Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Letter from Lebanon

I got an interesting email yesterday from a Lebanese guy by the name of Jad Aoun. Jad is not in Lebanon right now, but his family is. He was kind enough to grant me permission to quote his email here. I prefer to provide my reply here, so maybe we can get some discussion going.

This is what Jad wrote me -
I’ve been reading your blog with great interest. I really enjoy your candid and true feelings towards the horrible developments in our countries. Let me first introduce myself. I’m a 23 year old Lebanese working in the UAE. I grew up in the States during the Lebanese civil war but my parents returned to Lebanon in 1993 so I experienced first hand Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 and subsequent attacks on the Lebanese infrastructure in 1998 and 2000. I saw a lot of destruction in my teens plus my house in Lebanon was near a power distribution station that had been hit by Israeli war planes on numerous occasions. I can honestly tell you that sound of rockets falling and jet fighters screeching still haunt me to this day. Your decision to continue life as usual is probably the best thing you can do for your children and I commend you on it. I did not have that option.
As I mentioned earlier, I currently live in Dubai but my younger sisters and parents are in Lebanon. I was very angry with Hezbollah’s unilateral decision to attack Israel last week. It was, in my opinion, an uncalculated decision with a foreseeable response from Israel (which makes me question Hezbollah’s true motives and allegiance). You’re right, the Lebanese government should reign in Hezbollah but that’s quite easy to say but it is impossible to do. Everyone says that the government is weak – that is true – but it is important to understand why it is weak.
Ever since Lebanon gained its independence, its political system was centered on a weak central government where minorities had almost as much sway as majorities. The political system does not allow one party, one group or one religious sect to have full control of the government. That is why Lebanon never had a dictator unlike the other Arab countries. Lebanon’s “accommodation democracy” ensured that no decision can be reached without a consensus. This leads of course to long debates and discussions until all groups agree on a resolution (which is always a water-downed version of the initial resolution). Because of this, the Lebanese government cannot disarm Hezbollah without the approval of the some of the Shiites. The Christians, Sunnis and Druze want Hezbollah disarmed but the Shiites do not – and Lebanon’s political system provides minorities with the power to derail majority rulings. The government has been actively discussing the disarmament of Hezbollah for the past two months. You can’t expect the Lebanese government to enforce disarmament now, in the middle of a war, when it wasn’t able to (yet) during peace. So unless there is a ceasefire first, Israel’s demand to disarm Hezbollah is unlikely to happen.

I’ve been in contact with friends and family in Lebanon and all are confused by Israel’s conditions to end hostilities. Israel wants the Lebanese army to deploy to the South. However, Israel has so far attacked two army barracks and killed tens of soldiers. So why would the Lebanese army deploy near the border? So that they can be easier targets for Israeli rockets? It makes no sense. In addition, Israel says it is attacking the ‘terror’ infrastructure in Lebanon. So why destroy trucks transporting medicine or gas stations? Why attack wheat silos? I don’t think its 'terror’ wheat; I’m sure its just wheat for making bread.

I have already thanked Jad in person about his analysis of Lebanese politics (very insightful for me). We have exchanged words about our families. One thing that is surely uniting us at this time is worrying over family members caught in the line of fire. I have also had further word from him, letting me know that they are fine for now. They live in the Christian area of Beirut and have not been directly affected by Israel's actions.

Now, I would like to address some of Jad's questions.

Israel wants the Lebanese army to deploy to the South. However, Israel has so far attacked two army barracks and killed tens of soldiers. So why would the Lebanese army deploy near the border? So that they can be easier targets for Israeli rockets? It makes no sense.

Israel is fighting the Hezbulla, and not the Lebanese army. From what I have heard, there were incidents where the Lebanese army seems to have assisted Hezbulla. Once such incident was the bombing of the Israeli Navy ship, where radars operated by the Lebanese army were used to guide the Hezbulla's Iranian made missiles. In such instances, the IDF retalliates againt the Lebanese army.

Another point to keep in mind is possible mistaken identity. It's not always easy telling from the air who is whom. Even easier to confuse militia/military personnel, then military and civilians. With so many civilians killed, I would be surprised if the Lebanese army had no casualties.

So, how can we expect them to deploy near the border? Easy. It should be a clear and fully declared announcement by the Lebanese government. The Lebanese government should have a fully operational plan on how to carry this out, announce it to the world and to Israel. I can assure you that such a coordinated plan will mean no attacks on the Lebanese military. I am not an official spokeperson for my government, but I think such a declared change of policy followed by a clear operational plan including a sensible (i.e. short) timetable will probably grant you an immidiate ceasefire from this side, at least for 24-48 hours (to see that things are indeed being implemented).

In addition, Israel says it is attacking the ‘terror’ infrastructure in Lebanon. So why destroy trucks transporting medicine or gas stations? Why attack wheat silos? I don’t think its ‘terror’ wheat; I’m sure its just wheat for making bread.

You know, it can be extremely difficult to tell from the air what is what. Also, even if you do read your aerial shots correctly, things are not always what they seem to be. We have had experience in that department with the Palestinians when they smuggled explosives in ambulances... A wheat silo may be just a wheat silo, or it could be a camouflaged ammuntion depot. There have been so many trucks coming in from Syria carrying more weapons for the Hezbulla over the past few days. Many of them have been destroyed by Israel, though probably not all. They are being supplied with more weapons all the time, and it's part of our war effort to prevent that. They don't write "Ammunition Supplies" in big bold letters on the trucks either. On the contrary, they probably draw the red cross mark on them.

Last, but not least, there is certainly some damage done to civilian infrastructure, in an effort to pressure the Lebanese government into action. As far as I know, most, if not all of it, is targeted at the Shi'ite neighborhoods. I don't think it's a big secret that the Israeli airforce has the abilities to bomb the whole of Beirut into dust within days. We are not doing that. The response is controlled and relatively focused. As you mentioned in your second email, the Christian neighborhoods still have electricity, running water and food. I think that shows that Israel does exercise some moderation in its response.

Do I think the Israeli response is a bit too much. Hmmmm, I'm not sure there. On the one hand, as a peace activist, I don't like seeing any homes bombed, neither here, nor there. However, this time around, we really were attacked unprovoked and as far as I can see, for no justified reason. We need to re-establish our detterence, so that when this is over, countries and factions all around us will get the message. Lebanon is paying that price right now. I am sorry about that, I truly am, I just think the fingers should be pointed at the Hezbulla, not at us.

Hoping to read your response here Jad, and thank you so much again, for taking the time to write me. Trying not to sound too old here, but I really am amazed by what the Internet is doing in that respect. In previous wars, you and I could not have even discussed things. At least now we can talk. That's a step in the right direction :) Peace to you and your family - Ma'assalame.


Avi said...

Hello, I was fascinated reading the "letter from Lebanon" post.
Thanks for sharing this letter and your own answers with us.
Keep up with this amazing Blog, I sure will read it.

Take care of yourself, I myself am from Nahariya, and still here.

Good week.

IsrealiMom said...

Thank you for your kind words Avi.

You take care over there, hope your computer is in your secure room ;)

Avi said...

It is actually in a room siding north, my sleeping room.
But as I told a couple of people- everything will be ok, I'd rather sleep in my bed than go sleep anywhere else.

I've just finished my 11th school year, odd way to start the summer vacation.
Good night to you, Israelimom.

I am off to bad.
I will surely be here tomorrow :)

Ryan said...

This is a very fascinating exchange. What is one to make of it? I am depressed about all of this, and I live far away in safety. My question to you is, if Israel wants peace and to withdraw from the West Bank, why did they seize so much good (Palestinian) land and water sources when they built the giant partition wall?

IsrealiMom said...

Good question Ryan. I for one, object to the current positioning of the fence. Many other Israelis think the same.
The official reasoning behind the current position of the fence would be mostly security-related, as well as spots where they tried to include heavy populated Israeli settlements "within Israel". I for one, believe that those settlements should eventually be evicted. Israel is a democracy, there are different views about anything here and I have no intention of defending something I don't believe it.

I will say that the fence in general is a good idea, IMO. It does help prevent infilterations of terrorists from the West Bank. It's the locations chosen that I disagree with.

All of this btw, is quite unrelated to current events in the Northern border.

Jad Aoun said...

I can completely understand mistaken identity while flying at 10,000 feet. For instance, a few days ago, Israel launched a missle into Achrafieh. The signifcant thing about the attack is that it was the first attack within Beirut-proper plus the first attach within the Christian heartland. There was serious panic that the Christian communities that have been largely spared from Israel's attacks will now face its wrath. However, hours later, it appeared that Israel had fired a missle at a well-drilling truck which could easily be mistaken for a truck-equipped rocket launcher.

Mistakes do happen, even during war, but mistakes during war can be very costly and Israel must scrutinize itelligence and images it receives before taking action.

steve said...

I am an American, living in the Western US. I really appreciate hearing from Lebanese and Israeli's who act to fill out a better understanding for me as to prevelant and forming attitudes over these past week's events. I am a veteran, myself, but I have devloped an utter distaste for war, based on my experiences. The US adventure in Iraq I was adamantly against, from the first day. Indeed, I predicted much of what has come to pass in that poor nation.
But my "lefti-ness" gets challenged over events unfolding before me. The Hezbollah attacks were just nasty, IMO, and the retaliation from Israel I cannot imagine being anythig but predictable. They got sick and tired of having rockets lobbed at them daily, long before this week. If nothing else, Israel gets points taken away for being so predictable. Is there no end to all this? It would be so much better to lead by example, a tired old cliche, and one which Israel was actually near performing by giving up their land. Now this.
I know so little about the situation, I confess. It is refreshing to see all these interesting people taking the trouble to communicate through Annette's blog. Please continue. I learn here and thank you, for my own purposes. I think this is what the internet offers, instant democratization on the most intimate, human level.

IsrealiMom said...

Jad, the incident with the truck was a mistake. The officer in charge of authatizing a specific attack is probably a young officer, on his shift, maybe tired too, and chances are he is not that aware of the interacacies of the difference between a Chrisitan and a Shi'ite neighborhood.
I read on another blog, a post by a Lebanese guy who mentioned that there is no way that the Christians would let a Hezbulla truck drive through a Christian neighborhood. To him, the very fact that the truck was there was proof that it could not have been a Hezbulla truck. Well, I bet that the young officer in charge did not know that... hence the order to hit the truck.
This is actually a case showing where just maintaining open communication channels on blogs can be helpful, at least to some degree. It's something I can try and pass on to people I know that are actually involved in the fighting. Inshalla, it will help prevent more shooting in Christian neighborhoods.

Jad Aoun said...

That's true, the Christians have made it clear that they dont want Hezbollah in its area which is why the marjority of the Christian regions have been spared (that's my personal opinion). I've also read that if Hezbollah decided to bring their weaponery into Christian areas, they will not wait for Isreal to attack; they will drive out Hezbollah themselves.

But just as I had mentioned in my letter, you need all sects to agree for the government to take action. At the moment, the government is weak because it was elected by emotions (after the assassination of PM Hariri) and is clearly unable to lead the country. In addition, this governemnt was voted in, according to the electoral laws created by the Syrians in 2000. For instance, I am a registered voter in South Lebanon. During the last election (May 2005), I only had once choice on my ballot paper, Hezbollah-Amal alliance. There was no one to compete against them. I was forced to boycott the polls. To my unhappiness, Hezbollah represents me in parliament! Hopefully the new election law being discussed would give Christians in South Lebanon appropriate representation.

steve said...

Jad: "For instance, I am a registered voter in South Lebanon. During the last election (May 2005), I only had once choice on my ballot paper, Hezbollah-Amal alliance. There was no one to compete against them."

Was that because of fear (an understandable emotion) or some feat of redistricting? The rest of Lebanon seems reasonable.

M. Bahsh said...

Loved reading Jad's letters.

And I could not have given him any better answers to his e-mail.

Keep well and safe...

Apparently it's off to Miluim with me... lol

- Bahsh