I don’t think there was an hour that went by last night that I didn’t hear Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) F16s violate UN Resolution 1701 by flying over Lebanese airspace last night. It made me think of spending the early morning hours at the Dead Sea two summers ago when my friends and I (Palestinian and Lebanese) watched these planes leave the Negev desert area headed precisely for such missions. It’s nothing new in Lebanon for Israelis to violate Lebanese airspace, but what is new and promising is that the French UNIFIL forces here have been outraged enough by this to speak publicly about it and suggest that they might take action (hopefully military action) against the IOF when they do this in the future. They haven’t done so yet, but I’m hopeful that someone will stop them from doing this. This comes at the same time that Israeli F16s not only flew into Lebanese airspace, but actually opened fired near German warships sent here to protect Lebanon. I’m sure that this as well as Israel continuing to move its new fence/Blue Line border with Lebanon north or its continuing its occupation of the village of Ghajar or its admission of using white phosphorous bombs this summer is not making headlines in the U.S., but it is certainly important news here and should be elsewhere. On the road to Ghajar the IOF broke up the roads so that it’s nearly impassable and placed large sand piles and land mines making it difficult for people to see what’s going on even though Indian UNIFIL forces are stationed at the border. As usual the UN’s troops have little power to do anything other than be simple bystanders. Additionally, each week headlines here report new cases, usually children, who have been killed by IOF cluster bombs. One of the most recent cases came as some children were trying to pick olives in their family’s olive grove.
Of course I continue to think about the man-made disaster here, its effect on the people and the environment, and the effort to rebuild with Lebanon as compared to the environmental devastation in New Orleans. But my trip to Oakland, California gave me a new comparison a couple of weeks ago. On the drive between the San Francisco International Airport and Oakland, California I saw the damaged bridge and asked the taxi driver what the damage was from. I suspected it was from the last major earthquake and I was correct. California has still not repaired its bridge that was damaged in 1989! It was striking that some of the physical damage looked strikingly like some of the bridge damage here, though not nearly as bad and I would be shocked if it took seven years, let alone seventeen years, to rebuild Lebanon’s bridges. Amazing the differences here with respect to infrastructure, rebuilding, and priorities.
It’s been hard to write since I moved to Beirut mostly because I’ve never been so busy in my life. Between two hours of Arabic classes each weekday, teaching two classes, working on the boycott campaign, spending weekends in the south of Lebanon, and trying to work on my own research and writing I have little time for sleep much less blogging or emailing. These things seem to be luxuries now. I love having this rich life here that is deeply fulfilling and meaningful, but I also think that it’s important to share it with those I care about in the U.S. Teaching at AUB is an amazing experience and quite different from teaching at Al Quds University or the University of Jordan in a number of respects. Aside from the physical beauty of the campus and the intellectually stimulating colleagues, who are politically active as well, there are so many academic and cultural lectures and activities every week that I can barely keep up. In spite of the situation here we have managed to bring in really interesting speakers, three of whom I’ve been able to see thus far. We have another one coming on Tuesday, who will speak about Mark Twain and Herman Melville’s escapades in the Holy Land, which is especially great since one of my classes is reading Twain’s The Innocents Abroad right now.
I did manage to take a brief break from work yesterday to visit an art exhibition of Lebanese artists responding to this summer’s war. Nafas Beirut had a series of pieces, some multimedia, some visual, some audio, some writing, and some film representations of the war. It was held at a gallery called Espace SD. Many of the artists’ work is up on the exhibit’s website, but some of the more compelling pieces I’ll point directly too for people who want to see them. Fadia Kisrwani Abboud and Maissa Alameddine created an interactive piece in which the leaflets dropped by the IOF on Lebanese villages asking them to vacate before bombing (which, of course, the IOF then bombed while/on their exodus) were on the floor. They ask you to pick up these pieces, which now have a return address in the Zionist state and you are to pick up the paper, stamp it with a return to sender stamp, and place it in a mailbox they created. Some artists used powerful cartoon or comic book imagery in their work such as Choghig Der-Ghougassian, Elyse Tabet, Maher Diab, Jana Traboulsi, and Raed Yassin. Zena El-Khalil’s piece was an Andy-Warhol-esque painting of Hassan Nasrallah which was really fantastic and powerful. Abdallah Khalil, who is originally from Nabatieh, a village that was hit hard during the war, did a photo montage piece of the damage in his village coupled with an installation piece of the actual damage, particularly to the books that remained in his family’s home after it was bombed and leveled. There was also an interactive piece that asked you to step on a pedal on the floor in order to activate an air machine that made white feathers float to the top; the artist, Ghassan Ghazal was trying to represent violence through this piece. In one of the few pieces of video art, Randa Mirza creates a self portrait of her on television as a still image in which she points the remote control at us in order to question war’s violence and its representation in the media. Finally, though there were many others I’m not highlighting here, Greta Naufal painted a beautiful, though haunting, picture entitled “Exodus” of a couple of people in Southern Lebanon fleeing their homes. Of course it’s always difficult to respond to current events in writing and art so soon after they occur, but many of these artists did so in thoughtful, reflective ways. The exhibition should be ongoing as they want to include more artists as they respond to the war and before they produce a catalog of their work.
Finally, the image represented here is not from the art exhibit. No, this image is not art; it’s real. Shortly after the war Absolut Vodka and Johnny Walker began posting really offensive billboards around Beirut that all have variations on the same theme: basically, keep partying and drinking, Beirut, even as you recover from and reconstruct after the war. The Johnny Walker billboard depicts Johnny walking over one of the destroyed bridges. Unbelievable what corporations will do without thinking of what the damage that will be caused by the offensiveness of their images.