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.

jbeil-byblos-christmas-tree-2015

This year’s tree can work fine too:

byblos-jbeil-christmas-tree-2016

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

tripoli-christmas-village-1

How about checking out the tree in Downtown Beirut?

beirut-downtown-tree-2016

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?

lebanon-christmas-decoration-2016-2

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.

aqaba-christmas-decoration

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.

Sorry Jbeil, Lebanon’s Best Christmas Tree Is In Tripoli This Year

At a time when Christmas decorations have become yet another opportunity for Lebanese locales to compete among each other, spending tens of thousands (if not more) of dollars for momentary decorations instead of more needed development.

But I digress. Jbeil, whose Christmas decorations have become a yearly landmark, wouldn’t be too pleased to find out that its (lackluster?) tree this year, which faced stiff competition from the one in Zgharta, is being bested by a very unlikely competitor for the coveted title of Lebanon’s best.

In Tripoli’s unfinished Rachid Karameh expo, a modern-art Christmas tree, inspired by one of Oscar Niemeyer’s landmarks in the expo, merging Ramadan Lanterns with Christmas decorations was unveiled yesterday, to show that the holidays in the country are better celebrated together and that we, as a country, are stronger in being together. This comes from a city that is trying to pick up the pieces from the mayhem it was forced into as a result of years of systematic neglect during which its people were killed, its infrastructure crumbled and its reputation took a beating.

But Tripoli is trying to change all that. Next to its Christmas tree, at 25 meters of height, is an entire Christmas village akin to the one you can go to in Beirut at Train Station. The place is full of local shops trying to sell you goods. I’ve been to that of Beirut yesterday and the one in Tripoli is quite different: the prices are cheaper, it’s more organized and it’s way cleaner. You won’t see people chainsmoking their way indoors up North.

The Christmas village imported the widely popular “Souk el Akel” to Tripoli as well. While the concept of a food market has escaped our Lebanese-ness with the fact that such places should be affordable, with the joke going laban with cucumbers there costing you around $20, this is not the case in Tripoli. The marketplace is half composed of local Tripoli restaurants, and they’re super cheap. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the local moghrabiye.

All of this, including access to the usually closed Rachid Karameh expo, a gorgeous place, costs just 5000LL. The money goes to help thousands of needy children this Christmas season as well as to buy gifts for 2,000 orphans around the city.

The Christmas village will also be hosting a slew of stars in concert this year, as well as Brazilian football player Roberto Carlos who will be there on December 20th:

roberto-carlos-tripoli

So I suggest all of you make the trip up North for the next few days (the village runs until December 22nd) and check out how Tripoli is trying to reclaim its spot on the Lebanese landscape.

#AnaTarablos: The Triumphant Video That’ll Make You Love Tripoli

ana-tarablos-tripoli-lebanon

If there’s anything that this blog has gotten people to think about me, it’s that I’m one of the staunchest advocates for Tripoli, one of my favorite Lebanese cities, and the capital of my mouhafazat. I know its streets all too well. I pride myself on being able to maneuver its shortcuts. I feel jubilant whenever I’m deep in conversation about it and can converse well in its history.

Tripoli also instills sadness in me when I see its current state, and the massive could-have-been that it is. I hope that future days are kinder on this city whose potential knows no bounds, which boasts some of Lebanon’s most impressive architectural and human feats, and whose imprint in our history as a country cannot be denied.

From its maarad, to its old souks, to its citadel, to the river running in its midst, to its restaurant, to its people. I’ve written about it many times. I’ve told you how awesome it is countless times. I’ve defended it against those who don’t understand its dynamics as many times. I’ve invited you to visit it as often as I can, and I still do, especially now that kinder weather is approaching.

Earlier today, a friend of mine linked me to a magnificent video about Tripoli that I felt I needed to share with all of you. It’s the kind of videos that I wish our government knew how to make – and they tried to before, but decided to exclude anything and everything Northern from it. It’s the kind of videos that can get any Lebanese, no matter where they come from, to be absorbed in the history of that city, learn in the space of a few minutes about its rich past, feel the same sadness that I feel at its present, and yet also feel triumphant at the fact that it’s still standing on its feet despite all.

Nader Moussally, the creator and director behind the “Ana Tarablos,” should be commended on conveying onto his society a sense of humanness that few before him have managed to do. Although I’m not from there, his “Ana Tarablos” video makes me feel the sense of pride and even hope that I know any person from Tripoli would feel watching it, believing the future in store for this city is better than the present it has been forced to deal with through systematic negligence from the part of successive governments that don’t care and its own politicians that see it as nothing more than conquests to be rationed.

I couldn’t write this post before talking to Nader to help him further convey his vision. Like many people from Tripoli, Nader took his own city for granted before he moved to Beirut for his studies. The longing he felt to his city, as well as the sadness that overtook him as he started to further notice how forcibly deprived it is, Nader, away from the politics that he knows is killing his city, decided to support his city in the way he knows best: a movie that conveys how he feels about his city: one that is more like a mother than a town, inspired from the conversations with his own mother, to make his sentiment towards his home relatable to every Lebanese.

The video is that in which Nader imagines Tripoli to be a person and this is the message he believes Tripoli the person would tell the country in which it exists and the people that constitute it. It’s the message of a lover, of a disappointed friend, of a city that has known what it is for times to change and leave you behind.

Nader wanted Tripoli’s story to be narrated by someone whose voice echoes the history and depth that Tripoli is. The only person that seemed like a perfect fit was Khitam Lahham whose sighs in the video will penetrate your soul.

The text is glorious, and jubilant and worthy of the city it portrays :

عمري اكتر من٤٠٠٠ سنة… عندي اكتر من ٤٠٠ الف ولد… ما بحياتي فرقت ولد عن ولد… فتحتلن كل بوابي، هديتن أجمل صيغة، المع نحاس، احسن صابون، اشهى حلو … غسلت قلبون بالحمام و عطرت روحن بزهر الليمون … خيطلن أجمل تياب بالخان زرعت العِلم فيّن و عملتلّن اغنى مكتبة…

و لخفف عنّن خلقتلن اكتر من 20 صالة سينما عملتلّن ساحة و منشية تصارت نبضات قلبن تدق ع ساعتها…هندستلن احلى بيوت… جمعتن بالقهوة عَ لقمة كعكة و عصير خرنوب و تركت الحكواتي يخبرن عني و عن تاريخي بأخبارو لي ما بتخلص… خليت نهر ابوعلي يِبَوردلن قلبن عالمايلتين…

و لانن موهوبين و مميزين قلت ليش ما بعملن معرض … و ايه عملتا … اكبر معرض بلبنان و بالشرق ربيتن عالمحبة بالجامع و الكنيسة. خفت عليّن، ولإحمين عملتلن قلعة و سميتا عَ اسمي . عطيتن كل شي …غنيتن بكل شي و عكتر ما غنيتن سموني أمّ الفقير. مابذكر عذبوني ولادي هنه و صغار

… بس عكبر …هه… خليني ساكته . يمكن من كتر همومن نسيوني، هملوني و تركوني تصرت خايفي ع حالي مننن… آه… بس معليه… انا مني زعلانة لاني انا هون … باقية هون أنا العلم … أنا المعرض… انا العِلم … انا الفن …انا الفيحاء… انا القلعة… انا ام الفقير …انا .طرابلس

The English translation:

I am over 4,000 years old. I have more than 400,000 children I have never preferred one over the other.

My doors I opened wide, and gave them only the best Fine jewelry and copper Fancy soaps Delicious sweets Hammams to cleanse their hearts, the fragrance of orange blossom to fill their souls, exquisitely woven attire, deep-rooted education, and the richest library.

For them, I built over 20 cinemas and theaters, a square and a great clock to whose chimes their hearts beat. Beautiful homes I gathered them in my coffee shops. Fed them cookies and carob juice.

There, the storyteller recounted my history and told his never-ending stories. My Abou Ali River ran on both sides, refreshing their hearts when they grew talented and unique, I exhibited their work. What an exhibition! The largest in Lebanon and the East!

Both my mosque and my church taught them to love. I feared for them so I built a fort to protect them and named it after myself. I gave them everything. I kept granting them riches until I was named “Mother of the Poor.”

When they were young, my children were always good. But when they grew older…  Ah Things got worse. Perhaps worries burdened them. They forgot me, neglected me, left me all alone. Now I’m afraid they might hurt me. But that’s okay I am not saddened. Because I’m still here, and here I’ll stay.

I am History. I am The Exhibition. I am Knowledge. I am Art. I am Al Fayhaa. I am The Fortress. I am the “Mother of the Poor.” I am Tripoli.

I leave you with the wonderful video:

From Bikini To Burkini, Or Why Lebanon’s Tripoli Is Awesome

A picture of two veiled burkini-clad women, and another bikini-wearing on one of Tripoli’s popular beach islands is going viral today across Lebanon’s internet-sphere. The last time this many people were interested in the city was to berate it for the way it voted in an election, but that election is now long past and so has those people’s attention from this great city up North.

In that picture, the two stark opposites represent this city that I love more than anything else. So I figured, in this small space that I have, that I’d try to tell you – kind reader – of why this city whose picture you’re so eagerly sharing is worth your time.

1) Bikini versus Burkini:

Bikini:Burkini Tripoli

Picture via @Jadgghorayeb

Over the years, many Lebanese have come to associate an image with Tripoli as that of a city that is ravaged by war, where Islamists reign supreme and where seculars – or anyone who does not want to live by the Sharia for that matter – is not welcome.

The constant and progressive decimation in the city’s reputation is slowly being reversed as of late, with many flocking to its pristine beach islands, to the growing safety of its streets.

The above picture, however, is not an anomaly. It’s the culmination of years in which the city’s varying components co-existed calmly, away from politics and hateful rhetoric, and here they are in all their glory.

2) Beirut’s food prices will have a seizure:

Hallab

You’ve all seen that infamous “Grand Café” picture over the past few weeks and the comparison (although inaccurate) to potential trips to Istanbul that that same bill would’ve covered. Many of you have complained about the price hike in diner chains you’ve loved for years. Now let me tell you a short story.

Yesterday, I took a group of my friends who hadn’t visited Tripoli but to do some necessary paperworks that people of the North have to do in it to one of the city’s restaurants. Their first reaction scanning the prices of that menu – one of Tripoli’s more expensive places, may I add – was to ask one question: how?

Four main courses, drinks, and appetizers later, our bill was less than half of what we would’ve paid for the same combination at any given place in our country’s capital. And the food was great.

In fact, the food is great everywhere. From the restaurants offering Lebanese to those offering mixed cuisine across the city, to the vendors selling cheese and kaak, to the many coffee places many of which I love – Ahwak for the win – to the sweets places and palaces that the city have become synonymous with, you can do no wrong.

3) Lebanon’s biggest old souk is there:

 

Everyone loves to go to Jbeil to see its “authentic” great souks. And while Jbeil’s old sector is awesome, it is dwarfed by what lies in Tripoli’s old city.

Not only is Tripoli’s souk one of Lebanon’s biggest, and is relatively well-kept, but it has retained a flair of authenticity with it being a melting pot of all of the city’s inhabitants, across their sociopolitical status.

The old souks are still divided based on the different services they offer, from khan el saboun to khan el dahab, to the many Ottoman-styled hammams inside them. They’re a must-visit if you’re in the city and in the mood for some meet up with Lebanese history.

4) Citadel St. Gilles is awesome:

Built by the Crusaders, Citadel St. Gilles in Tripoli’s Tebbaneh neighborhood is an extremely well-kept fortress that, because of its location, is rarely viewed as a touristic destination. But it is, and you’d be missing out by not checking it out.

It’s almost 900 years old, has been morphed over the years by the many occupiers of the city into what it is today, and the place being almost always not crowded gives you a visiting experience that view other touristic spots in Lebanon offer.

The entrance is also a simple: 5,000LL.

5) Rachid Karame Forum is spectacular:

Designed by the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Rachid Karame Forum at the entrance of the city is a vast space that’s probably the most accurate representation of the wasted potential of the city.

Intended to be the hub of an economic forum as plans to turn the city into a Lebanese economic capital were underway, the place is now almost a ghost-town of modern unfinished architecture and landscape designs that will surely blow you away.

6) The Palm Islands are amazing:

Pic via The Daily Star

Pic via The Daily Star

A natural reserve set forth by the Lebanese state, a section of the Palm Islands has been made available for beach-lovers to visit in order to exercise their favorite hobby. From clean sands to pristine waters, the islands are near-free to get to – unlike all the resorts in or around Beirut and its greater area.

Fun fact: the Arabic name for the Islands is rabbit islands. It is as such because during the period of the French occupation, rabbits were let loose on the island. What were two soon became hundreds, and therefore the naming occurred.

7) Timmy’s in El Mina is the pub to go to:

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When I say alcohol, Tripoli is probably the last place you’d think of. But there’s a pub in the old neighborhood in El Mina called Timmy’s that will help you change your mind a little. It’s an old traditional sea-side Lebanese house that has been turned into a massive space for those who feel like they need to wind down after a long day or week.

From sand-stone interior, to chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, to doors manned by a camera based on which the owner decides which clientele he wants to admit or not, the only adjective that could describe the place is exclusive but approachable.

When I was there, I had a discussion with the owner about why he adopted such a policy. He said that he wants to keep the place at a high enough level to attract people to his city. And attract people he does. For the moment, most of those who flock to Timmy’s are either from Tripoli or from the neighboring areas of Zgharta or Koura or sometimes Batroun. But that could change.

8) El Mina’s corniche is one awesome walk:

The same night when I had a few friends try out one of my favorite restaurants in Tripoli and they got shocked with how cheap and good it was, I took them on a drive around the sea corniche in Mina. Stretching for more than 3 kilometers, it is one of Lebanon’s longest and more authentic.

From vendors in small kiosks on the side, to kids flying around kites, to men praying in the heat while they fish, on that corniche you’ll see all kinds of kinds, in a city that has everything you’d see.

9) The people are the most kind-hearted you’ll find:

From close friends, to the people that would give you money for park meters when you’re out of coins, to the hefty portions you’re served anywhere you go, to the overall sense of welcome they infuse in the air of their city, the people of Tripoli are some of the most kind-hearted welcoming people you’ll meet in this country.

I’ve had the pleasure to know many of them, some of whom were like my family at a certain point, and I call myself lucky for doing so.

10) Life exists North of the Madfoun:

The Lebanese border does not end sligthly north of Jbeil. Venture out. Explore a little. Odds are you may be surprised – even if for a picture involving a bikini and a burkini. Suck on that Cannes?

Three Men Raped A 16 Year Old Girl From Tripoli… But They Won’t Go To Jail

Welcome to the land of where the value of women is contingent upon the flap of skin resting at the precipice of their vagina, where their rights are fluctuating based on the mood of the men that enable them and where our girls are taught, from the moment they open their eyes, that them being the second sex does not invoke otherness but rather rank.

A few days ago, in the Northern city that I love, a 16 year old girl was a victim of the Lebanese condition three times.

She was the victim of this sex but no sex country, where the level of repression we instill in our people is so high that some find the only way to release is to violate other people’s sanctity. That girl was violated by three men in one of Tripoli’s suburban areas.

Her ordeal did not end there, however. Following the breaking of the news, Lebanon’s media saw it best not only to discuss her ordeal at length, but to give out her full name for everyone to read, to diffuse and to memorize. Not only was this helpless, violated woman a victim of the barbaric horny men who saw her body as nothing more than a piece of meat, she was also victimized by a media system that saw her horror as nothing more than an opportunity for them to title their articles and news reports with: “in names, in pictures and in video.”

And then she became the victim of a judicial and political system that will now see the men that violated her go out of jail, with the only thing about them harmed being their ego that has been bruised, not that would matter because, at the end of the day, they will remain men with penises that can fuck whichever vagina they please and she will remain a girl who has lost that flap of skin and as such is relegated to another level of human worth.

The father of the girl in question dropped the charges under the pretext that his daughter had consensual sex with the aforementioned men. Yes, because the story that she was actually raped is just so hard to believe so it’s spun, under pressure from all kinds of kinds, into a story in which she wanted to have three men take turns on her, not that it matters because one marriage proposal would’ve fixed this in the eyes of the law anyway.

Yes, it’s easier to believe that the girl whose rights are being violated the same way her body was willingly had sex with three men than to believe the three men that had her are being backed by a certain political side in Tripoli to make sure they get out of this unharmed.

Yes, it’s easier for three men to rape a woman in Lebanon, leave her bruised, with traumatic memories to last her a life time, than it is for me to name the politician in question in this piece, or in the hypothetical scenario of tweeting something bad about that fictional Lebanese president of ours. We sure have our priorities sorted out people.

It’s easier for people in our country to believe that this woman had consensual sex than to believe she was raped. It’s easier for people to make up all kinds of excuses than to look at what happened right in the face and try to advance our society a little bit forward. It’s not what she’s wearing. It’s not how she’s acting. It’s not related to anything about her except that she did not want to have sex, and yet she was forced to.

Welcome to the country where the husband of Manal Assi, who murdered her in cold blood in domestic abuse, gets less jail time than someone caught smoking pot. I have no words. I hope one day the girl in question finds a state of mind in which she can sleep at night.