August 05, 2006

Lebanese Peace

As the mainstream media focuses on UN Security Council negotiations and the escalating violence, it seems to me that the real foundations for peace are being laid elsewhere, among the ordinary Lebanese people....

Hundreds of Thousands Displaced - to Where?

Southern Beirut and Hezbollah South Lebanon have been deserted. Where have all the Shia in Lebanon gone? Have they holed up in some cavernous Hizbollah bomb shelters? Have they taken up shelter with the good Sunni people of Syria?

On the Lebop blog, it is observed that alongside Hizbollah, the Lebanese Christian minority has taken a leading role in sheltering the thousands of refugees from the South. Lebop cynically attributes these acts of charity to the political aspirations of Michael Aoun (the Christian politician who this year formed a political alliance with Hizbollah), but the commenters on that blog seem to have a better sense of the essence of what is going on. Michael Aoun's political career is dead; nobody is trying to save him. This is just a story of ordinary people reaching out to help other people.

Why it is Remarkable

It did not have to happen this way.

There is a long history of conflict between the Christian and Shia communities since they were on opposing sides of the Lebanese civil war. And in recent days, underneath the universal anger at Israel, many English-language (mostly Christian) Lebanese bloggers have been rumbling with unhappiness - really, disgust, with Nashrallah, each time he appears on TV, each time he makes any claim or threat, each time his rhetoric is repeated. The Christian bloggers use word "pretend" in front of their their support of Hizbollah; and they suggest a settling of scores will come after the war is done. Some of the blogs contain rumors of vigilante actions, even now, against Shiite Hezbollah supporters in non-Shiite neighborhoods.

The danger in IDF's selective bombing of Shiite areas is this: the Shia will have a completely different experience of this war from the propsperous commercial Christians, Druze, and Sunni. While the Shia flee for their lives, the rest of Lebanon continues to go to work in the morning, shop at the grocery daily, and dance at night. The gap between the cowled and the cosmopolitan in Lebanon was already wide enough.

And so sitting on the outside watching Lebanon, you would expect a rapid descent to the old divisions, a return to the familiar battle lines drawn during the Lebanese civil war, with Christians on one side and Shia on the other. A second civil war would be horrible: the current conflict between the IDF and 10,000 Hizbollah is nothing compared to the bloody carnage in that nation if millions of Lebanese got involved in trying to murder each other, with Israel and Iran supplying the bullets.

Peace is Trust

But this time the Christian communities are not signing up for a civil war, and the Shia are not picking a fight with them. All the Lebanese are horrified by the destruction wrought by the IDF, and nobody thinks of taking Israel's side. The Lebanese are uniformly outraged by Israel. They are unified in their hope to save their recently prosperous nation. And so this time around the Christians see the fleeing Shia not as enemies, but as fellow victims.

Instead of barring the Shia from the safety of Christian neighborhoods, we hear news that the Christians are welcoming them and helping to feed them and take care of the children. This fact, and the fact that the Shia are reaching out and accepting this help - those are far more positive signs for the future of Lebanon than any pompous negotiations between the French and the U.S. in New York. Resolutions from the Security Council are no more effective in Lebanon than saber-rattling by Olmert or Nasrallah: neither UN peacekeepers nor IDF brigades nor Hizbollah fighters have the power to settle the conflict. The path to the future lies with the true heroes of Lebanon: the ordinary people.

The people of that war-shredded nation have learned how it works: peace comes from trust, and that can only be earned one person at a time.

Posted by David at August 5, 2006 11:19 AM
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