16 July 2008

Decaying human bodies: the currency of post-conflict bargains

Posted in Lebanon Diaries tagged , , , , at 2:28 pm by lilithhope

Finally, two years and over 1,200 dead later: the end of the 2006 Israel/Hizbullah war.

At 9 am this morning, a long-awaited prisoner swap began between Israel and Hizbullah. After much speculation as to their condition, the Israeli soldiers that were captured in July 2006 were returned in long black boxed, along with the remains of Israeli soldiers killed on Lebanese soil during the Israeli invasion that followed the ambush. In return, Israel will return five Lebanese prisoners and the remains of 199 Palestinian and Lebanese killed in cross-border operations over the last 30 years, most famous of whom is Dalal Mughraby, a 19 year-old Palestinian woman who was killed in 1978 in the wake of a highjacking of an Israeli bus that killed 36 (for a touching recent interview with Dalal’s family, see here).

Despite the fact that the exchange of decades-old body parts and certain individuals convicted of child murders,  namely, Samir Kuntar, could ever be anything but a dismal and grotesque ordeal, the exchange taking place in south Lebanon today strikes a particularly tragic note. Engineering such a prisoner swap was Hizbullah’s initial motivation for capturing the two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, in 2006. Instead, the capture sparked the 2006 war and Israeli invasion, which left over 1,000 Lebanese civillians and some 160 Israeli’s mostly soldiers, dead. Essentially, scores and scores of human lives wasted in a war that acheived nothing, and the initial purpose of which is only being resolved today. If only, like has happened in the past, the prisoner swap could have occured without such bloodshed…

Out of all the various media coverage of today’s events, Al Jazeera makes one particularly inetersing point, which gets to the heart of the strength of Hizbullah as an armed resistance movement:

“The Hezbollah exchange has prompted the public in Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt – which have both signed peace deals with Israel – to question why their governments have not been able to repatriate the bodies of their soldiers.”

Indeed, this leaves us reconsidering the effiectiveness of Hizbullah’s tactics, most importantly the use of force, in acheiving their goals when compared to superficial diplomacy. It makes us question the extent to which measured violence directed at certain targets is or can be a legitimate tool for acheiving political ends… To say which is not a call to arms, nor a condoning of indiscriminate violence against civilians, but only to say that the tactics of armed resistance should not be immediately dismissed as “terrorist” or “extremist”. Infact, what this incident shows us is that Hizbullah’s initial ambush acheived more than those who blindly follow the path of diplomacy, while simultaneously causing significantly less damage than the responsive use of force by the Israeli government, which was deemed more legitimate because it was conducted by a nation state, an army, not some “rogue” or “guerilla” group.

Violence has always been and remains a legitimate way of pursuing political ends; the contestation revolves around WHO uses the violence, rather than the extent of that violence. Hizbullah is continuously demonized because it is a non-government actor who uses violence to acheive its war-time goals (Hizbullah and Israel are in a defacto state of war, and have been since 2000), even though its pales in comparison to the hell-fury that has been unleashed by the Israeli’s on both the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples over the last 60 years…  

In conclusion, maybe what im about to say contradicts the non-emotive analysis that i just offered, and betrays the resolute humanist in me: today’s prisoner swap strikes me as particularly morbid purely because it is in the currency of broken, decaying human bodies that the debts of this ongoing conflict are being paid.

After all the bombs and fires and burning and screaming and bitterness and revenge, this is what it all comes down to: pieces of shattered bone, fragments of formeldahyde-soaked flesh, perhaps some mutilated organs or gangrene-infested limbs, contained in shiny, black boxes, baking in the stifling summer sun.

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28 May 2008

Wars against women

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:13 am by lilithhope

Truth is often said to be the first casualty in wartime. But if the real truth is told, it is women who are the first casualties. In conflict zones, the United Nations children’s agency Unicef recently observed, sexual violence usually spreads like an epidemic. Whether it is civil war, pogroms, or other armed conflicts, all too often women’s bodies become part of the battlefiled.”

Despite some claims made without reference, this is a good piece, and I’m sure that an interesting dicsussion will ensue. The authors link to another article about filmmaker Lisa F Jackson, who makes an essential point about the masculine domination on the discourse of war:

Why isn’t every woman who is raped front-page news, like I was? … War is always described from a male point of view. Male survivors of war have bragging rights. They get to write books, they get to be heroes, they get ticker-tape parades. And the women survivors of war have nothing equivalent.”

26 May 2008

Inside the battle for Lebanon

Posted in Comment tagged , at 4:01 pm by lilithhope

The shooting became much louder and we realised it was coming directly towards our house. We heard my dad yell: “Where are you?” and we opened the door for him. The gunshots, which had been muffled by the door, were suddenly much louder.

My dad limped into the bathroom. We saw that a piece of shrapnel had gone into his leg. He had been lying in bed when a bullet came through the window, ricocheted off the wall and hit him. As he was limping into the bathroom I peeped out of the door and saw that all the windows on the outside of the house had been smashed by gunfire. He came in and we quickly closed the door.

We waited for about 15 minutes. My dad couldn’t take the pain of the bullet, it was really hurting him. We didn’t want to turn on the lights for fear of the people outside seeing and shooting at us. By candlelight, I edged the bullet out of his leg. It wasn’t the whole bullet, just a piece of it, but it had gone into his leg at a 45-degree angle and lodged itself between his skin and muscle. I had to push it from behind to tease it out slowly. Then I cleaned his wound and put a bandage on him.

Great interview with a 12 year-old stuck in the middle of the fighting in Beirut, conducted by one of the city’s most up-and-coming journalists, James Goodman.