FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Front Row Seat for the Bloodbath in Lebanon

Beirut.

There is something obscene about watching the siege of Nahr el-Bared. The old Palestinian camp–home to 30,000 lost souls who will never go “home”–basks in the Mediterranean sunlight beyond a cluster of orange orchards. Soldiers of the Lebanese army, having retaken their positions on the main road north, idle their time aboard their old personnel carriers. And we–we representatives of the world’s press–sit equally idly atop a half-built apartment block, basking in the little garden or sipping cups of scalding tea beside the satellite dishes where the titans of television stride by in their blue space suits and helmets.

And then comes the crackle-crackle of rifle fire and a shoal of bullets drifts out of the camp. A Lebanese army tank fires a shell in return and we feel the faint shock wave from the camp. How many are dead? We don’t know. How many are wounded? The Red Cross cannot yet enter to find out. We are back at another of those tragic Lebanese stage shows: the siege of Palestinians.

Only this time, of course, we have Sunni Muslim fighters in the camp, in many cases shooting at Sunni Muslim soldiers who are standing in a Sunni Muslim village. It was a Lebanese colleague who seemed to put his finger on it all. “Syria is showing that Lebanon doesn’t have to be Christians versus Muslims or Shia versus Sunnis,” he said. “It can be Sunnis versus Sunnis. And the Lebanese army can’t storm into Nahr el-Bared. That would be a step far greater than this government can take.”

And there is the rub. To get at the Sunni Fatah al-Islam, the army has to enter the camp. So the group remains, as potent as it was on Sunday when it staged its mini-revolution in Tripoli and ended up with its dead fighters burning in blazing apartment blocks and 23 dead soldiers and policemen on the streets.

And yes, it is difficult not to feel Syria’s hands these days. Fouad Siniora’s government, surrounded in its little “green zone” in central Beirut, is being drained of power. The army is more and more running Lebanon, ever more tested because it, too, of course, contains Lebanon’s Sunnis and Shia and Maronites and Druze. What fractures, what greater strains can be put on this little country as Siniora still pleads for a UN tribunal to try those who murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005?

We read through the list of army dead. Most of the names appear to be Sunni. And we glance up to the fleecy clouds and across the mountain range to where the Syrian border lies scarcely 10 miles away. Not difficult to reach Nahr el-Barad from the frontier. Not difficult to resupply. The geography makes a kind of political sense up here. And just up the road is the Syrian frontier post.

The soldiers are polite, courteous with journalists. This must be one of the few countries in the world where soldiers treat journalists as old friends, where they blithely allow them to broadcast from in front of their positions, borrowing their newspapers, sharing cigarettes, chatting, believing that we have our job to do. But more and more we are wondering if we are not cataloguing the sad disintegration of this country. The Lebanese army is on the streets of Beirut to defend Siniora, on the streets of Sidon to prevent sectarian disturbances, on the roads of southern Lebanon watching the Israeli frontier and now, up here in the far north, besieging the poor and the beaten Palestinians of Nahr el-Bared and the dangerous little groupuscule which may–or may not–be taking its orders from Damascus.

The journey back to Beirut is now littered with checkpoints and even the capital has become dangerous once more. In Ashrafieh in the early hours, a bomb explosion–we could hear it all over the city–killed a Christian woman. No suspects, of course. There never are. Posters still demand the truth of Hariri’s murder. Other posters demand the truth of an earlier prime ministerial murder, that of Rashid Karami. Several, just the down the road from our little roof proudly carry the portrait of Saddam Hussein. “Martyr of ‘Al-Adha’,” they proclaim, marking the date of his execution. So even Iraq’s collapse now touches us all here in our Sunni village where the Sunni dictator of Iraq is honoured rather than loathed.

A flurry of rockets rumbled over the camp before dusk. The soldiers scarcely bothered to look. And across the orange orchards and the deserted tenement streets of Nahr el-Bared, the sea froths and sparkles as if we were all on holiday, as this nation trembles beneath our feet.

ROBERT FISK is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk’s new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.

 

 

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail