Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Mobilization of Civil Resistance in Lebanon

August 12, 2006

At 8:00 this morning in Beirut's Martyr's Square, commemorating the deaths of 33 Lebanese patriots in 1916, the doubts about a Lebanese civil resistance movement against Israel's invasion of the south were swept away. Only twenty-four hours earlier, the organizers could assure only six cars, no gasoline and an uncertain number of volunteers. Should we cancel? Change the objective? Postpone? After yet another difficult meeting we decided to plunge ahead, with several contingency plans.

This morning, however, we found ourselves with 52 vehicles, two to four volunteers per vehicle and a press corps swarming all around us. Each car sported a large Lebanese flag on its roof and was loaded with relief supplies for residents still in the town of Nabatiyya in south Lebanon after a million of their citizens had been put to flight by Israel's policy of depopulating the region. After interviews and car assignments, the convoy headed through the pride of Beirut's historic downtown business district - the section destroyed in Lebanon's civil war but recently restored with care to its former glory.

The line of vehicles made its way deliberately through the city, pausing occasionally to let stragglers catch up. "What is this?" asked bystanders. "Where are you going?"

"To Nabatiyya." replied the volunteers with pride. "We are a civil resistance campaign asserting our right to be in our lands."

The faces of the onlookers beamed in return as they shouted "God speed," touched their hands to their heads, lips or hearts and passed their blessings our way with a gesture.

South we went, first on the superhighway and then on the older coastal road where we encountered the first of many bridges blasted with impunity by Israeli military might during the last month.

Passing through the coastal villages, we had not gotten far before we came upon a Lebanese military checkpoint. They stopped us and refused to let us pass, saying that it was not safe. We disputed their assessment, pointing out that we were the only vehicles being stopped and that there was plenty of traffic in both directions. With some difficulty, we located a higher official of the Ministry of Interior in order to appeal the order, but he refused to change it. We considered several other alternatives, including removing the markings on the cars, getting past the checkpoint and reforming, or doing a sitdown strike in the road. However, our goal was not confrontation with the Lebanese authorities and Lebanese unity was one of the important principles of our action.

In the end, therefore, we gathered at the Ramlet al-Baida ("White Sands") beach and decided to try to make another opportunity for ourselves as soon as possible on a different day. We then moved the meeting to our staging center for a self-evaluation session. At that meeting we agreed that although it was a big disappointment not to achieve our intended objective, our success in proving the interest and viability of a Lebanese civil resistance movement should not be lost because of external circumstances that no one had foreseen. The group will therefore be holding strategy sessions in the coming days to plan the next move.

Don't count on this group to disappear. Lebanese civil resistance took an important step today.

Paul Larudee
ISM volunteer in Lebanon


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