So now we know. In 2006, as Israel was bombing Lebanese highways, power supplies, the airport, and oil reservoirs, the Lebanese Prime Minister was hoping that Israel would finish “the job” quickly and successfully. Now we know. As over a quarter of the population was displaced from their homes under the threat of missiles, tank fire and artillery, the then commander of the army and now president of Lebanon, was letting the Israeli government know that the Lebanese army would stand down. As 10,000 homes were destroyed and over 1,300 Lebanese citizens (1/3 of them children) were killed, the Lebanese government`s main concern was that that this very real and very brutal Israeli re-invasion might lead to a “reoccupation” of Lebanon by Syria.
The recent publication of a new spate of wikileaks cables in the Lebanese daily newspaper Al-Akhbar is bound to electrify the already on-edge political standoff in Lebanon. As Najib Mikati continues to try to form a government, the March 14th coalition continues to escalate their demands that Hezbollah disarm, and the publication of the indictments in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon continue to loom on the horizon, these leaked diplomatic cables will either push the country over the edge or, more likely, add another layer to the cynicism, apathy and exhaustion that forms like scar tissue on the surface of the Lebanese body public.
The day after the attacks on Lebanon began, Prime Minister Sinioura described the Israeli bombardment of the airport, highways, and civilian areas as "disproportionate" and "unhelpful.” Reading the cables, it becomes clear that what Sinioura meant was that Israeli military actions were unhelpful to what was the common goal of the Israeli government and Lebanese government; the disarmament of Hezbollah, the neutralization of its power in Lebanon, and the end of the armed resistance in Lebanon to continued Israeli occupation. In 2006, with friends and family, we would have these debates-particularly in the first weeks of the war. Was our government tacitly accepting Israeli actions against us? Had our government drawn some arbitrary red line (around Beirut and “Christian areas”, as another wikileaks cable confirmed) that left the entirety of South Lebanon and over a million Lebanese civilians exposed to the machinations of the Israeli war machine? I remember reading with nausea a statement issued from the Israeli government “reassuring” the [“moderate”] Lebanese that “Israel is not fighting Lebanon but the terrorist element there, led by Nasrallah and his cohorts, who have made Lebanon a hostage and created Syrian- and Iranian-sponsored terrorist enclaves of murder." Two weeks into the war, clearly now realizing that Hezbollah would not fold under Israeli attack like a deck of cards and also realizing that the majority of Lebanese citizens rejected Israel`s “help”, Sinioura told the American Ambassador that “both GOI [government of Israel] and GOL [government of Lebanon] were getting tied up in "details" and risked losing the main objective -- peace and security for Israel, and peace and a disarmed Hezbollah for Lebanon. Sinioura argued that only the Iranian and Syrian regimes benefited from bickering over the proposed cease-fire agreement and its related UNSC resolution.” Clearly more in fear of a possible Syrian retrenchment in Lebanon, Sinioura complained to the American Ambassador that Israel`s air and sea blockade of Lebanon, was "pushing us all into the arms of Syria." As thousands of Lebanese civilians escaped to, and were welcomed by, Syria, and as food and relief aid was streaming into Lebanon from Syria (the only country other Israel that Lebanon shares a border with), Sinioura was complaining that the true cost of Israel`s land, air and sea blockade of Lebanon was that “Syria is becoming our lungs, we can only breathe through the Syrians."
Unfortunately for all Lebanese citizens and all residents of Lebanon (including over 400,000 Palestinian refugees, 150,000 Kurdish refugees, and some 100,000 foreign indentured housekeepers) the post 2006 Lebanese government did not change course. According to another 2008 wikileaks cable, Minister of Defense Elias al Murr told the American Ambassador to Lebanon that in the possibility of yet another Israel-Lebanon war, Israel must respect what he considered to be two red lines "One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hezbollah out of these areas...Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas." Effectively, two years after the end of the war, the Lebanese Minister of Defense was giving military advice to the Israeli government and trying to keep only certain areas and populations of Lebanon safe from the Israeli war machine. This week, Saad al Hariri stripped off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves in front of a delirious crowd of supporters and again reiterated the demand that Hezbollah disarm and that the population was divided between "those" who are democratic and "those" that support the March 8 coalition and more specifically, Hezbollah
One night in 2006, I was standing on my balcony in West Beirut after a day of running between centers for the displaced distributing much needed goods and, just as importantly, just sitting and talking with people who were now refugees in our shared country. I was watching Israeli bombardment light up the sky. On a profound, and almost inexplicable level, I was not afraid. I knew that I was not their target. I also knew that my relative safety was bought at the direct expense of my co-citizens through the currency of political sectarianism, which engendered the logic that to destroy Hezbollah, one had to destroy and displace its potential voters. Simply put, Shiite majority areas were bombed indiscriminately because, in the logic of sectarianism, they were the potential supporters of Hezbollah, a Shiite paramilitary political party. I felt helpless that night. I knew that in the moment I could do nothing about the way that violence is distributed across sectarian and economic groups unevenly. Even more so, I realized again that I was not in control of my identity, that even if I was an atheist in solidarity with Hezbollah I was “read” by the Israeli war machine, the international community, and even the Sinioura government as a “Sunni Beiruti” and that it was this metaphysically violent reading that was keeping me safe from the direct violence of yet another war. I knew that my neighborhood would not be flattened (and that its flattening would not be internationally sanctioned) in order to destroy possible Hezbollah hiding places, that my neighbors and family would not be forced to flee under fire from their homes and cram into makeshift displacement centers 30 to a room, and I knew that less than one kilometer away my co-citizens were paying the price of being “read” differently by that same Israeli war machine, international community, and Sinioura government. In the thirty years that I have been alive, I have lived through several wars in Lebanon. But I have never felt so implicated in the violence wrought upon others. I felt this viscerally and yet I did not have the words to explain these feelings of guilt because my relative safety was being bought and sold at such a high price. I did not have the evidence.
Now I do.