Saturday, July 29, 2006

Don't let anyone put this light out!

BEIRUT cafe society.

Israeli commanders want to destroy Lebanon's rebirth.

AFTER Israel's 1982 bombing and invasion of Lebanon (which in laying so much of the country waste incidentally prepared the ground for Hizbollah to emerge as a resistance movement of the despised Shi'ite population in the south), a small group of Jews from Britain who had opposed the war set out as a delegation for Beirut.

Consisting of an engineer, two scientists, and a children's specialist, they wanted to see the results of Israel's actions for themselves, as well as meeting personally with those who had been at the receiving end, and discussing with Lebanese and Palestinian fellow-professionals what could be done.

One of the visitors returned with a small but poignant souvenir. A dented metal Star of David he had found amid the ruins of Beirut's synagogue. I had seen a photograph of that synagogue being guarded at night by a PLO sentry during the Lebanese civil war, when Palestinians in that quarter took responsibility for neighbourhood security. But that did not stop the synagogue taking a direct hit from an Israeli naval gunboat in 1982.

My friend Arye who showed the Magen David to people said it had been attached to the twin stone tablets bearing the ten commandments which had decorated the synagogue's portals before it was destroyed. "The Israeli naval commander was the first Jew since Moses to throw down the tablets of the Law!", he wryly observed. Today that destructive image takes on fresh grim significance.

After much effort, a Jewish museum had just been opened in Manchester about this time, and I suggested to Arye that he should offer to donate his war-damaged Magen David from Beirut. But he said that he wanted to be able to return it to the rightful owners, to the Lebanese Jewish community, whenever he got the chance.

I lost touch with Arye over the years, and I don't know whether he still has that metal star. But he may yet get the chance to return it, if this US and British backed war is stopped. Amid the black smoke of Israel's renewed onslaught on Lebanon, a little light has shone out in the form of a new weblog celebrating Lebanon's Jewish community, wherever they may be scattered, and the country's reconstruction in which they hoped to take part , before Israeli generals once more set about destroying Lebanon and its people's hopes.

"Though we believe in the universal principal of the right to self-defense we condemn the indiscriminate and disproportionate response from the State of Israel", says the Lebanon site. "Ultimately, we condemn the violence wholeheartedly".

The Jews of Lebanon blog has this mission statement:

"It is the intent of this blog to reestablish a connection between Lebanese of the Jewish faith around the world with their country of Lebanon. The message of coexistence and genuine national unity is not applicable so as long as a fragment from Lebanon’s mosaic of minorities is missing. If religious coexistence fails in Lebanon it will ultimately fail throughout the world.
It is the intent of this blog to provide a venue to express an adamant rejection of the intertwining of politics and humanitarian and moral endeavors. We reject the discriminatory and ignorant tendencies to equate the religion of Judaism to the politics of Zionism.

"The Lebanese experience has reaffirmed the strongly held belief that so as long as we remain victims of prejudgment and bias we will continue embedding ignorance within the fabric of our society. This blog is established in the hopes that we can once again reaffirm our faith in our country and in the principle of national unity and the morals of respect and integrity.

"This endeavor is strictly initiated and upheld by our patriotic and moral convictions and not influenced by any political considerations. Our aim and intent is solely rested upon our faith in finally building the Lebanese Republic that not only accepts but embraces religious and cultural diversity.
Any individual who subscribes to our philosophy of separating political agendas from moral obligations is welcomed and encouraged to help make this blog a success. Long Live the Lebanese (no matter what their religious convictions are!)'

With some striking photographs of Beirut's reconstruction before the Israeli and US-made bombs came, Jews of Lebanon says:

"The reconstruction of Beirut is considered the single largest urban redevelopment project of any city since World War II. Scars of Lebanon’s dark past are being erased everyday and in light of the recent political events, a high sense of optimism for Lebanon’s future is present and is evident in the large and continuing reconstruction and current real estate boom".

Looking at this I wonder whether it is precisely the success which Israel's jealous vandals want to destroy under cover of what the BBC and some newspapers still obligingly pretend is only "war on Hizbollah".

But it is not only buildings, or optimism, that are being destroyed. As ambulances and refugee columns are targetted, children killed and maimed, a fresh legacy of hatred is being renewed for generations, and we can't say where its ripples will stop. "If religious co-existence fails in Lebanon it will ultimately fail throughout the world", the Jews of Lebanon weblog warns.
Last night, on my way home from a demonstration in Whitehall, I picked up a copy of the day's Sun which someone had left on the train.

This right-wing Murdoch-owned tabloid, best-known for tits and flag-waving jingoism, had a page exhorting Israel to press on with its war, and denouncing "idiots" who said its action was "disproportionate". Another Sun columnist suggested the British government had bowed to "ethnics" in spending taxpayers' money evacuating British citizens who should not have been there in the first place. Those who know the paper's hate-filled campaigns against asylum-seekers and other vulnerable groups will not be over-suprised by the way it takes side with brutal aggression. I hope those supporting Israel's actions from the Jewish community will feel comfortable with their "friends", and happy at what the future holds.

For those of us opposed to war and racism the line-up is a warning. But amid the gloom and battle smoke, the Jews of Lebanon site is an unexpected good sign. It reminds me of a saying which a friend of mine used to fondly quote, that "It is better to light one small candle than forever curse the darkness". I won't pretend the Lebanon weblog's views are mine. I neither share their optimism about a bourgeois Lebanon, nor consider their condemnation of the war adequate. But they are shining a little light, of hope, and truth, and tolerance, and we should beware letting that light be extinguished.



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