Eyewitness in Lebanon
(by June Jordan, African American author and activist )

When American pundits talk about "The Middle East," they mean Israel: what favors or what threatens Israeli interests.

And so, for example, the country and the people of Lebanon no longer exist because Israeli leaders have decided to focus upon Syria, Jordan, and Turkey "to the North".

Hence, when you come upon a listing of Middle Eastern states in our own media, you rarely will find Lebanon anywhere on the page.

If I had not recently traveled to Lebanon, I would probably note this currently commonplace omission as "disquieting" or "odd."

But I went there, to Lebanon. And I'm back. And I'm real. And Lebanon is real. And this poisonous pretense to the contrary seems to me insolent and ominous, at best.

What's the brainstorm here: that if Israel and the United States agree to "disappear" Lebanon, then whenever Israel follows up its various invasions of that tiny place with outright annexation, nobody will notice because Lebanon will have become nowhere, anyway?

This is my eyewitness reaction to the Country and the people of Lebanon. This is my eyewitness reaction to the Israeli sixteen-day war against Lebanon. It is not well-tempered.

My life requires perpetual revolt against a double standard that puts me on the Easily Invisible side of the ledger, the Don't Matter and No Count side of things, the Be Good/Keep Quiet Say "Thank You" side of the equation.

And Lebanon is on the wrong side, just like me, Lebanon is not white. Lebanon is not overwhelmingly Christian or Jewish or European. It's an Arab nation.

It's very small. It's half the size of Israel, which is the size of Massachusetts. And even including what's left of the 300,000-plus refugees who sought shelter there after their expulsion from Palestine in 1948, the total population of Lebanon is half that of Israel.

When Israel forced more than 400,000 Lebanese citizens to flee from their homes and villages three months ago, that amounted to 14 percent of the entire population. A truly huge number of women and children were suddenly rendered homeless.

Lebanon maintains the only democratic Arab government. Arab peoples regard Lebanon as the heart of Arab culture, and for a long time almost every political and artistic movement in the world found its way into the cafes and secret meeting places of Beirut.

Today there is scarcely a structure in all of Beirut that does not bear the markings of shrapnel. The downtown area resembles the ruins of Pompeii. Everywhere you see soldiers and gigantic construction cranes revising the scenery before your eyes.

I went to Lebanon because I believe that Arab peoples and Arab Americans occupy the lowest, the most reviled spot in the racist mind of America.

I went because I believe that to be Muslim and to be Arab is to be a people subject to the most uninhibited, lethal bullying possible.

Why isn't it general knowledge that the United States successfully introduced UN Resolution 425 in 1978, calling for the immediate and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon? That resolution has never been revoked - or enforced.

Why isn't it general knowledge that Israel "occupies" Southern Lebanon in absolute violation of international law, UN Resolution 425, and the sovereign rights of the people of Lebanon?

How does it happen that Hezbollah becomes synonymous with "terrorist" when members and followers of Hezbollah are, actually, Lebanese men who live in Lebanon and who have won substantial representation in the Lebanese parliament and who are fighting the illegal Israeli occupation of Lebanese land?

What will it take before "terrorist" becomes the adjective attached to Israeli depredations that include massacres of civilians and the calculated destruction of water reservoirs and electrical power plants?

When will we establish and abide by a No Exceptions policy: the same one Standard for valuation of human life and the moral measurement of our deeds?

On Monday, May 6, 1995, the top headline of England's The Independent declared:
MASSACRE FILM PUTS ISRAEL IN DOCK. In an exclusive report by Robert Fisk, the facts of Israeli knowledge of the massacre at the UN refugee camp at Qana appeared, accompanied by still photos from a video film of the entire assault. The Israelis murdered 200 women and children. These were refugees taking shelter inside the UN compound, and the Israelis knew their exact location.

When the story came out, I thought: Here was she Rodney King video of the Middle East. At last, here was incontrovertible evidence of Israeli lies and Israeli savagery that no one could now refute.

Surely even Bill Clinton would be forced to become less unconditional in his support of Israel. Perhaps even the multi-billion-dollar habit of aid to Israel would finally be reexamined and curtailed.

But my relief was naive. That video is the Rodney King video of the Middle East, but Arab life is less than and lower than African-American life, and so nothing happened. This incontrovertible evidence of Israel's planned massacre received nominal notice on the news and then, like Lebanon, it disappeared.

What did I see in Lebanon? I saw a poor, dusty stretch of difficult earth between the sea and the mountains.

I saw the darkness and I felt the chill and I beheld the squalor of what we like to call "refugee camps".

I saw a six-year-old girl with no family left, and a parking lot full of orphan boys and girls.

I saw a man bereft of his wife and nine children.

I saw the mangled materials of a house bombed into nothing usable.

I saw death and I heard death and death is not beautiful, and sometimes the lamentations for the dead clouded the air.

I heard Prime Minister Rafik Hariri saying, "We have the feeling of proud" because not everyone had died.

I savored sweet coffee reasons for solidarity with Lebanese resistance to anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred and assault.

I saw overwhelming variations on grief beyond all language.

I watched a woman setting out a jasmine plant that would probably manage the atmosphere and, possibly, flourish.


This article appeared in the August 1996 issue of The Progressive.