Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Land of Milk

The Land of Milk

The name Lebanon literally means “the land of milk”. It is one of the names given to a mythical earthly paradise in ancient times, usually located in one's neighbor's land, which typically (along with the assumption that your neighbors are barbarians and therefore a lower life form) justified the conquest of said neighbor.

Of course, such justification is no longer permitted today under the Geneva conventions. Merely coveting one’s neighbor’s land is not enough, even if your neighbors are barbarians unworthy of life itself. Today we use word “terrorist” instead of barbarian, but even terrorists have rights, at least until John Woo, Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales get their way with international law. A “terrorist threat” is therefore required as a security pretext for Israel to take land that it and its founders have coveted since at least 1918-19, when Cahim Weizman and David Ben Gurion first described Lebanon’s Litani river as Israel’s future “natural” border to the north.

Yesterday the original meaning of Lebanon’s name came to mind as I sat on the transmission housing of a shared taxi for five hours on the way to Beirut from Damascus airport, watching the relatively barren Syrian countryside, which contrasts with Lebanon’s mountainous beauty and verdant hillsides. The tour was necessitated because the only remaining route into Lebanon was the longest possible one; all the rest had been closed by Israel’s bombing of the bridges. This one had no major bridges, so even if it is bombed, a rough detour is probably still possible.

I didn’t have to wait long to see Israel’s handiwork. At Qaa, within a few kilometers of the border crossing, was a destroyed vegetable distribution center that Israel had attacked the same morning, claiming that it was a munitions depot. At least twenty people died to prove them wrong. It was Israel’s farthest strike north; any farther is geographically almost impossible.

Israel’s statement that no place is safe found further evidence on the main highway south, where four bombed-out bridges required us to divert to the older coastal highway. It’s a scenic route, but what could be the purpose of destroying the infrastructure in the largely Christian areas, where Israel was the silent partner of some of the parties in the Lebanese civil war? Perhaps it is Israel’s way of punishing them for showing solidarity this time with those resisting Israel’s invasion of the south, or perhaps it is just standard operating procedure to distribute as much misery as possible as widely as possible. It certainly would be consistent with Israeli actions in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in Palestinian communities inside Jerusalem and Israel, although its creation of nearly a million Lebanese refugees seems more like the ethnic cleansing actions employed in 1948 to clear Palestinians from areas that became the Jewish state.

Today I will join a team of international volunteers recruited by Adam Shapiro, one of the co-founders of the International Solidarity Movement, and including his Palestinian wife Huwaida Arraf, Kathy Kelly (founder of Voices in the Wilderness) and other experienced nonviolent activists, who are in the midst of discussions with the local Lebanese committee of counterpart activists on nonviolent strategies that we will employ in the coming weeks and months to confront Israel’s occupation and to express the solidarity of many Americans and other peoples with the Lebanese and their rights, and to show that some of us oppose Israel’s actions enough to come here and do what we can to stop them.

Whether we use the ancient term “barbarism” or its modern equivalent "terrorism" we recognize that it is just the latest form of racism to justify taking the "land of milk" from its people, who are portrayed as savages for defending their land and way of life. We hope that we may be able to change perceptions and demonstrate in person that our fate is bound directly to that of the citizens of Lebanon, and that our best protection is the protection of the rights of everyone.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Paul Larudee
From Beirut, Lebanon
August 5, 2006


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