Stepping off an airplane in the U.S. when one is coming from just about any place else one is struck by the fact that a brisk walk through your average American airport bookshop, glancing at the headlines on American magazines and book titles one can get a sense of how sick American society really is. I cannot remember all the headlines now, but seeing all the celebrity-zation of U.S. culture really makes me want to puke. Even so-called news publications seem to fall prey to this phenomenon.
I was dreading this moment of returning to the U.S. I was hoping it wouldn’t happen. And saying goodbye to the people I love was the hardest part of it all. Of course I’ll only be gone for four months before I return to Lebanon, which seems like nothing for my friends who will go on with their lives there; but for me to have to live in the land of the military and the Mormons life will be far more challenging on a daily basis. Being in Los Angeles is of no help as the main street near my house is filled with banners about raising money for Chabad.
I think of these signs as I think about the people who were the most difficult to say goodbye to–people I’ve been working with who are from Nahr el Bared. People who are waiting to have their camp back. People who are going to be placed in horrible, dangerous temporary shelters near (not inside) their refugee camp. People who are reliving the bombing every day if they reside in Badawi refugee camp where the sound and vibration of the army’s destruction is impossible to escape. Some of the kids from Nahr el Bared who have been living with Shatila refugee camp got a bit of a reprieve from camp life in general when they went to a summer camp in the Ba’albak area. I visited them for a day and it was amazing to see how mellow these kids were, though, ironically they were camping out in UNRWA tents so as it appeared visually as a 1948 camp. But seeing the kids out in wide-open spaces running around or sitting in groups working on art projects with no walls around them was one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. Even still somehow a group of Palestinian children were a bit too dangerous for both Hezbollah and Lebanese army officials who felt the need to visit the camp at least a few times over the course of the week to see what was going on.
Perhaps the last few months of the Lebanese army’s war on Nahr el Bared refugee camp prepared me for this moment in some ways. The increasing ways in which the army has created a media campaign to get the public to support its troops–from new billboards to Byblos Bank’s new credit card that allows people to financially support the army to American imported rubber bracelets (a la Lance Armstrong style) that convey the same sentiment. One of these billboards is an enormous one near the Green Line and is several floors tall depicting an image in the likeness of the post-9/11 image of firemen putting up an American flag. In this image, however, it is of a Lebanese soldier putting up a Lebanese flag inside the destroyed Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el Bared. The music is a close second behind. Before I left Lebanon I was watching Nagham music video channel and on it were two new songs/videos: one was of Nancy Ajram singing a new song as she is dressed in an army khaki green blouse with images of the Lebanese army mixed into the footage; the other is entirely done by the army and sounds like a typical military song (I believe the singer is named Elie Choueiri). But the army video goes beyond just showing the troops: it both steals images from Hezbollah and it has images of Lebanese army tanks inside Nahr el Bared. On top of all this the recent-ish arrival of new Ford Broncos for the Lebanese ISF (Internal Security Forces) which tool around Beirut with their lights always flashing is another such sign (nicknamed “Feltmans” in honor of the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon). I kept thinking that the increasing ties between the U.S. and Lebanon are telling given that both of these nations created, funded allies like Osama bin Laden or Fatah al Islam only to have their plans backfire to such an extent that these allies become “terrorist” enemies. Apparently Fatah al Islam just joined the official U.S. terrorist watch list last week. The overlapping interests and strategies of these two nations is particularly egregious, but unlike Lebanon there is no serious resistance movement here in the U.S. especially when it comes to America’s most faithful ally (read: the Zionist state).
In Lebanon there is the antidote to all this pro-army propaganda. To commemorate the anniversary of the war last summer, Hezbollah created an amazing exhibit in Al Dahiya. When you first walk in you enter a bunker that is a replica of a typical Hezbollah resistance fighter bunker. Inside the bunker you see how they plan, wait, strategize. As you leave the bunker you enter a large airport hanger space that tells the story of last summer’s war complete with statements made by Israeli and American officials on large posters and with all of the items captured from Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). Included are all sorts of weapons (American made, of course) as well as army fatigues, food objects, iPods, backpacks, helmets and the like. The exhibit includes burned up Israeli-American tanks and helicopters (both inside and outside) as well as a new video game that Hezbollah recently released and a film of clips from the war last summer–a film that has such loud sound effects so as to haunt you with the sounds of bombings as you walk through other parts of the exhibit and recall the destruction of last summer’s war. Once you leave the building the tone becomes a bit more somber as the grass area contains a series of television sets with images and statements read by the martyrs who died last summer as well as their prayer rugs and boots lined along the lawn.
Of course the destruction is hardly reconstructed one year later, but progress has been made. Bridges that used to require large detours are completed (mostly in the north, however) and most of the rubble is gone. But people are still homeless. And, of course, there is the current war that seems to be never ending. I cannot believe that I left three months after it began and it has not ended. Though, of course, you’d never know it living in the U.S. where it does not even seem to be a blip on the radar screen. The Lebanese army is now complaining that the U.S. isn’t giving them enough military support, while the U.S. signs a deal to give $30 billion dollars in military aid to its good buddy Israel. Do I even need mention that 3 years after Hurricane Katrina there is still a space that appears as a war-torn environment and the U.S. still somehow would rather put its resources into funding the Israeli terrorist state?