No Netanyahu, Israel Isn’t The Only Middle Eastern Place Where Christians Can Celebrate Christmas

In his increasingly childish bitchfit against the international political establishment that saw his country’s transgressions through settlements on Palestinian land finally made illegal with a UN resolution banning Israel – yeah, right – from building more of them, the Israeli PM is lashing out at his country’s closest ally and the reason Israel has been off the hook in everything it’s done for years, the United States.

As part of a rant aimed at US Secretary of State John Kerry whose tone was very moderate towards the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with him recognizing the plight of Palestinians and their refugees, the land grab they’ve been victim of, among other things, Netanyahu figured it best to remind Kerry, and by extension of his buzz words that you know will circle Fox News for months to come, other Americans and Westerners who see Israel as the only worthy beacon of civilization in the Middle East that – and I quote:

“Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians can celebrate Christmas.”

In the grand scheme of things, such statements are utterly meaningless, mostly because they’re pure bullshit. But as we’ve seen bullshit can actually get equal bullshit elected. The danger in letting such statements go by unchallenged is that they play right into the rhetoric that Israel and its allies want to put forward: It is the only country in the Middle East that’s, for all matters and purposes, worth anything, everyone else be damned.

It’s precisely not challenging such statements in the past that has turned Israel from the apartheid state existing on occupied territory, turning a blind eye towards all rules of war, ignoring many of the UN resolutions in which it is part, among other things, to this “liberal,” “religiously free” beacon of “hope” in the Middle East that is only “defending” itself against those “Arabs” who just don’t get it. All of this to the backdrop of Christian-centric, Israel-loving, everything and everyone else-hating Trump coming in 3 weeks.

So Netanyahu, and those that seem to believe him, how about you come sit on last year’s Byblos tree? I’m pretty sure it will bring your lot quite the pleasure.

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This year’s tree can work fine too:

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Or how about you come see this year’s tree in Tripoli? In case you didn’t know, that’s *whispers* Muslim territory.

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How about checking out the tree in Downtown Beirut?

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Pic via @livelovebeirut.

Or the many other ways through which Beirut celebrated Christmas? (Pictures via LiveLoveBeirut).

 

Or how about the tree in my own house where my family gathered for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch, opened presents and then had some of its members go to midnight mass?

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Or those pesky Christmas decorations in all our malls?

I also don’t see Israel on that Huffington Post list of notable Christmas trees from around the world but Lebanon has TWO entries there, as does the West Bank. Weird, huh?

I find it odd that the country that sells itself as being the world’s only Jewish state and gets away with it because anyone who tries to challenge that notion is deemed anti-Semitic has the audacity to claim it’s a defender of Christian rights when Christians in Israel are, similarly to Muslims, inherently second class citizens due to the fact they’re not, you know, Jewish. Just an FYI to Netanyahu and his friends, the president in Lebanon is Christian and I, a Lebanese who happens to be Christian (on paper), have the absolute freedom to practice my religion if I want to without worrying about checkpoints, armies oppressing me, a state that deems my religion second-rate, among other things.

And if you thought that Lebanon was a special case, let me remind you that it was less than a week ago that Israeli rabbis had a problem with Christmas decorations at a local mall. Or does that not affect the way Christians celebrate Christmas?

Conversely, when that “scandal” was going down, I was visiting the Jordanian city Aqaba, from which I could see Eilat. The city was Christmas ready with decorations at its hotels and streets, even though its Christian population is minor.

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The fact of the matter is that the best Christmas in the Middle East isn’t in Lebanon or in Jordan, but where it all began: Bethlehem. And even that isn’t in Israel either.

Tea, meet kettle.

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When Gebran Bassil’s Goons Don’t Understand Freedom of Speech

Breaking news: Gebran Bassil turned out to be yet another racist Lebanese politician. I have no idea how this piece of news was in any way a surprise, but over the past few days it’s almost the only thing people are talking about, apart from the fact that our phones now need Maps updates in order to skip the roads where garbage bags have started to take up lanes.

The details are as follows:

A few days ago, Gebran Bassil’s twitter account was quoting a speech he was giving in the United States to an audience of Lebanese expats ($10 says they’re voting for Trump in 49 days). In that speech, Bassil dropped the following:

The speech excerpts translate to:

  • I support giving Lebanese women who marry foreigners the right to pass on their nationality to their children but our constitution and societal fabrics don’t allow to give the Lebanese nationality to 400,000 Palestinians.
  • I support the law that allows Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their children, with the exception of Syrians and Palestinians to maintain our land.

Of course, it has probably escaped Bassil in that moment that St. Maroun, after whom his sect was named, was Syrian and Jesus, after whom he prays, was Palestinian, but that’s besides the point. Certainly, however, Bassil wouldn’t have had a problem if those Syrians and Palestinians weren’t mostly Muslim. I wonder, how different would his statement have been had those refugees been mostly Christian like him? I can imagine him now, à la Oprah, distributing nationalities left and right: YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU ARE LEBANESE, YOU AAAAAALL ARE LEBANESE!

Context to Bassil’s tweets, however, remains important. His statements do not come from void. They emanate from a public sentiment that has only managed to gain popularity over the past few years with around 2 million Syrians seeking refuge in Lebanon. Of course, as is the case with Lebanon’s statistics, numbers do not exist. But it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that Bassil’s speech is not at odds with what the prevalent majority of Christians believes to be true, and a sizable portion of Lebanon’s Muslim community.

Yet again, the sentiment in the aforementioned denominations arise from their incessant need for self-sectarian preservation and are devoid from any national affinity towards a more global Lebanese state. Either way, I digress.

The uproar towards Bassil’s statements has been deafening. Human Rights Watch issued a statement whereby they found what he said to be abhorrent, in contradiction to the international treaties that Lebanon has signed in regards to women rights, and shameful to come from the minister of foreign affairs who is, whether we like it or not, the face of Lebanon to the world. Sorry #LiveLoveBeirut, you’re not it.

A slew of tweets and Facebook posts criticizing Bassil were also widely circulated, of which the satirical Facebook page Adeela led the forefront with a bunch of posts addressing Bassil’s tweets:

Lebanese blogger Mahmoud Ghazayel had a tweet (now deleted) in which he corrected Bassil’s statement to this:

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So far so good, right? Except this didn’t remain as just a manifestation of Lebanese online degrees of freedom because before you knew it, the situation – thanks to massive reports by Bassil’s online henchmen – became as follows:

Every single post that criticized Bassil about his racist tweets was removed because of Facebook reports, while the social media platform never bothered to check for the background upon which those reports were being filed in the first place, or the statements being criticized to begin with.

As a result, if you try and say something negative about Bassil’s statements, thousands will end up putting you in Facebook jail for at least 24 hours because you somehow violated the terms of being on that website, by simply expressing an opinion.

Maybe it’s fear of  exposing how ridiculous Bassil’s proposition – even if echoed by many – is. Maybe it’s wanting to keep his image pristine in their eyes, albeit it being irrevocably damaged in the minds of many others. Maybe it’s them wanting to keep a semblance of pride.

What Bassil’s goons seem to fail to grasp is that with every post they manage to bring down, ten more will spring up in their place. As it is their right to believe and want to defend what Bassil said, it is the right of every other Lebanese who categorically and irrevocably disagrees to not only criticize but mock those statements until kingdom come, whether they like it or not.

As the stench of garbage and filth overtakes their nares in every cubic meter of air in Beirut, as they spend countless hours without electricity, as they pray for the heavens for internet to be fast enough to load the images in this post, as they debate whether to flush or not because water is scarce, let them have all of that pride and the politicians whose image they want to keep. Let them have their “holy” land, their “better-than-thou” attitude towards anyone and anything they deem lesser. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many Facebook reports are issued, common sense will prevail.

PS: Dear Facebook, re-assess yourself, why don’t you? 

Carina Aoun: The Lebanese Cycling Holland For The Children of Gaza

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It hasn’t been a year yet since Israel brutally attacked the Gaza sector, leaving hundreds of dead and thousands of families torn apart, but our collective memory has already dismissed the whole thing as another “been there, done that” event.

We may have forgotten, but those in Gaza are still trying to put their lives back together after all the destruction. It’s always much, much harder to rebuild following destruction, and that is the brave thing to do after war. However, those little children of Gaza that Arabs care about only through Facebook statuses and rarely in action, cannot rebuild alone.

Wars have devastating effects on people, especially children who are in the tender ages of forming the people that they would become. They end up being scarred for life, along with a constellation of psychiatric issues to add. The estimates are that about “373,000 children in Gaza suffer from emotional and psychological trauma and are in dire need of mental care support and reintegration into society.”

To that effect, a Lebanese named Carina Aoun is taking part of an initiative called Cycling For Gaza, and along with 45 other volunteers from across the world, intends to cycle 300km in 3 days this coming July from Amsterdam to The Hague in order to raise money for ” The Mental Health Project of Gaza.”

The goal is to raise $286,000, of which only $5,400 has been donated so far. Each of those 45 volunteers has their very own donation page with the total amount ending up converging into the required $286,000.

The volunteering is taking place within the framework of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) which is the main organization that takes care of Palestinian children, sending them abroad for medical care or providing medical attention to them locally from visiting surgery teams. They have helped over 10,000 children so far.

Their purpose behind the Mental Health Project of Gaza is to start a pediatric mental health hospital as well as run it for an entire year, including providing care to children, screening them, as well as provide training for personnel (link).

Carina Aoun is trying to raise $3000 only for the project and she’s about halfway there. Help her out, and make a difference in the lives of countless of children who can’t make it otherwise.

This is the link to donate (click).

The Attack (2013) – Movie Review

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Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack might as well be considered as the most controversial “Lebanese” movie of recent times. But that’s not saying much. The hype surrounding the politics of the movie has been resounding. But does The Attack deliver on all the promises the director and the people who like him gave?

Amin (Ali Suliman) is an Arab-Israeli surgeon living and practicing medicine in Tel Aviv. While receiving some humanitarian award from the Israelis, Amin receives a call from his wife who sounds distressed. He doesn’t give it much attention, the focus is all on him. Soon enough, while having lunch at the rooftop of their Israeli hospital, the surgeons hear an explosion. 17 casualties ensue, 11 of which are children… And it’s Amin’s wife Siham (Raymond Amsalem) who committed the attack. Between the barrage of the Israelis who suddenly turn on the man they believe they sheltered into becoming one of them and the guard of the Arabs who believe Siham did a noble thing and are disgusted by the “bastard” who left his heritage and home to integrate in a place that is not his, Amin seeks out to find why his wife became a radical person who managed to get convinced to blow herself up for the Palestinian cause.

Sounds good, right? Well, in theory it does.

The Attack is divided into two parts. The first one is what can be called the Hebrew segment in which Tel Aviv is shown as a bustling cosmopolitan city whose people are as disassociated with the conflict raging outside their city’s confines while the other half is the Arab part, situated in Nablos, whose people struggle in their everyday life and revel in the idea of martyrdom, turning Siham into a local heroin. In a way, each part serves to pitch each side’s case.

I found the take on the issue, which the movie tries to do, shallow and borderline grating at times, even in its tackling of Siham’s radicalization which The Attack finds even more astonishing due to the fact she’s Christian. The Attack doesn’t go as deep as it should. it remains up there, flapping around the stereotypical stories of both sides – the action/reaction scenario that never ends. It never asks the tough questions: are the reactions warranted? Are they the best way to tackle the actions that led to them?

And I, for one, am glad and fully supportive of not choosing The Attack as Lebanon’s Oscar submission last year because there’s nothing Lebanese about the movie at all. In fact, the Lebanese elements of the movie are a mention of Hassan Nasrallah and Beirut – separately.

As a movie, The Attack works. It’s a decent thriller. There isn’t a dull moment, constantly keeping up the pace it sets from the get-go. The camera work, cinematography and locations are all well-done. But don’t expect it to blow you away. The acting, however, is superb. Both lead actors do a great job in their roles. Amsalem’s portrayal of Siham is gut-wrenching at times as is the life Ali Suliman gives her husband.

What The Attack manages to do, which might be the most important thing, is create a discussion. I watched the movie with 4 other Lebanese while on a stay in Paris – the movie will not be released in Lebanon – and we spent almost 40 minutes huddled outside the cinema center discussing what we had just seen. As a nation, though, Lebanon is possibly nowhere near ready for such a movie to be screened although the current state of Israel is eye-opening to what we, as a country, are so desperately lacking.

3/5

Lebanon Described in 1982

I’m currently reading the book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman, in which he tells parts of his stay in Beirut between 1979 and 1984, as our civil war raged on.
While some parts so far are not entirely correct or too autobiographical to be generalized, the read is very interesting to say the least.

The excerpt I’m quoting is the most interesting part of the book so far. What rang true in 1982 still resonates today – and Friedman has to be commended for having the mind to see it, especially as an American Jewish outsider whose stay in Beirut was nothing more than an experiment.

“The real problem with the Lebanese today is that they have gotten too good at this adapting game—so good that their cure and their disease have become one and the same. The Lebanese individual traditionally derived his social identity and psychological support from his primordial affiliations—family, neighborhood, or religious community, but rarely from the nation as a whole. He was always a Druse, a Maronite, or a Sunni before he was a Lebanese; and he was always a member of the Arslan or Jumblat Druse clans before he was a Druse, or a member of the Gemayel or Franjieh Maronite clans before he was a Maronite. The civil war and the Israeli invasion only reinforced this trend, dividing Lebanese into tighter-knit micro-families, or village and religious communities, but pulling them farther apart as a nation”

This goes well with a previous description from over 140 years ago. Some things look like they’ll never change.

2012’s Most Powerful Pictures

Buzz Feed has recently published a set of 45 pictures that they’ve called 2012’s Most Powerful Pictures. And the least that can be said about these pictures is that they’re chilling. Some of them are haunting, others will bring tears to your eyes. And they are all supremely striking.

Woman suicide Greece

A Greek woman’s suicide attempt as she’s told she would be laid off work

Bangladesh Riot Beating woman with baton

A woman from Bangladesh defies the police

Palestinian girl punching Israeli soldier

A little Palestinian girl tries to punch an Israeli soldier

Syrian Father saving daughter hospital Aleppo

A Syrian father trying to save his daughter’s life after his city, Aleppo, was shelled by regime forces.

Father begging Bangladesh soldier Myanmar

A father from Myanmar begs a border control officer from Bangladesh not to deport his family back to Myanmar

An American woman mourns her son on Memorial Day

An American woman mourns her son on Memorial Day

Check out the rest of the brilliant pictures here.

Lebanon’s 2012 Picture of the Year

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The above picture is worth a few thousand more than that – but don’t worry, I won’t write them.

Antoine Zahra, LF MP of the Batroun Caza, sporting a Palestine solidarity scarf… on his trip to Gaza. Who knew there would come a day when such a sentence would actually be written?

As they say “3ish ktir, betchouf ktir.” I personally don’t know what to make from March 14th visit to Gaza. On one hand, some see it as an act of solidarity, on another hand others see it as absolutely useless act of propaganda.
I’m leaning more to the latter but people already think I’m overly negative lately so good on March 14th for going there.

However, Antoine Zahra, it seems, is sticking it to whoever is saying the LF hate all Palestinians. Now cue in those reminding the world of the “atrocities” the LF have done during the civil war because that is entirely the point here.

In short, for so many reasons, I guess it’s fair to assume the above picture cannot but be Lebanon’s 2012 picture of the year – by far.