After The Attacks In
Lebanon And Israel?
By George E. Bisharat
21 July 2006
days ago, I walked through the familiar stone archway, descended steps
worn smooth by the feet of others, and re-entered the paradise that
is the American University of Beirut. It was my first trip back in 25
years. Here my father and four uncles were all endowed with the movable
asset of education -- enabling them to later flourish in the United
States, even after their homeland, Palestine, was given to another people.
As a junior in college in the early '70s, I returned to this seat of
enlightenment that had given so much to my family.
Now, strolling along shaded
pathways with my kids, overlooking the intense blue of the Mediterranean
Sea while breathing the pine and jasmine-scented air, I recalled my
year there before Lebanon's ruinous civil war. I pointed out the banyan
tree under which I sat gathering signatures for a petition on some passionately
contested issue of university governance. I showed them the classrooms
where we debated social theory, the wall I vaulted to get back to my
dormitory after university gates were closed for the night. I chuckled
while my 17-year-old nephew gaped at gorgeous, stylishly dressed Lebanese
female students. My daughter seemed equally impressed by Lebanese male
Beirut of 11 days ago was
a city of growing, yet still guarded, confidence. The traits of the
Lebanese people -- hospitality, entrepreneurial ambition and conviviality
-- were as much in evidence as when I first arrived more than 30 years
ago. The most acute physical and psycho-social wounds of the 15-year
civil war no longer festered, although some of the factors that had
led to it -- socio-economic disparities, a political system that entrenches
sectarian identity and power, a weak central government and subsequent
vulnerability to the meddling of external powers -- had never been fully
resolved. Yet people took obvious pride in the reconstruction of their
city and society, and were looking forward to the future.
Little did we realize, as
we departed for home through the gleaming halls of Beirut's new airport
and boarded what turned out to be one of the last flights out, that
within days, as Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz put it, the Israeli
military would "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years."
Hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, and untold ingenuity
and effort, have been blown to rubble in Israel's outburst of violence.
The airport, highways, bridges, gas stations, power stations, the port,
even the modern lighthouse on Beirut's coastal promenade -- all have
been devastated in Israel's lethal tantrum.
No one in Beirut believes
that Israel's primary objective is to free its captured soldiers. Israel
still holds Lebanese prisoners it abducted years ago, and could have
negotiated an exchange, as it has done in the past. Indeed, Israel initiated
hostage-taking in Lebanon, kidnapping noncombatant Hezbollah leaders
in 1989 and 1994. As recently as 2004, Israel and Hezbollah reached
an agreement, brokered by Germany, for the exchange of prisoners and
the remains of fallen soldiers.
No, say my Lebanese friends,
who have watched Israeli jets streak over Beirut to deliver their deadly
payload, Israeli military pride is at stake. Humiliated when Hezbollah
drove it out of Lebanon in 2000 after a brutal occupation of 18 years,
and stunned again by the recent Hezbollah and Hamas raids, the Israeli
army is exacting revenge. It further hopes that a rain of death and
destruction will turn the Lebanese people against Hezbollah, and pressure
the Lebanese government to confront the stubborn resistance organization.
Yet Israel will harvest the
future of conflict and violence it has sown, facing foes of ever-increasing
sophistication and determination. Some Lebanese may resent being dragged
into a firestorm by Hezbollah. But they know who their real tormentor
is, and who has thwarted their country's march toward peace and prosperity.
Lebanese and other Arabs
also know the American origins of the weaponry Israel uses to kill their
children and smash their homes. They will recall President Bush's statement
that Israel "has a right to defend herself," a green light
for the carnage they now face.
I hope it is not another
stretch of years of insecurity that again keeps me from Beirut. When
I return, I hope I can look my Lebanese friends in the eye, and explain
to them why my country stood by while theirs was destroyed.