Fall 2006 Vol. V, No. 1
Perspectives on the war
A Day on the Hill
Lynn Zovighian 07 met Congressman Frank Wolf in January
when he visited Lebanon on his Middle East tour. After lecturing to a
group of AUB students, the congressman invited Lynn to intern at his Washington,
DC office during the summer. Lynn plans on pursuing graduate studies in
International Energy and Environmental Policy in the United States after
completing her bachelor of arts in political studies at AUB.
The fax machine flashes. One neat paper exits. Its an AIPAC Press
Release: AIPAC Applauds Passage of Congressional Resolutions Backing Israel.
Only a few days into the internship and I am already formally introduced
to the power and eloquent lack of subtleness of the Israeli and Jewish
lobby on Capitol Hill. The office of Congressman Frank Wolf would be receiving
faxes from such groups on a daily basis throughout the Hezbollah-Israeli
wara constant reminder of AIPAC's omnipresence.
The offices intern desk phone softly rings. An angry constituent
is on the other end of the line. She shouts out curses and insults to
the Bush administration and its continued support for the war in Iraq.
The African-American grandmother is about to say goodbye to her eighteen-year-old
granddaughter who has just been called up for service outside of Baghdad.
She has called her congressmans office to vent her anger and helplessness.
The mailman steps into the office with the daily mail. One constituent
is asking for help in processing the immigration papers of her brother.
Another letter is from the White House, another from the State Department.
The last two are sealed and immediately placed in the congressmans
These scenarios set the tone of my six-week internship on the famous (or
infamous) Capitol Hill. The Hill, Capitol Hills most popular publication,
recently ranked the countrys most powerful representatives: Congressman
Wolf was rated number fourteen. Working for such a prominent man was certainly
a unique way of savoring the Hill Experience. Politics is not just about
power; its about being in the right place at the right time; its
about luck. It is also about results: a representative is judged every
two years by the voters. Congressman Wolf has done well: thirteen terms
is a very long time.
The American people feel close to their government. Every single American
citizen believes in, and is proud of, the American system, its checks
and balances, and its ability to bring justice. That phone call from the
grandmother was testimony to this reality: in times of hardship and vulnerability,
the American people turn to their leaders (theyre perceived as more
than just politicians) for help.
That fax was a reminder of a status quo I was already aware of: the US-Israeli
relationship is close. The Israeli message is simple: You are against
terror. We are against terror. Let us fight this terror together.
Their language is concrete, team-oriented, and politically sincere. They
talk with the American government. Not to them and not at them. With them.
Their concerns are therefore graciously embraced by the American government.
On July 16, Arab-American groups organized a protest in front of the White
House. Their message was muddled: wrapped in complicated language, reeking
with emotion, half-cooked in irrelevant and loop-holed arguments, in a
sauce that had gone bad. Some protestors even wore shirts with the words,
Yes, Im Arab-American, written on the front. Standing
among them, I almost forgot that the crowd had gathered to call for an
end to the Israeli bombs in Lebanon.
Which do you choose? The Bush administration, like every other preceding
American government, chooses to listen to the message that yields the
smallest headache. No Tylenol needed. The lesson of that day is so plainlyand
painfullyobvious. It is a reality Arabs have refused to change.
It is also an example that does not hurt to be followed.
Reflections on a July War
Hiba Ali Krisht is a sophomore biology major from south
Lebanon. She hopes to attend medical school after AUB.
I sit at my window during the long afternoons of July and listen to each
sounding boom not so very far away. (I am, of course, safe, holed up in
a quiet no-land just beyond Beirut.) My skin is taut, my eyes
are hollow, my ears have closed like a chrysalis protecting something
fragile inside. I hang over the highway that leads to the South. It is
empty. Any rogue car drifting on that precious road looks forlorn. I feel
like every spiral of smoke rising from my beloved Dahiyeh, the southern
suburb of Beirut, is burning my home.
And it is July.
July, to me, has always been a gloriously carefree month of sparkle and
sun and family visits galore: long afternoons in a courtyard in South
Lebanon, heavily laden grape vines overhead, shifting shadows playing
lazily on the ground. Its such a nice, long, lazy month. Its
such a summer month.
Maybe, I reflect, Shakespeare was wrong. Maybe theres more in a
name than he allowed. Certainly this July, then, is not the July of my
dreams. This July is parched earth and hot sun beating down mercilessly
on cities, on people, on burning asphalt and the roofs of homes, wilting
every vegetable garden in South Lebanon.
And my thoughts drift to that South. They float over Sür, Tyre, where
I have family. Perhaps they too are sitting at windows, listening to the
bombs not so very far away. And perhaps somewhere in that dreamland of
a South, children sit huddled, reading their fates in the trembling hands
that cover their faces. The air is so still and dry it burns their skinsbut
it does not burn the hurt that is buried beneath. Perhaps to the end of
time, they will sit amidst ruins of an ancient town, already forgetful
of the July they, and I, once knew.
And almost inevitably there is the why. Why am I here, and why are they
there, those people, those children? What is it that spans this Mediterranean
land and somehow connects us, forming an invisible bridge? What is the
message of such July moments?
Well, I know that its moreit has to be more than wizened old
children with brows furrowed like wrinkled date-skin. Its more than
fighter planes swooping down over their heads in this hell of a July War.
It is a legacy found amidst moments of loss, despite images of brown-skinned
children sitting hollow-eyed each on a rung of a ladder propped up against
a pomegranate tree, watching the dust settle amidst the rubble of a now
The connection that bridges us is one of shared despair.
It is strange. I am not panic-stricken. This is no adrenaline fear. It
is instead a dull, deep, alien feeling of someone far, far away, watching
from the outside. And those children, what do they feel? Is it terror?
And I speak of the childrenthose who are still childrennever
mind those our own age newly forced into the adult world by this July.
I sit at my window, and some frantic part of the kaleidoscope within me
turns to my peers, and I wonder. I wonder how many young, carefree men
and women will never again be seen glorying so comfortably at their university,
lying on the Green Oval, basking in the sun. I sit at my window, and I
wonder how many dreams and fragile foundations for the future have been
swept away by a wind gone south.
And I sit and sit and sit at this window. I sit looking at the pallor
cast over my own younger siblings. My heart cries out for the children
And I think, what is hopelessness compared to the enveloping insanity
of rage? What is this weak, parasitic feeling of despair in face of the
trembling force of full-blown anger?
I find myself looking at my small handsI decide that I will dig
deeper into the hotness of my blood, and find that invincible legacythe
same legacy that rises deep-throated from every crater and mass-burial
somewhere in the South
And I walk.
I walk through a tattered, ragged Dahiyeh, registering the surgical masks
covering the faces around me. I see only the dark determination in their
eyes, and I walk slowly, deliberately, through the mountains of concrete-rubble-broken-furniture-tattered-books-and-broken-homes.
People drift by in throngs and more throngs, circling rubble, stretching
their limbs, rejoicing that they are free to walk this path. And the glorious
road to the shining South is dotted with cars, running with the force
of the coolest, thirst-quenching river.
Has Lebanon ever been so great as it is this glorious day? The tautness
in my skin will never leave me, but now it is taut with fierce strength
and pride, as everywhere I turn the nation and its great, great people
rise up to help each other, bursting through the outrageously thick heat-choked
atmosphere of these days. A July is needed to bring forth the best that
is buried deep in patriotism-struck bosoms. The air rings with the strength
of their hands.
My Jewish Friends
September 10, 2006 | Patrick McGreevy is the Director of
the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at AUB.
In the heart of Beirut stands an abandoned synagogue. There used to be
one more sect in Lebanon, its members not so different from everyone elseeating,
speaking, and living like other Arabs, but Jewish by faith. Every time
I walk by the windowless structure, I see the faces of my Jewish-American
friends, and cant help but think of other Beirutsnot just
the Beiruts of the past, but the Beiruts that might have been or might
I have many Jewish friends. It seems strange to be living in Lebanon where
Jews are almost entirely absent, and where the public image of Jews is
so powerfully shaped bythe actions of the State of Israel. The ferocity
of this summers bombing spurred some Lebanese to ask: Do the Israelis
recognize us as human? At times like these, I wish my Arab friends could
meet my Jewish friends.
The Jewish-Americans I have known are a diverse lot, but what distinguishes
most of them is a relentless ethical impulse. They have been among the
leaders of movements against racism. They have been proponents of justice
for every group excluded and demonized, including Palestinians. Hence,
it seems entirely appropriate that the word mensch entered
the American vocabulary via Jewish immigrants; to be a mensch (a good
person) should be the ordinary human pursuit: one need not be a saint.
Hussein Ibiesh, an important public opponent of discrimination against
Arabs in the United States, explains that the very images now used to
demonize Arabs, were onceused against Jews. The Arab sheikh, wielding
power by manipulating the global petroleum market is none other than Shylock
himselfthe proverbial Jewish cut-throat banker. And the crazed terrorist
is none other than the Bolshevik, anarchist, street-fighting Jewish revolutionary.
At some point in the future, most people will look back at what is happening
in the greater Middle East today, they will measure the tons of blood
spilled into the sand, they will notice the tons of oil carted away, they
will see the impunity with which the United States, Britain, and Israel
have acted in their own interests. They will see the asymmetry of power.
They will see that the justifications amount to a self-serving superiority
that has always accompanied imperialism. And in spite of the fact that
the regions leaders have exhibited ineptitude, and in spite of the
sometimes cruel and misguided nature of the resistance to empire, it will
judge that a vast crime has indeed been perpetrated.
What stories will we tell then? That some Israelis, some Jewish-Americans,
some other Americans, worked endlessly to protest, condemn, and demand
an end to this violence? They will be true stories. But look around today:
what is the central story? How many care or notice? Our great-grandchildren
will be rummaging through old electronic files, video clips, and newsprint
looking for stories of hope, of solidarity. If we were to notice the atrocity
now, instead of waiting for the children of our children to notice, perhaps
there could be a different story. Perhaps our great-grandchildren would
find stories of hope and of solidarity.
Can we imagine a Beirut in which the synagogue is as lovingly restored
as the Place de lEtoile or the old Ottoman Serail where Lebanons
president now resides? Is that Beirut only imaginable in a world with
a different past? Is it utopian to imagine a Middle East in which Jewish
people once again live among the regions other people? The alternativea
walled and brutal Israelwill be no place for honorable menschen.
From Damascus to Beirut
August 23, 2006 | Hossein Shahidi, Assistant Professor
Because of the closure of Beirut airport and the destruction of Lebanons
highway system by Israeli bombardment, I returned to Beirut from Damascus
by bus on Friday, 18 August, 2006, traveling along Lebanons byways.
The slow journey took us through beautiful villages and small towns that
most passengers would not have visited otherwise. Perhaps we need a calamity
to remind us of what is often sacrificed in high-speed development.
At the Syrian-Lebanese border, aid workers form various organizations
including the UN, were stationed to help the refugees returning to Lebanon.
One group of aid workers delivered a supply of bread, cookies, and fruit
juice cartons to our bus. The gift would surely have been received gratefully
by the survivors of a famine or an earthquake. But at least on our bus,
none of the returnees showed any interest. The supplies were stowed away
on the busno doubt to reach more needy people.
The bus ride cost little more than $4 and took less than four hours, while
some other passengers were paying a hundred dollars or more for exclusive
taxis, without necessarily saving any time. Indeed, at the Lebanese immigration
post, I came across a taxi driver who outside the Damascus bus garage
had offered to charge me $20 for the journeyas one of four passengers
because, he said, there are no buses. We greeted each
other, shook hands, and laughed after I pointed out that there had, after
all, been a bus.
The Syrian and Lebanese sections of the Damascus-Beirut road are different
in landscape and displays of wealth. In Syria with a population
of nearly 19 million and per capita GDP of $3,900 the road passes
through a slowly rising, mostly barren land, with some billboards advertising
a narrow range of goods and services, and some praising the Syrian leadership.
At the border crossing, there are also billboards declaring Syrias
wishes for Lebanons strength and security.
In Lebanonpopulation nearly 4 million, per capita GDP $6,200where
the land grows increasingly green as the road descends from the mountains
towards the Mediterranean, there is a deluge of ads for a whole variety
of consumer goods, many of them promoted by women in suggestive poses.
There are also posters announcing concerts by popular singers that were
due to take place in the second half of July, early into what was to have
been Lebanons tourist season.
There were no billboards announcing the planned appearance, also in mid-July,
of the greatest living Arab singer, Fairouz, at the magnificent Roman
Acropolis in Baalbeck. A Fairouz performance, of course, would sell out
without much promotion. But up to the war and in its early days, the voices
that could be heard widely on radio in Beirut and Damascus belonged to
the more recent Arab singers, some of whom also promote carbonated drinks.
Later on, it was Fariouzs voice that filled the air. Yet again,
a calamity seemed to have served as a reminder of a treasure.
On the bus, I sat next to a Palestinian-Lebanese family, with two articulate
and inquisitive little girls. They were not allowed by their elders to
be photographed, but they did hold up for photography leaflets that had
been distributed in Lebanon warning of the unexploded armaments dropped
during the war.
Arriving in Beirut, on its way to the southern city of Saida, the bus
passed by the south Beirut neighborhoods that had been attacked by Israel.
Though we were far away from the demolished buildings that had been shown
on television around the world, what we could seeincluding a vanished
urban bridge now replaced by a string of Lebanese flagsgave a clear
picture of the destruction.
There were also scenes showing the Lebanese peoples resilience:
a toy store back in business, and a man reading his paper at a sidewalk
café, on the ground floor of a damaged building. And there were
more billboards along the streets, some commercial, others political,
including those displaying Irans leaders and the General Secretary
of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Seyed-Hassan Nasrallah.
Reprinted with permission from www.iranian.com