Monday, August 14, 2006

And what of the blockade?

It's been ten days since I returned to Lebanon and I keep thinking this won't be necessary. Because I'm a novice at living in a war zone, I've been collecting advice from more experienced friends and colleagues. You'd think, with the cessation of hostilities this morning (plus or minus a few more dead in South Lebanon) that all this would end, but Israel's land, air, and sea blockade is still in place, and is set to continue, at least until the ceasefire is secure (whatever that means). So here it is, a crash course in siege culture, an irreverent run-through of all the lessons I've learned so far (I acknowledge that this comes from a privileged position, in that my neighborhood is far enough from Beirut's southern suburbs to be relatively safe). For those of you who are here, maybe this list will make you laugh at what an amateur I am and if I've left anything out, please let me know. For those of you who are not here, maybe the sheer banality of all these bits of advice will make the conditions of this war less alien, more intimately understood.

1. To stave off an imminent water shortage (if no fuel, then no electricity, then no water), fill your bathtub with tap water. Take sparingly from this supply to wash, to clean, and to flush the toilet. However, no matter how desparate, and even if you have a stomach of steel, don't drink Beiruti tap water. Really.

2. Stock up on drinking water. It's August, after all. You'd need a lot in normal circumstances.

3. Keep all windows cracked open so the pressure from nearby blasts or bomb explosions doesn't shatter the glass (RS and I learned this the hard way when Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated last year. The blast that ripped through his motorcade was a good 5 kilometers away but it smashed one of our windows and we've yet to fix it).

4. Charge mobile phone batteries (and keep a few fully charged spares) whenever there is electricity, same goes for your laptop battery, especially if you intend to work through this.

5. Stock up on candles, don't leave them unattended when lit, and don't waste them, as everybody else in Beirut is stocking up on them too.

6. Get acquainted with your neighbors eccentricities as power outages tend to amplify them. Our back balcony juts out into a sort non-distinct urban space (I'd call it a courtyard but it's too much of a wreck), which we share with about five other buildings. One of our neighbors tends to hum while hanging her laundry. When there's no electricity, this escalates to very loud singing. When there's bombing, she screams at the top of her lungs like yowling cat.

7. Train your ear to the following sequence of sounds: drones, warplanes, explosions.

8. When moving around the city, avoid bridges, tunnels, overpasses, government buildings, and landmarks. (While I was away I told two of my colleagues at the newspaper that they could stay at my place if they wanted to -- both of them live, or rather lived, in the southern suburbs -- when I got back they said to me, "Yeah, that was nice of you and all, but are you kidding? You live next to the Port and the Electricity Building...")

9. Stock up on your favorite alcohol. If you don't have one, pick one. Reconnecting with friends in Beirut over the past week and half has tended to go something like this: "You're back? You're crazy! I've become an alcoholic since you've been gone. I suggest you do the same. Quickly."

10. Lose the finicky eating bit. And with however many tons of oil still sinking into the Mediterranean, "fresh fish" is probably to be avoided.

11. If you drive, downgrade to a scooter and then to a bicycle.

12. Collect all the offers of places to stay, here and abroad, however polite or insincere, as you may need them eventually.

13. Be aware of the run on hard currency -- the ATM machine down the street from us is only dispensing Lebanese lira (the country's economy is dollarized) and there's a general cap on withdrawals, depending on the bank and branch.

14. Find novel ways to fend off boredom. Develop an affection for playing cards. Borrow novels from friends (only a handful of bookstores are still open), particularly novels that have nothing to do with Lebanon, the Middle East, war, etc. Seek lo-fi, lo-tech forms of escapist entertainment. (No new film reels can get into the country and very few cinemas are open -- that said, thank you, Metropolis, thank you CD-Theque).

15. Stock up on medicine, vitamins, condoms and the like...

Okay, in the realm of more interesting information, check out Seymour Hersh's piece in this week's New Yorker ( and Elias Khoury in the London Review of Books (, published along with Rasha Salti's Siege Notes and a piece by Karim Makdisi, entitled "How the War Will End."

Next post will be about the city's art scene and cultural life and its prospects for recovery...


Blogger Chris Baker said...

For those of you Lebanon, just a reminder that according to the Israel-US plan the Christian population and the Sunni population are now supposed to "rise up" against Hezbollah! At least that's according to Seymour Hersch, the US reporter who broke the story yesterday about the close involvement of the Bush administration in planning for Israel's campaign against Lebanon. KWG provided a link to that story.

Seymour Hersch was interviewed on the US TV program "Democracy Now" this morning. "Democracy Now" is independently produced and has been an effective advocate for Lebanon through television and radio against what Israel has done. The audio and video of the interview are available, link below. According to the transcript available so far this is what Hersch said, link below:

One of the things that struck me right away, as soon as I saw how Israel was bombing, and my instinct told me there was something there, because in one of the Air Force plans that I knew about but didn't write about, one of the Air Force options for taking out Iran was, of course, shock and awe, a massive, massive bombing well beyond any of the nuclear facilities. Go hit the country hard for 36 hours, drive people into underground bunkers. Don't target civilians, necessarily, but hit their infrastructure, hit the roads, hit the power plants, hit the water facilities.

So, when they (the Iranian population) come out of their bunkers after 36 hours, they look around. In the American neo-con view, they were going to say to each other, "Oh, my god, the mullahs did this to us, the religious mullahs who run the country. We're going to overthrow them and install a secular government." That was the thinking for the last year. That is the thinking for the last year inside some elements of the Pentagon, the civilian side, and also in Cheney's shop (Vice President Dick Cheney's).

So when you watch what Israel did in its opening salvo, the first targets, I remember vividly, was -- and everybody should -- they took out the civilian airstrip. They took away civilian -- the ability to use aircraft to travel. They took out highways. They took out roads. They took out petrol stations. They basically isolated Southern Lebanon. But I think part of the reason they did so much damage to the infrastructure was they believed -- and I think the Israelis have been very clear about it -- that the Christian population and the Sunni population -- don't forget Hezbollah is Shia -- would rise up against Hezbollah, and it would be a great feather in the cap, etc., etc., etc.

Source, including audio and video:

Also remember it was previously reported that Israel provided to Israel signal intelligence, electronic eavesdropping, on Syria and Iranian military communications related to Israel's campaing. Certainly that included Hezbollah as well, and probably the Lebanese military although that hasn't been reported.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Baker said...

Also the end of the transcript of Seymour Hersh's (I previously spelled his name wrong) interview on Democracy Now concerning the period when it became clear that the UN was going to demand Syria leave Lebanon - about 18 months ago:
At that point, Iran really began to step up its support for Hezbollah, not so much in terms -- yes, there's always been close support of aid and arms, but they (Iran) sent a lot of technicians into Hezbollah to help them dig and help them to improve their ability to mask what they were doing, hide their weapons, their launchers for their rockets, go deeper underground, build command and control bunkers, build a lot of facilities that fooled the Israeli's intelligence.

The Israelis -- some commando units did go into the war early on, hunter-killer teams, and they were completely bamboozled and hurt hard, because everything they thought would be in place was not. The intelligence stunk, and I think Iran, in the last 18 months, probably played a role in improving Hezbollah's intelligence or its capability to withstand a bombing attack.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post about what it is like to live under these circumstances. Keep up the good fight and cant wait to hear more.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

KWG, don't forget an oversized American Heritage Dictionary (with illustrations) to trace those straggler words, and their odd spellings and deeper meanings. There's even a section in the back taking you to the source: proto-Indo European roots, which adds yet another dimension. Really enjoy RS and your posts. Take care, -Paul (Washington DC)

10:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home