“A Primer in Lebanese Politics,” by Uri Avnery

'Kill Them! Kill Everyone!
All of Them!'
A primer on Lebanese politics

by Uri Avnery
Nov. 28, 2006

During the first Lebanon war, I visited Jounieh, a town some 20 km north of Beirut. At the time, it served as a port for the Christian forces. It was an exciting evening.

In spite of the war raging in nearby Beirut, Jounieh was full of life. The Christian elite spent the day in the sun-drenched marina, the women lounging in bikinis, the men slugging whisky. The three of us (myself and two young women from my editorial staff – a correspondent and a photographer) were the only Israelis in town, and so we were feted. Everybody invited us onto their yachts, and one rich couple insisted that we come to their home as guests of a family celebration.

It was indeed something special. The dozens of family members belonged to the cream of the elite – rich merchants, a well-known painter, several university professors. The drinks flowed like water, the conversation flowed in several languages.

Around midnight, everybody was slightly drunk. The men got me into a "political" conversation. They knew that I was an Israeli, but had no idea about my views.

"Why don't you go into West Beirut?" one portly gentleman asked me. West Beirut was held by Arafat's PLO forces, who were defending hundreds of thousands of Sunni inhabitants.

"Why? What for?" I queried.

"What do you mean? To kill them! To kill everybody!"

"Everybody? Women and children, too?"

"Of course! All of them!"

For a moment, I thought that he was joking. But the faces of the men around him told me that he was deadly serious and that everybody agreed with him.

At that moment I grasped that this beautiful country, rich in history, blessed with all the pleasure of life, is sick. Very, very sick.

The next day I indeed went into West Beirut, but for another purpose altogether. I crossed the lines to meet with Yasser Arafat.

(By the way, at the end of the party in Jounieh my hosts gave me a parting present: a big packet of hashish. On the morrow, on my way back to Israel, after Arafat had made our meeting public, I heard over the radio that four ministers were demanding that I should be put on trial for treason. I remembered the hashish and it went sailing out of the car window.)

I am reminded of that conversation in Jounieh every time something happens in Lebanon. This week, for example.

Much nonsense is being spoken and written about that country, as if it were a country like any other. George W. Bush talks about "Lebanese democracy" as if there were such a thing, others speak about the "parliamentary majority" and "minority factions"' about the need for "national unity" to uphold "national independence," as if they were talking about the Netherlands or Finland. All these have no connection with Lebanese reality.

Geographically, Lebanon is a torn country, and there lies a part of the secret of its beauty. Snow-covered mountain chains, green valleys, picturesque villages, beautiful seashore. But Lebanon is also torn socially. The two schisms are interconnected: in the course of history, persecuted minorities from all over the region sought refuge between its mountains, where they could defend themselves.

The result: a large number of big and small communities, ready to spring to arms at any moment. At best, Lebanon is a loose federation of mutually suspicious communities, at worst a battlefield of feuding groups who hate each other's guts. The annals of Lebanon are full of civil wars and horrible massacres. Many times, this or that community called in foreign enemies to assist it against its neighbors.

Between the communities, there are no permanent alliances. One day, communities A and B get together to fight community C. The next day, B and C fight against A. Moreover, there are sub-communities, which more than once have been known to make an alliance with an opposing community against their own.

Altogether, a fascinating mosaic, but also a very dangerous one – the more so since every community keeps a private army, equipped with the best of weapons. The official Lebanese army, composed of men from all communities, is unable to carry out any meaningful mission.

What is a Lebanese "community"? On the face of it, it's all about religion. But not only religion. The community is also an ethnic tribe, with some national attributes. A Jew will easily understand this, since the Jews are also such a community, even if spread around the world. But for an ordinary European or American, it is difficult to understand this structure. It is easier to think about a "Lebanese nation" – a nation that exists only in the imagination or as a vision of the future.

The loyalty to the community comes before any other loyalty – and certainly before any loyalty to Lebanon. When the rights of a community or sub-community are menaced, its members rise up as one in order to destroy those who are threatening them.

The main communities are the Christian, the Sunni Muslim, the Shi'ite Muslim, and the Druze (who, as far as religion goes, are a kind of extreme Shi'ites.) The Christians are divided into several sub-communities, the most important of which are the Maronites (named after a saint who lived some 1,600 years ago.) The Sunnis were brought to Lebanon by the (Sunni) Ottoman rulers to strengthen their hold, and were mainly settled in the large port cities. The Druze came to find refuge in the mountains. The Shi'ites, whose importance has risen over the last few decades, were for many centuries a poor and downtrodden community, a doormat for all the others.

As in almost all Arab societies, the hamula (extended family) plays a vital role in all communities. Loyalty to the hamula precedes even loyalty to the community, according to the ancient Arab saying: "With my cousin against the foreigner, with my brother against my cousin." Almost all Lebanese leaders are chiefs of the great families.

To give some idea of the Lebanese tangle, a few recent examples: in the civil war that broke out in 1975, Pierre Gemayel, the chief of a Maronite family, called upon the Syrians to invade Lebanon in order to help him against his Sunni neighbors, who were about to attack his territory. His grandson by the same name, who was murdered this week, was a member of a coalition whose aim is to liquidate Syrian influence in Lebanon. The Sunnis, who were fighting against the Syrians and the Christians, are now the allies of the Christians against the Syrians.

The Gemayel family was the main ally of Ariel Sharon, when he invaded Lebanon in 1982. The common aim was to drive out the (mainly Sunni) Palestinians. For that purpose, Gemayel's men carried out the horrendous massacre of Sabra and Shatila, after the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the uncle of the man who was murdered this week. The massacre was overseen by Elie Hobeika from the roof of the headquarters of Israeli Gen. Amos Yaron. Afterwards, Hobeika became a minister under Syrian auspices. Another person responsible for the slaughter was Samir Geagea, the only one who was put on trial in a Lebanese court. He was condemned to several life prison terms and later pardoned. This week he was one of the main speakers at the funeral of Pierre Gemayel the grandson.

In 1982, the Shi'ites welcomed the invading Israeli army with flowers, rice, and candy. A few months later they started a guerilla war against them, which lasted for 18 years, in the course of which Hezbollah became a major force in Lebanon.

One of the leading Maronites in the fight against the Syrians was Gen. Michel Aoun, who was elected president by the Maronites and later driven out. Now he is an ally of Hezbollah, the main supporter of Syria.

All this resembles Italy at the time of the Renaissance or Germany during the 30-Years War. But in Lebanon this is the present and the foreseeable future.

In such a reality, using the term "democracy" is, of course, a joke. By agreement, the government of the country is divided between the communities. The president is always a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni, the speaker of the parliament a Shi'ite. The same applies to all positions in the country, at all levels: a member of a community cannot aspire to a position suited to his talents if it "belongs" to another community. Almost all citizens vote according to family affiliation. A Druze voter, for example, has no chance of overthrowing Walid Jumblatt, whose family has ruled the Druze community for 500 years at least (and whose father was murdered by the Syrians.) He doles out all the jobs "belonging" to his community.

The Lebanese parliament is a senate of community chiefs, who divide the spoils between them. The "democratic coalition" which was put in power by the Americans after the murder of the Sunni Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is a temporary alliance of the Maronite, Sunni, and Druze chiefs. The "opposition," which enjoys Syrian patronage, is composed of the Shi'ites and one Maronite faction. The wheel can turn at a moment's notice, when other alliances are formed.

Hezbollah, which appears to Israelis as an extension of Iran and Syria, is first of all a Shi'ite movement that strives to obtain for its community a larger part of the Lebanese pie, as indeed is its due in accordance with its size. Hassan Nasrallah – who is also the scion of an important family – has his eyes on the government in Beirut, not on the mosques in Jerusalem.

What does all this say about the present situation?

For decades now, Israel has been stirring the Lebanese pot. In the past, it supported the Gemayel family but was bitterly disappointed: the family's "Phalanges" (the name was taken from Fascist Spain, which was greatly admired by grandfather Pierre) were revealed in the 1982 war as a gang of thugs without military value. But the Israeli involvement in Lebanon continues to this day. The aim is to eliminate Hezbollah, remove the Syrians, and threaten nearby Damascus. All these tasks are hopeless.

Some history: in the '30s, when the Maronites were the leading force in Lebanon, the Maronite Patriarch expressed open sympathy for the Zionist enterprise. At that time, many young people from Tel Aviv and Haifa studied at the American University of Beirut, and rich Jewish people from Palestine spent their holidays at Lebanese resorts. Once, before the founding of Israel, I crossed the Lebanese border by mistake and a Lebanese gendarme politely showed me the way back.

During the first years of Israel, the Lebanese border was our only peaceful one. Those days there was a saying: "Lebanon will be the second Arab country to make peace with Israel. It will not dare to be the first." Only in 1970, when King Hussein drove the PLO from Jordan into Lebanon, with the active help of Israel, did this border heat up. Now even Fouad Siniora, the prime minister appointed by the Americans, feels compelled to declare that "Lebanon will be the last Arab state to make peace with Israel!"

All efforts to remove Syrian influence from Lebanon are bound to fail. In order to understand this, it is enough to look at the map. Historically, Lebanon is a part of the land of Syria ("Sham" in Arabic). The Syrians have never resigned themselves to the fact that the French colonial regime tore Lebanon from their land.

The conclusions: First, let's not get stuck in the Lebanese mess again. As experience has shown, we shall always come out the losers. Second, in order to have peace on our northern border, all the potential enemies, and first of all Syria, must be involved.

Meaning: we must give back the Golan Heights.

The Bush administration forbids our government to talk with the Syrians. They want to talk with them themselves, when the time comes. Quite possibly, they will then sell them the Golan in return for Syrian help in Iraq. If so, should we not hurry and "sell" them the Golan (which belongs to them anyhow) for a better price for ourselves?

Lately, voices have been heard, even of senior army people, that hint at this possibility. It should be said loudly and clearly: Because of a few thousands of settlers and the politicians who do not dare to confront them, we are liable to be dragged into more superfluous wars and to endanger the population of Israel.

This is the third conclusion: There is only one way to win a war in Lebanon – and that is to avoid it.

Comments (19)


1. Akbar Palace said:

Once again Professor Landis quotes a do-nothing Israel Lib who thinks he can make peace with Hamas (what a joke).

And you thought peace with Arafat was easy!

Get real!

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December 1st, 2006, 5:03 pm

 

2. Atassi said:

Is Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah a fugitive by the Lebanese law now since his group did not get the required permission to demonstrate !! can someone with knowledge of the Lebanese law comment. Please
I know this seems to be silly and not a big deal now. but if Nasrallah plan fails, It will become a tool prosecutes him

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December 1st, 2006, 5:13 pm

 

3. annie said:

It is because of people like Uri that I can never become an antisemite.

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December 1st, 2006, 5:26 pm

 

4. Akbar Palace said:

“It is because of people like Uri that I can never become an antisemite.”

Annie –

That’s interesting. How does the internationally famous prodigy Uri Avnery prevent you from being an anti-semite? Did he give you one of his “I’m not an Anti-semite” identification cards?

Anyway, just changing the subject slightly, I’m just curious what those “pro-Lebanese” demonstrators think about the assassinations of Hariri and Gemayel? Do you think they want an investigation?

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December 1st, 2006, 5:45 pm

 

5. John Kilian said:

How do Syria’s and the Saudi’s historical affiliations come into play in Lebanon and Iraq? How do they line-up in an international showdown between sunnis and shiites?

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December 1st, 2006, 8:15 pm

 

6. ross said:

I’m just curious what those “pro-Lebanese” demonstrators think about the assassinations of Hariri and Gemayel?

Killing of Gemayel or Hariri is uncomparable to the Israeli inflicted damage that killed hundreds of children mistakingly.

Those are whom these demonstrators are thinking about… and maybe you should too…

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December 1st, 2006, 8:55 pm

 

7. George Ajjan said:

I really need to start counting how many articles about the Middle East mention “bikini” in the same sentence as “Christian”.

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December 1st, 2006, 9:38 pm

 

8. Atassi said:

Blood, tears and still no victory – America and the Middle East – Iraq and America
1012 words
2 December 2006
The Economist
ECN
381
English
(c) The Economist Newspaper Limited, London 2006. All rights reserved

After meeting “the right guy” for Iraq, George Bush mocks the idea of a graceful exit

GEORGE BUSH returned to the Middle East this week a diminished figure. At home he has been thumped by the voters. In Iraq his dreams of an example-setting democracy have trickled away in blood. For all the brave words he exchanged with Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, in Amman at mid-week, it is widely assumed that his real aim now is simply to arrange a way for America to leave Iraq as soon as it decently can. Only then would the Republicans have a chance of retaining the White House in 2008. And only after it has left Iraq will America be able to restore its tattered influence in the wider Middle East.

Such, at any rate, is the conventional wisdom. But is it correct? And did anyone tell Mr Bush? The president certainly faces a daunting array of problems in the region. In this special section we look at four of them: actual civil war in Iraq, potential civil war in Lebanon, the stalemate in Palestine and the hostility of an Iran that seems intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. And yet despite all that has gone wrong in Iraq, America remains by far the strongest external power in the Middle East—and for the next two years Mr Bush will remain its president.

On his way to Amman, Mr Bush did not talk as if he felt like a weakling. He insisted at a NATO summit in Riga that American troops would not leave the battlefield until the mission in Iraq was complete. And after meeting Mr Maliki in Amman, he promised again that the troops would stay just as long as Iraq’s government wanted them to. Liberty had to prevail in the Middle East, the president declaimed, “and that’s why this business about graceful exit simply has no realism to it at all.”

Realism is in the eye of the beholder. The fact that Mr Bush met Mr Maliki in Jordan’s capital rather than in Baghdad highlights how anarchic Iraq has become. Most of Iraq’s politicians claim to want the same thing America wants: a united, non-sectarian state and an end to the violence that has killed tens of thousands in the past year alone. But with a diffuse network of Sunni guerrillas pitted against equally disorganised Shia militias, nobody has the authority to deliver. The governments that are party to the conflict, in Iraq and beyond, are several steps removed from the actual killing: all they can do is to cajole others to cajole the armed groups.

Mr Maliki succeeded in pressing Mr Bush to allow more Iraqi soldiers to come under his direct control. At present most of them answer to the American chain of command. But this will not have a huge impact on the ground. Building up the Iraqi army, which suffers badly from ill-discipline and sectarian tensions but still appears to respond, more or less, to the prime minister’s orders, is taking time. “It’s not easy for a military to evolve from ground zero,” Mr Bush conceded.

Another basic problem is the domestic political weakness of Mr Maliki. After their meeting, Mr Bush said that the Shia prime minister was “the right guy” for Iraq and that it was in America’s interest to help him. Privately, however, the Americans are increasingly unhappy about supporting a government that does not appear to be making enough effort to restrain Shia militias and reach out to the Sunnis

Behind the scenes, Mr Bush probably tried to encourage Mr Maliki to detach himself from Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric whose followers are believed to be responsible for a large share of the sectarian killing. Mr Maliki, however, needs Mr Sadr, who is one of the few leaders to have any influence over the Shia sectarian gangs, most of which claim association with his Mahdi Army but in practice operate autonomously. The young firebrand does appear to be doing a bit to restrain his more out-of-control followers.

Before the summit, the New York Times published a leaked memo written by Stephen Hadley, Mr Bush’s national security adviser, saying of Mr Maliki that he “wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so”. The memo emphasised Mr Maliki’s need to put some distance between himself and Mr Sadr. Mr Sadr is meanwhile putting pressure on Mr Maliki to distance himself from the Americans. After a triple car-bombing in the Mahdi Army’s east Baghdad support base of Sadr City killed more than 200 people last week, Sadrist officials said that the Americans were primarily to blame for failing to provide security. They threatened to pull out of the government if Mr Maliki went through with his meeting with Mr Bush, though in the event, the Sadrists merely “suspended participation”, a good step short of a full walk-out.

In Washington, debate is transfixed on the report expected next week from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan committee promising sagacious advice on how America can best extract itself from the quagmire (article). One much-leaked idea is said to be for American talks with Iran and Syria about how they could help calm Iraq, perhaps in the context of a regional peace conference that would touch on Palestine too. But Iran and Syria do not feel they need America’s invitation to become involved. Syria established formal ties with Baghdad last week after a break of 25 years. This week, Iraq’s president visited Tehran (see next story) while Mr Maliki was packing for Amman. Iraq’s neighbours have their own interest in limiting the chaos. That does not make them eager to help America. And nor did Mr Bush say anything in Amman to suggest that he is in the market for that “graceful exit

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December 1st, 2006, 9:59 pm

 

9. Enlightened said:

“The Druze are extreme shiites,” “The Sunnis were brought in by the Ottoman rulers ” ( both factually wrong ) The Maronites came to lebanon 1600 years ago , the only factual point about the communities.

The only point I agree with Uri, is that Lebanon has a sickness and a malaise that is only skin deep, scratch the surface and you have all the intolerant views evident.

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December 1st, 2006, 10:13 pm

 

10. why-discuss said:

The Druze are not extreme Shiites, They belong to a heretical off shoot, a secret religion, and no muslim at all: They dont fast for Ramadan, they don’t go to Hajj and they don’t pray in mosque. It is an ineptia to say they are moslems, even though they have always tried to appear as such..

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December 1st, 2006, 10:55 pm

 

11. wha2eva said:

Yes, what about this “malaise” then…

French presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, is in Lebanon at the moment, doing what she does best: being elegant.

Below, what she ‘thinks’ of it all. But I wonder what Nicolas Sarkozy would say if he were there: call out for high-pressure hoses, offer to give the place a thorough sectarian spring clean ? ;o)

So then, in Ségo’s words: “Le Liban en a assez de souffrir. C’est la raison pour laquelle la France doit être à ses côtés, pour l’aider à mettre fin à toute forme d’ingérence, pour qu’il retrouve son indépendance et sa liberté, pour redonner de l’espoir à son peuple et permettre à la vie économique de se développer.” (in today’s l’O-le-J)

Dull ‘motherly’ words v. tough ‘daddy’ compassion. Either way, dear lebnaniyeh, France will always be there with you, for you, assuredly smothering you with her luurve.

Of course, it’s obvious, but why the constant emphasis on only U.S., israeli, iranian and syrian “interference” here ?

Ufff…

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December 1st, 2006, 10:59 pm

 

12. Laurie Irani said:

Maybe Uri kept a bit of that hashish and smoked it while writing this piece, and that’s why he thinks Druze are “extreme Shia”

To define Lebanon is to underestimate it. It is indeed sick. Very sick. But it’s also a place where you can find a half-Armenian, half-Irish pub owner in business with a devout Shia living with his Palestinian wife in a Maronite neighborhood. When Lebanon is good, it is very good; when it is bad, allah yastur! it’s horrible.
And from the looks of things, some very bad times are coming up.

One thing all Lebanese communities have in common: blaming outsiders for all the problems. al-harb al-aakhireen. As if! There is a morbid fascination, though, in watching a whole new generation preparing to destroy themselves. Again. As a Lebanese citizen, I’m disgusted with everyone: Lebanese, Syrians, Israelis, Iranians, and Americans. Ultimately, though, only the Lebanese can make the country a paradise or a hell. I’m not too hopeful they’ll choose the former.

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December 2nd, 2006, 6:12 am

 

13. Akbar Palace said:

Lauri Irani –

Thank you for your thoughts. Unfortunately, I think you’re right. Especially about “blaming outsiders”.

And if and when the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah terrorists return, they’ll offer the Lebanese a beautiful new theocracy and a foreign policy of continued conflict with the Zionist neighbor to the South. They’ll rearm, they’ll re-instigate, and restart another round of war similar to what we witnessed a half-year ago.

And if that’s what the Lebanese want, that’s what they’ll get.

I guess “martyrdom” is preferrable to economic and political freedom for many in the Middle East.

Ross stated:

“Killing of Gemayel or Hariri is uncomparable to the Israeli inflicted damage that killed hundreds of children mistakingly.

Those are whom these demonstrators are thinking about… and maybe you should too…”

What about the killing of Lebanese by the PLO and the Syrians? I mean, how many Lebanese died in the Civil War from non-Israelis? DOES THAT COME CLOSER? What about the killing of Syrians by the Assads?

Explain to me how the jihadists and Nasrallahs of the world succeed in convincing Arabs and Muslims of the “heinous acts” of Israeli self-defence, and then just simple forget about the acts of their own people.

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December 2nd, 2006, 7:08 pm

 

14. Laurie Irani said:

And the irony is: fighting the enemy to the south is so retro. Zionism is going the way of manual typewriters. Any country that has to stoop as low as Israel does to “defend” itself, any country that has gone the route of Apartheid South Africa, isn’t going to last long. All that keeps Israel there now is unquestioning US support and backing, but that is not necessarily guaranteed forever, either. I did my field research in Israel, and have lots of Israeli friends and colleauges who are trying to get out and move to Canada, the US or Europe. The only viable future for Israelis is, ultimately, a one state solution. Anyone who’s honest and realistic comes to realize that after a careful study of the past, present, and likely future of the situation. As for Hizbullah, a lot that they say and do I agree with to a great degree. And technically, since they attack military, not civilians (in large part), they are not terrorists. That being said, though, seeing Nasrallah on TV last summer with the Hizb flag prominently placed behind him, and the Lebanese flag off to the side as an afterthought, did not appeal to me. Hizbullah would not be in a position to have this sort of dominance on the Lebanese scene if the Bush admin had not broken international law on a daily basis and rendered diplomacy obsolete, ignored the bleeding wound that is Palestine, set up a Sunni-Shia confrontation that may well devastate much more than Baghdad, Najaf and Baqouba, and overall led to a feeling I heard expressed by friends and family across the confessional spectrum last summer: “We don’t believe in the international community any more; we don’t believe in international law.” And to the extent that the March 14th folks cozied up with the US, only to be left high and dry when Bush gave the IAF the green light to smash Lebanon — well, what did they expect? At least Hizbullah has one thing very right: RELY ON YOURSELF, be organized and consistent and read the terrain. Don’t go looking to Uncle Sam of Mama France to pull your chestnuts out of the fire. Other than views on Syria’s role in Lebanon, I think there is actually more common ground between Hizb and the March 14th crowd than is often acknowledged. Lebanon is qualititatively different from Syria, Palestine, Israel or Jordan. It’s more like Iraq (and I mean that in the best possible way). Maybe someone will wake up to this fact before the barricades spring up all over Beirut again and inter-neighborhood shelling becomes a normal daily event once more. No one can mess with you unless you let them. If Syria is interfering in Lebanon, its because the Lebanese at some level want them to. I think the Lebanese have to grow up. No one can do that for them.

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December 3rd, 2006, 4:38 am

 

15. compulsive reader said:

The US “forbids” Israel to talk with Syria? He’s backwards. The US has been led by the nose of Zionist policy for the last forty years.

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December 3rd, 2006, 9:40 pm

 

16. Akbar Palace said:

Compulsive Reader,

It’s possible that might change in the future, especially if Israelis are found to have hijacked 4 commercial airliners in one day and use them to topple two skyscrapers.

“Led by the nose”? Not really Habibi!

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December 4th, 2006, 12:27 pm

 

17. Akbar Palace said:

Lauri Irani,

So now the key word is “retro”. Funny, the “Apartheid” smear is language from decades ago.

“I did my field research in Israel, and have lots of Israeli friends and colleauges who are trying to get out and move to Canada, the US or Europe.”

Great! Do you know any Israelis doing “field research” in Lebanon? LOL!

A country of 6 million (5 million Joos and 1 million Arabs) isn’t going anywhere, sorry to say. Moreover, is isn’t Apartheid. Joos are the majority unlike the white racists who used to rule South Africa.

Let me know when you succeed in destroying the “Zionist Entity”. I guess peace is out of the question, huh?;)

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December 4th, 2006, 12:36 pm

 

18. Akbar Palace said:

“And technically, since they attack military, not civilians (in large part), they are not terrorists.”

Laurie Irani,

One other small point, firing katyusha missiles at Israeli population centers (including the Haifa train station) in NO WAY constitutes attacking the military. It is terrorism plain and simple.

Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Queda, Iran, Syria, etc are all eye-deep in the terrorist business whether you want to admit it or not.

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December 4th, 2006, 1:35 pm

 

19. wizart said:

Beirut airport now a Hezbollah ‘strategic point’
A general view of Beirut International Airport, Lebanon. EPA/NABIL MOUNZER

May 14, 2008, 11:29 GMT

Beirut – The international airport in Lebanon’s capital Beirut is now a ‘strategic point’ for the Hezbollah militant movement.

‘The Beirut airport is now a headquarters and strategic point for us to put pressure on the Western-backed government of Premier Fouad Seniora and his traitors,’ Ali, a Hezbollah militant, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa at the entrance to the airport.

The Rafik Hariri International Airport, which was reconstructed by assassinated former premier Hariri in the 1990s following its partial destruction during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, is today a major checkpoint for Hezbollah militants who are stopping airport employees and other people and checking identity cards.

Journalists going there to cover the arrival of an Arab League delegation on Wednesday were stopped and asked which agency or television station they worked for.

Politely but firmly the Hezbollah militants approached cars and asked: ‘Please your press cards and identity cards?’

One journalist protested: ‘I will give you my press card, but not my Lebanese identity card. For God’s sake we are all Lebanese.’

Usually anyone checking identity cards in Lebanon can discover what religion a person belongs to.

Unarmed Hezbollah militants were sitting at road blocks, smoking water pipes or having breakfast, but guns could be seen in nearby cars.

The blockade of the airport road comes after the government decided to investigate a private telecommunications network run by Hezbollah at the airport and to reassign the head of airport security over his alleged ties with the pro-Iranian Shiite movement.

The blockade turned into clashes last Thursday after Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Narsallah called the government measure ‘a declaration of war.’ The violence in the streets since May 7 has left at least 82 people dead across Lebanon.

‘This is a new demarcation line for the Lebanese people, they (the opposition) are saying they are doing this to protest the decision by the government, but government officials are not paying the price, the people are being punished here,’ said an airport employee who requested anonymity for his safety.

‘Yesterday as we were leaving work, the Hezbollah militants were doing a barbecue in the middle of the main highway leading to the airport,’ he said.

‘What I want to know are these the orders of the leader Hassan Nasrallah to oppress the people and use the country’s streets to eat, smoke water pipes and play football?’ he questioned.

‘We are doing this because we want this American-backed government to resign,’ said Hezbollah member Ali.

The blockade meant people were forced to walk to reach the airport or use motorbikes as a shuttle.

An Arab diplomat at the airport waiting to receive the Arab delegation told dpa that ‘what I saw on my way to the airport is unacceptable.’

‘This is not punishing the government of Lebanon, this is punishing the democracy of Lebanon,’ the diplomat said.

The Arab delegation headed by Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa arrived on Wednesday in a bid to ease tensions in the country and head off a possible civil war.

‘We will stay here blocking this road until the government backs on its decision against our movement and start taking decisions that serve the country and its resistance (Hezbollah),’ said a Hezbollah militant.

The Lebanese government is scheduled to meet later Wednesday.

‘If the government backs on its decision, we will open all roads immediately,’ said a Hezbollah militant.

During the clashes in the past six days between the opposition led by Hezbollah and government followers, the Shiite militants managed to seize large parts of west Beirut, plunging an already fragile nation into fear and uncertainty.

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May 14th, 2008, 4:01 pm

 

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