June 11, 2006

Lebanese-Israeli Dialogue

Quite a few Lebanese and Israelis have been arguing amongst themselves in my comments section. I'm happy to host this discussion, and I want to encourage more of it. It doesn't take place nearly often enough (thanks to reactionary laws against such “fraternizing” behavior), and I think many mainstream Lebanese and Israelis would discover they are natural allies if this could somehow continue on a mass scale and it certain outstanding issues could be resolved.

Considering that the two peoples are still formally at war with each other I'm impressed with the quality of dialogue - especially considering how hyserical and extreme so many people are about the Arab-Israeli conflict in general. (I know of no subject in this world more likely to make an otherwise reasonable and intelligent person plunge head-first into a fever swamp than this one.) The arguments here are considerably more civil and worth reading than, say, the vast majority of arguments in the blogosphere between liberal and conservative Americans. Whether this speaks well of the Lebanese and Israelis here, or whether it reflects badly on the abysmal quality of American political discourse, I'll leave for you to decide.

Anyway, I'd like to republish a letter to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah (it first appeared in Beirut's Daily Star) that Lebanese blogger Lira posted in my comments section for Israelis to read. I find that Lebanese public opinion too often gets unfairly lumped in with the unhinged points of view found far more often in the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, and Syria. Americans (and Israelis?) left and right still have a hard time believing that Hezbollah has been marginalized by the majority. Hopefully this will help. If you don't believe me, listen to them.
Dear Mr. Nasrallah,

I am a Lebanese citizen with no affiliation to any political party.

What have I done for Lebanon: I have served for 18 months on two World Bank & IMF development projects aimed at restructuring the Lebanese State Administration.

I have no relations with any embassies or ambassadors.I have no relations with Israel nor with any Western country.

I hope that my credentials fit the profile of whom you deem acceptable to criticize the Hezbollah.

Mr. Nasrallah, I would like to tell you that myself and thousands of other Lebanese do not believe that in 2005 with all that has happened in Lebanon from 1975, we do not believe that violence is the best solution with an entity like Israel.

We would like to ask you to refrain from trying to capture any individual, be it a civilian or a military, be it an Israeli, a Westerner or anyone for that matter.

We understand the plight that we have with Israel's detaining of several Lebanese prisoners, we are facing the same with Syria which is politically detaining many Lebanese in its jails. We however do not believe in kidnapping Syrian soldiers or civilians to force the Syrian government to release the Lebanese that it detains. We know that such a move will bring severe military and economic retaliation from the Syrians and prefer to act in peaceful and diplomatic venues.

We hope that you understand that doing the same with an entity like Israel will cause severe military and economic backlash to the whole of the Lebanese Republic. I must stress also that our demands should cover Lebanese citizens per se, since nationals of other Arab countries should be recovered by their own governments, would you not agree? Would you not agree that Lebanon, as a small country, should relatively follow up on his own citizens and that other Arab nations which are stronger and more resourceful, that they should seek to get back their own nationals? Where is their duty towards them?

It is good to know that your orders are coming from Beirut, but are they coming from the Lebanese Republic? Are they coming from Mr. Sanioura or from the Commander of the Lebanese Army? If so, the Lebanese Army is never issuing any statements on your operations, they never claim to coordinate with you on your attacks, who is issuing your orders in Beirut?

We do not believe that the Syrian Baathist regime “freed” us from occupation. In fact more than 1.5 Million people believe that the Syrian army was occupying us.

We would like to remind you that International Law is above everyone. That the United Nations, while far from being perfect, are still the one and only institution recognized by all countries of the world, including Iran and Syria that are both cooperating with the UN on a number of issues.

We understand your enmity with Israel but could not accept the fact that you call death to the United States of America. You can show your hostility and disagreement with the policies of the United States Government but for the sake of international accountability, do not call for death on any country on our behalf or in the streets of our beautiful country who has given you the freedom of speech.

While the world is not perfect Mr. Nasrallah, we Lebanese deserve to live in peace after all this time. Your weapons and your aggressive policies are preventing us from doing so.

We do not believe that you are able to defend the country against a major Israeli offensive.

We do not believe that you are able to prevent Israel from destroying Lebanese infrastructure.

We do not believe in your claim that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese.

Please respect our diverging points of view and refrain from using any military means that should be limited to the Lebanese National Army. We would highly appreciate it if you could comply to Lebanese laws and hand your weapons to the Lebanese authorities.

Thank you
I should add an update so she won't get pounced on in the comments. I asked her why she criticized Nasrallah's “Death to America” slogan but not his “Death to Israel” slogan. Here is her answer:
I am a supporter of a 2-state solution in Palestine; my own convictions about whether the state of Israel is rightfull or not will not influence my decision to have peace with this country, this is what's best for Lebanon and we need to communicate with the Israelis in order to reach such a solution.

Criticizing the “death to Israel” slogans would also have been too much in a reply such as mine tipping the balance to a pro-Israel article that would be viewed negatively by many readers at a moment where the memory of Israel's crimes in Lebanon is still very vivid in their memories.

America has not and is not administering death to Lebanon in the same manner Israel did and still are in some sense. Regardless of the views of Hezbollah militants, they remain Lebanese and I understand where they come from while being a staunch critic of many of their antics. The leadership of HA and its allegiance to the Syrian and Iranian regimes is an entirely different ballgame.

Finally, maybe when Israel's name and existence stops being so synonymous of death and violence, I might criticize those who call “death to america” in the same manner than those who say “death to israel”….the intensity of objection is different.

Lest you think Lira represents only a miniscule minority of public opinion in Lebanon, here are some things to consider:

In a online poll at the Web site of the Free Patriotic Movement (the most popular Christian movement in Lebanon, but also fairly inclusive of disgruntled Shia who can't stomach the Amal and Hezbollah parties), 78 percent voted for peace with Israel under certain conditions.

In another online poll at the Web site of the Future Movement (the most popular Sunni political party in Lebanon headed by Saad Hariri), respondents answered this way on the question of peace with Israel:
Yes and Now: 34.38 percent

Yes but after israel get out of shebaa valleys: 37.50 percent

Yes but after palestinian case is solved: 12.50 percent

No peace with Israel: 6.25 percent

Israel should be erased from the world: 9.38 percent

These polls are obviously not scientific. But I think they show that Lebanese public opinion isn't some monolithic anti-Zionist hate machine. Dialogue with Lebanese is possible. One of these days it can and probably will take place beyond the comments section of blogs.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 11, 2006 4:10 PM

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