The Lebanon-Israel Battle We’re Losing

We have oil… we will strengthen our army.

We have oil… we will upgrade our transportation system.

We have oil… we will have universal healthcare, retirement systems, etc…

Our highway is flooded with pictures from Lebanon’s ministry of energy to “celebrate” the presence of copious amounts of natural gas and oil under Lebanese waters. Of course, any talk about potential economic benefits for such wealth is still purely theoretical because we won’t know the extent of our reserves until we start digging.

The best and most optimistic estimates as to when Lebanon starts capitalizing on its natural reserves is 2017-2018. Such estimates assume the following:

  1. A smooth security situation,
  2. No bureaucratic hassle that would pose delays,
  3. A decent political environment with no dead-locks on the matter
  4. International cooperation with the upcoming venture,
  5. No drastic governmental changes that could affect the bidding process which is essential in early stages.

I don’t know about you but those 2017-2018 hopes are looking to be more and more far-fetched to me. The government already collapsed. We need to wait on a new one to form in order to proceed with the bidding on whoever’s going to get drilling rights in our waters. That’s not to mention any near-certain precipitations of the Syrian war over here or, as usual, political blocks that lead to a handful of laws being passed in any parliament’s given lifetime or even the sectarian calculations that have to go in with every single oil-related decision. You can call that the “Orthodox Oil Law.”

These oil reserves were discovered back in 2009 across three countries in the region: Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel. I don’t know about Cyprus – they might be too busy with their credit problems at the moment – but when it comes to Lebanon and Israel, we are at the losing end of this economic battle in our ongoing conflict with our most hated enemy.

From 2009 till 2013, we managed to ratify one law and form a committee regarding the oil matter. The committee took a long time to be formed because we had to find the proper sectarian balance. The law took an almost equally long time as well to be ratified by parliament.

Meanwhile, our neighbor to the South had started drilling and as of March 31st, 2013 has actually started storing the natural gas being extracted in its quest to reach energy independence. It has already started making billions off its reserves with deals surpassing $20 billion.

Many seem to disregard the fact that there are more aspects to our conflict with Israel than military gains or losses here and there. The economical aspect of the conflict, which is one of the main motives behind certain Israeli policies, is more dangerous and far more reaching.

The economic aspect of these natural reserves isn’t restricted to who gets there first. As of now, Lebanon doesn’t have a strategy to how our oil money will be used: are we going to use it to lessen the national debt? Are we going to use it for some much-needed developments that go beyond Beirut? How will we use the fund that will be set up for profits from these sources?

Our politicians believe it’s too early to discuss such things. We, as a nation, never plan ahead. We rarely try to build towards the future as opposed to things that bring profit here and now because it’s always too early for us to plan. Instead of forming a road-map to clearly illustrate how the benefits from Lebanon’s natural resources will be used, we go by the common Lebanese saying “bass neje 3laya, mensalle 3laya.” (We’ll see once we get there) .The problem is that we will eventually “neje 3laya” and history has taught us that dead-ends is all we’ll manage to build.

Instead of being one of the more pressing matters facing this country, Lebanon’s oil reserves have been dropped down to something second-rate. Our political class is keeping its head firmly stuck in sand, with hopes of a better future years from now, ignoring how an economically-growing Israel with clear plans for its development and sustainability will negatively affect any Lebanese attempt at growth of an economy that is in dire need of any form of extra income it can find.

But doesn’t that train look absolutely beautiful on those billboards?

Lebanon… The Diesel Exporter

Our race towards oil exportation has suddenly raced lightyears ahead! Who knew we’d start sending out fuel to neighboring countries in February 2013? Suck on it, Israel!

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this but for once I congratulate the thugs of Tripoli for what they did this morning as they ruined what some politicians had hoped would be an easy travel of diesel tanks into Syria.

Gebran Bassil, minister of energy in Lebanon’s famed “neutral” government, has been sending copious amounts of diesel to help the Syrian regime in its war. Let’s disregard for a moment that this is breaking a multitude of international sanctions regarding Syria, especially when it comes to energy. Let’s ignore for a second that this diesel will end up in tanks whose only job these days is to kill as many innocent people as possible.

This neutrality policy that our government speaks of exists how exactly? Let’s stop hiding behind that vine leave and say it: neutrality my ass.

Our PM Najib Mikati is the only one in this government who truly wants a neutrality stance regarding Syria. Everyone else is either rooting for the regime secretly or is part of parties which are actively fighting with the regime, their people coming back here in body bags. But don’t let them think we know.

Our government’s neutrality position regarding Syria is akin to a class of students where everyone is talking except the teacher – and we tell everyone the class has model behavior.

I am appalled that people in our government can actually fathom sending diesel to help a regime in committing countless and growing war crimes. I am appalled that we are sending fuel to the Assad regime instead of giving this diesel for needy people across Lebanon – because killing Syrians definitely trumps whatever that fuel could be used for here.

Gebran Bassil – the parliament member wannabe who will lose for the third consecutive time this election round – should stick to bringing electricity boats over here and spewing sectarian and racist hatred instead of becoming an accomplice to wars and dragging the whole country with him. After all, it’s not only about diesel. It’s about the confrontation that sending diesel to Syria means in a country that is barely holding it together with its deep division over the Syrian matter.

What Was Hezbollah Thinking?

Did you hear? According to a top notch Bulgarian investigative panel, we are now resisting Israel -all the way in Bulgaria.
It doesn’t make sense to you? No worries, it’s not supposed to. It’s only supposed to make sense to Hezbollah and apparently it does.

Long gone are the days when we await Israeli confrontation in order for our men to bravely fight for our land and lose their lives in the process. Long gone are the days when resisting Israel happens from our own land, the South, which pays heavily every single time we resist.

Today, the only question I can ask is: what the hell was Hezbollah thinking?

Whenever my country enters into a war with Israel, I will stand by my people and my land no matter what. Whether they are right or wrong, whether they started it or not – for the entire duration of the war, I will stand by them. When the war is over though, another story unfolds.

I cannot, however, as a Lebanese support the blowing up of the Bulgaria bus incident no matter what possible explanation is provided for the operation .

Where does Hezbollah want to take the country with this action?
Do they really think the country can handle have one of the main parties in the government to be labeled as a terrorist organization by the European Union?
What repercussions will that have on our fragile political balance, on our economy? How does it reflect on the government that Hezbollah did the operation while in power without anyone else in the government knowing about it, similarly to the 2006 war?

7 years have not taught us anything.

Why did Hezbollah want to kill a bunch of Israeli tourists? Is us resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine now contingent upon us killing as many civilians as possible? What’s the fault of a tourist for being the citizen of a country we don’t approve of? How does us killing civilians differ us from all those terrorist groups whose goal in life is to cause as many innocent casualties as possible?

I don’t think Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. I do not agree with many of their practices but when it matters the most, I cannot but be grateful for defending my country.
But our support as Lebanese for reckless practices should not be unconditional especially when the repercussions of such actions do not reflect on Hezbollah alone but on the entire country as well.

Imagine the following scenario: Lebanese friends from different sects and regions decide to hop on a plane to Paris. While touring the city in a bus, the bus blows up and they all die. The Mossad is to blame.
Far-fetched, perhaps. But do we really want to take the war with Israel to people whose only fault is being a national of one side of the conflict?

What the hell was Hezbollah thinking? I, for one, can’t come up with convincing answers because I really can’t think how this is any good for them in any way. And if they can actually reach other countries and act this powerfully, which I can’t really wrap my head around, why don’t they do things that are more “useful?”

What I hope for though is for the party to come up with proof that the entire investigation was a politicized fabrication especially with the very fast condemnations from Israelis and Americans. Unlikely and foolish, perhaps, but I’m hopeful that one of my country’s main parties is not that short-sighted to land themselves as a terrorist group all around the world.

A Visit To Bab El Tebbaneh

I recently visited an area of Tripoli that few want to think of, let alone set foot in: Bab el Tebbaneh. After my visit, I can see why. Even though the area is only a 25 min drive from home, it makes you feel like an outsider to your own country: nothing about you fits there. The people don’t want you to fit there. You don’t want to fit there.

The people of Bab el Tebbaneh thought I was a foreigner. I found it odd at first – we all share the same identification papers. But I later took it to my advantage. It’s much easier to pretend to be a gullible foreigner who has no idea what he’s doing than to try to reason with them using your native tongue. A foreigner can get away with more.

A few years back, when I used to visit the area’s vegetable market frequently, the people seemed to be much more at ease. They were poor back then as well and they were without prospects back then also. But they were hopeful. Little hope can be found in the faces of the people of Tebbaneh anymore. My visit to Bab el Tabbaneh exposed me to a section of our Lebanese society that is in constant paranoia – of that outsider walking among their shelled buildings, among their tarnished markets, violating their area.

We tried to delve deeper into Tebbaneh but faced resistance the likes of which I hadn’t seen in Lebanon before. We went up a flight of stairs that seemingly led nowhere only to have young men come out of nowhere to ask us what we’re doing there. Somehow they thought we were an “archeological team.” They let us through. Moments later they came back: “But there’s no archeology up this way.”

Bab el Tebbaneh is now a place where you are not allowed to take pictures and where you being out of place might warrant the Lebanese army to come hassle you as well. The people of Bab el Tebbaneh who were more than welcoming way back when look at every outsider suspiciously now. Their eyes will stalk you like a hawk whenever you move, tracing your every step, wondering what your plans are.

It is an area where the mosques are shelled, where little kids feel that those semi-demolished buildings are a point of pride and want you to go check them out. It’s a place where poverty is so entrenched in every fabric of that society that you have absolutely no idea how or where to start fixing.

“We are all poor people here,” a man came up to me and said, smiling, as I made my way through his street. “You won’t see anything but poverty.” I smiled back and moved on. There was really nothing I can do.

Where can one start? The politicians promise these people better lives every four years and end up doing nothing. They are untouchable. The religious men who sport the latest cars and equipment use these people’s poverty to their advantage in order to radicalize them. Factions use these people’s needs in order to carry on with their battles after handing them copious amounts of weapons. Most Lebanese hate the people of this area and the “image” they give their country and are more than willing to bash them in and out.

As we reached the point of saturation of what little we got access to of Bab el Tebbaneh and made our way out, as a man shouted at us not to take pictures anymore, another stopped us and pointed at a mosque whose walls were filled with bullet holes. He was exasperated by all the fighting. But he knew there was nothing he could do.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when I reached the newer parts of Tripoli. It’s hard to imagine how this poverty can be found at a stone’s throw away from the house of one of Lebanon’s richest men. Then you realize that all of Lebanon’s richest men feed off this poverty and help perpetuate it. It’s how they remain powerful.

The mosque and its bullet holes.

The mosque and its bullet holes.

The section we couldn't visit

The section we couldn’t visit

"Come see all the destroyed houses."

“Come see all the destroyed houses.”

"You can't take pictures here."

“You can’t take pictures here.”

People used to live here.

People used to live here.

The Lebanese Hypocrisy Towards Those Terrorist Children

A friend posted a picture of a dead child yesterday on his preferred social networking website, along with a slur of swear words at the Zionist regime that he figured had taken the life in question. Soon enough, that friend found out that the child in the picture was not an inhabitant of our neighbor to the South but our neighbor to the East. He then deleted the picture. I’m sure he had a good night’s sleep too.

That child, regardless of his nationality, was still dead.

Read the rest of my second NowLebanon post here.

Innocent lives are innocent lives, regardless of nationality. And this applies to those Israeli children too.

A Collection of Timeless Pictures

Following my post about some of the best pictures ever taken, a reader started sending me her collection of pictures that she’s amassed over the years.

Some of them were part of the previous post in question while others were totally new. All of them are still striking, amazing and haunting.

So without further ado, I commence.

1957 – The first day of Dorothy Counts at the Harry Harding High School in the United States. Counts was one of the first black students admitted in the school, and she was no longer able to stand the harassments after only 4 days.

1963 – Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist priest in Southern Vietnam, burns himself to death protesting the government’s torture policy against priests. Thich Quang Duc never made a sound or moved while he was burning.

1965 – A mom and her children try to cross the river in South Vietnam in an attempt to run away from the American bombs.

1966 – U.S. troops in South Vietnam are dragging a dead Vietcong soldier.

1975 – A woman and a girl falling down after the fire escape collapses.

February 1, 1968 – South Vietnam police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shoots a young man, whom he suspects to be a Viet Cong soldier.

1980 – A kid in Uganda about to die of hunger, and a missionary.

1987 – A mother in South Korea apologizes and asks for forgiveness for her son who was arrested after attending a protest against the alleged manipulations in the general elections.

1992 – A mother in Somalia holds the body of her child who died of hunger.

1994 – A Rwandan man who was tortured by the soldiers after being suspected to have spoken with the Tutsi rebels.

1996 –  Kids who have been affected by the civil war in Angola.

2001 – An Afghani refugee kid’s body is being prepared for the funeral in Pakistan.

2003 – An Iraqi prisoner of war tries to calm down his child.

Congo: A father stares at the hands of his five year-old daughter, which were severed as a punishment for having harvested too little caoutchouc/rubber.

1902 – location in the United States not specified.

July 7, 1865 – Washington, Lincoln assassination conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt shortly after their execution at Fort McNair.

July 1913 – Gettysburg reunion, Veterans of the G.A.R. and of the Confederacy, at the Encampment.

March 1941 – Planting corn on a plantation near Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

May 18, 1914, Washington, D.C. – Washington Post records the passing of one John A. Eaglen, 3 years.

9/11 Remembered. And Put in Perspective.

I still remember this September day, ten years ago, when my whole family sat dumbfounded in front of our television set, not believing what we were seeing.

How could the United States, the world’s leading country (despite some in-denial people thinking otherwise), have this happen to it? Shouldn’t they have been more prepared? After all, two airplanes hitting their country’s biggest towers and an attack on the Pentagon isn’t exactly a small feat – for any terrorist group.

Any group responsible for the attack must have taken months, if not years, to slowly brew the intricate details of the assault. Therefore, it’s very hard to believe the United States’ intelligence agencies had no idea about it. Instead, they chose to shrug these threats off. There’s no way something like this could happen to us, I’m sure they thought.

But it did happen, taking the lives of 3000 people with it and launching the “war on terrorism” propaganda that has been going on for the past decade.

I still remember holding my mom’s hand as she saw those people jump out of the building, hoping they would be saved somehow, thinking that jumping increased their chances of survival. I still remember news anchors going silent for minutes on end because they were out of words. I still remember my whole household feeling shaken. I still remember my grandma’s panic-stricken face as she stumbled towards the phone, trying to call her sons even though she knew they were far from New York City.

What we did not think of was the aftermath.

I never thought I’d be automatically labeled as a person of suspicion just because of my country’s geographical location. I never thought my aunt would have to wait three hours in LAX before they allowed her to go out and see my family. I never thought it’d become so difficult for me to go the United States, even if I hadn’t seen my family for over five years. I never thought my Muslim friends would automatically become one of the most hated groups in the world just because of their religion. I never thought things would change as much as they did.

I am not a mean person. In fact, I am probably one of the most American-sympathizers you can find – at least in Lebanon. But the thing is, 9/11 needs to be put in perspective.

It will always be a memory of hurt. But ten years later, where should we really stand regarding 9/11? The people who lost their lives should forever be remembered. They were innocent victims who fell to the brutality of a radical group that has a distorted view of their religion.

But ten years later, that’s the only thing I can take out of 9/11. And here’s why.

Sure, 9/11 revealed the United States’ vulnerability. But I’m sure the ship has sailed on that vulnerability. Following that day, the United States’ assumed the role of the policeman of the world. No one did anything unless the United States approved. And if some country happened to dare the United States, they were met with a bunch of sanctions they could never get out of.

The War on Terror has led to the death of not 3000 but more than 900,000 people, most of which are women and children whose only fault was to be in the wrong country at the wrong time of history. What do these men, women and children differ from those 3000 men, women and children that died in the World Trade Centers? Their ethnicity? I hardly think so. Their religion? I’m fairly certain all victims were not uni-religious. The main difference is that the world thinks more of those 3000 people that died on 9/11 that they do of those 900,000 that died in the War on Terror. Why? because in the world’s mind, those 3000 are innocent. The 900,000 are terrorists. Wrong place, wrong time.

The 9/11 attacks also gave the U.S government a free pass to do whatever it wants militarily until it was too late. Example? The Iraq War – also known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I still have no idea, even to this day, how Iraq fit into the whole Al Qaeda scenario of the 9/11 attacks. Their only fault? Too much oil beneath their soil. I am also fairly certain the United States’ intelligence agencies were more than knowing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Live and let live no more.

But why go so far back in time – even if all of this is a few years old. Let’s look at what’s happening around the world today.

There’s a famine in Somalia. Children are dying every few seconds out of hunger. The United States has the world’s highest obesity rate. They’re throwing food away because they can’t eat it anymore. The children of Somalia, on the other hand, don’t even have access to bread crumbs that fall off a table and we don’t notice.

As a result of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” thousands of Iraqi Christians lost their lives and were forced to leave their land and country, becoming not welcome there anymore. Their only fault? They were of the wrong religion at the wrong time in the wrong place. What could have the US done, for instance? Protect them.

Massacres are taking place daily in Congo. Women getting raped has become their way of life. Children getting murdered just because they happened to be caught in a crossfire between greedy tribes, who happen to be the pawns of bigger players, in a game of gold and diamond.

Palestinians get murdered every day by Israeli “Defense” Forces. The U.S covers those murders to the extent that they vetoed the Palestinian request to become a recognized UN state. I am not the most Palestine-sympathizer. But when the United States asks for its victims to be remembered, then all victims that are falling because of the United States’ involvement need to be remembered as well. I am fairly certain Israel wouldn’t be as ferocious if it didn’t know the United States had it back, whenever and wherever.

Thousands have been murdered by a tyrant Syrian regime, since their protests began, and the international community (led by the United States) has done very little to help alleviate the suffering of those people.

And not very recently, in the calm country of Norway, a Christian fundamentalist let loose on teenagers whose only fault was, yet again, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The American reactions to that are summed up in this video.

Yes, it has been ten years since 9/11. But that is precisely why it’s time to get over it. 3000 people that died do not compare to the thousands dying everyday because of 9/11 ramifications. 300 million Americans are not better people than the other 5.7 billion that make up the rest of the world. After all, isn’t equality one of the fundamental and founding principles upon which the American system is built?

There are way worse things taking place everyday all around the world. Their only fault? They’re happening at the wrong place.

Where Do We Go Now? – New Nadine Labaki Lebanese Movie

Brilliant Lebanese director/actress Nadine Labaki is set to debut her new movie, Where Do We Go Now? (و هلّأ لوين؟) at Cannes this week. And it is starting off to good reviews.

After the 2007 hit Caramel, Labaki returns with another movie she’s directing. Set in a religiously mixed village, the movie is about a group of people trying to preserve their town in the midst of inter-religious tension. The town’s location is never mentioned, probably wanting to make the movie apply to anywhere in the Middle East where you have diversity.

Labaki has said about the movie, “It’s not a story about war; on the contrary, it’s about how to avoid war. You can’t live in Lebanon without feeling this threat, which ends up coloring what we do and our ways of expression.”

I think the topic looks like a typical Lebanese storyline, sort of like Caramel, which should make the movie quite relatable. And after all, Nadine Labaki is a very good director so I believe she will pull it off. Will this be as big as Caramel, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Check out a scene from the movie:

Check out my review of Where Do We Go Now.

Buried – Movie Review

Buried - Movie Poster

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a U.S. contractor based in Iraq. He wakes up and finds himself buried six-feet-under in a wooden crate, with nothing to soothe him except a phone that is set in a language he doesn’t understand and a zippo lighter that’s consuming the very air he’s breathing.

To say this movie is every claustrophobic’s worst nightmare is an understatement. The movie runs for over 90 minutes and features nothing but Paul Conroy inside his coffin. The only hint of an outside world comes in the form of many phone calls that are made, to help move the movie forward, and provide Paul Conroy with a way to seek salvation.

You cannot but draw similarities between this movie and 127 Hours. After all, they both rely heavily on one lead, the rest of the actors/characters being only very secondary to the overall picture. And similarly to 127 Hours, Buried features a very strong performance by Reynolds. I had no idea he had it in him, to be honest, after the series of romantic comedies he was in. However, to say that he comes within a remote distance of Franco’s epic performance in 127 Hours is a gross overstatement. If anything, Buried further cements the idea that not every actor/actress can handle this type of movies, which makes Franco’s feat even more impressive.

Buried is a movie that drags its main character to the depths of fear and despair and drags you down with him as well. And although it doesn’t rely on taking the settings of the movie outside the box it’s set in, the movie wouldn’t have gone anywhere except for the interactions between Paul Conroy and the people he calls, similarly to 127 Hours’ use of flashbacks and imaginative sequences. It is, however, an out-of-the-box movie, for all matters and purposes.

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Brothers – Movie Review

Brothers is a war-drama movie centered mainly about the importance of family, specifically brotherhood, when it comes to severe hardships.

Sam Cahill (Toby McGuire) is a Marine soldier set to be deployed to Afghanistan. His brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is imprisoned for an armed robbery and is released shortly before Sam’s deployment. Tommy isn’t liked by almost anyone in the family circle: his own father, Sam’s wife Grace (Natalie Portman)…

While on his mission in Afghanistan, Sam’s helicopter is hit by insurgents and it crashes. Supposed to be dead, his family back in the US begins its mourning process. And soon enough, his brother Tommy decides to take up the mantle to redeem himself in the eyes of those that matter to him.

However, Sam isn’t really dead. He’s been captured, along with another soldier, and they are both submitted to severe torture methods, be it mentally or physically, so when Sam is rescued, he has to deal with the demons of his capture, putting a strain on his marital and familial life.

The performances in this movie are top-notch. Toby McGuire really impressed me, especially since the last movie I watched in which he had a leading role was Spiderman 3. He completely gets rid of the Peter Parker persona for this and assumes his character with strength. He is absolutely frightening at times.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman are, naturally, also very good at what they do. Gyllenhaal’s shift from irresponsible to responsible is done extremely well, while Portman is so subdued as the wife that it’s sad sometimes to watch.

The movie itself is enjoyable but not ground-breaking. What works for it is that it focuses more on the family dynamics of the story, more so than the war aspect, similarly to The Fighter (you can read my review of that here).

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