Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

June 18, 2010

Lebanon Debates Palestinian Refugee Rights

Filed under: Arab attitudes,Human rights,Lebanon,Palestinian refugees — quinnconnors @ 1:39 pm

In recent weeks, the media has focused on the plight of blockaded Gazans. Amidst the international outcry resulting from the Gaza flotilla raid, a potential change in the fate of another group of Palestinians has gone largely unnoticed. Tuesday, after 62 years of waiting, legislation proposing basic rights for the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon made the committee stage in Parliament.

The proposed legislation, which was passed onto the Administration and Justice parliamentary committee, would grant Palestinian refugees the right to work and to own property in Lebanon. Currently, Palestinian refugees are barred from more than 50 professions, including medicine, law and teaching, and are prohibited from property ownership due to a law limiting land possession to “people with identification documents issued by a recognized country”. Such labor and property laws severely limit the economic and social opportunities of the Palestinian refugees who, for the majority, still reside in UNRWA camps after fleeing their homes in the 1948 and subsequent conflicts. (more…)

May 27, 2010

Is Israel Preparing for Another War with Hezbollah?

Last week Congress authorized an additional $205 million in military aid to Israel to help them build up a short-range missile defense system.   This defense system, Iron Dome, was created following the 2006 war with Hizballah, during which time Hizballah fired somewhere around 4,000 rockets into Israel.  The system was designed to use guided missiles to shoot down mortars and rockets from Southern Lebanon and Gaza.  President Obama proposed the plan last week, asserting his administration’s “unshakeable commitment” to Israel’s security.

But is this missile defense system merely for defensive purposes? A number of scholars and journalists have suggested that Israel may be preparing to wage another war against Hizballah. And in April, King Abdullah of Jordan, addressing Congress, warned that a war between Israel and Hizballah is “imminent”. (more…)

February 11, 2010

Martyr Iconography

Filed under: Arab attitudes,Gaza,Hamas,Iran,Lebanon,Palestinian politics,West Bank — Kimberly Doyle @ 12:52 pm

“Faces on the walls – martyrs freshly emerging from life and the printing presses, a death which is a remake of itself. One martyr replacing the face of another, taking his place on the wall, until displaced by yet another or by rain.” Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, accurately captured the culture of martyrdom and the phenomenon of martyr iconography in his book Memory for Forgetfulness. He understood how these images can create a vicious cycle of violence.

Martyrs exist throughout the world, but their images are increasingly used in places of crisis, and especially in the Middle East, to reflect social changes, shape society, and prolong violence. In the West Bank, Gaza, and the refugee camps in Lebanon the walls and streets are plastered with the faces of martyrs killed in the struggle against Israel. Posters, billboards, signs, and hand-painted murals with the images or names of martyrs are constant visual reminders of the struggle. On television, videos of martyrs pronouncing their last words fill the airspace. And in houses, pictures of heroic martyrs line the walls and children collect cards with the stats of martyrs, like baseball cards. Martyr iconography in these areas symbolizes the resistance struggle and the opposition to the current situation.

In Iran martyrs are national icons, symbolizing the struggles of the Islamic Revolution. On a wall near Tehran University there is a painting of a twelve-year-old boy, Hussein Fahmideh, who blew himself up in front of an Iraqi tank during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. And this image, according to a former professor of mine, was plastered on billboards and inscribed into history books throughout the nation. Fahmideh became a symbol of the new Islamic Republic and was immortalized as a hero. His struggle was emblematic of the greater struggle of the new Iranian government and his death was a sacrifice for this cause. In Iran martyrs are not symbolic of resistance or opposition, but of the hardships faced by the Islamic Republic. (more…)

January 16, 2010

Short films from our November study tour

Filed under: CNI/CNIF activities,Gaza,Helena's travels,Jerusalem,Jordan,Lebanon,Syria — Helena Cobban @ 7:55 am

I have been working with Dominic Musacchio, the videographer from our November ‘Political pilgrimage’ study tour to Israel and all its neighbors, to present some good short cuts from the many hours of footage he took on the tour.  We’ve finally come up with a good, illustrative collection of his films, which you can view here.

I’ve also been doing a huge amount of reorganization in our office.  (We may have some candid shots of us all moving the furniture around, that we’re willing to post here, later on… Or not.) We have a few more days of the reorganizing to be doing– and then it’ll be full steam ahead, getting back to running the excellent lineup of programs CNIF has planned for 2010.

The films present views and voices that people in the U.S. don’t get to hear enough from. Tell us which ones you find most interesting!

November 28, 2009

Photos from Lebanon

Filed under: CNI/CNIF activities,Helena's travels,Lebanon,Photos — Helena Cobban @ 2:43 pm

I just posted the next collection of photos from our recent CNIF trip, onto the CNI website. These are eleven photos from Lebanon, covering many– but not all– of the really informative meetings we had there.

Big thanks– again!– to all who hosted, or helped set up, these meetings. Come see us when you can, in Washington DC!

November 2, 2009

Beirut: the Sunni shift (and Jumblatt)

Filed under: Arab attitudes,Helena's travels,Lebanon — Helena Cobban @ 9:24 pm

Today, we had good meetings with a pair of young diplomats in the US Embassy here in Lebanon, with Free Patriotic Movement head Michael Aoun, with PM-designate Saad al-Hariri, Druze/socialist leader Walid Jumblatt, and caretaker PM Fouad Siniora. My goodness, it felt like a lot of meetings.  Tomorrow we’re meeting President Michel Suleiman fairly early, then proceeding to Damascus.

One of my main takeaways from today’s meetings is the degree to which attitudes among leaders of Lebanon’s Sunni community have changed over the past year or so.  This time last year, you could still regularly see some pretty strongly anti-Syrian statements coming from many Lebanese Sunni leaders.  Today, both Saad al-Hariri and Fouad Siniora made a point of saying that Lebanon needs to find a way to work constructively with Syria.

Both also laid huge stress in what they told us on the great importance to Lebanon of the US securing a speedy resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Siniora, who talked at greater length, also argued for working with Hizbullah rather than against it, and warned that any US or Israeli attack against Iran would be catastrophic for the whole region.

These are two Lebanese Sunni figures, remember, who were at the heart of the “moderate, pro-US Sunni” project that the Bush administration, the neocons, and the pro-AIPAC crowd hyped so loudly during the years 2005-08.  Within that frame, the Bushists and their supporters tried to argue that the “moderate Sunnis” in Lebanon and elsewhere throughout the Arab world were “fed up with the Palestinians, Hizbullah, and the Iranians”; that they feared the rise of “Shiite power”; and that they were actively rooting for the US or Israel to “take out” Iranian power before it submerged the whole region.

So what’s changed in the past year?

I’d say, three things:

  1. The Israeli assault on Gaza;
  2. The near-complete dashing of the hopes many Arabs earlier had that Pres. Obama would effect real change in the US’s policy on Palestinian- and Arab-Israeli issues; and
  3. The Saudi-Syrian reconciliation that was epitomized by King Abdullah ibn Abdul-Aziz’s recent visit to Damascus.

The change in position that I found from these two was fascinating, and almost certainly represented a shift in the thinking of many other Sunni Arab leaders who are– as these two are– very strongly pro-American.

Our meeting with Walid Jumblatt was also fascinating. Walid is an extremely mercurial political figure.  In October 2007, he was actually urging participants in the annual conference organized by the strongly pro-Israeli US think-tank WINEP to consider sending “car-bombs to Damascus” and saying “It was not a mistake in the absolute to remove Saddam Hussein… “

Then, about three months ago he shifted very abruptly away from the neocons’ anti-Iranian, anti-Syrian position, at about the same time that he started bad-mouthing his allies in Lebanon’s US-backed “March 14″ movement.

Today, he told us,

We in Lebanon need the weapons of Hizbullah, for our own protection– not least because we continually fear another Israeli attack and the US Congress won’t let the Lebanese army have the arms it needs to defend the country.

He also said,

I used to be among the hawks against Syria. Thank God the Bush administration didn’t listen to me! It would have been a complete disaster, like Iraq…  The alliance I had with the Falangists and Hariri [that is, March 14] against Syria was ‘against history’.

Anyway, more later. Sorry we still have no pics up…

First impressions from Beirut

Filed under: Helena's travels,Lebanon — Helena Cobban @ 5:40 am

We had a busy first day in Beirut Sunday with numerous briefings, a visit up into the Shouf mountains for a lunch-time visit with ‘Tawhid’ MP Wiam Wahhab, and a visit to the massive arts and crafts fair organized in the Dahiyeh by the rural development arm of Hizbullah’s ‘Jihad al-Binaa’.  On the acre or so of tables laid out there small food-processors and artisans from throughout Lebanon were displaying and selling their amazing wares.  Pics, later, I hope.

On the political front, the most significant things I heard were:

(a) Loud condemnation of the statement Hillary Clinton made in Jerusalem Saturday evening, when she lauded PM Netanyahu for having made “unprecedented concessions” on the settlements issue and urged the Palestinians to resume negotiations without preconditions; and

(b) An account from former longtime UNIFIL official Timur Goksel of how many of the small arms now pouring into Lebanon are brand-new US weapons that are smuggled here from Iraq.  The presumed provenance of these weapons is via the US’s large-scale handouts of weapons to former Sunni insurgents under the “Sons of Iraq” and “Awakening” programs. It is really depressing to see the damaging effects of so many US decisions regarding Iraq still reverberating throughout the region.

Today (Monday) we have many government appointments lined up. Never a dull moment with CNI!

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