Goliath is right and wrong, at least according to popular opinion and the common interpretations of 1701 which is set to go into effect at 8 am tomorrow, local time. The strength of the resolution, of course, is in question around the world.
Selim (to me, at the SDC today): "You said you would be leaving us when there is a cease-fire, right?"
Me: "Right, right. Well, plans change. But that's the plan-ish." (I've elected to go to graduate school in the fall. The only program of its kind that I could find - an MA in 'Human Values and Contemporary Global Ethics". I'm supposed to be there in late September. It's a 'working plan'.)
Selim: "Let me tell you something, there is not going to be a cease-fire. No one respects these resolutions. Hizbullah did not respect them, Israel sure as heck does not respect them. You will be with us here for a while."
Selim repeated the sentiment later on in the day. He had decided that after weeks of continuous work, the SDC crew deserved an afternoon of rest; he put together a barbecue for us. Two hours into the celebration (while Selim was leading us in chants and cheers - there were traditional Lebanese songs and dancing - I was trying to figure out how it was that the pelvises of Lebanese women could gyrate with such autonomy from the rest of their body without actually dislocating from the spine) Israel shook Beirut again. I went for my camera.
Selim: "Look, they will be back. You're going to go? They will be back - this is never the end." (In Lebanese bars - once everyone is good and tipsy - one of the 'dirty jokes' you'll hear from the war-weary patrons trying to make light of the situation is: "You are American? Let me tell you about Lebanon. Lebanon is like a woman, yes? It needs to bleed every month. And it will never go to the menopausal stage, this woman.") Me (to Selim): "It's just something that I need to do...I just want to see it before I go. I think now there's a chance they will stay away from Beirut."
There had been one thing sticking in my mind since my encounter with the freelancers: I had judged them (publicly) as blood thirsty while having no idea what they had been through. E (intrepid freelancer who had disappeared into the South for a few days and had been pushed into a van full of bodies) had mentioned that the freelancer goes into a mode, a professional way of being when gore was shoved into his face. He framed it with his camera. And I do that too--as evidenced by this blog. My way of pacing out the overwhelming waves of emotional input that hit me: I frame them, command them, they are mine. I am no longer at their whim...I can reflect on them, learn and grow.
Was the 'blood thirst' not their inherent nature but instead simply their human (perhaps extreme) reaction to the situation? Their one and only way of dealing with all that they had seen? Was I wrong to judge?
Mona (to me, on the Corniche, by the sea): "She just sits in her room. She has been there for days. She is just crying...crying all the time. I tell her, 'you must eat you must do something' - she is going to go blind, I tell her."
Mona and Rafik - along with a few hundred others - have come down to the shore to collect the latest message from the Israelis. Leaving the the NetCafe in Hamra, I heard ...like a party-favor but perhaps 100 times as loud. I ran, rounded corners, looking to the skies for smoke or to the sides of buildings for evidence of shelling even though I knew by the noise what I had heard couldn't have been a shell or a strike. Still, everyone poured into the streets. We all looked up to see the flyers floating down like sick sparrows. I had seen the flyers from the Israeli army many times in the past, but had never had a 'capsule' of them explode right over my head.
Once we'd all realized that it was just another 'letter', the majority of the folks in the street started to laugh and crack jokes. I haven't been able to figure out what the Israeli army has hoped to gain from any of these messages. I suppose, like any propaganda, the aim has been to win support for their campaign or at least turn the tide of thinking against Hizbullah. But the whole idea of dropping warnings and strongly worded notes "from the skies above" hasn't served to frighten or change the minds of the people here, at least in Beirut. If anything, it's backfired-- they are further antagonized, and convinced that Israel is either a) ignorant of the Lebanese mindset, b) single-mindedly militant or c) just kind of dumb.
Mona: "It says the names of the Hizbullah that have been killed. These are the names that Israel says they have killed."
Rafik: "But this is not true! This is never true! They have done this before and the next day, one of the soldiers that they said that they killed came on television and he said 'Look, look am I dead!?' How would they know who has been killed?"
Me: "Well, how do we know who has been killed?"
Rafik: "When a soldier is killed, Hizbullah presents a gift to the family of the martyr - this is how we know. Israel has said they have killed 450 - there have only been 45 killed! We know this! Nasrallah - he tells the truth! He tells the truth and he wants peace. All Lebanese want peace. We do not want war."
We watched some of the children in area giggle as they tracked the falling paper; most of it had blown into the sea while falling. I asked Mona and Rafik why they were still in Beirut.
Mona: "We are working with many volunteers. Helping the people. Helping the people without shelter. They are living in the garbage, most of them. We give them food, sometimes clothes. There is one - do you know Qana? Do you know what happened? We have a woman from a place close by - also hit. She is staying with us now, crying all the time. When the bombs, when the missiles hit the house there was a huge explosion and her children - you have seen the pictures of the children who are burned? - her daughter was killed. The bomb burned the child's skin and hair off. The skin it fell off. The woman, when she found her child, she took her hand and brushed the child's hair away to see its face and the woman took all the child's skin and hair off in her hand. She just sits in her room. She has been there for days. She is just crying...crying all the time."
What did i come here for? I've moved passed the idea of representing 'America'-- an impossible task + ineffectual: Why narrow the potential of individual choice within the limited framework of the definition of the State? The individual: so powerful. The Stand.
So, if as an individual my goal is simply to provide an strong, human presence and apply whatever applicable skills I have towards securing relief for innocents caught in the cross fire, what fuels and guides that process? What is it that helps me to make good decisions in a situation like this? To be not just here, but effective while here?
Simple strategic thinking gets you where you need to be to make the impact; I found my way back, found a great organization doing progressive and intelligent work to address the root causes of continued conflict. But I've found that it's just sheer empathy that shows you how to be when it comes time to speak, to be there - to be there for kids, or to struggle through conversations with people who look at you the wrong way at the outset. You're there to build the bridge. To do that, you need to know the direction the bridge needs to go. Empathy as a skill.
In spite of all the 'showing up' I've done, all the conversations I've had, all the assistance (even the small amount) I've feel I've been able to provide in one way or another, I realize that I am still too far away from knowing the zip code of where the other end of the bridge needs to go. In truth, there's never one 'other end'; everyone is always different. Everywhere. Empathy as a skill: listening, searching for clues to inform your identification.
But with this demographic, with so many traumatized in the middle east, with an entire region so painfully accustomed to war, it would benefit that process of creating case-by-case bridges by doing all that you can to equip yourself with a strong understanding of the society, the events, the people. For now and for the future conversations. I am at the point where I need to know more about loss.
Simply, Selim looks saddened. He has organized this wonderful outing for us all; I feel sheepish telling him that I'm going to chase down a taxi and go to the impact site from the bombs we have just heard. I suddenly feel my nationality and all that it implies here. "There will be other times." Me: "I know, I know there will be other times." There will be for him, but my path will take me out of Beirut at some point soon. If by some small chance the cease-fire holds, this will be the last time in broad daylight I will be able to see the aftermath of twenty bombs delivered from above in quick succession, that cost, that loss. I have felt the bombs, I have seen the smoke from the distance...but no, I have never seen a burnt child at my feet, I have never seen a head being put into a bag. It's a sickening desire to have, but I just want to know.
Selim: "You take this then." He is worried, he hands me his glass of Arak and water. "Cheers." I drink and leave.
The French Educated Reporter is at the party; she has been on the phone since the echoes of the strikes; she has connections, knows where the hits were and knows where to tell the taxi to take us. She will find us a safe route, she says. We drive, she is on the phone and I hate what I am doing.
We are going to the southern suburbs. "It is forbidden to you" FER says to me. Me: "Just get me as close as you can."
The backroads we take turn out to be a tour through the past few weeks of strikes. Bridges are bombed out and taped off. At the top of one of the hills, the taxi driver stops the car. He starts speaking with FER. She looks back at me. "He will not go any further. We are asking him to put his life in danger. He wants to turn around."
Me: "How much money will it take?"
FER: "He wants to turn around."
We had reached a hill overlooking the city. Around us, others had stopped their cars; from the road, you could see the smoke in the distance. We watched the plume - one of the largest in the entire offensive - drift up for a few moments; it seemed farther away to me then than similar images I had seen with my own eyes or on television.
I'm still struggling with the paradox that caged my brain on the way home - the conflicting feelings at remembering Selim: 'It's never over'. I was struck first with the feeling of comfort - I would again have the opportunity to feel through such an experience and grow for the sake of service later on in life...should the need again arise to provide that service to someone that might need the helping.
The second feeling was disgust at having actually looked forward to some travesty happening somewhere for the sake of personal gain - even with the best of intentions.
Tomorrow at 9 o'clock I will head back into the SDC. Selim and I will talk cease-fire, what it means, will talk about the transition the organization will begin to consider making from 'crisis-mode' to 'post-crisis'. We will brew coffee on the gas stove on the porch of the office. All the plans will be tentative. Everyone's plans now are tentative. With a toothless resolution, a veritable war by proxy, and influential western partners seemingly occupied by other happenings, the people here are saying that a continuation of a conflict without oversight or accountability - a slipping back from even this tiniest of steps forward - is where we should make our plans. Here, there is only the faintest air of hope. I try to breathe it in and hold it.