It is now night time in Beirut. The day was heavy, busy with shelling from the air and sea, but so far the night has been quiet in Beirut. We are advised to be bracing ourselves for a bad night, although most analysis is more reading tea leaves at this stage. I received a wide array of comments regarding my email yesterday. The comments stayed with me all day. I visited friends this morning at their house, people now gather in homes, most cafes In "West Beirut" are closed, streets are quiet. In times like these, the city huddles on its neighborhoods, main thoroughfares are avoided, side roads and back streets are trekked. Gatherings shift to the house of the member of the group whose neighborhoods has electricity, whose elevator works, and who has elusive enough familial obligations to house an antsy crowd eager for social exchange. Amongst that group, I was the only one who seemed to have experienced the weariness, to be genuinely frustrated with having to face another round of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Everyone seemd resigned to endure this dark and sinister moment. Everyone was busying themselves with analysis, speculation. Mind games, fictions, chimeras. I regretted expressing my weariness with the fight, with having to summon the energy to face Israel and defy the destruction of Lebanon. I felt I betrayed a principle, a value, disrespected people's pain and suffering. I know a great great number of people in Lebanon share my sentiments, and the political debates on TV seem to return to the question tirelessly. But still, I felt "smaller" than the historical moment demanded. I wanted to write this, I needed to come clean to you all. I need to let you know that if you were intrigued/discomforted by the pettiness of my spirit. The cause of this is partly my refusal to acknowledge the gravity of the moment. I don't feel I am strong or courageous enough to face it, to take it all in.
Last night something quite fantastical happened. By this morning, the mood in the country and city was palpably changed. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that the leadership of Hezbollah are not acquainted with "The Society of the Spectacle". Last night was a turning point in the confrontation between Hezbollah and the Israeli army. I ought to have drafted a note right after that moment, but I could not find the mental energy to do it. I was so scared and anxious that I became sucked into the pull of minute by minute news reporting and finally succumbed to exhaustion. You probably all heard about the Israeli warship that was drowned. I am convinced that all of you not privvy to Arab media missed the spectacular staging of the drowning of that warship.
The "showcase" began with Israeli shells targetting Hassan Nasrallah's home in the southern suburbs. As soon as the shells exploded, the media reported them and waited to confirm that he and his family had survived. About half an hour later, the newscaster announced that Hassan Nasrallah planned to adress the nation and the Arab world by phone. I never thought he was charismatic. A huge majority of people do. He's very young to hold the position of leadership that he does. He's a straight talker, not particularly eloquent, but speaks in an idiom that appeals to his immediate constituency in Lebanon but is also compelling to a constituency in the Arab world that harbors disillusionment, despondency and powerlessness with the failed promises of Arab nationalism to defeat Israel and restore dignity. He is not corrupt, he lives simply, and displays a bent on spartan ascetism. Although he's neither charismatic nor captivating, he has cultivated an aura of sorts, particularly since his son was martyred at age 18 in a commando operation in south Lebanon when it was occupied by the Israeli military. He survived the Israeli attempt on his life last night, and addressed the nation by phone, thirty minutes later. His speech was pragmatic, again spoken in his habitual simple (almost simplistic) idiom from within the Hezbollah rhetoric, obviosuly. The speech was intended to deliver a number of specific messages, answer back to pronouncements by regional leaders and clarify Hezbollah's strategy in the face of the unexpectedly barbaric Israeli attack. He began by declaring an open war to Israel's assault. He summoned the Lebanese people to unite in this moment of confrontation, transcend petty divisions and rise to the occasion. He promised to deliver victory, based on the long record of victories by Hezbollah. Most powerful and compelling was his response to the Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian statements issued earlier that day, blaming Hezbollah for bringing the tragedy on Lebanon. The Saudi statement had referred to Hezbollah's actions as "adventurous", the Jordanian as "irresponsible" and the Egyptian as something in both these veins. All three had invoked the pressing need to act reasonably. Nasrallah's response basically said that he is the leader of the only Arab and Muslim political movement to have defeated Israel militarily and forced it to withdraw, the only Arab leader to have been able to shell Israel and pose a serious military threat from without its borders. If his actions were "adventurous" he argued, they were certainly reasonable, but they did not comply to the reason that guides Arab leaders and Arab regimes, rather the reason that animates the common folk on the streets, the reason that defies defeat, the reason that brings victories, saves dignity and does not fear the enemy no matter how powerful his arsenal and allies. He called onto the Arab and Muslim world to stand in solidarity with the Lebanese as they faced, once more, the savagery of the Zionist machine.
His third message was to the "Zionist enemy". He reiterated that Hezbollah did not fear an open war. That they have long been prepared for this confrontation. Interestingly, he claimed that they possessed missiles that could reach Haifa, and "far beyond Haifa, beyond, beyond Haifa", thereby admitting that it was Hezbollah that fired the missile fired to Haifa (until then they denied having fired them). It is not clear what he meant by "far beyond Haifa". Did he mean Tel Aviv? It was not THAT far from Haifa. Did he mean Israeli interests and missions abroad? It was not clear. More terrains for speculators. His conclusion was all about the showcase... In his message to the Zionist entity, he reminded his audience that he had promised to deliver many "suprises". And now the time has come for the first of the many surprises they have in store for the Zionist enemy, namely the warship that had bombed the southern suburb the night before and was casually sailing in the bay of Beirut was now in flames and its personel was drowning. "Look at it!", he said, this is one of the many surprises we have saved for the Zionist army... And he fell silent. There is no film footage of the warship being hit because all the cameras had their lenses directed inland, focused on scouting for shells, destruction, victims and tragedy writ large. By the time he had spoken his words, it was too late to catch sight of the warship being hit, all that cameras captured was a huge ball of fire in the open sea, but not much else was clear. Rescue flares flew into the sky from around the ship. Ultimately, it would turn out that all except for 4 from the crew would be rescued/recovered. The Israeli media began by denying the report, then confirming the warship had been hit, then claiming there were no losses, then admitting four sailors were missing, then claiming the ship was towed to the Haifa port, then admitting it had sunk in the sea where it was hit. This morning one of the three bodies was uncovered by Hezbollah. The news of the downed warship spread fear in our hearts. We were sure the retaliation would be numbing in violence. Then Hezbollah fired rockets on some settlements in the Galilee and we were all bracing ourselves for a night of hell. Nothing happened in Beirut. The south was shelled, the north was shelled the Beqaa was shelled. Surgical assaults on roads, bridges and the communication network. Slowly but surely, in cold blood the country was being dismembered, ligament after ligament, inland, on the coast, and in the mountains. In Beirut, the night was quiet. I could not understand how one downed Israeli warship could throw disarray into a military as powerful as the Israeli military.
Nasrallah's calls for solidarity resonnated loudly the next day. Immediately after the spectacular showcase, Hezbollah television was showered with phone calls from Saudi Arabia expressing their support. There were protests supporting him and his mission in almost every Arab city. They contrasted sharply with the reactions from Arab officialdom. He had won his first round against Israel and against the slothful, debilitated and stunted Arab leaderships.