Saturday, January 20, 2007

Putting a face to the protesters

Do you remember these photos that L. took of a destroyed bridge that is being rebuilt in South Lebanon? Well, I’ve been meaning to tell you all about a conversation I had with a young man that I met whose family lives right near this bridge and who was at home with his family during Israel’s war on Lebanon.

My new friend is studying computer engineering at the University. He would like to find a job in Lebanon when he finishes his degree but chances are he will have to leave the country to find work like so many other Lebanese.

For 18 days during the summer, my friend was awoken every morning at 6:00 am to the sound of the Israelis bombing this bridge. For 18 days his alarm clock was the sound of bombs destroying the bridge down the street from his house. Did it take 18 days? No, but bombing rubble does instill fear and kill civilians.

My friend says:
Israel controls us.
They take our land and we can’t say anything.
They enter our sky and we can’t say anything.
They do not like anyone to be stronger than they are.

My friend wants to have a voice. He wants his people to have this voice when Israel disrespects borders and he also wants to have a voice in the political system in his country. My friend believes that Hizbullah and the coalition it has formed with Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement is this voice.

It was a special date. I told him that I wanted to hear his perspective. I wanted to hear what the war this summer was like for him. I wanted to hear why he was going to spend New Year celebrations at Martyrs' Square with “the protesters.” I wanted to put a face to the protesters and to Hizbullah.
This photo was posted on Blogging Beirut. I found it on electronic Lebanon. I passed by this scene quite a few times on the highway on which the soldier is standing as well on the street below. Most of the time, drivers would shake their heads as they drove by, as would I. Martyrs' Square and the whole area were so nice to walk in before the protesters arrived, I was told. This whole area had been rebuilt by former Prime Minister Hariri. Many of the shops and restaurants that I saw when I walked nearby were upscale and were not places the protestors could frequent, which is part of the reason some people are protesting. My friend helped me understand this.

I told my friend that I have been struggling with how I feel about Hizbullah. I do not believe in the violence that occurred this summer even though I recognize that I never have been pushed. I do not know what I would do when words, negotiations, supposed “diplomacy” do not work and when my life and that of my people do not mean as much to the world as that of an Israeli soldier and/or citizen.

I told him that I want all people to have a voice in the political system and I want them to have justice, but that I do not believe that people have the right to start wars. He reminded me that Israel was planning this war and that the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers was just a good moment to proceed with the plan. I know this. I also know that there are hundreds of Lebanese citizens in Israeli jails that have not been given fair and legal trials. But no matter how you look at it, the result was war and people were killed. Neither side is blameless in war.

Since the war, more Lebanese support Hizbullah. The party is helping people rebuild and is now asking for more representation in the government. 1/3 of the seats would give the coalition of Hizbullah, Amal, and the Free Patritiotic Movement veto power just like the other groups. This is what my friend wants too. This is what the demonstrations at Martyrs’ Square are about.

In Lebanon, each political party helps its own. While visiting various non-profits, I learned that each political party and sometimes even the various leaders run foundations and give financial support to non-profits in their region. The government has given very little to the Shiites who have the least amount of political representation in the government and coincidentally are those with the fewest resources. It is Hizbullah who has provided support to the Shiites.

It makes sense to me that the Shiites need more representation in the government. I am not sure that merely having 1/3 of the seats will be the answer. It is my understanding that Lebanese must return to their place of birth to vote and that they only have the option to vote for people from their region and religious affiliation. It is like in the United States' primaries when people can only vote for candidates of their registered political party. The difference, as I understand it, is that Lebanese do not have the option to vote for a candidate in another party in the general election like we do. This sectarian system is what makes no sense to me. People should be able to vote for issues not for parties. And political parties should not be able to only provide social support to their own.
Besides doing away with the sectarian system Samah Idriss believes that "radical reform" is needed including:
"..holding all corrupt politicians accountable,... fighting all those responsible for the huge debts that Lebanon incurred,... articulating a clear socio-economic policy that helps the poor overcome their burdens,... giving Palestinians in Lebanon their full civil and political rights until their return to Palestine, defining a clear position that refuses the dictates of the World Bank ... "

I may never understand the current situation in Lebanon fully. However, I do know that I am not going to stop putting faces to the people involved in this debate. Everyone's voice deserves to be heard. A good take home message is that, like other parts of the Middle East, the political situation in Lebanon cannot be reduced to a bad guy=terrorist=Syria and Iran=Hizbullah vs. good guy=Western support=March 14 dichotomy.
If you haven't already, I recommend reading the two articles I linked to earlier:


Carol Gee said...

Margaret, this is a great post. Thanks for enriching my knowledge of your homeland. Here is a link to another blogger on my favorites list, Grant McCracken, an anthropologist. His post today is also about protest, and I am going to link to yours in a comment to him. Each of you has something to gain by reading the other's. Here is his post:

Also, I am sorry your friend is battling cancer again. It strikes me that you often talk so respectfully and lovingly about your friends in your posts. You must be a good friend yourself.

Coffee Messiah said...

I'm enjoying reading your posts!
When I got out of HS, my first girlfriend was Lebanese and her parents introduced me to the food and ideas. They are now gone, as is their daughter.
You're right about the labels, they shouldn't be any part of interaction between peoples, whether woman/man, black/white/yellow/red, etc, etc, etc.
Let's hope Peace will come soon in all parts of the World.
We can only hope and move, one person to person at a time it seems. ; (

Margaret said...

Thanks for the link to Grant's blog, Carol. I will check it out.
Also thanks for the observant comments about my refrences to my friends. They mean alot to me and I am glad that comes across.

Margaret said...

Coffee Messiah,
I am glad that you are enjoying my posts. What a great compliment. Yes, labels make no sense. I known the concept of war since I was five years old and wish that war could become obsolete in my lifetime. Instead of just saying "That's impossible" and not even trying, I will continue to try...