August 31, 2006

On the Anniversary of the Worst Natural Disaster in the US...

I thought I would share the amazing story of one Muslim man living in New Orleans during the hurricane. It is a story of compassion, endurance, patience, and resolve. It also shows the major government failures in bringing help to the beleaguered Gulf region. Although it's a little long, it is definitely worth a read.
I heard a strange noise coming from outside when I woke up so, I went to see what it was. When I looked outside, I saw the water passing in the street . It was moving so very fast, just like a rapid river. It was moving all around my house, and it looked like it was steadily rising. My first thought was the levee had broken. All I could think of was what to do next.
And when you can't imagine that anything worse could happen...
When I entered the area where the phone was, I saw a strange man there. I asked my tenant who he was, and what he was doing here. My tenant said that he was with the search and rescue team, and he needed to use the phone. I told him, "Oh, ok." We heard people outside. My tenant went to talk to them. It was the military. They asked him if we needed water. We told him no thank you, we have some. Then they jumped out the boat, went inside the house with their machine guns, and they were yelling at us to get in the boat. One of the military persons searched the house, for what? Only God knows. They treated us like hard criminals. They asked to see our ID cards, we showed it to them, they didn't even look at it. They only returned it to us. I told them I own this house, and my tenant was trying to prove to them that he lived there. They didn't care. They forced us out by gunpoint.
Read Abdulrahman Zeitoun's full story here.


August 30, 2006

Is it cuz of Blogger Beta?

I'm not sure why my new post wasn't picked up by some blog aggregators, specifically Jordan Planet and Palestine Blogs. Blogger Beta doesn't have the "republish index" which I used to use if my posts weren't caught by those websites. DC Blogs did pick it up, so I wonder if it's just those two sites that are having some technical issues. Anyway, let's see if this one will be picked up, and don't forget to check out the previous post, "Speaking of the Israel Lobby and the War on Lebanon".

Update: It's been picked up by Jordan Planet :o)


August 29, 2006

Speaking of the Israel Lobby and the War on Lebanon

Yesterday I attended a great panel discussion at the National Press Club entitled “The Israel Lobby and the U.S. Response to the War in Lebanon.” The event was sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the speakers were the authors of the recent paper entitled “The Israel Lobby”, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Their paper, published by the London Review of Books, created a buzz in academic and political circles mostly in the US but also in the UK and abroad. Naturally, the paper and its authors were attacked by none other than “the lobby” and its die-hard supporters. The professors came today to shed some more light on their research and connect their arguments about the lobby to the American response to the recent war in Lebanon. Although I have read most of the paper, and blogged about it previously, I found the discussion to be enlightening and very timely. This post is not intended to be a transcript of the event, but a brief summary of what I found to be the most important and interesting aspects of the discussion.

Harvard professor Stephen Walt began the discussion by summarizing the highlights of their paper. The main premise of their research is that the strong influence of the Israel lobby has led to policies that are not in the interest of the United States. He pointed out the billions of US tax payer dollars that are provided unconditionally to Israel as military and economic aid, as well as the unwavering diplomatic support that it receives from the executive and legislative branches of the US government. Examples of this include 33 American vetoes (since 1982) of UN SC resolutions that were critical of Israeli actions and policies as well as the favoring of Israel in all of the wars that it has been involved in against its Arab neighbors. Walt explained that the support Israel receives from the US has been justified by strategic and moral reasoning. While Israel may have been a strategic ally during the Cold War and therefore its support justified, the Soviet Union no longer exists so this rationale is null and void.

Today, Israel is said to be an ally in the War on Terror as it shares a “common threat” of terrorism with the US. But as Walt points out, it is the US’s close relationship with Israel and its unconditional support that is one of the reasons America has been the target of terrorism. Upon hearing this claim, neo-conservatives are quick to criticize such statements accusing individuals and policy makers of “succumbing” to the terrorists’ demands. This is a faulty argument in my view, as it is not only the terrorists who are angered by the unwavering support for Israel, but most of the Arab and Muslim world. This, Walt added, has been confirmed by the 9/11 Commission Report, Arab public opinion surveys, as well as internal Pentagon reports that point to America’s relationship with Israel as one of the top grievances. It is clear that while many Arab countries have good relations with the US, the main “bone of contention” is the Israel issue. In addition, Israel’s nuclear arsenal, not challenged by the US, is also another issue of concern especially at a time when the US is attempting to stop other countries in the region from obtaining such weapons. Israel, therefore, is not a strategic asset to help deal with these problems; rather it is the cause of them.

Claims that Israel is a vulnerable country and the “only” democracy in the Middle East are used as moral justifications for the unrelenting US support for Israel. Walt points out that even these so-called moral reasons do not justify the extent of American support. While the US enjoys a liberal style democracy, Israel was established as a Jewish state, which paves the way for de facto discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of the state. In fact, the treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as well as the treatment of non-Jewish Israelis as 2nd class citizens cannot be morally justified.

In sum, this unprecedented and unreasonable support can only be explained by one reason: the Israel lobby. Walt was quick to point out that the lobby is a loose coalition of individuals and organization, not all of whom are Jewish, and is not a “secret cabal” of some sort. He points out that their activities are not illegitimate or illegal, but are part and parcel of the American system of interest groups that have long worked to influence American politicians. The success of the lobby is in part due to its singular focus on support and advocacy for Israel in addition to being one of the best funded (AIPAC’s annual budget nears $55 Million). The lobby reaches out to legislators and policy makers, helps draft important legislation, works overtime to shape public discourse with the help of the mainstream media that is strongly pro-Israel. The lobby is quick to attack and smear anyone critical of Israel or US support for Israel. It puts pressure on universities, helps fund media outlets, and is helped by Christian Zionist organizations as well as a majority of American think-tanks that usually lean in favor of the Jewish state. In March 2005 a National Journal study ranked the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as the 2nd best lobby, tied with the AARP.

Walt went on to discuss the way things would be around the beltway if the lobby was less influential. If that were the case, the US would not have funded illegal Israeli settlements which all US presidents since Nixon have acknowledged are dangerous and an obstacle to peace. The US would have adopted a more independent approach to a peace settlement with the Palestinians rather than acting on behalf of Israel. If the lobby were less influential, the US would have been less likely to invade Iraq as the lobby was active on this front pushing for an invasion that would weaken a potential threat to Israel in the region. He added that this was not the only reason the US went to war in Iraq, but that the lobby, with its neo-conservative allies, was able to heavily influence the decision to go to war. Finally, Walt pointed out that American policy toward Iran would have been more flexible was it not for the lobby’s strong stance against such interaction between America and Iran.

Walt ended his talk with a brief overview of the response to their paper. He pointed out that most critics resorted to attacks on his and Mearsheimer’s character (anti-Semitic), on extraneous issues in the paper and not the main premise and supporting arguments. He joked about their work being called “sloppy” by individuals who apparently ignored the fact that the authors have written six books between them and hundreds of articles, both distinguished educators with spotless (and boring—according to him) records who would not resort to “sloppy” work on such important research at this point in their career. Finally, Stephen Walt wondered why there was such a fuss over their paper when they were just pointing out what everyone in Washington already knew?! This was indeed common knowledge around the beltway but the fact that a Harvard and a Chicago University professor chose to write about it in an academic setting with such candor angered the lobby and its supporters.

Chicago University professor John Mearsheimer explained that the immediate response from the Bush administration to the war in Lebanon was to give a green light to Israel to “destroy” Hizbollah. As the days went by, and Israel intensified its aggression against Lebanese civilians and infrastructure, the international community began to criticize the unjustified response to the kidnapping of its two soldiers. The United States provided strong diplomatic support for Israel, vetoing a UN Security Council resolution which condemned Israel’s attack on UN offices in Southern Lebanon and it succeeded in delaying for weeks any effort to impose a cease-fire between the two countries. The US did not hesitate to respond to Israel’s request for military assistance; it sent smart bombs to Israeli forces as they continued pounding Lebanese towns and villages.

On the congressional side, our venerated representatives from both sides of the political spectrum nearly fell over themselves trying to prove who could do more to show support for Israel. The House drafted a resolution stating full support for Israel’s “fight against the terrorists” and an attempt to soften the language and encourage an end to the violence was rejected by pro-Israel lobbyists who pressured the likes of Nancy Pelosi not to change anything in the text. Not surprisingly, the resolution passed by an overwhelming majority. The Senate followed suit with a similar resolution which had 62 sponsors! Some of our representatives even attempted to stop the Iraqi Prime Minister from addressing Congress after he made statements questioning the American support for Israel against Lebanon. Democratic party chairman Howard Dean went so far as to say, “The Iraqi Prime Minister is anti-Semitic.”

The mainstream media in the US also stood firmly behind Israel during the war on Lebanon. A study conducted one week after the war began showed that almost no media outlet condemned Israel’s aggression. The Independent newspaper in the UK wrote:

There are two sides to every conflict - unless you rely on the US media for information about the battle in Lebanon. Viewers have been fed a diet of partisan coverage which treats Israel as the good guys and their Hizbollah enemy as the incarnation of evil.

Professor Mearsheimer pointed out that the war on Lebanon undermined major American efforts in the region with regards to three main issues: terrorist activities involving Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas; countries which the US classifies as rogue states including Syria and Iran; and the war in Iraq. The Bush administration’s support for Israel in the war made it all the more difficult to deal with these issues. The US support further increased anti-American sentiment in the region which makes the idea of “winning hearts and minds” that much harder. The war also helped to increase the popularity of Hezbollah and strengthen the organization which the US sought to undermine and weaken in order to support the new US-supported Lebanese government. Finally, the war provided more reasons for Iran and Syria to: support Hezbollah rather than distance themselves from it, obtain nuclear weapons, and keep the US mired in Iraq. The war clearly took a heavy toll on the “Cedar Revolution” which the Bush administration supported.

The US position in the war on Lebanon was nearly indistinguishable from that of the Israeli government, Mearsheimer explained. While Israel’s actions were in clear violation of international laws of war, the US did not waver in its support. Dan Halutz, Israel's army chief of staff said that they will "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years." After surveying the carnage and destruction in Lebanon, the UN and other prominent human rights organization acknowledged that the reconstruction efforts that Lebanon had undergone over the past 15-20 years have been completely set back as a result of the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure by Israel.

During this time, the pro-Israel lobby was hard at work. Organizations raised millions of dollars for Israel, monitored media coverage and responded accordingly, met with congressmen and helped draft important legislation that allowed Israel to continue its destruction of Lebanon. Professor Mearsheimer shared an example of this type of pressure on members of congress. Chris van Hollen, a Maryland senator, in a July 30th letter to Secretary of State Condolezza Rice wrote, "a continuation of the bombing campaign, as it is being carried out, is against the interests of Israel and the United States."(full text of letter) Needless to say, the Israel lobby was up angered by van Hollen’s attempt to stop Israel from continuing its plans in Lebanon and they made their position clear and public. The senator subsequently apologized for sending the letter and emphasized that he would continue to support Israel. Nevertheless, the head of the ADL Abraham Fox was not satisfied with the apology and said that van Hollen needs to work harder to prove that he truly supports Israel. In another example, President Bush gently tried to tell the Israeli government not to undermine the Lebanese government but the Israel lobby called the President’s rhetoric “unacceptable.” As Olmert stated recently, "Thank god we have AIPAC, the greatest supporter and friend we have in the whole world." Elliott Abrams, one of the president’s advisors and David Wurmser, Cheney’s advisor on the Middle East are known staunch neoconservative supporters of Israel who pushed the Israel lobby’s agenda through the highest offices of the executive branch. Groups such as Christians United for Israel held a summit in support of Israel which attracted more than 3,500 attendees.

Despite the influence of the lobby on American politicians, Mearsheimer noted that American public opinion appears to be less supportive of Israel’s policies. Various public opinion polls proved this: an ABC News/WashPost poll showed that 46% of Americans believed Israel and Hezbollah were equally to blame for the conflict; a USA Today poll showed 38% of Americans disapproving of Israel’s military action in Lebanon; a CBS News/NYTimes poll indicated 41% of Americans believed that the US should not support Israel or Hezbollah; and in a CNN poll 43% of Americans thought Israel should agree to a cease-fire. In sum, the Bush administration’s and Congress’s staunchly pro-Israel stance were not representative of the majority of Americans.

Indeed, the strong influence of the lobby is the only explanation for the United States’ support for Israel as it is clear that there is no compelling strategic or moral rationale for such a stance, especially during the war on Lebanon.

Upon hearing excuses for the US support for Israel, I am reminded of the time when I asked one of my professors about the advantages the US gains from supporting Israel. He mumbled something about strategic alliance (during the Cold War) and intelligence sharing, which proved to be yet another unsatisfying answer. I constantly wonder why we should support a country that costs us tax payer money and our reputation in the world, undermines our efforts to tackle real problems in the Middle East, and is nothing more than a burden on a superpower that has the potential to make a difference in this world. I know for sure that if it were up to the American people, this blind support for Israel would be stopped. Like Professor Walt, I still have faith in the democratic ideals of our nation, and I can also see that slowly but surely, Americans are becoming more aware of the reality of the situation in the Middle East and the role their country plays in the region. At the moment, the quest for democracy and change in the Middle East, while it might be honest in intention, has been adulterated by a range of interest groups and individuals, from the Israel lobby to the neoconservatives. If this continues, none of these endeavors will succeed in bringing about the ideals of democracy to the Middle East that so many Americans enjoy today but at the same time appear to be losing them with every passing day.

[the video of the discussion is made available online by C-Span; 1.5 hours long]
[the transcript is also now available in PDF form]

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August 21, 2006

Reflecting on Six Weeks in Jordan

It feels like I haven't blogged forever since my last post was written during the last hours before I left Amman for Washington D.C. Now that I'm back I hope to be posting more often than I did during my vacation. The long trip across Europe and the Atlantic was very tiring and the recent events in London made things all the more stressful.

We worried about what was allowed on the plane and what wasn't. Thankfully, we were allowed to bring electronics onto the plane (laptop, cameras, phones, etc), but we had to forfeit anything that we had which was made of a "fluid substance." I'm not sure how hard it is for men to do that, but I know it was very inconvenient for me to have to give up my lotion, perfume, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, lip gloss, anti-perspirant, etc. Of course I wasn't stupid enough to throw all that away because I packed some things in my checked luggage, and other things that were banned from the plane cabin I put in a bag that was sent down with the rest of the checked baggage. Although I am usually satisfied with KLM's service, I wondered why they didn't provide us with hygienic essentials that were taken away before boarding. I heard that some airlines were providing passengers with snacks and drinks since they were not allowed to bring on their own. They could've done the same with things like toothpaste, lotion, deodorant, etc.

In any case, we landed safely in one piece and didn't have any trouble at the airport where most employees were surprisingly nice and smiley. Then it occurred to me that I was possibly just looking out for anyone being nice and smiling since much of that was lacking in Jordan :)

On the way home, it took some time for my eyes to adjust to the lush green scenery, the orderly streets, and the generally homogeneous look of suburban Virginia. When I got home, it also took some time for my ears to adjust to the extreme peace and quiet in my neighborhood. No pick-up trucks were roaming the streets honking their horns selling gas and vegetables, no children were to be found yelling and screaming in the streets, no rowdy teenagers were blasting music in their cars or overly aggressive middle aged taxi drivers obsessively honking their horns. It was so quiet that it took me a while longer to fall asleep.

And over the past week since I've been back, I can't help but think about everything that occurred in my month and half stay half way across the world. Nothing had to "happen" per se, just what I observed and heard from Jordanians truly saddened me.

I don't like sounding extremely negative and pessimistic, but it is really hard for me to find something good to say about the state of Jordanian society. Speaking to my cousins about their college experience is utterly depressing. They spoke of incompetent professors, lack of facilities, apathetic students, corrupt administrations, lack of "campus life" and active student organizations, etc.

If colleges were that bad, what was to be said of high schools then? Of course, one cannot speak about high schools in Jordan without considering the Tragedy of Tawjihi. On one side we have families pressuring their children to ace the final 12th grade exam so they can be doctors and engineers. Schools and teachers overload students with work, encourage them to blindly memorize text books and regurgitate the information on the test paper. There is no thinking or analyzing; just memorizing and reciting. And when the results appear, all hell breaks loose. Your final score is announced to everyone, and I mean everyone. If you ace the exam, your life will go on. You will apply to be accepted into any university that takes you, under any major that will accept you with the score that you have, and you will take that road to medicine, computer science, or Arabic studies, whether you like it or not. If you fail the exam, you are doomed. The whole world will know that you are a failure. Even if you were an "A" student your whole life, and you messed up on that one exam, you are a failure. You parents will lock you at home, lower their head when they walk out of the house, and avoid situations where they will be embarrassed to reveal your failing score. If you didn't fail, but didn't score high enough, you will most likely be forced to accept a major you are not passionate about or remotely interested in. You will go on to university lacking the enthusiasm required for students to produce and achieve. You and your peers will not be innovative or creative, and will be afraid of the day you graduate to face the horrors of the job market.

Away from the ailing educational system, you will see a country where as the cliche goes, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. You may stumble upon a neighborhood in Amman with guarded villas, majestic gardens, lavish pools and fountains, and German cars roaming the streets. There is nothing wrong with this picture of course, until you realize that most cities and neighborhoods across the country could not be further away from this image. On those streets, Jordanians worry if they will have enough food and water for the next day. They worry if they will be able to pay the ever increasing taxes on every possible product and service their government provides. They wonder if they will be able to pay for the books or uniforms their children will need for the new school year.

On these same streets, you will encounter some people who pretend to not know anything about law, order, ethics, morals, or common courtesy. Of course I would not want to generalize here, but one too many "incidents" and "encounters" with such individuals makes you wonder if there really is anyone who has respect for the law or maintains any ounce of respect for their fellow human being. There is not much regard for traffic regulations which is evident in the horrifically high rate of fatal accidents in the country. The concept of standing in a line is nearly non-existent, and if one attempts to form one they are easily cut off from every possible direction. The idea of customer service is also a few decades ahead of many institutions and businesses in Jordan.

This is not to mention, of course, the unmentionable: the sad state of political "reform" and political awareness in the country. I don't want to delve too much into this category because it would simply take too long to discuss. What bothered me most about this is how rare it is to find young Jordanians who are interested in or aware of the domestic, regional or international political scene. These 20 somethings can't be bothered much with issues of parliaments, freedom of speech and expression, national agendas, a couple of wars next door, etc. Knowledge of or interest in politics and/or social movements appears to be superficial. You don't find many youth "dedicated" to a cause, whether it be political, social, environmental, or economic. There is a certain segment of young citizens active with religious organizations but it is not a majority by any calculation. I naturally find myself comparing college students in Jordan to those in the US, which is probably an unfair thing to do seeing the huge difference between these two countries. In the US, you'd be hard pressed to find a college student who is not involved in a student organization such as sororities and fraternities, social justice clubs, animal rights clubs, religious studies clubs, cultural clubs, and academic interest clubs. I realize that the environment in Jordanian universities is not as welcoming of this type of activity, but it is also clear that many students are too lazy to take the initiative to push for these programs at their colleges. They would rather not deal with the bureaucracy and trouble it would take to start one of these clubs, but they also do not realize that if they commit to making this happen then it will be easier for students after them to do the same and benefit from their efforts.

To be honest, my intention is not to highlight all these negative aspects of Jordanian society that I witnessed just for the sake of it. It really hurts me to see that we are so behind on many issues despite the potential that our countrymen and women have to make things better. It's not easy to bring about change into society but I strongly believe that if each person becomes aware of the ills of their society and has the will to make it better, then they will find a way to do so, one at a time. I really do hope that the next time I visit my beloved Jordan, I will witness a change, even the smallest positive changes will be good enough for me. As long as I don't come back to reflect on the same problems without any improvements, I will be satisfied.

Here's to hoping.

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August 12, 2006

Israel's Political and Military Defeat

Over the past month, Israel has suffered an embarrassing military and diplomatic defeat in its war against Lebanon and Hezbollah. For the first time in decades, an Arab and Muslim force has been able to stand up to one of the strongest militaries in the world. There will be a new Middle East, but not the one Condolezza Rice had in mind a few weeks ago.

The changes made to the American-French resolution that was passed today were a result of the diplomatic pressure by the Arab delegation that was sent to the Council last week. The compromises made also came as Israel and the US realized that this war cannot be won by Israel without causing serious risks of severe instability in various autocratic countries in the region.

A brief look at UNSC resolution 1701 shows the significant changes and additions that were made to put an end to Israel’s aggression against Lebanon. The new resolution includes a call on Israel to withdraw completely from Southern Lebanon as well as from the occupied Sheba’a Farms. A prisoner exchange between Lebanon and Israel is also to be arranged according to the resolution.

Israel has suffered huge losses on the military front, losses it hasn’t suffered for decades. The IOF was forced to call in more than 30,000 reservists to help with the war on Lebanon and maintain the occupation of Palestinian territories. More than 1.5 million Israelis are hunkered down in shelters while thousands of others have already decided to pack up and leave the country. New opinion polls show that only 20% of the Israeli public believes that their military will win the war. Public support for Prime Minister Olmert and War minister Peretz has declined dramatically over the course of the war. This has resulted in Olmert accepting resolution 1701 and asking his government to do the same. The Israeli government and military want to put an end to a war they cannot win except by cowardly dropping US-made smart bombs on shelters full of civilians. When it comes to on the ground battles against Hezbollah fighters, the weakness of the IOF is obvious. In the international arena, Israel is clearly alone, except for its partners in the US. Even in the States, many have begun to question their governments unrelenting support to a government bent on destroying Lebanon and any other Arab country it can put its hands on.

The unanimous agreement on resolution 1701 proves that Arab countries do have some leverage with the US and in the UN. One wonders, however, if the same power will be used to end the suffering of the Palestinian people. This war will definitely have an impact on the course of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, although one has to remember that many Arab countries as well as Europe and the US have interests in Lebanon that are not existent in the Occupied Palestinian territories.

The dramatic shift between power among Arab countries was also highlighted during the diplomatic efforts that were taken to end this war. While Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan began with a condemnation of Hezbollah and its “uncalculated adventures”, resolution 1701 passed with the help of the Emarati and Qatari officials who went to the UN to ask the US and France to place more pressure on Israel to end its aggression and withdraw its troops. While the former three Arab countries appear to have more weight and power in the region, the opinions of the leaders which were in clear opposition with that of their constituents have questioned their ability to remain among the movers and shakers in the region. The strong reaction of the Arab street to the Israeli aggression as well as their to their leaders’ condemnation of the resistance was a wake up call for Arab autocrats who began to restate their opinions and review their political strategies fearing an even stronger reaction that could result in destabilizing their positions of power domestically and regionally.

The war has also proven that Israel should not be dealt with diplomatically. Israel is a country founded on war and established by military occupation. It does not understand the language of diplomacy; rather, it only understands the language of Katyusha rockets and military body bags. When Israel suffers a military defeat, it is then forced to accept political concessions. This is exactly why countless attempts to forge peace treaties and accords with the Palestinians have ultimately failed as Israel continued its aggression and occupation against a weakened population despite international condemnation. It is also why Israel continually disregards international law and dozens of Security Council resolutions mostly regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As long as it is not losing its young military men and its Merkavas, Israel will continue to disregard any calls from the international community to stop its state sponsored terror machine.

While most of the world has seen and understood what Israel is doing to millions of innocent people, the question remains if and when the United States will realize that its blind support to Israel is only causing more instability in the region and danger to its own people and its position as the superpower of the world.

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August 9, 2006

And the Tragedy Continues: Lebanese Man Loses 15 Members of Family

By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Writer
Ali Rmeity lies broken and bandaged on a hospital bed, wincing in pain. Three of his children and his parents are dead — but he doesn't know all that yet. Doctors fear telling the 45-year-old now would be a bigger blow than he can sustain.

Rmeity was at home with his wife and four children shortly after nightfall Monday when Israeli missiles slammed into their apartment building in the predominantly Shiite southern Beirut suburb of Chiah.

At least 41 people were killed — including 15 from Rmeity's family — making it the deadliest single strike of the four-week-old Israeli offensive in Lebanon. Workers continued to retrieve bodies from under the slabs of concrete

"I had been feeling tired, so I went into the bedroom and lay down on the bed. Five minutes later the bombs fell and I found myself crying for help under the rubble," Rmeity said Tuesday. "My wife, who was on the balcony, was thrown in the air. They found her somewhere, I don't know where."

Rmeity's wife, Hoda, was being treated in an adjacent room at the Mount Lebanon hospital near Beirut. She has severe lung injuries and several fractures. Their 9-year-old son, Hussein, was in intensive care with head trauma and a brain contusion.

Their three other children — Mohammed, 22, Fatima, 19, and Malak, 16 — were killed. So were Ali Rmeity's parents, his three brothers and two sisters. His brother's family, who lived in the same building, also died.

In total, 15 of Rmeity's relatives were killed, according to hospital officials and relatives. Ali so far had only been told that his mother had died.

"I don't know anything about the rest of my family. Some people have told me they're being treated in another hospital, but I don't know whether to believe them," said Rmeity, who was wearing a head bandage and a white hospital robe that couldn't hide the injuries and burns on his body. Doctors said his injuries were not life threatening.

"I know that my mother died, may God have mercy on her soul," he said, his mouth quivering and his green eyes filling with tears.

The hospital's owner, Dr. Nazih Gharious, said it was too early to tell Rmeity of his loss, which might prove to be too much of a shock. Rmeity's brother-in-law, Ibrahim Jomaa, repeatedly warned visitors not to slip and tell Rmeity that his children were killed.

"If he finds out he will surely die," he said.
Rmeity said his children had been scared for days and wanted to leave their apartment even though the district of Chiah so far had been spared from Israeli airstrikes. Friends repeatedly told him to come stay with them.

"But I didn't want to impose on anyone, we're a big family," he said. Now he wishes he hadn't been so stubborn.

"If I had listened to them, this would not have happened," he said putting his head in between his hands.

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August 7, 2006

Five Weeks in Jordan

I've been meaning to write this post for more than 10 days but I got busy with a relative's wedding and of course the ongoing war in Lebanon. My family took a short escape to Amman last Friday and it was truly enjoyable. I say escape because most of my relatives live in Irbid, so we end up having to spend most of our time here visiting and hosting aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. The lingering sadness and frustration about Lebanon did not disappear and made our trip bittersweet.

On Friday night, we stopped by the Global Village Festival on the outskirts of Amman which was particularly packed that evening. Nevertheless, the weather was really nice and the exhibits were great. I heard some people saying it wasn't well organized but I found it pretty nice especially since this is only the 3rd year it's being organized.I also got a chance to have my first meeting with a fellow Jordanian blogger the following day. Lina took me to breakfast at Wild Jordan which has a spectacular view of downtown Amman. We had a really great time and I wished we had even more time because there was so much to talk about! I couldn't make it to the Jordan Planet meet up because of my uncle's wedding, but I really hope I can meet some other bloggers before I leave next week. (the view of the Citadel from the top floor of Wild Jordan)

After breakfast, I went with my family and uncle to downtown Amman, "the balad". This was really amazing as I had never been before, although I did read a lot about different landmarks there on the Jordanian blogosphere. First we saw the oldest townhouse in Amman, as well as the old Hosseini Mosque which is absolutely gorgeous.When we passed by this small kiosk-like bookshop and this old man with large black-rimmed glasses stepped out, I immediately recognized it as the one mentioned by various Jordanian bloggers. I was really excited and asked to take pictures of Mr. Abu Ali and his street-side bookshop and as expected he was such a gracious and kind man. I want to stop by again so I can actually have a chat with him. Our long walk through the busy streets made us hungry, so we stopped by another Amman landmark, Al-Quds Restaurant. The traditional Jordanian/Palestinian cuisine was delicious and the antique pictures of Jerusalem all over the restaurant were breathtaking.
The trip to downtown was really the highlight of our short stay in Amman. We stopped by the Global Village another time to check out the exhibits of countries we didn't see the first time and buy more stuff from the Indian, Palestinian, Syrian and other exhibits. Anyone visiting Amman at this time should definitely stop by the village.

With everything going on in the countries next door, I felt it was almost inappropriate to post about anything other than the war. But I also felt the need to document as much as possible from my few weeks in Jordan this year as it is the first time I visit since starting this blog less than a year ago.

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August 4, 2006

Day 25: Qa'a Massacre

Many of us wonder how many massacares must take place and how many innocents must be killed before Israel decides to put a stop to the atrocities it is committing in Lebanon and Palestine. I personally wonder how many massacres must take place and how many innocents must be killed before the US stops blindly supporting Israel's aggression against Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories. It seems as though we have truly become desensitized to this war and are only shaken when we see gruesome pictures like those that appeared today after Israeli forces resorted yet again to easy targets against Lebanese civilians. This time, the victims were farmers picking their crops, attempting to conduct their daily as normal as possible in a country where normalcy no longer exists. Thirty-three shattered and tarred bodies are shown strewn across the fields, their freshly picked fruits lying close by.

One Israeli air strike hit a farm near Qaa, close to the Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley where workers, mostly Syrian Kurds, were loading plums and peaches on to trucks, local officials said. They said 33 people were killed and 20 wounded.

Television footage showed bodies of what appeared to be farm workers lined up near the ruins of a small structure in fruit groves. Strewn nearby were fruit baskets.

"I was picking peaches when three bombs hit. Others were having lunch and they were torn to pieces," said Mohammad Rashed, one of the wounded. Syria's official news agency said 17 of the dead were Syrian workers, five of them women.

"The air force spotted a truck that was suspected to have been loaded with weapons cross from Syria into Lebanon on a route that is routinely used to transport weapons," an Israeli military source said. "The truck entered into a building and remained inside for an hour, then left and returned to Syria."

Gee, could this truck have possibly been loading fruits to be taken across the Syrian border? I wonder if there is a resemblance between plums and katyosha rockets...I wonder how that didn't show up on the Israeli radar screen...

Israel did not hesistate after this massacare but continued its destruction of Lebanese towns and villages, despite rumors of a cease-fire within the next 24 hours. Maybe Israel realized that it only has a few hours left so it made a final push to destroy more infrastructure and kill more innocent Lebanese civilians.
Israeli warplanes destroyed four key bridges on Lebanon's last untouched highway Friday, severing the country's final major connection to Syria and deepening its isolation.
The number of Lebanese deaths has risen to more than 900 since the beginning of the war, specifically 958 according the most recent Aljazeera news broadcast. Hopefully we will continue to remember that they're not just numbers, they are human beings.

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