Worried Lebanese

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Archive for the ‘Peace’ Category

Can one find the “Israeli Peace Initiative”® appealing?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/04/2011

Ten days ago, a group of Israeli business executives and public figures (including the former heads of Shin Bet and the Mossad, and a former IDF Chief of Staff), proposed a plan to end the Israeli-Arab conflict: they modestly called it the Israeli Peace Initiative (considering it’s nonofficial, call this naming wishful thinking). Up to now, not much attention was given to a proposal that seems like a “regional version” of the “Geneva Accords”. In its content, it doesn’t actually offer anything new. It’s a simple variation on the “land for peace” principle that has been the dominant peace paradigm since the drafting of the UNSC resolution 242 in 1967.

The only “novelty” in this proposal is that it presents itself as a “response to the Arab Peace Initiative (API)” which was is the Arab League’s first public endorsement of the “Land for Peace” principle (during the Beirut Summit in 2002, and then during the Riyad Summit in 2007 when it re-adopted the API without altering it). The endorsement of the “Land for Peace” principle is not the most significant element in the Arab Peace Initiative. What matters the most is that it showed the Arab states’ common willingness to recognize Israel…

Likewise, the “Israeli Peace Initiative” most significant feature is that it believes time is playing against Israel, and that it was critical for the Israeli government to revive negotiations.

What’s wrong with the “Land for Peace” principle?
I personally believe that the problem lies in the fact that it proposes a solution to the conflict without addressing the dynamics behind the conflict, and the dynamics that the conflict has created. Moreover, this principle doesn’t “solve” a conflict, but actually proposes a principle for settlement that covers three distinct conflictual dynamics:

  1. Interstate conflicts: two conflicts have already been been solved – Israel-Egypt & Israel-Jordan – and two conflicts remain – Lebanon-Israel & Syria-Israel. In this case, the territorial element is obvious, and the “land for peace” formulae has proven to be efficient in solving two conflicts, and it will undoubtedly prove itself when an agreement will be reached regarding the two remaining interstate conflicts. And the reason is actually very simple, the “land for peace” principles actually translates to an old & agreed principle in interstate relations (and law), that of territorial sovereignty.
  2. The Israeli-Palestinian problem: in this case territory is obviously an issue, but it is not the central one. The central issue is the relation between people (individuals and groups). The 1947 partition plan tried to offer a two state solution to this conflict: this could have allowed a territorial solution to the conflict were it accepted by the two parties, but it was actually refused by both (explicitly by the Palestinian side and implicitly by the Israeli side through the conquest of additional land). Moreover, the successive Israel governments have actually imposed a one state solution to the conflict since 1967 through a policy of land control, ethnic engineering and legal disenfranchisement). Trying to solve such a conflict “territorially” without looking into the people’s needs and grievances is both unrealistic and unethical. The problem here is between people that a particularly unkind history has shaped. So before looking into a “territorial settlement” (and this requires a search for the legal grounds underlying this principle, and the mechanisms of its implementation), one should remember that people have rights… and start addressing these issues.
  3. Refugees problem (Palestinians refugees and Jewish refugees): Here too, one should concentrate on the human dimension of the problem. It’s not about territory, it’s about people.

What are the dynamics that should be addressed?

Use of force to attain gains. Violence pays! and it pays pretty well. It has allowed the Jewish state established in 1948 to expand territorially and demographically, to reverse the ethnic balance, to reallocate wealth and redistribute property. Violence was necessary for the creation of a Jewish State (in a hostile environment), and necessary for its expansion.
Likewise, violence has served the Palestinian leadership well. There were no legal or political ways for it to assert itself, to expand the national movement and make its aspirations heard. That is true in the Palestinian Refugee camps and in the West Bank and Gaza. The only place where rights could be fought for legally (but not always successfully) was within Israel because some Palestinians still residing there were granted Israeli citizenship… Moreover, violence proved particularly instrumental for the Palestinian political parties to impose themselves after loosing an election (Fatah) or to assert their political rights (Hamas).

– Discrimination and ethnic engineering. This too has worked quite well. For all States in the Middle East. Discriminated and hostility toward Jews has not only resulted in the massive immigration of Arab-speaking Jews, but from the obliteration of their existence in the national narrative. This started in Palestine in the beginning of the 20th century and was followed by all the national ideologies in the Near East. Lebanon has enshrined discrimination against Palestinians in its constitution. Most countries in the Near East define themselves as ethnic states, leaving no place for national minorities in their narrative (the only notable example is today’s Iraq): Israel sees itself as a Jewish state (i.e. a State for Jews), Syria and Lebanon as Arab states (withstanding the notable presence of Armenians, Kurds and Syriacs…), Egypt as a Muslim Arab state and Turkey as a Turkish state (i.e. a State for Muslim Turks)… Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Israel have actively practiced ethnic engineering: Turkey and Israel against Arabs; Syria, Iraq and Turkey against Kurds.

What can be done?

If we want to end the conflict, instead of looking for ONE solution that offers a package deal we should be looking into the grievances and trying to neutralise the dynamics behind the conflict.

  1. Delegitimise violence: That doesn’t happen by simply condemning it! It can only happen once the gains that were done through violence are denounced and once propers institutions (or mechanisms) are establish that could allow the reversal of these gains. In other words, propers institutions should be established that would allow the expression of grievances and the pursuit of legitimate claims.
  2. Protect identities and respect difference: The protection of one’s identity is obviously a legitimate aim, but not all methods of protection are right. Wanting the protect Jewish identity in Israel, or Christian identity in Lebanon, or Arab identity in Syria, or Turkish identity in Turkey are legitimate concerns. But the means to attain it ceases to be legitimate when it’s carried through at the expense of another group. And up to now, Kurds are suffering from it in Syria and Turkey, Palestinians are suffering from it Lebanon and Israel, Arab-speakers are suffering from it in Turkey…
  3. Create institutions that respect difference: All countries in the Middle East are ethnically diverse and yet have discriminatory policies. Only two countries, albeit particularly dysfunctional, have up to now created a political system that respects difference: Lebanon (since 1926) and Iraq (since 2003). In Israel, a Palestinian-Israeli although offered equal citizenship can only watch Israeli politics as a bystander because the ethnic majority doesn’t allow him a space within the national debate that it defines as jewish.
  4. Start a healing process by working on common interests… Common interests are central to the Middle East agreements that have been promoted by the United States since the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt (in 1979). However, they do not support a healing process because the peace treaties have not created the proper institutions that deal with grievances.

Posted in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Peace, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reconciliation, Turkey, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Background Info on Israeli-Druze Delegation to Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/07/2010

Another example of Jumblatt's mastery of ME politics

So basically, Walid Jumblatt has been working this past decade on reinforcing his position as a cross-national Druze leader. He made a major step in that direction in 2001 when he organised a meeting between Lebanese and Israeli Druze in Amman. For more information on that meeting check out Tareq Ayyoub’s article in the Jordan Times: Lebanese, Israeli Druze leaders meet in Amman.

To be able to go ahead in his communal agenda, he has to do three things:

  • Secure the assent of Syrian authorities and Lebanese communal leaders who are hostile toward Israel, so as not be accused of “normalisation” or collaboration with Israeli authorities.
  • Give this communal meeting and the presence of this Israeli delegation a spin. This means selling it in a particular way to the media. The best example of this successful spin is Samer Husseini’s article in the Safir and Orient Le Jour’s article Druze from Israel succeed in breaking the blockade by coming to Lebanon (in French).
  • Reinforce his pro-palestinian credentials. He did that a month ago with the four bills he presented in parliament in order to expand Palestinian civil rights (more info on that here).

Posted in Communication, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Peace, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »

Paul the octopus new envoy to the Middle East

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/07/2010

In an unprecedented step, the Quartet on the Middle East decided to appoint Paul the octopus as their special envoy to the Middle East. Paul will be taking over the position held by British former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The new Special Envoy seemed rather confident and unshaken by the daunting mission that was bequeathed to him. He will be arriving to Jerusalem tomorrow morning and Helga, his official spokesperson, announced that he would immediately start working on solving the Middle East’s most pressing problems. Paul chose Helga as his spokesperson earlier today, as she sat cramped at the bottom of his fish-tank in one of the two transparent boxes the public has grown accustomed to seeing on every news edition. He seemed so happy with his choice that he clung to her with eight arms, almost suffocating her. Three divers had to plunge into the tank to detach them from one another. The Quartet agreed never to put Helga or any other person in the tank again.
Instead of predicting the outcome of a sports game, Paul will be recommending the best move to make in the Middle East’s most intense political game. Every morning he will be presented with an Israeli position and a Palestinian position, and he will announce which one will have the most favourable outcome for Peace in the Middle East. Tony Blair, in the name of the Quartet wished Paul the best of luck, even though he confessed that his successor clearly didn’t need it.

The Quintet was established in Madrid in 2002 and is made up of four sides involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. The Quartet’s first Special Envoy was James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank, who stepped less than a year after his appointment when he realised he couldn’t do anything. The Quartet’s second Special Envoy refused to admit his failure in his mission and only learnt of his dismissal through an article in the Jerusalem Post.

Posted in Fiction, Israel, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Peace, Personal | Leave a Comment »

Why isn’t Mitchell on our side?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/05/2010

Please excuse me for sounding childish, but I’ve been around a lot of children lately and their influence is starting to show on me! And so I ask myself and I ask you. Why isn’t George Mitchell on our side. You’ve certainly noticed the US’ envoy to the Middle East criss cross the region trying to rekindle the flames of peace. And you undoubtedly know that Mitchell is of Lebanese descent. His mother was born in the southern tip of Mount Lebanon, and his adoptive father seems to have  also been Lebanese. The former Senator from Maine was raised a Maronite and served in a Diasporic Lebanese catholic church as an Alter boy; St Joseph Church in Waterville is attended by some 150 Lebanese families. So objectively, his ties with Lebanon are very much there. However, it doesn’t seem to influence much his approach to peace in the Middle East. He doesn’t speak much of Lebanon’s interests and I believe Beirut is the capital he has visited the least in the region. Why is that so? and can anything be done about it? Maybe you can help me answer these two questions. I can’t help but think of another person who held the same post as Mitchell a couple of years back: Dennis Ross. Dennis Ross was raised in a secular atmosphere with a non religious yet religiously diverse family but became religiously Jewish after the 6 day war. He never hid his zionist leanings and now works in a think-tank financed and operated by the Jewish Agency. The contrast between the two men is striking, don’t you think.

Can Mitchell defend Lebanese interests?

Now this is a difficult question. I don’t see why in theory he cannot do it. Didn’t Dennis Ross defend Israeli interests saying that they coincided with American interests. But when we look at the practicality of that defense we notice huge difficulties.

  1. What are Lebanese interests? No higher authority has ever defined Lebanese interests. Actually, one had… President Chamoun in the late 1950s, and President Frangieh in the early 1970s but on both occasions hell broke loose. After the first occasion, the Lebanese neutrality doctrine was established. If you look into it, you will undoubtedly find better adapted qualifications for that foreign policy doctrine (such as passive, incoherent, vacuous, fearful… and not really neutral: the state is directly envolved in the most destructive regional conflict and serves mostly as a willing punching ball or a coy catalyst). It seems impossible to define Lebanese national interests and even more difficult to determine what authority determine it. So how can George Mitchell defend something that isn’t even determined?
  2. Who promotes Lebanese Interests? The answer is rather simple: No one! A quick comparison with the israeli case is quite revealing: IPAC, the Jewish Agency, the Israeli government and the Israeli security apparatus all contribute in defining and promoting “Israel’s interets”. This is made simple by the fact that they invest much time and ressources in conflating Israeli and Jewish interests, and do it quite convincingly. Now if you look at the Lebanese picture, things appear much murkier (and messy).
    • On one side, one finds five strong communal perspectives (Christian, Shiite, Sunni, Druze and Armenian) supported by influential organisations. Each communal perspective has its own definition of both communal and national interests. These five perspectives are distinct but not necessarily contradictory. These different perspective influence both communal and cross-communal figures and spaces, be they local or diasporic.
    • On the other side, one finds state institutions that still haven’t found a way to cope with this diversity and put it to its service, and a political class and consciousness more interested in political bickering and winning in a zero-sum game.
  3. Can anything be done about it? Maybe you can help me out on that.

Posted in Geopolitics, Identity, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Peace, Religion | 5 Comments »

Commemorating what?!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/04/2010

“You should do activities that have to do with the memory of the war. The most important thing is to remember what happened during the war”, that’s what a socially very active woman said the other day when she learnt about the activities we were doing in the peace organisation. A few years ago I would have congratulated her for her stand, but now, I wasn’t so sure how to react. Why is remembering the war so important? Are people forgetting what happened during the war? Is this dark experience not being transmitted to the younger generation? Would this knowledge prevent future wars from happening. I’m not so sure about that any longer. I’ve been interested in that topic for a long time. I remember back in college a teacher in anthropology launching a large research project on that. I remember the many authors and books he suggested I read. I remember reading them, I remember them. And yet I’m not so sure that “remembering” the war should be everyone’s priority.
I’m not saying that the war should be forgotten. Quite the contrary. I firmly believe that we should preserve some of its physical traces. I also think the work many organisations and individuals are doing is crucial. They are collecting the traces of this war, trying to understand what happened and why it happened. They are gathering data, providing narratives. But all this isn’t enough to prevent a new war from happening. However, it is more than enough to condemn the perpetrators: the politicians, the militiamen, the hate-mongers… Oddly enough, this elements is usually overlooked by those who work on the “memory of war”. Those on the “left” still believe that Kamal Jumblatt, or Yaser Arafat were good blokes (and absolve them of all criminal intent and behaviour), the few that are on the “right” have the same feelings for Bachir Gemayel or Dany Chamoun. If these men and their wrongdoings are not condemned, is it really worth remembering or commemorating the war? and what exactly is being remembered?

Posted in Civil Society, Lebanon, Memory, Peace, Violence | 4 Comments »

A debate on how to manage a virtual network

Posted by worriedlebanese on 29/03/2010

I tried to access Palestinian Mothers a couple of minutes ago but couldn’t do it. The site’s introductory page announced that “this Ning network has ben taken offline by its owner”. It was a bit surprised by this announcement even though things haven’t been going very smoothly on that network. Its owner and main animator Iqbal Tamimi had informed all members that she will be terminating a certain number of accounts. And soon later she started implementing her new policy. I voiced my objection to such proceedings and a rather animated debated was launched surrounding Iqbal Tamimi’s policy and my complaint.
Oddly enough, Iqbal Tamimi had problems publishing some articles two weeks ago (on her own network) and today the network was shut down, for reasons I don’t know. I though the debate that my comment launched was rather interesting, so I will publish it here (the discussion is found in the first comment).

Blogging under Damocles’ sword
Posted by JC|WorriedLebanese on March 16, 2010 at 10:40pm

As I write this entry, I cannot help but think of the sword of Damocles that hangs over my head. Like all members of this network, I’ve received of late two emails from the creator and animator of Palestinian Mothers threatening the following categories of members of expulsion:

  • Anonymous members (people who do not share a “real name” and “personal picture”);
  • Old members with false identities (because they cause the creator and animator of Palestinian Mothers a great distress);
  • Passive members who do not participate (because they do not take the Palestinian cause seriously) ;
  • Peepers (a sub-category of passive members who are busy with other stuff but who indulge in their voyeuristic urges from time to time);
  • Spies (people who are here to eavesdrop on other members’ activities).

I have a problem with this type of “spring cleaning” or screening, and not only because I’m very likely to fall victim to it. I believe the logic behind it is flawed. Doesn’t everyone find this compartmentalisation impoverishing? What is great about the internet is that if offers us the opportunity to hear voices that we are not likely to hear in our every day life. It allows us to interact, argue, learn, teach, inform, question our certainties. I’m not sure all this is possible in a network of totally “like-minded” people. The reason I came to Palestinian Mothers in the first place was precisely because it offered a different voice that was no longer heard on MEpeace after several members were either excluded or driven out because their views were different. And I followed them here so as not to loose their voice.

Posted in Blogosphere, Check them Out, Culture, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Justice, Memory, Middle East, Palestinians, Peace, Personal, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »

Security first? The contours of a Lebanese policy for peace talks with Israel

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/08/2009

661054_pw_diplomacyThe Lebanese have grown accustomed to governments unable or unwilling to deal with their southern neighbour. Some regret that these governments haven’t been able to defend the country militarily and diplomatically (from the IDF’s ferocious attacks), while others deplore that none has come up with a policy for peace talks with Israel.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a contributor to NOW Lebanon, has come up with an interesting analysis on the subject. He believes Lebanon should define a policy on Israel and embark in peace talks because “Lebanon will never defeat Israel militarily, [so] its ‘conflict’ with the Jewish state can only be resolved by diplomacy”. He concludes his article with the following statement:

Since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, both governments have failed to produce a policy on Israel. The Mitchell team is determined to change all this, but they need the help of Lebanon’s leaders, who must not be shy about talking peace with Israel, just like their Syrian and Palestinian brethren. The rest will become details.

At face value, his conclusion is indisputable, but if you look into it, you discover there is an important dimension to Israeli-Lebanese relations that Hussain Abdul-Hussain completely leaves out: the “security” dimension.

This is quite common among Beirutis. But if you ask Israelis or Lebanese living in Southern Lebanon, it’s their primary concern. And this issue is certainly the murkiest. Here’s why:

  • Since the 1960s, the Lebanese government has failed to secure its border with Israel. So before embarking in Peace talks, the Lebanese government should see how it will be able to achieve that and start working on it.
  • Since the 1960s, Israel has been “retaliating” after each attack coming from Lebanon. This has brought a lot of destruction, death and distrust in Southern Lebanon. Shouldn’t Lebanon build a defensive strategy so as to dissuade, limit or restrain the “IDF”?
  • An armed grouped, Hezbollah, backed by the majority of the local population wants to keep the fight going. Their most popular argument within their constituency is similar to the one of the Israeli army: only military strength will ensure our security and disuade our enemy from attacking us. It’s a defensive argument (that is not weaker than that of the Israeli army). What could the Lebanese government answer to this argument be?
  • There are other armed groups that are held back by Hezbollah (mostly Palestinian, and Sunni islamists) who are willing to pursue the fight, and the Lebanese State doesn’t seem to have a hold on them.

Before asking the government to come up with a diplomatic strategy toward Israel, I think it is foremost important to ask them to come up with a coherent military and defensive strategy, one that takes into account and deals with Hezbollah and the Palestinians of Lebanon.

Posted in Geopolitics, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Peace, Security, Violence | 10 Comments »

“Regional Normalisation”… an assessment -1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2009

Palestinian-israeli_flagsNormalisation or  االتطبيع  (el-Tatbi’) is certainly one of the most detested words in the Arabic political lexicon. But western diplomacy willfully ignores that and  hasn’t come up with another word to wrap up its propositions. I could delve into semantics and share with you my views on the reasons behind the word’s extremely negative connotations, but that would spawn a whole different article. I’d rather tackle the propositions directly.

Here are the regional normalization steps Washington seems to be seeking (according to Haaretz):

  1. Arab countries in the Gulf would allow Israeli passenger and civilian cargo aircraft to fly over their territory. The move would save long detours on flights to Asia, a popular destination for Israeli travelers.
  2. Israel would be able to open interest sections in other states’ embassies in Arab capitals, such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Israel had interest sections in several Arab countries but they were closed after the start in 2000 of a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Society, Israel, Middle East, Peace | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

A very revealing affair (3): Gad Elmaleh & Lebanese Jewish Politics

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/07/2009

Let’s cut to the chase (and cut the crap). The Gad Elmaleh affair reveals three things?

  • The political function of rhetorical battles. Rhetorical battles are an excellent tool for mobilisation. They grant politicians room for overbidding (with no political cost). It allows people to express and affirm key values (not necessarily held, but at least celebrated). In a polarised setting, it affirms, confirms and “justifies” the separation between the two groups.
  • _40278031_loudspeakers_ap2300Lastly, it has a very satisfying emotional dynamic. In the beginning, it “wakes people up”, in this case, keeps them alert to the danger of Hezbollah (for March XIV) or to the danger of March XIV (for Hezbollah). Through overbidding, the tension builds up: “they are imposing cultural censorship on us” vs “they are pushing for cultural normalisation with Israel“). The more the tension builds up, the more it infiltrates the masses; people start repeating the politicians slogans, strengthening the framework that was set up for them… Frustrations are expressed… freely. Emotions become violent. Taboos fall. Accusations swell… Each and every one participating in this rhetorical battle feels he is winning it. Each person feels he has the better arguments. At this point, no one is listening to the other, and each is intoxicated by his own rhetoric, values, arguments… People and groups let off steam. And they feel relieved.

    It’s a rhetorical battle, so nothing on the ground will change, nothing except the deepening of the divide between the two “battling” groups.

  • A Lebanese jewish quagmire. Since the establishment of Israel, Lebanese officials seem to have  felt uncomfortable with Lebanon’s Jewish community. Unlike Morocco whose king (Hassan II) took a public stand affirming and reaffirming  the place Moroccan Jews held in Moroccan society, Lebanese officials have preferred to remain silent on that issue. Sure, the Lebanese security forces offered the community protection in times of war and tensions. The Kataeb party was quite vocal in its defence of Lebanese Jews, and Kamal Joumblatt seems to have offered some Beiruti-Jews shelter in newly formed fiefdom in 1967. But on the governmental level, Jews were pushed out of the public administration and the army, and the 1943 “national pact” offered them no public place. The country was being redefined as Christian-Muslim.

Hypocrisy denounced in a hypocritical cartoon

In the 1960s, anti-Israeli rhetoric started soaring. Lebanese politicians engaged in this new rhetorical battle and some really excelled in it (ex: Kamal Joumblatt). Things haven’t changed today. Lebanese politicians are proud to boast that “Lebanon will be the last arab country to sign peace with Israel“. And they keep on reminding the Lebanese that “Israel is our natural enemy“, that “Israel is Lebanon’s antithesis“, and that “Israel is bound on destroying Lebanon because we’re their competitors“. This empty rhetoric isn’t Hezbollah’s (absolute) privilege. It is expressed by Lebanese politicians of all sides. March XIV® politicians regularly engage in “anti-israeli” or “anti-zionist” overbidding (c.f. my former posts  1 2 on the inoperative distinction between “Jews” and “Zionists”). Two days ago, Fares Soueid (a Lebanese politician who hasn’t been able to reclaim his mother’s seat in Parliament since Syria’s withdrawal) declared as secretary general of March XIV that the Gad Elmaleh affair serves the interest of Israel! This kind of overbidding certainly benefits Hezbollah and corners March XIV politicians because it prevents any alternative discourse on Israel, and comes across as insincere to many Lebanese.

  • An orphan peace camp. It’s becoming quite clear that there is a growing number of Lebanese that is in favour of peace with Israel. They know that their communal leadership is in favour of peace with Israel (Hariri Senior, Jumblatt, Gemayel, Geagea and Aoun have all expressed this in one way or another at a given time), but they can plainly see that this leadership is engaged in anti-Israeli rhetoric and paying lip service to the importance of resistance to Israel and the Palestinian cause.

peaceniksThis growth of Peaceniks is noticeable from the growing interest Lebanese are having in Israeli issues, the growing consumption of Israeli cultural products (music, films, literature), the Lebanese readership of Haaretz, the growing interest in Judaism and Lebanon’s Jewish community… I personally believe that most of the people who are getting involved in this controversy and supporting Gad Elmaleh’s show in Beiteddine are such peaceniks.

So there is an obvious gap between the leadership (that hides its past and probably present ties with Israeli officials and engages in anti-Israeli rhetoric) and some groups of the population. This gap feeds frustrations. But instead of being rightly  expressed toward their hypercritical leadership, they are canalised and diverted toward Hezbollah (that defends values they don’t agree with), accusing it of being the reason behind Lebanon’s antagonism with Israel, and Israeli’s violent policy toward Lebanon. It takes a couple of minutes on the internet to verify the public support Gad Elmaleh offers to Israel. Insisting on his performance in Lebanon in a way reflects an unexpressed desire of normalisation with judaism, and what has become central to it, i.e. Israel.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Israel, Judaism, Lebanon, Peace, Political behaviour, Semantics, Values, Violence | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

A very revealing affair (2): Gad Elmaleh & the Lebanese Media

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/07/2009

Now let’s look at the facts:GadElmaleh02

  1. Beiteddine Festival, operated by Nora Joumblatt (Walid Joumblatt’s syrian born wife) programs French stand-up comic and actor Gad el-Maleh in this year’s edition of the Festival.
  2. Manar TV station, that’s nothing less than a mouthpiece for Hezbollah, airs two “reports” claiming that Gad el-Maleh has fought in the IDF (Israeli army), denounce his participation in a Lebanese summer festival and pronounce him unwelcome in Lebanon.
  3. Tourism Minister Elie Marouni (Kataeb), Information Minister Tarek Mitri (Future Movement ally), Culture Minister Tamam Salam (pro-Future Movement ally), and Beiteddine Festival President Nora Joumblatt (oligarch’s wife) speak out against al-Manar’s reports and denounce them as unfounded.
  4. Gad el-Maleh cancels his three shows for security reasons
  5. Pro-March XIV media, March XIV politicians and the above ministers launch a campaign against Hezbollah’s “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking” and (my personal favourite) “bringing the image of Lebanon into disrepute”,  and for maintaining the show (or having it “videoconferenced” from Paris).

Then let’s get to the analysis:

A rhetorical battle. Up to now, the whole “Gad elmaleh affair has been a “rhetorical battle” between el-Manar on one hand and some March XIV politicians and media mouthpieces (Hezbollah’s allies, most notably the FPM, have remained completely silent on it). As you have noted from fact #5, the accusations brought against el-Manar can hold no legal ground (except for the fourth one). This “detail” is quite important. Why have the accusers chosen to attack Hezbollah on charges that hold no legal ground?

No charges have been pressed. Well, the matter is quite simple. Under lebanese law, there actually are several grounds for legal charges against el-Manar and Hezbollah. So why sticking to polemical accusations, when there are three accusations that actually hold.

  • El-Manar is accused of either disinformation or basing its reporting on dubious sources. Why doesn’t the Minister of Information press charges (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Tarek Mitri?
  • El-Manar is accused of attacking Gad el-Maleh on the bases he’s Jewish. Now Lebanon doesn’t have a specific law against anti-semitism, but it does have a law against inciting confessional hate, and Judaism is one of Lebanon’s protected faiths. Now El-Manar has been doing it for years. Why hasn’t anyone pressed charges against that? Why hasn’t the Interior Minister pressed charges against tmhat (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Ziad Baroud?
  • El-Manar is accused of tarnishing Lebanon’s image. I personally find the concept absurd and totally illiberal and antidemocratic (it’s no coincidence that it is mostly used by authoritarian regimes). But it holds under Lebanese law. Why hasn’t the Minister of Justice acted upon it?

Silly yet revealing accusations. el-Manar and Hezbollah have been accused of “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking”. Let’s take one accusation at a time and see in what way it is revealing.

  • Censorship. My dictionary defines censorship as “the practice of officially examining books, movie, etc. and suppressing unacceptable parts”. The most important element in this definition is obviously “Officially“. Censorship is practiced by an authority that holds power. Hezbollah shares with Walid Joumblatt’s “Democratic Gathering”, the position of fourth largest bloc in Parliament (less than 10% of MPs). It has one minister in the current government (out of 30). Now that doesn’t really put it in a position of power institutionally. And the “anti-Gad Elmaleh campaign” was launched by one of Lebanon’s medias, not by an official media. Sure, Hezbohallah is armed and could endanger Gad Elmaleh’s life were he to come to Lebanon. But it’s not the only armed side in Lebanon, and a security arrangement could be found with it, like it has been found on so many other matters. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
  • Intellectual terrorism. Here’s wikipedia’s definition (my translation): “the practice which aims at intimidating or silencing people by submitting them to arguments and intellectual pressures through publications, media interventions (etc) so as to prevent them from formulating perturbing ideas (regardless of their validity, falsity or disputability)”. What is interesting with the concept of “intellectual terrorism” is that it doesn’t have to be “official”, it can be operational as long as the people exercising it hold the upper hand in the specific field they are operating in. Now Hezbollah surely doesn’t have the upper hand in the communication field or the cultural production field. Truth to tell, its cultural influence is rather limited (and so is its participation in cultural production). So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
  • Cultural hostage taking. The charge is quite meaningless. It assumes that Hezbollah has a dominant position in the cultural sector and can define Lebanese cultural expressions or at least censor them, which bring us back to the first two “charges”. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?

So why is the Gad Elmaleh affair just another rhetorical battle, and in what way does it reveal that people feel cornered by Hezbollah? You can look at the way some bloggers (Jester, Now Lebanon, Khaled Barraj) or journalists (Daily Star’s Michael Young, Orient-Le Jour’s Michel Hajji Georgiou) have been dealing with this issue. My answer comes tomorrow.

Posted in Antisemitism, Discourse, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Peace, Prejudice, Semantics, Values, Violence | 9 Comments »

Talking in peace

Posted by worriedlebanese on 31/05/2008

I met a group of people today studying Hebrew and Arabic through a French organisation called “Parler en Paix” (Talking in Peace). They had a stand in the International Fair for Peace Initiatives that took place in Paris this weekend. A Lebanese organisation partook in the event too (for the first time it seems). Though every one was busy attending to his or her stand, some exchanges were possible, and they centered on two issues: the political situation in Lebanon and the Israeli-Lebanese conflict. I overheard some heated arguments, but on the whole, people from all sides discussed all issues very openly, and without taboos. It was rather nice for a change. 

Posted in Civil Society, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Peace | Leave a Comment »

Not in our name

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/05/2008

For several years now, a worldwide jewish movement has been voicing its rejection of the Israeli policy towards Palestinians, summing it up by the slogan “not in my name”.

I think we should do the same in Lebanon, replacing “my” by “our” because our political actors never refer to us as individuals, but express themselves as representatives of their communities. I personally don’t believe they represent their communities, and the responsibility of their acts certainly do not fall on their communities. It’s time they took on this responsibility themselves.  

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Middle East, Peace, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Listening to Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/03/2008

treeisrael.jpgI went to the Paris Book-Fair today to listen to three authors who are amongst Israel’s most celebrated writers and intellectuals. Oz and Grossman were already familiar figures to me, but not Yehoshua. I was curious to hear them not only for their talent as writers, but because of their political involvement. They were involved in “Peace Now” for several years and they had supported Olmert’s government in its war against Hezbollah/Lebanon in 2006. They discussed three main themes: the relation to the other, their political involvement, the meaning of literature (and the writer’s role).  The talk was intelligent and funny. It was a real pleasure to hear them debate over such issues, and to see them confront their points of view.

I felt rather uncomfortable when I listened to A.B. Yehoshua tell his audience that as Jews they should immigrate to Israel. I wondered how he reconciled this call with he’s so called commitment to peace.

Posted in Israel, Peace, Political behaviour, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Buidling homes to connect people: why not in Nahr el Bared?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/11/2007

storylebanonafp.jpgI enterred a jolly argument with some guy in cyberspace over Nahr el Bared. And this has been going on for a couple of days. This brought me back to a question I’ve been asking myself for a couple of months now: What would be a relevant peace initiative in such a situation? The work I carried out this summer with som IDP children coming from that camp was neither relevant nor a real peace initiative (for many reasons that I could develop in some other post).
I remembered an article I had photocopied some time ago on an Irish initiative that seemed to be quite succesful. The operation was called “Blitz Build” and it was carried out by Catholics and Protestants in Glencairn with the help of Habitat for humanity. I believe Offre Joie, a very active Lebanese organisation, participated in a similar operation in southern Lebanon last year, in cooperation with my Alma Mater. Maybe something similar could be done in Nahr el Bared… I should give it a bit more thought and start doing contacts…

Posted in Blogosphere, Lebanon, Palestinians, Peace | 1 Comment »

Geneva Initiative, 4 years after.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/11/2007

batisseru.jpgIn three weeks, we will be celebrating the 4th anniversary of the Geneva Initiative. A very interesting book I’m reading brought this Israeli-Palestinian initiative back to my mind. David Chemla’s Bâtisseurs de la Paix (Liana Levi, Paris, 2005) is in fact a very important complementary reading to this Draft Permanent Status Agreement, because it consists of extended interviews with its main protagonists: Nazmi al-Jubeh, Ami Ayalon, Abdel Jader Al-Hussein, Dror Etkes, Qadira Fares, Tsvia Grinfeld, Radi Harai, David Grossman (who lost a son during the July War/Second Lebanese War), Zehira Kamal, Amram Mitzna, Saman Khoury, Haïm Oron, Ibrahim Khreishi, Ron Pundak, Sari Nusseibeh, Rafi Walden. The interviews were done by David Chemla, head of the French section of Peace Now: La paix maintenant.

These interviews give you a clear picture on the dynamics that resulted in the Geneva Initiative. For those like myself who are critical about the accord, it gives you all the argument you need to show why their accord was doomed to failure.

Posted in Civil Society, Israel, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Peace | Leave a Comment »