There is this lovely little service in Lebanon you can subscribe to for around $10 a month in exchange for SMS messages on your phone telling you the latest news (disclaimer: I think these messages are run through moustaqbal news). When there is a big story it can be useful (like when you’re about to drive through an area where there was a bomb). But that is not most days and so instead you get multiple SMS messages informing you that Siniora is having lunch with Berri. Or Hariri is having a meeting with Jumblatt. Or whatever. It’s actually quite funny to receive these messages as if they are news. It sort of reminds me of living in Jordan and seeing the front page stories and photographs every day on the newspaper of King Abdullah sitting down in some meeting with someone somewhere. Here is one from today, taken from the Paris meetings: “Assad said Syria does not mind opening an embassy in Beirut and the solution of Iranian crisis should be by the political process.” Or another from today: “Sleiman said Lebanon is looking forward to establish diplomatic ties with Syria, marking its common border with it and regaining Shebaa Farms.”
Relatively uneventful. On the surface. Or at least for me they were. Except for the fact that I had a disturbing conversation with a friend today. We were talking about the possibility of Bashar al-Assad and Ehud Olmert signing a peace agreement to give back the occupied Golan Heights to Syria. Most people here I’ve talked think that this is eminent. But my friend today had a doomsday scenario that really freaked me out. She envisions that this will happen, that Syria and Lebanon will have some sort of new relationship, possibly a joint army patrolling the southern borders, and that many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will be moved to Syria. And some Palestinian refugees will be offered citizenship in Europe or the U.S. or Canada. It’s a bit like what Palestinian friends here have been saying. But on my walk home the conversation morphed into really horrifying thoughts such as Israelis coming to Beirut, sitting in Rawda Cafe smoking nargileh, shopping on Hamra Street. My other friend thought this was a bit far fetched, but is it? I mean Israelis are tourists in Jordan now. I’ve seen them on the bus from the King Hussein Bridge to Amman. And as much as I hate to see that and to know how Palestinians are sold down the river by these Arab leaders who are so wiling to negate their rights under international law, imagining such a scenario in Lebanon is so much more horrifying for me than in Jordan. In Lebanon year after year after year there have been Israeli Occupation Forces in their tanks, patrolling the streets of Beirut and elsewhere, bombing the country from their American-made and financed planes, and enacting countless massacres along the way, albeit in cahoots with Lebanese Forces or Kataeb. And I’ve heard Israeli Occupation Soldiers who carried out these gross human rights violations talk about how much they loved Beirut and wished they could go back. It makes me physically ill to conjure this idea.
Fortunately it appears that some of this will be on the back burner at least for a while as AP is reporting now that Assad said: “The current administration (of President George W. Bush) is not interested in the peace process.” Not like Obama or McCain will bring any different sort of perspective to the negotiating table. All I can do is pray that Assad does not sign away Palestinian rights along the way. But what is particularly curious about some of this murmuring about the possibility of such an agreement is that no one seems to mention Israel’s military aggression towards Syria this year. I found one reporter from the Washington Post who raised these questions, but otherwise this whole year these major violations (one of which may or may not have been carried out by Israel’s Mossad) have been noticeably absent from the media.
(4) Who assassinated Imad Mughniyah in Damascus in February?
The car bomb that killed Iran’s key covert operative in Hezbollah is still echoing in the Middle East. Suspicion immediately focused on Israel. But on Feb. 27, a London-based newspaper called Al-Quds Al-Arabi, with very good sources in Damascus, alleged that several Arab nations had conspired with Mossad to assassinate Mughniyah.
Adding to the speculation are reports that shortly before his death, Mughniyah was attempting to heal a split within Hezbollah between the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and its former leader, Subhi Tufaily. Tufaily’s power base is the Bekaa Valley, which has lost influence in Hezbollah to Shiites from southern Lebanon. According to one Arab source, Mughniyah — traveling under his longtime pseudonym, “Haj Ismail” — paid a visit shortly before his death to Tufaily’s village of Britel, just south of Baalbek.
Mughniyah usually traveled without bodyguards, believing that his protection was the surgical alteration of his features, which prevented even old friends from recognizing “Haj Ismail.” For that reason, the Syrians insisted they weren’t at fault. But a sign of tension was Tehran’s announcement that a joint commission would investigate the killing, a statement that Damascus promptly denied.
(5) What about Syria’s secret nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by the Israelis on Sept. 6, 2007?
Oddly enough, that attack on what CIA analysts called the “Enigma Building” may have helped the peace talks. The Israelis felt that their decisive action helped restore the credibility of their deterrence policy. The Syrians appreciated that Israeli and American silence allowed them time to cover their tracks. Finally, the fact that Assad kept the nuclear effort a secret, and that he managed the post-attack pressures, showed Israelis that he was truly master of his own house, and thus a plausible negotiating partner.
It’s funny because most of the people who have written about the above two events were bloggers not journalists, aside from the above-quoted article. I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between journalism and blogging this week after attending a hiwar on it Wednesday night. The panel included two bloggers whose blogs I can recall, UrShalim and Razanisms, though the bulk of the time was taken up with a dialogue among the participants and audience members. A heated debate emerged about ethics and standards comparing the two genres with one German journalist really ostentatiously asserting herself in a rude and unprofessional manner. Apparently this radio reporter had been given permission to record the panelists, but when they were finished she decided to stomp about the room, pushing her microphone in people’s faces, when they asked questions. I found it so obnoxious that when one person asked a question about the differences in ethics I asked how ethical it was to work as a journalist, record people for the radio without ever asking for permission first. She responded to this in a hostile manner, packed up her bag and feigned a hasty departure–but not before announcing to the room that 1) these Lebanese bloggers we’ve been discussing don’t really matter because no one in Europe knows who they are (which is not true of the blogs like Land and People, Angry Arab, or Green Resistance to name my favorites); and 2) that what really matters most is that what the West thinks about blogging in Lebanon and that was what she was trying to bring to the Lebanese. Insanely offensive to say the least. Apparently she never left. Afterwards we were drinking beers on the balcony and she approached me (after asking a friend about me) and she aggressively spewed her curriculum vitae at me, which really went in one ear and out the other. My point was that her behavior was rude and unethical; I didn’t care which news organization she worked for. But there are standards. And our point in the discussion was that these bloggers, particularly those that I mentioned above, often give us information and resources that traditional news media just doesn’t offer. One friend talked about how during the fighting in Lebanon in May, when she was outside Beirut with her family, that Land and People was the only news source that was really offering a detailed, insightful, and compelling narrative and analysis of what was happening on the ground. It’s not that one genre should replace the other or that one is superior to the other, but I really do think that blogging emerged in response to something defunct in the world of journalism. And those of us who read and/or write blogs that are not anonymous are aware of the fact that we have an obligation to report in ways that are ethical and honest. And hopefully that make people think, read further.