Some of us can flee, what about
A mother holds her children after her arrival with the Vitoria
M. catamaran at the port of Limassol, Cyprus, from Lebanon with
some 250 evacuees on board, most of them Americans with Lebanese
origin. (AP Photo)
Last week the UN made an emergency appeal for aid
for the 800,000 civilians who have fled their homes to escape the
now 14 days of war and nonstop air bombardment. Over 380 lives in
Lebanon have been lost and thousands have been injured. Hundreds
of bridges and effectively all road networks have been systematically
destroyed across the country, making relief efforts nearly impossible.
Many civilians are trapped in the rubble of villages in the south
of Lebanon where they are cut off from medical aid by the shelling
from the sky. As the fighting continues, food in many parts of Lebanon
is running low. Shortages of water, electricity and fuel are already
a reality in parts of southern Lebanon. Scarce medical supplies
in health facilities in the coming weeks are of growing concern.
Even with medical and food stocks available delivery is almost impossible
in many parts of the country due to the relentless bombing.
Here is one person's story of an evacuation last
With the situation getting worse and threatening to deteriorate
further May and I decided that if we hadn't received word about
specific evacuation plans from either the American or Canadian embassies
by Thursday, we would make our own arrangements to leave Beirut.
We were also seeing and hearing on the news the horrendous process
of "official" evacuations, of people baking in the sun
for long hours as they waited to board a ship to Cyprus, or being
turned down and forced to return and wait again the next day. Once
in Cyprus, however, the chaos continued with people spending days
on cots before getting flights back home.
Every day, tens of thousands of Lebanese and foreigners
were crossing the border into Syria. Taxis, buses, and private cars
were making a rush to one of two border crossings, which were still
relatively safe. Friends of ours had escaped to Syria and Jordan,
so we thought we should take the opportunity to leave before it
got even more dangerous. On Thursday we learned that the American
University of Beirut was evacuating a group of students (Lebanese
and Jordanians) to Syria and Jordan. We thought an AUB-organized
evacuation might be safer (although there really were no guaranteed
safe passages), so we managed to buy two seats on the AUB bus.
We gathered in front of Post Hall at 8 a.m. The
bus was to depart at 8.30, but there were delays due to decisions
about the safest route. There were 14 of us: 10 students, one parent
(who had managed to escape Sidon the day before), one professor,
and May and I. We were all visibly sad and nervous. Our driver had
made the trip across the border at least once daily since the war
began, so although he carried dark circles under his eyes we felt
a little reassured.
Before the departure our driver turned on the bus
radio - a report of two buses bombed minutes ago on the Zahle road
- the route we would take. He quickly switched off the news.
We left AUB at 9.10 a.m on Friday morning. As we
made our way through the downtown area, we passed the port, the
gathering point for the evacuation of Americans, Canadians, British,
and other foreigners. There were already thousands and thousands
of people waiting, some in an orderly line, others in crowded groups.
It was already over 30 degrees and very humid. Judging by the evacuations
that had taken place the days before, most of those people would
be waiting at least eight or nine hours before getting on board,
and then perhaps a couple of more hours before setting sail. We
also passed many families filling taxis and private cars with luggage,
getting ready to embark on the same trip we had just begun. Everywhere
there was hugging and tears, families being torn apart as some left
while others stayed behind. And everywhere an uncertainty of when
people would be back. It reminded me of stories of the civil war
when thousands of people were forced to flee taking only a few belongings
as they believed they would be back in a few weeks. Fifteen years
later, most people had settled elsewhere. I couldn't help wonder,
as I experienced and witnessed similar heartbreaking goodbyes, whether
a similar fate awaited them now…
We drove through the empty downtown streets. Shops
and offices were closed, construction sites were abandoned, and
the many luxury buildings that now dotted the coast looked deserted.
As we left Beirut and headed toward the mountains,
my heart was heavy. Would the city be spared Israel's wrath? Would
the past 15 years the country had spent in money, energy, and passion
to rebuild the downtown, the infrastructure, and the pride and hopes
of a new generation be battered and smashed once again? When this
was all over, what would we be returning to?
Condoleezza Rice claimed that this war was part of the "growing
pangs of the new Middle East." Is that what American backed
bombing of Iraq, Palestine and now Lebanon is called.
The bus turned off at Antelias and made its way
up the mountain, passing Rabiya and many smaller and more traditional
villages on the way to Bikfaya, then passed the copper-topped homes
of Douar, the summer resort of Bois de Bologne, around and down
to Majdel Tarchiche. Those of you who have driven these roads will
understand how utterly dismayed we felt marveling at Lebanon's breathtaking
beauty -- the majestic mountains, the magnificent sea, and imposing
Beirut standing tall in between - and wondering why it was being
violently threatened with ruin once again?
On the road to Zahle, we saw the three trucks
that had been bombed by Israel a few days earlier. In the Bekaa,
just to the right of the road we were traveling, we saw clouds of
fresh black smoke. At that moment, the driver's daughter called,
apparently asking about our location. I was sitting directly behind
the driver and heard him reply that we'd just passed Shtoura (a
large town in the Bekaa and a popular stop on the way to/from Syria)…
When he got off the phone, he told us the black smoke was coming
from an Israeli rocket attack on Shtoura five minutes ago. We kept
Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982 killing thousands.
They invaded Lebanon and remained in the country for several years
- a situation that became known as the Israeli Vietnam. The invasion
resulted in the creation of Hamas and Hezbollah. Why now do they
think a renewed violent war will end in anything but continued anger
and more civilians who will want to join resistances against Israel?
The most likely outcome of this war is that the same futile and
violent cycle will repeat itself.
Continuing on the road we saw the charred skeletons
of two passenger buses - the ones reported earlier on from the radio.
The buses were empty at the time, and no one was sure of Israel's
intentions behind those strikes - if there were any - but it made
us feel vulnerable on the open road. The bus fell silent as the
driver charged toward the border.
This was all happening because America didn't feel
the time was right for a cease-fire. Israel should be allowed to
defend itself…. But, making diplomacy a priority, rather than
flexing military muscle, might have spared all this displacement,
death and destruction. Besides, I have to ask, with its extensive
and modern fleet of F-16s, fighter helicopters, tanks and machinery
(all with technical names that sound just as frightening as their
capabilities), which overwhelmingly outnumber not only Lebanon's
arsenal, but that of the entire Arab world's combined, who exactly
is in need of defending?
Moreover, if Iran and Syria are really behind Hezbullah,
then why do America and Israel attack Lebanon? Why go after the
symptom when they presume to know the cause? We all know that this
is about more than two captive soldiers. Why is Lebanon paying the
price for the war on terror?
Five minutes later, and a tense two hours since
setting out, we reached the Syrian border. There was a collective
sigh of relief, but no smiles and certainly no cheers. We were simply
all relieved to be alive. But thoughts of those we left behind weighed
The border was teeming with people, although,
according to our driver it was not as crazy as previous days. But,
there were hundreds of cars and buses, all packed with families,
young and old, Lebanese and foreigners. Here there were thousands
of people fleeing; thousands more were evacuating by boat back in
Beirut. And that was just on Friday. To date, about 150,000 people
already have fled Lebanon. Then there were those displaced from
their homes in the south and southern suburbs of Beirut. Many of
them were here at the border, hoping to be taken in by a Syrian
family. Tens of thousands were taking refuge in Beirut, with friends
and strangers, and in makeshift shelters in schools, mosques, churches
We cleared Lebanese customs by 11.45 and headed
toward Syria. As we drove between the Lebanese and Syrian border
control points, a throng of smiling Syrians, representing different
groups like the Syrian Red Crescent Society, greeted us. Their welcome
was kind, and they thanked God (hamdillah aal salameh) for our safety.
We were handed free cups of Nescafe, bottles of water, and chocolate
biscuits. We were all surprised by the warm reception, and considering
our collective state of shock, appreciated the gesture.
The lines at Syrian immigration and border control
were long. But, the number of Lebanese was far greater than the
foreigners, so some of us got through rather quickly. The Jordanian
border was only two hours away.
While we waited for the others, May and I walked
around and saw dozens and dozens of families stranded. They might
have made it out of Lebanon, but they had nowhere to go. They were
too poor to afford hotels, and without a Syrian family to take them
in, they were stuck.
All around it's the same story: it's the privileged
that can flee. Some of us - May and I and many of our friends who
hold foreign passports - could not only afford to leave, we could
choose by which means. Those less fortunate were stranded here,
or couldn't even make it to the border…
We reached Amman at 18.30 and our hotel at 19.10.
We had been on the road 10 grueling hours. But, we couldn't complain.
We were safe in Amman. However, while Lebanon was physically hundreds
of miles behind us, we could not relax. We thought of all those
we left behind, our friends who were waiting things out in the mountains
or in Beirut, or the many unfortunate Lebanese of the southern suburbs
and south Lebanon, who were trapped in shelters, unable to move,
and quickly running out of food and water. Many people are now worried
that the situation will deteriorate even further once all the foreigners
have been evacuated. That possibility is terrifying.
We've all read and heard many times how Israel's
response is entirely disproportionate, and yet nothing is being
done to stop the brutal attacks. As it stands now, Rice's visit
to the region seems totally futile as the US's position on who is
to blame and what needs to be done is obdurately non-negotiable.
And, since the UN, which is calling for an immediate cease fire,
is entirely powerless without US backing (a tragedy since no one
country should ever be able to hijack the international position),
it's likely that Israel's agenda to continue pounding Hezbullah
and Lebanon will carry on unimpeded.
Whether or not you agree with Hezbullah's actions
of July 11th, we have to continue to speak out against the crimes
being committed against Lebanon. The bombing is now indiscriminate
as Israel deceitfully but successfully hides behind its claims that
it is targeting Hezbullah and its supporters. Every day that passes,
more and more innocent civilians are dying. The country is facing
a humanitarian crisis.
While most governments scandalously remain silent
as Lebanon's destruction continues, we cannot remain so. It is important
to write, speak out and demonstrate so that those in Lebanon know
that although governments are doing nothing, their populations are
sympathetic. It might change nothing on the political level, but
it will show those left behind that while politicians may have forgotten
them, the people have not. And that, believe me, is inestimable.
Monica Smith is an American who previously lived
in Beirut from 2000-2004. She returned to Lebanon for a visit on
July 11, a day before the violence broke out. May Farah is Lebanese-Canadian
and was home in Beirut for the summer.
of money, Aussie honesty is a casualty
A bun fight between Prime Minister John Howard and his (till now)
heir-apparent, Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, two weeks ago,
is set to unravel a hitherto highly successful political partnership
which has overseen Australia's growing prosperity over the last
The dispute, which has seen spin doctors from
both sides emerging from every imaginable crevice in the woodwork,
centres on a meeting between the two nearly twelve years ago, at
which Mr. Howard is reported to have said that he would make way
for his much younger colleague after one and a half terms, approximately
The only witness to the meeting, a former minister
in the Howard Government, Ian McLachlan, suddenly remembered that
he had kept notes of the meeting and, on being asked the fateful
question by a journalist, said "Yep, an agreement was made"
or words to that effect.
Then followed a classic political joust between
Mr. Costello, the patient deputy for all these years and a partner
with Mr. Howard of a decade of economic good fortune, who says his
parents had taught him never to lie and that an undertaking was
indeed made; and Mr. Howard, who specializes in core and non-core
promises as and when it suits him, to say he never did.
It is of little comfort for Mr. Costello to learn
that, through the same opinion polls, the majority of the populace
believes his version is more credible than Mr. Howard's. But given
the "winner takes all" attitude of most people who have
benefited by the government's run of good fortune, questions of
morality, truth and honesty seemingly, has no place in this new
outpost of the land of the free (to do whatever you can get away
So there the matter rests, for the moment. Mr.
Costello, not having the numbers among the ruling Liberal party
to mount a challenge and Mr. Howard digging in his heels, knowing
full well that the majority of his MPs rely on his popularity to
get them over the line in a number of marginal seats at the next
Federal election in 2007.
In a lesson well-learnt by politicians all over
the world, many of the MPs supporting Mr. Howard, with one eye on
re-election, says "what's the big deal? It took place twelve
years ago but since then the Beloved Leader has overseen a decade
of economic growth unparalleled in Australia's history, so why commit
political hara-kiri? After all, this is politics, no?"
So Mr. Howard, who celebrated his 67th birthday
on Wednesday, continues to pound the walking tracks of Australia,
the USA, Asia and Europe, in bloody awful green and gold tracksuits
most of the time, a favourite early-morning exercise which keeps
him in top shape for his inexorable march towards becoming one of
Australia's longest serving Prime Ministers.
And it leaves us Aussies with a warm glow, especially
those from the ever-growing affluent (or effluent, according to
the two main characters of a widely-popular TV serial called Kath
and Kim) class, a lot of them former "battlers" of the
opposition Labour party in marginal seats, who virtually said "stuff
Solidarity and the Internationale" and joined the Howard bandwagon
to benefit hugely by the country's continuing economic progress.
For its boom time in the land Down Under. The
ranks of our millionaires are growing stronger by the year and last
year, the numbers swelled to 150,000 with the club's total fortunes
soaring to around $630 billion. The survey, by Merrill Lynch and
Capgemini, puts another 12,000 people in the club, down on the 2004
result but still above average compared to other similar economies.
In a country where, seemingly, you can dig a hole
and find something valuable in it, most of the riches have come
from the export of minerals and gas to the fast-growing economies
of China and India. Starting with a liquefied natural gas deal worth
$20-$25 billion dollars back in 2002, China is now the second largest
trading partner of Australia behind Japan, most of it in iron ore,
nickel and other minerals.
And there are more goodies in store, with Australia's
vast uranium markets now being sought-after by the same two economic
tigers, the little matter of not being signatories to the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty just a minor irritant to be brushed aside
in the pursuit of the export dollar.
But are all these riches making us Aussies more
selfish? Apparently so, according to some analysts. It's also making
us more fearful and more security conscious, they say, with the
Government's constant mantra to watch out for mad mullahs and people
in hijabs who are out to destroy "the Western way of life".
The terror attacks of 9/11 and the death of 202
people, including 88 of their countrymen in a bomb blast in Bali
in 2002 have also made it easier for the average Australian to believe
most of the guff which stigmatizes a particular culture, religion
and race, thanks especially to the media "shock-jocks"
who thrive on branding the vulnerable but not their mates in the
highest rungs of power.
And the "me generation", which is spawning
now, seems happy to go along with such attitudes, accepting without
question the loss of personal freedoms and civil liberties in exchange
for the right to screw your neighbour, employee and anyone else
in the race to acquire that expensive house in the up-market suburb,
the latest piece of gadgetry and to be seen in the right places.
But does all this mean that we who live Down Under
are going to hell in a hand basket? Hardly. In this marvelously
multicultural nation, there are innumerable rays of humanity, mixed,
of course, with the downright despicable which, in the end, makes
up any society. And in the following weeks, hopefully, we will give
you some glimpses of both.
round" now in its death spasms
WTO chief Pascal Lamy
Almost five years ago the World Trade Organisation
met in Qatar holding out hopes to the developing countries that
had over decades been the victims of uneven trade, protectionism
and political pressure from the rich nations.
As a sop to the developing world that meeting in Doha was dubbed
the "Development Round".
There a deadline was set for global free trade
talks to come up with a deal by January 1, 2005. That agreement
between the rich and poor was dead in the water and the next round
of talks in Cancun, Mexico ended in a confrontation between the
North and the South over agricultural subsidies paid to western
producers at the expense of farmers from the developing countries.
In case readers have forgotten it was at this
meeting that the then minister Ravi Karunanayake took that infamous
stand supporting the United States and the west thus breaking ranks
with our traditional allies among the developing countries such
as India, China and Brazil who articulated a common Third World
So much for the then Ranil Wickremesinghe administration's
bootlicking of the US, a performance that paralleled Milinda Moragoda's
actions on other occasions.
Despite all the rhetoric from the Bush administration
and the European Union the logjam in the negotiations continued
and the broad outline of a trade agreement that should have been
reached by end July 2006, has almost come and gone.
Much of the responsibility for the failure to
produce even a broad consensus as a working plan for a trade agreement
that would give some hope of a deal by next year lies with the west,
particularly the United States, which under the Bush White House
has increasingly abandoned a multilateral approach to international
issues and struck out on its own with a few faithful followers such
as Britain's Tony Blair.
This, however, was not the hope held out before
this month's G8 summit at St Petersburg in Russia where Moscow,
for the first time ever, presided over a gathering of the world's
richest industrialised nations.
Before the summit Tony Blair said he would call
for five leading developing countries-China, India, Brazil, South
Africa and Mexico- to be allowed to join the G8 group in order to
secure multilateral deals on climate change, trade and Iran.
Blair was proposing a new G13 and believed that
the first fruits of such closer cooperation would result in a breakthrough
on trade talks that have been bogged down.
Blair went a step further as the summit in St
Petersburg progressed. After the July 18 meeting of leaders, Blair
was more optimistic than he had been about the chances of a trade
"To be frank, before we had our discussions
I was pessimistic but……..all spoke of the need for a
deal and of the necessary flexibility being given to our negotiators
to secure one."
So what was this flexibility that Blair was talking
of that seemed to have struck a common chord among the leaders of
the rich? It meant that all big players on either side of the North-South
divide have to give up something. In short, concessions from both
sides that would lead to a compromise agreement.
Up to now the main sticking points in the Doha
Round have been to what extent the United States should cut farm
subsidies, the European Union cuts tariffs on farm goods imports
and the developing countries open their markets to industrial goods
The US, for instance, spends $22 billion or more
on subsiding mainly big producers who are then able to produce cheaper
commodities than farmers in developing countries and to dump their
produce in the developing world driving poor farmers to penury.
Several major European Union countries, notably
France, have also been helping their farmers at the expense of those
in the developing countries whose produce cannot compete because
of these unfair trading practices.
If the developing countries are to open their markets for industrial
goods and services then they need a quid pro quo which the west,
especially the United States was not ready to concede as the breakdown
in the talks in Geneva last week proved.
So when George Bush joined other summit leaders
in asking their trade negotiators to return to Geneva and start
talking with Pascal Lamy, Director-General, WTO, was that sheer
bluff and he had no intention of doing anything of the sort?
For it was President Bush's chief trade negotiator
Susan Schwab who pulled the plug and made sure that no broad agreement
would be struck by the July end deadline.
Now the talks have been put off indefinitely.
It seems like the last rites would have to be performed before long
on the WTO's trade talks and another multilateral institution born
with much fanfare and trumpet blowing could go down with the dying
notes of the Last Post on the bugle.
Why Washington has persistently avoided multilateral
treaties and deals is not hard to understand. Globalisation that
has broadly benefited the rich more than the poor, was fine as long
as the West had control of the game.
But the WTO was proving more like a mini United
Nations where the developing world could resist the machinations
of the west and refuse to horse trade. So Washington's unilateralist
foreign policy approach was being extended to the economic field,
to trade and commerce where it could strike bilateral deals with
other countries giving it much more leverage to squeeze out concessions
That is in the short term. In the longer term
it fears the emergence of China and India as major economic powers,
particularly China which could challenge the US economically in
the next 15 years or so.
It fears that Chinese manufactures would penetrate
its markets, as well as other western markets and drive its own
major manufacturers up the wall. So those who called for free trade
and open markets are likely to start erecting their own barriers
violating the logic of their own arguments.
If this means the end of multilateralism in trade
and open markets what we are likely to see is the growth of bilateralism
and regional deals.
time to give MPs a lesson
I did not know what the BJP was trying to prove by demonstrating
through sounding gongs, ringing bells and bursting into peels of
laughter at the scene they were creating on the opening day of the
Monsoon session. Indeed, it was the spectacle the BJP could not
be proud of although the party got the media attention which was
probably the purpose. I do not see why it did not strike even matured
leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee that they were making themselves
the laughing stock of the nation and lowering the dignity of parliament.
Parliament represents the aspirations of one billion
people and deserves all the respect and consideration. I do not
like the disturbance within the House but I can understand it because
this has become one way of expressing protest. Yet the bawdy demonstration
like the one that the BJP staged degrades the House and members.
Imagine the message which has gone across the
country. All TV networks showed the demonstration a like. People
already groaning under the weight of lack of governance must have
been waiting for a debate on such urgent problems. But they have
to be content with the demonstration and the ruckus that the BJP
created in the Lok Sabha. Whatever the members' behaviour, people
have come to believe that parliament will some day deliver them
the goods and make their dream of a viable life come true.
I can understand the BJP's frustration. It came
to power once after independence and did not expect defeat at the
polls. But the party has to blame itself because its performance
made little difference in people's life of hardships. In fact, they
found the party trying to bring back the days of communalism which
had killed Mahatma Gandhi. The demonstration must have alienated
Ordinary people represent the teeming millions.
Their forefathers had participated in the struggle for independence.
Parliament for them epitomises their sacrifices. I remember the
speech that Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the chairman, made when the constitution
assembly endorsed the constitution. I was then a reporter sitting
in the press gallery of Parliament. He said it was the best of the
constitution which the best of minds, the lawyers, would interpret
and the best of minds, the judges, would decide on the interpretation
of the constitution. But it was sad, he added, that there was no
qualification laid for those who would frame the law. He was referring
to MPs and MLAs.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, present in the
house, appreciated Dr. Rajendra Prasad's remarks. But he took exception
to the qualification clause. He said that when India was engaged
in fighting against the British, the poor, the illiterate and the
teeming millions were the ones sacrificing everything they had-even
their lives. Those who could surely interpret the constitution and
make out its intricacies were on the side of the rulers. Nehru said
that he would rather have the teeming millions than the toadies
in the task of building the country. Still the constituent assembly
agreed to have some qualification at an appropriate time. Maybe,
this is the time to take up this aspect. At least the tainted members
in parliament and the state legislatures and those against whom
the proceedings of heinous crime were pending should be kept out
until they have cleared their names.
Coming back to the BJP's demonstration, it is
time that political parties thought of decorum. People make fun
of politicians. One of our servants remarked after seeing the BJP
demonstration in TV that such behaviour was not seen even in juggis
and jhompris. What kind of parliament the country has is a common
remark. I know that many attempts have been made to see if an orderly
behaviour is possible within the House. Nothing has succeeded so
far. Even the unanimous resolution by MPs on the 50th Anniversary
of the constitution not to disturb the House has not made a difference.
It has pledged that the question hour would not be suspended. The
BJP asked for its suspension as soon as the Lok Sabha met.
I have the privilege of participating in the 50th
Anniversary as I was then a member of the Rajya Sabha. I really
believed that order would return to Parliament as all political
parties gave their pledge not to disturb the House. But you live
to learn. Then why blame the BJP alone? In the last House it was
the Congress, the Left and regional parties.
Members have come to believe that they do not
get the front-page attention unless they disturb the House. Sadly
this is true. I persuaded many members to prepare their speech so
that they could make a contribution to the debate. A few members
who burnt the midnight oil were disappointed because the House was
often disturbed and their turn did not come. But when they did get
a chance, not even a word appeared in the press which was used to
report 'something out of the ordinary'.
Maybe, it is time that the Speaker called leaders
of all parties to warn them about the lessening image of parliament.
Maybe, he should have an all-India seminar where he could invite
not only MPs but also academicians and others to discuss how things
were being difficult for him to conduct. It is not so much the non-governance
which is affecting the morale of the nation but it is the behaviour
of politicians that is exasperating. Some way has to be found to
stop the increasing disillusionment of people. The system's future
may well depend on that. All must seriously ponder over this quickly
because desperation has set in.