself with the fact that I am doing research here for a good cause (the things we do to delude ourselves!). But for you in Europe, America, and the treasonous Arab countries, you need to stop talking and start taking action against Israel. If you want to do something and don't know what it should be then besides putting pressure on your governments, the best thing you can do right now is to start a campaign to boycott Israel (its products, academia, investments and businesses working with or supporting Israel) in a manner that is targeted, sustained and visible in the media.