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11. August 2006

Peace Now! © Manal Omar

Family fleeing their home

Women living in the Park in Beirut

Thoughts on Lebanon: A Letter of Concern

Manal Omar, WwB Board Member, writes on the the complexity of the current crisis and how it relives the memories...

Salaam All,

I cant sleep because of the sound of the bombs being dropped in the southern suburbs of Beirut. At least I am hoping its still in the southern part, and not in the central part, where I am staying. I guess I am a bit selfish like that.

The first night I slept like a baby, and boasted the next morning that I had grown used to it in Baghdad. But that was far from the truth. The sight of Lebanon destroyed has exhausted me - both physically and mentally. But tonight I cannot sleep. So I decided to write this email instead of forcing myself to sleep.

Yesterday with the sun rising and the sun setting the streets in Hamra filled with the blast of the Israeli bombs being dropped on Southern suburbs of Beirut. Meanwhile, the world argues whether there will be a ceasefire, now, maybe a bit later. Although a ceasefire cannot come soon enough, for me the argument is almost irrelevant. The damage has been done. At this point I cant comprehend the amount of destruction, suffering, and deaths that have engulfed Lebanon. Only two months ago I was walking down these same streets and never imagined what the country would have to face. It seems as if it is almost a different place at a different time in history. I do not want to focus on what I have seen during my first few days in Beirut. Its too difficult to process. Instead, my mind is desperately searching for someone to blame.

There isn’t really a lack of candidates. I could blame Israel for its disproportionate use of force and “no limits” military tactic. Or I could blame Hizballah for audaciously daring to capture Israeli soldiers. Or maybe I should blame the Lebanese themselves, for allowing Hizbullah to grow so strong. And what about the international actors? I could blame Bush and Blair for refusing to call for a ceasefire from day one, thus allowing this ridiculous escalation, giving Israel a green light, and further polarizing the Arab world. Or perhaps I should blame the Arab governments for their inept response and refusal to properly represent their own people.

What about GWOT – the Global War on Terrorism. At this point, I can’t think of a better candidate to blame than those who orchestrated a free for all invasion, bombing, and utter chaos in the name of global security. Afterall, it’s the same people who provided an excuse for any extremist reaction and an alienation of most of the world. The rhetoric of “either you are with us, or against us” has definitely fulfilled its purpose, and whereas most struggled to abstain, have been forced to chose between the extreme. The middle ground is filled with political landmines, and the only way to take refuge is to jump on one side of the spectrum.

Yes, I think I like laying the blame on GWOT, only because it helps me understand the greater picture. To try and make logic out of the mathematical equation presently put before us is difficult for me to comprehend. Two Israeli soldiers equals a thousand Lebanese lives, mainly women and children. At least with GWOT I can see an emerging pattern – Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria (yes? No?). Maybe there is method in the madness.

But will the outcome of the blame game mean anything for the thousands of victims in this more recent conflict. And no matter who accepts the blame, or who claims victory, Lebanon is the clear loser in all that has transpired.

Not so much for the lives that have been lost. For if there was one lesson from Palestine in over fifty years or more recently Iraq, it is clear that Arab lives are not worth much. Nor is it for the severe damage of infrastructure, for only a few weeks into the fighting and billboards all over Lebanon sprung up promising to rebuild. It’s the social fabric that has been ripped apart and will need rebuilding. It’s the generation that had a chance of growing up with no living memory of full-engaged war that I mourn. It’s the rumour now turning into reality that the Arabs do not deserve peace and stability, nor a chance for organic growth and transformation.

I walk around Beirut numb. Iraq has drained all the emotion out of me. My husband reminds me that today is the anniversary of the death of our dear Hussein, his brother in law that was killed a year ago in Iraq’s sectarian violence. As I walk by a hotel in Beirut usual tourist traffic and now overrun by internally displaced people paying their life savings for a roof over their head, I say a prayer for Hussein. For the umpteenth time my heart wonders why I am in this line of work, and how much senseless death and destruction one region…one country….one person can handle.

Manal Omar is a long-time Women without Borders projectpartner. Currently she works at OXFAM as Regional Program Manager for Middle East, Eastern Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States.


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