Category Archives: Land ownership

An Affront to History: Giro d’Italia’s ‘Sport-Washing’ of Israeli Apartheid

For the first time since its inception in 1909, the legendary Italian cycling race, Giro d’Italia kicked off outside Europe and, strangely enough, from the city of Jerusalem on May 4.

The inherent contradictions in that decision are inescapable. Italy is a country that has experienced a ruthless forging occupation and was ravaged by fascism and war. To be a party in Israel’s constant attempts at whitewashing or, in this case, “sport-washing’ its military occupation and daily violence against the Palestinian people is appalling.

Every attempt aimed at dissuading the race organizers from being part of Israel’s political propaganda has failed. The millions of dollars paid to the Giro d’Italia organizers, the RCS Sport, seemed far more compelling than shared cultural experiences, solidarity, human rights and international law.

Legendary Italian novelist, Dino Buzzati wrote various accounts in Italian newspapers in the 1940s, describing the symbolism of the race in the context of a battered nation resurrecting from the ashes of untold destruction.

Just after WWII had ended, Giro d’Italia organizers found themselves contending with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a race with a few bicycles and even fewer athletes. The roads were disfigured and destroyed in the war, but the determination to triumph was stronger.

The 1946 Giro D’Italia, especially the legendary competition between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, became a metaphor of a country rising from the horrors of war, reanimating its national identity, symbolized in the final struggle between heroic athletes pedaling through the torturous mountainous roads to reach the finish line.

Understanding this history, Israel exploited it in every possible way. In fact, the Israeli government recently gave the late Gino Bartali an honorary Israeli citizenship. The decision was made as an acknowledgment of the Italian athlete’s anti-Nazi legacy. The irony, of course, is that the Israeli practices against Palestinians – military Occupation, racism, Apartheid and abhorring violence –  is reminiscent of the very reality that Bartali and millions of Italians fought against for years.

When Israeli officials announced last September that Giro D’Italia would start in Jerusalem, they labored to link the decision with Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence.

Also, 70 years ago, Palestinians were dispossessed from their homeland by Zionist militias, leading to the Nakba, the catastrophic destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It was then that West Jerusalem became part of Israel, and the rest of the Holy City, East Jerusalem, was also conquered through war in 1967, before it was officially, but illegally, annexed in 1981, in defiance of international law.

RCS Sport cannot claim ignorance regarding how their decision to engage and validate Israeli Apartheid will forever scar the history of the race. When their website announced that the race would kick off from ‘West Jerusalem’, the Israeli response was swift and furious. Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev and Tourism Minister, Yariv Levi, threatened to end their partnership with the race, claiming that “in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no East or West. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

Alas, Giro d’Italia organizers publicly apologized before removing the word ‘West’ from their website and press releases.

According to international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. This fact has been stated time and again through United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. It condemns Israel’s illegal settlement constructions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

This reality stands as a stark contradiction to the claims made by Giro d’Italia organizers that their race is a celebration of peace. In truth, it is an endorsement of Apartheid, violence and war crimes.

The fact that the race was held according to plan, despite the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, also underlines the degree of moral corruption by those behind the effort. Over 50 unarmed Palestinians have been killed since the start of the peaceful protests at the Gaza border, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ on March 30. Over 7,000 were wounded, among them 30 athletes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

One of those wounded is Alaa al-Dali, a 21-years-old cyclist whose leg was amputated after being shot on the first day of protests.

‘Canadian-Jewish philanthropist’, Sylvan Adams, one of the biggest funders of the race, claimed that his contribution is motivated by his desire to promote Israel and to support cycling as a ‘bridge between nations.’

Palestinians, like Alaa, whose cycling career is over, are, of course, excluded from that lofty, and selective definition. Was the 12 million dollars received by the organizers from Israel and its supporters a worthy price to ignore the suffering of Palestinians and to help normalize Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people?

Sadly, for the RSC Sport, the answer is ‘yes’.

Many Italians, and more around the world, of course, disagree. Despite Italian media’s partaking in Israel’s ‘sport-washing’, hundreds of Italians protested at various stages of the race.

The fourth stage of Giro d’Italia, which was held in Catania, Sicily, was delayed by a protest, against a race which is “stained with the blood of Palestinians”, in the words of activist, Simone Di Stefano.

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian Football Managers Association, was one of prominent Italian voices that objected to the decision to hold the race in Israel. “I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect. Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land,” he wrote in Facebook post.

The RCS Sport has done the ‘Giro’ race, sport cycling and the Italian people an unforgivable disservice for the sake of a few million dollars. By agreeing to start the race in a country that is guilty of apartheid practices and a protracted military occupation, they will stain the race forever.

However, the general wave of indignation caused by this reckless decision seems to indicate that Israel’s efforts at normalizing its crimes against Palestinians are failing to alter public opinion and perception of Israel as an occupying power – that deserves to be boycotted, not embraced.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article.

My Home is Beit Daras: Our Lingering Nakba

When Google Earth was initially released in 2001, I immediately rushed to locate a village that no longer exists on a map, which now delineates a whole different reality.

Although I was born and raised in a Gaza refugee camp, and then moved to and lived in the United States, finding a village that was erased from the map decades earlier was not, at least for me, an irrational act. The village of Beit Daras was the single most important piece of earth that truly mattered to me.

But I could only find it by estimation. Beit Daras was located 32-kilometers northeast of Gaza, on an elevated ground, perched gently between a large hill and a small river that seemed to never run dry.

A once peaceful village, Beit Daras had existed for millennia. Romans, Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans ruled over and, even tried to subdue Beit Daras as in all of Palestine; yet they failed. True, each invader left their mark – ancient Roman tunnels, a Crusaders’ castle, a Mamluk mail building, an Ottoman khan (Caravanserai) – but they were all eventually driven out. It wasn’t until 1948 that Beit Daras, that tenacious village with a population of merely 3,000 was emptied from its population, and later destroyed.

The agony of the inhabitants of Beit Daras and their descendants lingers on after all of these years. The tragic way that Beit Daras was conquered by invading Zionist forces has left behind blood stains and emotional scars that have never healed.

Three battles were bravely fought by the Badrasawis, as the dwellers of Beit Daras are called, in defense of their village. At the end, the Zionist militias, the Haganah, with the help of British weapons and strategic assistance, routed out the humble resistance, which consisted mostly of villagers fighting with old rifles.

The ‘massacre of Beit Daras’ that followed remains a subdued scream that pierces through the hearts of Badrasawis after all of these years. Those who survived became refugees and are mostly living in the Gaza Strip. Under siege, successive wars and endless strife, their Nakba – the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-48 – has never truly ended. One cannot dispel the pain if the wound never truly heals.

Born into a family of refugees in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Gaza, I took pride in being a Badrasawi. Our resistance has garnered us the reputation of being ‘stubborn’ and the uncorroborated claims of having large heads. We truly are stubborn, proud and generous, for Beit Daras was erased but the collective identity it has given us remained intact, regardless of whichever exile we may find ourselves.

As I child, I learned to be proud from my grandfather: A handsome, elegant, strong peasant with unshakable faith. He managed to hide his deep sadness so well after he was expelled from his home in Palestine, along with his entire family. As he aged, he would sit for hours, between prayers, searching within his soul for the beautiful memories of his past. Occasionally, he would let out a mournful sigh, a few tears; yet he never accepted his defeat, or the idea that Beit Daras was forever gone.

“Why bother to haul the good blankets on the back of a donkey, exposing them to the dust of the journey, while we know that it’s a matter of a week or so before we return to Beit Daras?” he told his bewildered wife, Zeinab as they hauled their children to navigate an endless exile.

I cannot pinpoint the moment when my grandfather discovered that his “good blankets” were gone forever, that all that remained of his village were two giant concrete pillars, and piles of cactus.

It isn’t easy to construct a history that, only several decades ago, was, along with every standing building of that village, blown to smithereens with the very intent of erasing it from existence. Most historic references written of Beit Daras, whether by Israeli or Palestinian historians, were brief, and ultimately resulted in delineating the fall of Beit Daras as just one among nearly 600 Palestinian villages that were often evacuated and then completely flattened during the war years. It was another episode in a more compounded tragedy that has seen the dispossession and expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians.

But for my family, it was much more than that. Beit Daras was our very dignity. Grandpas’ calloused hands and leathery weathered skin attested to the decades of hard labor tending the rocky soil in the fields of Palestine. It was a popular pastime for my brothers and I to point to a scar on his body to hear a gut-busting tale of the rigors of farm-life.

Later in life, someone would give him a small hand-held radio to glean the latest news and he would, from that moment, never be seen without it. As a child, I recall him listening to the Arab Voice news on that battered radio. It once had been blue but now had faded to white with age. Its bulging batteries were duct-taped to the back. Sitting with the radio up to his ear and fighting to hear the reporter amidst the static, grandpa listened and waited for the announcer to make that long-awaiting call: “To the people of Beit Daras: your lands have been liberated, go back to your village.”

The day grandpa died, his faithful radio was lying on the pillow close to his ear so that even then he might catch the announcement for which he had waited for so long. He wanted to comprehend his dispossession as a simple glitch in the world’s consciousness that was sure to be corrected and straightened out in time.

But it didn’t. 70 years later, my people are still refugees. Not just the Badrasawis, but millions of Palestinians, scattered in refugee camps all across the Middle East. Those refugees, while still searching for a safe path that would take them home, often find themselves on yet another journey, another dusty trail, being pushed out time and again from one city to the next, from one country to another, even lost between continents.

My grandfather was buried in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp cemetery, not in Beit Daras as he had wished. But he remained a Badrasawi to the end, holding so passionately onto the memories of a place that for him – for all of us – remain sacred and real.

What Israel still fails to understand that the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees is not merely a political or even a legal right to be overpowered by the ever-unfair status quo. It has longed surpassed that into a whole different realm. For me, Beit Daras is not just a piece of earth but a perpetual fight for justice that shall never cease, because the Badrasawis belong to Beit Daras and nowhere else.

Western Leaders Betrayed Palestinians 70 Years Ago; there is no sign that’s about to change

On Tuesday, Palestinians will commemorate the anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, their mass expulsion and dispossession 70 years ago as the new state of Israel was built on the ruins of their homeland. As a result, most Palestinians were turned into refugees, denied by Israel the right to return to their homes.

Israel is braced nervously for many tens of thousands to turn out in the occupied territories this week to protest against decades of its refusal to make amends or end its oppressive rule.

The move on Monday of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a city under belligerent occupation, has only inflamed Palestinian grievances – and a sense that the West is still conspiring in their dispossession.

The expected focus of the protests is Gaza, where unarmed Palestinians have been massing every Friday since late March at the perimeter fence that encages two million of them.

For their troubles, they have faced a hail of live ammunition, rubber bullets and clouds of tear gas. Dozens have been killed and many hundreds more maimed, including children.

But for more than a month, Israel has been working to manage western perceptions of the protests in ways designed to discredit the outpouring of anger from Palestinians. In a message all too readily accepted by some western audiences, Israel has presented the protests as a “security threat”.

Israeli officials have even argued before the country’s high court that the protesters lack any rights – that army snipers are entitled to shoot them, even if facing no danger – because Israel is supposedly in a “state of war” with Gaza, defending itself.

Many Americans and Europeans, worried about an influx of “economic migrants” flooding into their own countries, readily sympathise with Israel’s concerns – and its actions.

Until now, the vast majority of Gaza’s protesters have been peaceful and made no attempt to break through the fence.

But Israel claims that Hamas will exploit this week’s protests in Gaza to encourage Palestinians to storm the fence. The implication is that the protesters will be crossing a “border” and “entering” Israel illegally.

The truth is rather different. There is no border because there is no Palestinian state. Israel has made sure of that. Palestinians live under occupation, with Israel controlling every aspect of their lives. In Gaza, even the air and sea are Israel’s domain.

Meanwhile, the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former lands – now in Israel – is recognised in international law.

Nonetheless, Israel has been crafting a dishonest counter-narrative ever since the Nakba, myths that historians scouring the archives have slowly exploded.

One claim – that Arab leaders told the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to flee in 1948 – was, in fact, invented by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. He hoped it would deflect US pressure on Israel to honour its obligations to allow the refugees back.

Even had the refugees chosen to leave during the heat of battle, rather than wait to be expelled, it would not have justified denying them a right to return when the fighting finished. It was that refusal that transformed flight into ethnic cleansing.

In another myth unsupported by the records, Ben Gurion is said to have appealed to the refugees to come back.

In truth, Israel defined Palestinians who tried to return to their lands as “infiltrators”. That entitled Israeli security officials to shoot them on sight – in what was effectively execution as a deterrence policy.

Nothing much has changed seven decades on. A majority of Gaza’s population today are descended from refugees driven into the enclave in 1948. They have been penned up like cattle ever since. That is why the Palestinians’ current protests take place under the banner of the March of Return.

For decades, Israel has not only denied Palestinians the prospect of a minimal state. It has carved Palestinian territories into a series of ghettos – and in the case of Gaza, blockaded it for 12 years, choking it into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite this, Israel wants the world to view Gaza as an embryonic Palestinian state, supposedly liberated from occupation in 2005 when it pulled out several thousand Jewish settlers.

Again, this narrative has been crafted only to deceive. Hamas has never been allowed to rule Gaza, any more than Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank.

But echoing the events of the Nakba, Israel has cast the protesters as “infiltrators”, a narrative that has left most observers strangely indifferent to the fate of Palestinian youth demonstrating for their freedom.

Once again, these executions, supposedly carried out by the Israeli army in self-defence, are intended to dissuade Palestinians from demanding their rights.

Israel is not defending its borders but the walls of cages it has built to safeguard the continuing theft of Palestinian land and preserve Jewish privilege.

In the West Bank, the prison contracts by the day as Jewish settlers and the Israeli army steal more land. In Gaza’s case, the prison cannot be shrunk any smaller.

For many years, world heads of state have castigated Palestinians for using violence and lambasted Hamas for firing rockets out of Gaza.

But now that young Palestinians prefer to take up mass civil disobedience, their plight is barely attracting attention, let alone sympathy. Instead, they are criticised for “breaching the border” and threatening Israel’s security.

The only legitimate struggle for Palestinians, it seems, is keeping quiet, allowing their lands to be plundered and their children to be starved.

Western leaders and the public betrayed the Palestinians in 1948. There is no sign, 70 years on, that the West is about to change its ways.

• First published in the National Abu Dhabi

Do You Want to Travel Around the Middle East? Think Twice!

Do you think it is that simple to travel around the Middle East? Think twice!

Ask Palestinians, about trying to get from a point A to a point B in their own nation.

Some time ago, sitting in an old Ottoman hotel in Bethlehem, I asked a waiter what it takes to travel from there to Gaza, where he said, several of his relatives were living. He looked at me as if I had fallen from the Moon:

There is no way I could travel there. If my relatives get very sick or die, then, in theory, I could apply for an Israeli travel permit to go there, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they would approve, or that I could get to Gaza on time…

Israeli wall in Bethlehem

I tried to appear naïve: “And what if someone from an Arab country which does not recognize Israel, wants to come here, to Bethlehem? Like, a Lebanese pilgrim or just a tourist? Could he or she enter from Jordan?”

The waiter weighed for a while whether to reply at all, but then had mercy on me:

West Bank… You know, it only appears on the maps as some sort of autonomous or independent territory. In reality, the borders and movement of the people have been fully controlled by the Israelis.

My friend, a legendary left-wing Israeli human rights lawyer and a staunch Palestinian independence supporter, Linda Brayer, downed another cup of coffee and made several cynical remarks. She was actually illegally ‘smuggled’ by me into Bethlehem. As an Israeli citizen, she was not allowed to enter the West Bank at all, but since I was driving and she was with me, a foreigner, and on top of it she wore a headscarf (she converted to Islam several years earlier), the Israeli soldiers just let us pass without askin too many uncomfortable questions.

Bizarre, disgusting, and even mind-blowing? Not for us who live or operate in this part of the world! All this is by now considered as “business as usual”.

During the last Intifada, I hired a taxi in Jerusalem to the border with Gaza driven by a Russian-Israeli Jew, a student, who literally clashed with a border guard, demanding to be allowed to enter Gaza, in order to “see what my fxxxxing government is doing to the Palestinian people.”

They did not let him into Gaza. They detained him. As a foreigner, I entered. During my work in Gaza, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired at my hired car. It missed… But at least I was allowed to enter and work in Gaza. It is like Russian roulette: sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t, and no explanations are given.

That was the time when the new Gaza International Airport had just opened. After few days of fighting, the runway was bombed by the Israelis, all flights cancelled, and I had to, eventually make my way out through Egyptian Sinai.

Later, I also witnessed how brutal the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been; how it has divided countless families and communities. People are forced to shout at each other through the Israeli barbed-wire electric fences. The only way for the families to reunite, at least for a day or two, was to somehow get to Jordan.

An Israeli tank being moved towards Syrian Golan Heights

The Syrian Golan Heights used to be famous for its delicious apples and ancient Druze community. It used to attract travelers from all over the world. Now it is occupied by Israel, and it is de-populated and monstrously militarized.

You want to travel there? You cannot; not anymore. It is off limits.

*****

For years and decades, this insanity of travel bans and restrictions, as well as barbed wire and watch towers, has been applying mainly (although not exclusively) to the territories occupied by Israel. However, now almost the entire Middle East is divided by conflicts, insane regulations and travel prohibitions.

Empty Jordan-Syrian border

Unless you are a war correspondent, a Western ‘advisor’, an intelligence agent or a ‘development worker’, don’t even think about going to Iraq. Almost like Afghanistan and Libya, Iraq had been thoroughly wrecked by the Western coalition and its allies. On top of it, to get visa there is now close to impossible. In the recent past, the Westerners flooded Erbil and its surroundings; the main city of what was called, unofficially, ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’. The place used to be governed by the independence-seeking and shamelessly pro-Western ‘elites’, and it used to have its own visa regime. Now even this area is more or less off limits to foreigners.

Syria is still a war zone, although its government, which is supported by the majority of the Syrian people, is clearly winning the brutal conflict ignited and fueled by the West and its ‘client’ states.

Syria used to be one of the safest, the most educated and advanced countries in the region, built on solid socialist principles. It used to have an impressive scientific base, as well as dozens of world-class tourist attractions. Therefore, applying Western imperialist logic, it had to be first smeared, and then attacked and destroyed.

Logically, Syria is not issuing tourist visas to the citizens of the countries that are trying to destroy it.

Next door, Lebanon is still suffering from the flood of refugees, from geographical isolation and from the various dormant and semi-active terrorist cells.

Travelling from Lebanon to Syria is now almost impossible, or at least very dangerous and difficult. Lebanese citizens can still enter, but ‘at their own risk’.

In the not so distant past, people used to drive from Beirut to Europe and vice-versa, via Turkey and Syria. Now this option is just a sweet memory. But then again, in the very distant past, I am often reminded, it was not unusual for the Lebanese middle class to spend a weekend in Haifa, driving their own cars. Now the border between Lebanon and Israel is hermetically sealed. Both countries are technically at war. The U.N. patrols the so-called Blue Line. Apart from drones and Israeli war planes en-route to bombing Syria, nothing can cross.

Turkey building a new huge wall on the Syrian border

All along the Turkish-Syrian border, both sides are suffering. Of course, the Syrian people are suffering much more, being victims of the direct Turkish military adventures. But also Turks are now paying a very high price for the war: they are suffering from terrorist attacks, as well as from the total collapse of trade between the two countries. Many villages around Hatay and Gaziantep are quickly turning into ghost towns.

For instance, cities like Adana in Turkey and Aleppo in Syria used to be connected by motorways, enjoying constant flows of people from both ends. There was bustling trade, as well as tourism, and social visits. Now, Ankara has been building an enormous concrete wall between the two countries. No traffic can pass through the border, except Turkish military convoys.

*****

For years and decades, it has been impossible to enter Saudi Arabia as a tourist. This fundamentalist Wahabbi ‘client’ state of the West simply does not recognize the existence of tourism, or leisure travel. To enter the KSA, it has to be either for business or religious pilgrimage.

With its huge territory, the KSA effectively divides the entire Gulf region, when it comes to transportation and the movement of people. There are some loopholes, and ‘transit visas’ can be obtained (with some luck, difficulties and expense), for instance, for those people driving their own vehicles or taking a bus from Jordan to Bahrain, or to Oman.

Traveling to culturally the most exciting country in the Gulf – Yemen – is now absolutely impossible. Yemen used to be one of the jewels of historic architecture and civilization, counting such cities as Sanaa, Zabid and Shiban. Now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is occupying the city of Aden and the coast, while Saudi forces are brutally bombing the rest of the country, which is controlled by the rebels.

Then, there is a bizarre conflict which is brewing between Qatar (the richest country in the Gulf with the substantial U.S. military presence as well as huge local business-controlled media conglomerate Al-Jazeera), and several other Arab allies of the West, including Saudi Arabia. Borders are presently closed and insults are flying. There is the growing possibility of a military confrontation. Qatar is being accused, cynically, of ‘supporting terrorism’, as if the KSA was not doing precisely the same.

*****

Flying around the region has become a Kafkaesque experience.

Flight from Doha to Nairobi

All Middle Eastern and Gulf airlines are avoiding Israel. Some fly over Syria but most of them, don’t. The once mighty and now deteriorating Qatar Airways is clearly forbidden to enter the airspace of Saudi Arabia as well as of the United Arab Emirates.

Recently I travelled with Qatar from Beirut to Nairobi, Kenya. It used to be a simple, comfortable commute, which has recently turned into a terrible nightmare. Unable to fly over Syrian and Saudi airspace, a plane has to first fly in totally the opposite direction, northwest, over Turkish airspace, then over Iran, making a huge, almost 90 minutes detour. On the second leg, a trip of less than 4 hours now takes more than 5 hours and 30 minutes! The plane flies directly away from Africa, towards Iran, and then makes a huge loop, avoiding both the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Lebanese MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines) is one of the few airlines that ignores all this, flying directly over Syria, and towards the Gulf states. Most of the others don’t dare. But MEA has to avoid Israeli airspace, making often interesting final approaches to Rafik Hariri Int’l Airport.

The exception is Turkish Airlines which basically flies over everything and into everywhere, including Israel itself.

*****

This essay is not only about the politics and what has led to the present situation, although it is clear that we are talking here, above all, about the neo-colonialist arrangement of the world.

Political nightmare unleashed by the ‘traditional’ Western colonialist powers and their ‘client states’, has led to the geographical divisions; to a perverse state of affairs in this part of the world. Increasingly, the people are losing control over their own nations and the entire region. They have already lost the ability to move about freely through it.

Of course, something similar exists in many other places, including the South Pacific. There, I described the situation in my book Oceania. An entire huge part of the world has been literally cut to pieces by the neo-colonialist powers and their geo-political interests and designs: the U.S., France, Australia and New Zealand have plainly overrun and shackled Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. A once proud and unique part of the world has been fragmented internally: people are brutally separated and forced to depend almost exclusively on the West.

In the Middle East, divisions, walls and barbed wire, are now everywhere; they are visible to the naked eye, but they are also ‘inside’ peoples’ minds, damaging the human psyche, making dreams of unity and a common future look very unlikely, and sometimes even impossible.

A bridge blown up by ISIS near Mosus, Iraq

This used to be one of the cradles of our civilization – a deep, sane and stunningly beautiful part of the world. Now everything is fragmented. The West rules, mainly through its ‘client’ states, such as Israel, the KSA and Turkey. It controls everything. It governs almost the entire Middle East; nothing moves without its knowledge and permission.

A suicide car bomb near Mosul, Iraq

Yes, nothing and no one moves here, unless it suits the West. We don’t read about it often. It is not discussed. But that is how it is. This bizarre concept of ‘freedom’ implanted from the outside. The rulers who were injected into the Gulf and various other occupied nations. The result is horrid: the electric wires, walls and travel restrictions everywhere; the old pathological British ‘divide and rule’ concept.

*****

As I am working on this essay, my plane which is supposed to be flying south-west, is actually hovering north-east, in order to avoid the airspaces of the various so-called hostile states.

Local people may be getting used to the fact that their part of the world has already been ‘re-arranged’. Or perhaps they have already stopped noticing.

The computer, however, keeps showing the absurd flying path of the airliner. Computers can be programmed and re-programmed, but they cannot be indoctrinated. Without judging, they are simply demonstrating the absurdity that is unrolling around them, on their screens.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

The Lebanon/Israel Border: Reasons for Peace… Excuses for War!

“No pictures!” growls a burly Lebanese army captain, looking me deliberately in the eyes from not three feet away across his Major’s desk, while pointing directly at my Nikon. “No pictures!” he repeats, now staring at my translator. Since we are both seated in his office deep within the heavily armed perimeter of the army’s southern command, scores of heavily armed soldiers all around us, and these being the only words of English so far spoken by him, there was no doubting his sincerity on this point.

Four hours earlier, 7:56 AM on a Saturday near Beirut harbour, day pack loaded and now stepping into the early dawn light, my driver shows up with a wave from his rolled-down window and pulls up in front. Climbing in, we are off. Destination: The Lebanon/Israel border ninety miles south. Goal: To get there.

The Lebanese Coast

Just south of the Lebanon/Israel border, Israel is again furiously banging the drums of war using the dead bones of its bleach dried truth. The Israeli media is speculating daily about, if not promoting, a new Israeli war against the peaceful Lebanese while fantastically suggesting that Hezbollah will attack Israel; the polar opposite of the accurate history to date. [see Part Three] Israeli military chiefs publicly demand the same. Defense Minister, Avigdor Leiberman, stated, all of Beirut will be hiding in bomb shelters.” Minister Naftali Bennett also assured renewed crimes against humanity, saying “the Lebanese [people] will pay the price.  Former IDF brass, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Noam Tibon went further, “The IDF is going to use a lot of force. These places will be destroyed almost completely,” as did, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin assuring that “Lebanon will be destroyed.”

These bellicose statements are, of course, specific admissions of renewed Israeli war crimes to come. These also ignore a second more obvious natural truth: The  Lebanese border – as shown in Israel’s 2006 defeat – is a formidable natural defense and … a good reason for considering – instead – peace. Like many countries, Lebanon’s natural border is demised by mountains which here begin their ascent at the border uphill into Lebanon. Sadly and historically, for the past fifty-one years, Israel has preferred war to expand these borders. A trip today to their common border clearly shows this pre-existing defensive natural resource of ever-climbing banks of barren hills that overlook to the south what was once Palestine, now ready and waiting to help defend southern Lebanon…again.

In mid-February, former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ridiculously declared that Washington could help resolve the growing list of disputes between Israel and Lebanon, but Hizbullah political and spiritual leader,  Hassan Nasrallah, refused to have talks with the United States, stating more accurately:

America is not an honest broker. And you have to deal with the American mediator as an attorney for Israel. It’s not three parties involved – the Lebanese are negotiating with the Israelis who are being represented by Tillerson…

In lieu of recent events, this evaluation rings quite true and will likely become more divisive under incoming war-hawks, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, who in tandem have expressed a disgust for any Arab interest not willingly at the behest of Washington and Israel. The factual analysis shows that it is Israel that desires to put forth military force beyond its current borders. Israel continues to provoke Lebanon and, more importantly, the Lebanese military that is, today, the dual defense of the Lebanese army and Hizbullah. Given this stark change to 2006, when the Lebanese Army didn’t fight Israel in the south, this new situation/war would put two US allies at war with each other – the IDF and the Lebanese regular army which is supplied – sans rockets – by the US.

Fresh from signing a very large and lucrative deal for supplying natural gas to Egypt, Israel two weeks ago set its military designs on a Lebanese natural gas field off Lebanon’s coast in its territorial waters. This sea area on the southern-most maritime border extends offshore along the edges of three Lebanese gas exploration Blocks: 8, 9, 10 of which Block 9 is said to be the most profitable. On the heels of Lebanon signing its own deal for exploratory drilling to begin, without justification, substantial sections of Block 9 were claimed by Israel. Since the works are to be carried out initially in Block 9, IDF boss Lieberman described Lebanon’s action of harvesting its own natural resources as “very provocative”, setting up an excuse for further threats these past weeks of a military showdown.

The prospects from these gas fields are so promising that an international consortium led by the giant French Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek, a private oil company close to Vladimir Putin has stepped forward to bid for rights to drill and were awarded an exploratory permit in early February of this year. Consortium leader Total has announced the first well will be drilled next year in Block 4, an undisputed sector, and that a second well will be in Block 9, the block that falls partly within an area claimed by Israel. Total was quick to clarify that the Block 9 drilling would occur more than 15 miles from the disputed zone claimed by Israel.

Kifah has been driving his own taxi for four years but has never been all the way to the border. Being Lebanese, he is not restricted from travelling as far as the last checkpoint before the UN imposed blue-line. To actually get to the border everyone, especially nosy, foreign, non-Arab appearing journalists need formal permission from the Lebanese army command. There is no guarantee they will give it. Since the rules of transit change at the whim of the army as the local situation changes, this day is an adventure into uncharted waters.

Not helping our cause, two days before this clear, bright blue morning, the Israeli Mossad attempted to assassinate Hamas senior official, Mohammed Hamdan, in Sidon, the town we are right now heading for in search of the same army command. Due to a premature detonation, Hamdan survived, his attackers already arrested; one in Lebanon; one in Turkey. Hence, if there is one particular person that the army is looking for it is Mossad agents. They are also not too keen on Americans, who are also banned from getting anywhere near the border. However, two major assets would be of great help this day: A Canadian passport and a track record of honest, on-scene reporting. One that prefers world peace!

Most reporters heading south are on sponsored news junkets with all the details worked out for them beforehand, so they see only what is scripted. Alternatively, one might go it alone; put the beautiful and rugged Lebanese blue and grey rock-lined coastline on one’s right hand side, with the ever-ascending brown, dusty denuded hills on the left, drive at high speed due south, looking across the expanses of dark green banana palms to the southwest side of the well worn four-lane highway, with… fingers crossed!

The Hills Ascend – Just beyond: Israel

Pointing south, the road signs all say “Palestine.” They do not say Israel. Forever in the minds of the Lebanese, much less the tens of thousands of Palestinians in the refugee camps, we pass-open air prisons in reality — this land beyond the southern border will always be Palestinian. Possession may be, in the mind of modern Likudist Israel, “nine-tenths of the law,” but the other one-tenth remains forever firmly in the realm of factual history: the history of a stolen land. The history of a stolen country.

There is much to be learned from recent history at the Lebanon/Israeli border.

Excuses For War

Beyond Israel’s claims on off-shore Lebanese natural gas fields provocation continues at the border. Israel has begun building a concrete wall inside the Lebanese border in violation of the UN cease-fire agreement of 2000. Beirut says it passes through territory that belongs to Lebanon but which lies on the Israeli side of the Blue Line. The area concerned is where the UN-demarcated Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. Other than provocation, Israel has no need to build this wall.

Both sea and land provocations have been met with condemnation and vows of defence of its territorial borders by Lebanese top officials.  President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, and parliament speaker Nabih Berri announced in unison that Lebanon would act to prevent Israel from building a wall on Lebanese land at the frontier, threatening an offshore energy block in disputed waters, Reuters reported.  Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah once again warned Israel to back off its claims over disputed oil and gas field just off the southern Lebanese coast, threatening that Hezbollah could “disable [Israel’s offshore oil installations] within hours.”

Israel adds to these provocations by accusing its primary manufactured, non-expansionist, imaginary threat, Iran, of establishing supply lines to its secondary, manufactured, non-expansionist imaginary threat: Hizbullah.

Post-2006 war, the Lebanese Army — at US/Israeli insistence — was prohibited from possessing any airborne rockets or missiles at all, thus handing Israel military complete air supremacy. Israel, of course, previously used this air supremacy to devastate the civilian population of Beirut during their 2006 frustration of not beating Hizbullah into immediate submission. As Israeli threats against the general Lebanese civilian population trumpet from Tel Aviv almost daily, Hizbullah has reportedly established several missile manufacturing facilities within Lebanon. “In the battle for oil and gas, the only power you have, you the Lebanese people, is the resistance, because the Lebanese army is not allowed to own missiles,” Nasrallah affirmed. Israel cites this as a further reason to invade. Conveniently, Israel ignores any mention of its own massive military munitions pipeline and $3 Billion per year donation for same from its own patron: the American military.

Missing, however, is the unspoken but most important reason for Israel’s drive to war.

Yes, war may be again forced on Lebanon. Beyond territorial land and sea incursions or claims to restricting Lebanese civil defense, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu really needs a war. With the jaws of duplicitous justice closing rapidly in classic Ehud Olmert fashion, a self-inflicted conflict may be the only way out for the Likudist champion of expansionist Israel. However, the two most important reasons Israel and Netanyahu have as a reason for war are rapidly coming to pass. In less than in two months and in the near term afterwards, Lebanon will become autonomous both politically and financially.

The first Lebanese national election in nine years will take place on Sunday, May 6, 2018. The result will likely see Hizbullah continue on its new political path to power [see: Part Three] and thus formally, rather than practically, in power within the parliament. Although Hizbullah will likely still need to effect a coalition government this will be a much easier task than a decade ago due to Hizbullah’s newly gained respect across the full breadth of the Lebanese political landscape and its unwavering support of the Lebanese people despite the device political antics of Prime Minister and turn-coat Saad Hariri. Before the world and its adversaries Hizbullah, in less than 45 days is likely to become the legitimate, certified and undeniable controlling political party in Lebanon.

Combine this new political national autonomy with the financial autonomy that the massive natural gas reserves can provide an impoverished Lebanon will ultimately provide and thus collectively there becomes an autonomous nation that has a stable government and the financial means to be forever independent of western influence and coercion. This, of course, is anathema to the Huber-Hawks in the Likud party and the US state Department that much prefers its recent examples of successful foreign policy in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Gaza, etc. Hence, Lebanese autonomy remains beyond the other proffered rationales:  the most important Israeli reason for war.

An Army on the Edge

The first matter at hand on our journey south: where to get army permission? The army’s base in Sidon is the likely place to start so we begin asking for directions there at the checkpoints we start crossing without a problem just before coming into the town. Heading south from Beirut, the Army’s presence becomes stronger compared to the already obvious military presence across the sprawling city [see: Part Two]. Besides the increased number of troops, armoured vehicles from MRAP’s to tanks increase in number the further we go towards Sidon. In several places on the east side of the highway, these mobile armaments sit in clusters of six to eight, behind loose netting under makeshift canopies. They do not appear to be needed at this moment;  however, all are continuously manned as is evidenced by soldiers sitting idly behind the wheel or stationed in the gun turrets despite them being parked out of aerial view, engines turned off.

Current events are getting serious in South Lebanon. One can see this on the unsmiling faces of the soldiers. If they are called on to defend Lebanon, this may happen in a matter of minutes, so everyone is on high alert. This is a new role for the Army, which remained far north in the 2006 war [see: Part Three], but which now operates right up to the DMZ five miles before the border known a “the Blue-Line.” Within this neutral zone the large United Nation military presence, their all-white tanks, troop carriers, and trucks, are in no way defensive, they are, “observers.”

The UN Presence Starts to show South of Sidon

The historical effectiveness of a UN presence as a deterrent to invading violence and/or war is meagre at best, usually symbolic as it here at the border. The all-white vehicles roam all over the blue-line DMZ that provides a supposed buffer zone is all in Lebanese territory. Israel did not give up an inch. It is a sad bet that, if the IDF tanks again march north from Israel, these “observers” will be leaving northbound just as fast. Worse strategically, should Israel attack, the IDF will get an introductory, free, five-mile bite out of southern Lebanon before Lebanese defenses can react, courtesy of the UN’s Blue-line.

Strangely, and apparently, illegally, the Lebanese army is currently operating UN marked weaponry. Showing their true intended effectiveness, every UN mobile gun that was observed travelling down the roads, although having a UN soldier also sitting in the turret, the machine gun had been removed reducing him to a purely symbolic role atop. However, observed in the same areas, several all-white UN vehicles of the same type were seen with an all-Lebanese army crew driving, and a Lebanese army gunner also perched on top. Interestingly, there were two major differences between the two: the Lebanese army gunner was sporting a very obvious and operational 50 cal.

What new UN resolution allowed for the army to commandeer and arm UN tanks and weapons remains unclear.

Part of the Port of Sidon

After several inquiries upon reaching Sidon, we find the military base’s single entrance; a massive steel barricade swinging down shut in front of us as we approach. On either side of our car, two soldiers watch us carefully, automatic weapons in hand as a fifth walks up to the window. Through Kifah we understand that we are in the right place, but must park in town and walk back. The military, as evidenced by the bombing in Sidon only days before, are very worried about car bombs. When we return we are escorted into a concrete, windowless bunker-like office adjacent to the steel barricade. There, an army officer dressed in casual street clothes — the men with real authority don’t wear uniforms — starts asking questions about our business.  He too does not like cameras and takes my Nikon and both our mobile phones before sending us back into town to copy my passport and Kifah’s driver’s license. War seems on the horizon. No one is taking any chances.

Getting Passport Copied in Sidon

Returning with Kifah — now walking — through the barricade once again, the officer goes through my passport page by page. He is looking for an Israeli visa stamp, an automatic bar on further travel south. He asks questions about my business in Lebanon and does not like the many US visa stamps he sees. He wants to know, “why?”  Calling someone on the phone, he releases us with instructions to go to the next office in search of “the Major.” The camera now returned, but the phones still in his possession. After having been frisked, we walk in the seemingly right direction, armed soldiers coming and going all around us.

Finding the right office, the next plain clothed officer inspects us over again watching me particularly and asking the same questions. He then calls the first officer from the barricade on his phone, staring me up and down while getting confirmation that we are still the same two people who passed minutes before. Satisfied, he sends us further within the base to an old, de rigueur, a military two-story wooden building surrounded by a dozen or so soldiers who are all watching us closely. Enquiring about our appointment with the major, we are told to go upstairs. As we tromp noisily up to the creaking stairs to the wooden planked landing, five offices are in front of us while over twenty uniformed soldiers sit on simple wooden benches in a long hallway without their weapons. They are new recruits, just arrived and waiting for deployment elsewhere. They lack the battle-hardened stare of their compatriots outside. They smile pointing to the office of the Major, just around the corner to the right.

Seated in the Major’s office now, it turns out that he is busy and will not be back for some time, so we hunker down for a long wait. Kifah’s been a huge bonus, taking the lead as he translates our quest to a growing list of very suspicious military officials. We’ve gotten to know each other quickly on this trip, having met on the way to the Syrian embassy earlier that week. Like many Lebanese, he has seen the realities of war already and desires peace. He tells me much that day about today’s Lebanon. [see: Part Two]

Thankfully, soon another officer comes in, his rank unknown since he too is in street clothes. Sitting down at the Major’s desk abruptly, he calls the previous checkpoint to verify us yet again, then snatches up my passport and engages in a furious discussion with Kifah that, due to his tone, is not going well. Looking me up and down repeatedly, his subject seems obvious. In Arabic, he asks about my business, who I write for and what are my intentions at the Israeli/Lebanon border. He has me write down my address in Beirut, my mobile number and publications I write for. Arabic is spoken very fast and has no route in western language, making it almost impossible to follow at all. However, the word “Google” snaps my attention twice. Before permission can be granted they will be checking me out closely.

Handing me back my passport and tossing the business card to one side casually, he hands Kifah a small white piece of paper, with Arabic writing on it, then picks up a huge binder stuffed with paper sized sheets of unknown origin. Finding the first blank space he enters the copy of my passport and his notes so far. “No Pictures!” he barks and repeats the command to Kifah along with other info. I do not understand, then with a dismissive wave of his hand sends us back down the creaky wooden stairs and out into to the daylight and a camp filled with soldiers.

Lebanon disagrees with Israel over the precise demarcation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEC) between the two countries which was established in 2010. The prime actors at present, in addition to the governments of Israel and Lebanon, include Russia, Hizbullah, Syria, Iran and the US in the shadows. The latest Israeli attacks on alleged Iranian bases or Hezbollah camps inside Syria are closely tied to the Israeli aim to prevent a land link from Iran through Syria to the Hezbollah home base infrastructure in Lebanon.

In 2010 the oil and gas geopolitics of the Mediterranean changed profoundly. That was when a Texas oil company, Noble Energy discovered a huge deposit of natural gas offshore Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, the so-called Leviathan Field, one of the world’s largest gas field discoveries in over a decade. Until recently, political paralysis inside Lebanon and the war in Syria had prevented Lebanon from actively exploring its offshore gas and oil potential. Russia is engaging in Lebanon in a bold way. At a formal ceremony in Beirut on February 9, together with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, the heads of Total, ENI and Russia’s Novatek signed the first agreements to drill for oil and gas in the offshore sector claimed as part of Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

For Lebanon, to develop its own sources of natural gas would take it into the first world and out of debt and social poverty. The country has been subjected to electricity blackouts since the 1975 civil war.  Daily, Beirut residents must experience cuts in electricity because the peak demand exceeds production by a large margin. Currently, Lebanon must import expensive diesel fuel at an annual loss to the economy of some $2.5 billion. Lebanon is one of the world’s most indebted countries with debt to GDP of some 145%. The Syrian war and internal Lebanese political stalemate had frozen its offshore energy exploration until now.

A UK company, Spectrum, conducted geophysical surveys in the offshore Lebanese section of the Levant Basin in recent years, including 3D seismic, and estimated that the Lebanese waters could hold up to 25 trillion cubic feet of economically recoverable gas. Obviously, development of those gas reserves would alter the entire economy of Lebanon and thrust its government into the geopolitical limelight of petrol dominance. This is, of course, a great hope for the Lebanese people… and great angst for the Likudists watching helplessly to the south.

As we walk back through the main gate to the car, Kifah explains that we do not yet have permission so far, since it is the Major who decides, but we have been instructed to kill time for two hours and call the number on the white paper for the results and, yes, they would be checking into my professional sincerity all the while. The fact that we have been given the white paper is encouraging, so we head further south into one of the oldest cities in recorded history, Tyre.

Kifah has suddenly gotten a bit jumpy, an inconvenient trait that would surface too often in the next many hours that day. Asked what is wrong, he says that the officer has made it clear that we will be watched and that any problems that might arise will be in his head. Indeed an understandable emotion considering the progressing depths of our collective adventure; however, as I remind him, there is, in reality, no danger to us at all. We are merely doing a job, with — so far — permission.

The first border checkpoint beyond the Blue-line is just south of Tyre and there is no point in going further until we hopefully gain permission. One of the oldest cities in the world, we tour about Tyre enjoying the magnificent clear blue day and then settle down to lunch and a chance to hear more about Lebanon. As we enjoy some local roasted chicken and rice, relaxing and hoping… Kifah’s phone rings. He motions for a pencil or pen saying, “Remember number… remember the number!” As he chats back in rapid Arabic he looks at me. “Six-seven… six -seven….six-seven,” he says, still listening. Then he hangs up. ”What’s this?” is the natural question. “It is our number,” he says. “We have permission!”

The Military Clearance From the Lebanese Army

A quick high-five and we are immediately out the door and into the car again and heading south beyond Sidon. Now, the military presence has increased yet again but has been added to by a very large contingent of the all-white UN military vehicles with very large black “UN” letters on each side. They zoom by us in both directions, some with turret guns, sans the gun, some are just pick-up trucks of several makes with flashing blue and white lights on their roofs. These commingle with the much smaller Lebanese army presence there. We are still north of the Blue-line, army territory still, as we pull into the first checkpoint south.

Again, my passport is inspected as the soldier uses his mobile phone to call the number on the white paper as his counterparts on the other side of the car watching us carefully as always. Any semblance of friendliness is now over. Fingers remain on triggers, left hands on gun barrels ready to aim and fire without pause. Here, the unknown is the enemy. We are the unknown. No one we will meet wearing a Lebanese army uniform from this point on is taking any chances. War is in the air. The soldiers know it. We know it, too. You can just… feel it.

Satisfied that we are indeed number sixty-seven, the soldier waves us along. We have just crossed the last checkpoint before the blue-line. We are now where few foreigners have ventured. We will make it to the border as planned. Good news indeed. Kifah, however, is getting nervous…again.

Our goal, the border, is dead ahead, barely five miles away. Besides the white UN military presence, there is another reality that comes into view — our goal: the seemingly innocuous hills of southern Lebanon border. The hills that have too often before proved to be as defensively resilient as the Lebanese people.

The Lebanon Border: A Defence worth 10,000 men

For those who recall the accurate results of the last Israeli war against Lebanon [see: Part Three], one strategic fact is undeniable: These hills are defense worth 10,000 men. The Israeli’s in 2006 found this out. Those same hills are still there, unscathed, as is their ongoing defence against invasion.

Starting at sea level at the coastal border, the brown almost treeless hills of Lebanon rise ever steeper as one drives inland, due east along the Lebanon/Israeli border. Peculiarly, these hills slope most steeply towards the south and towards Israel as they rise ever higher to the northeast. In Israel’s 2006 rush to war it was these hills that provided a very effective natural barrier to their northbound incursion. Deploying hundreds of tanks that came in waves across this wire-mesh fenced border, these tanks were slowed by these hills, leaving them as sitting ducks to Hizbullah and their Russian made Kornet anti-tank rockets (see: Part Three). Air power is practically useless against the tactics of ground-based guerrilla warfare, and the IDF in just 33 days was reduced to running out of ammo while their troops were decimated in a ground war — sans armour — all of which had been destroyed. Israel had no choice but to retreat under a cease-fire, taking the burnt-out wreckage of over 200 tanks with them.

Touring the border via these hills these same natural defenses are now stronger than before.

In 2006 every house and village on this side of the border was completely destroyed by the IDF. This is evidenced by all the houses in the area being very new in construction, with many still being built. Some of these houses sit atop these hills, looking warily to the south or to the west over the full panorama of the Mediterranean. However, as these hills slope steeply up, now rocks in the form of huge boulders line the south side of the roads and the southern slopes of these hills. As confirmed by a source who fought here in 2006,[see: Part Three] these have been placed there in the past ten years for good reason: Israeli tanks do not care for steep hills… and they do not fare well over large jagged rocks.

A tank, despite its massive steel might, is as weak as a Tonka toy when encountering rocks, since the rocks break the tracks rendering the tank motionless, its driving wheels spinning furiously and uselessly. The hills by themselves presented a formidable obstacle in 2006, but since these boulders have been placed along the south facing width of many of the hills. To the casual observer, these have been seemingly built to create long terraces going up the hills in a series from their base to the top and might be used, as some are, for the planting of olive trees. However, on closer inspection, it is easy to see that these boulder-strewn terraces contain very few trees. These are not primarily for agriculture… they are in practicality tank traps!

Taking the last hard left turn just barely at beyond the last border check and now driving due east through these hills the Israeli border is more than obvious on the right-hand side. The current borderline is essentially a shallow valley between two rows of hills parallel to each other, the southern one; Israel, the northern; Lebanon. Lebanon’s hills are bigger and look out over Israel the more one travels east parallel to the border. While one can lose sight of the actual demarcation line — a single barb-wire topped fence — a continuing series of hundred foot high steel braced communications towers line the top of the Israeli’s southern hilltops every 400 meters and are never completely out of view. The rather unimportant border fence wanders out of sight sometimes in the dry creek of this border valley.

Despite reports that Israel is moving men and machinery to the border region, there is no sign of it. The Israeli side seems quiet. The hills block the view of the recent troop and artillery build-up being massed there by the IDF in preparation for new war. The border fence seems rather diminutive and benign, just two hundred yards away now. While UN and Lebanese army trucks zoom about the border and roam the hills, no movement of any kind is seen on the Israeli side of the fence; an ominous silence that is, considering daily newspaper reports, fooling no one on this side.

Kifah is getting jumpy again, probably because we have just been accosted by a UN soldier in an all-white pick-up truck asking more pointed questions about our purpose. I want to go further east, he now wants to turn around and go home. His English is good, so while I stretch my legs after hours in the car I carefully explain to him that he is in no danger at all, which does not yet register.

This was unfortunate, but a necessary development in our growing friendship. Fortunately, a mile or so later we are flagged down by a local Arab worker — he is Palestinian — needing a ride to the next village east. Using this opportunity I have Kifah ask the man several questions about this area and of any potential danger on either side of the fence. The stranger, nonplussed, tells us many things but assures us, as suspected, that there is nothing to worry about. Dropping off this man in his tiny dusty village, Kifah is again relaxed. I am dying to take pictures, but with the officer’s stern warning still in mind, the fact that the Lebanese observations towers are never out of sight of us and that we are the only foreign object likely to entertain their view, it is a safe bet that we are being watched. So…no damn pictures.

Gaining altitude over Israel as we head directly east, the Lebanese hills becoming appreciably bigger, we can now see into Israel beyond their hilltops into the agricultural regions filled with farmland, lakes, pastures, and the Kibutzes of occupation. This area was once Palestine. It is now Israel. For only one reason…war.

Driving East, it becomes obvious why these hills have been a very effective barrier to further incursions. We continue to ascend high above the Israeli expanse of much flatter land that is thus far more suited to agriculture and the green pastures and brown stripped crop fields are easily in view below next to irrigation ponds and small lakes. Here in these hills, similar agriculture is not possible and the only evidence is many dishevelled looking olive trees growing out of the hillsides. Lebanon has some very developed agriculture but that lies in the mountain valleys some 20 mile north.

Defensively these hills are a formidable barrier to war because all wars need ground forces and artillery to advance and here, as in 2006, moving north will always be a slow progress. An example was Israeli’s loss of almost 200 tanks in 48 hours [see: Part Three] due to this too slow a progress. If Israel chooses war again, these hills will remain defensive and an obstacle in getting as far as the capital, Beirut. Although Israel has been provided complete air superiority by the UN, when facing the necessity to move forward the IDF must have armour and armour must move across the ground and these hills. This was a disastrous development for the IDF in 2006 and will be again if the IDF actually fights Hizbullah and the Lebanese army and actually uses its air force against military targets rather than innocent civilian ones.

Israeli territory takes up the remaining arable land that continues about thirty miles north of this east-west border area as it takes a turn north towards Syria. Should Israel elect to attack from this position it will by-pass these hills, but have new series of even steeper ones that separate Lebanon from Syria and ring some of Lebanon’s best agricultural valleys. This leaves little advantage for Israel beyond accepting massive casualty counts no matter how much military might it sends north or west. It was this body count that stopped the last war at Israel’s request. Will Israel have the short-sightedness to ignore their own self-imposed history and death toll?

Reasons for Peace?

Despite the many justifications and fabrications being echoed for new war recent developments may be the reason for Israel to, this time, choose its fate more wisely.

Novatek, the huge Russian gas consortium, is one of the major partners in harvesting Lebanese natural gas including Track 9. Russia also has a track record, despite massive US/EU propaganda to the contrary, of promoting peace as has been documented accurately in the changing of the fortunes in Syria and the final demise of Daesh (ISIS).

A very important addition to the agreement for Lebanon’s natural gas was included to ensure Russian investment. The Russian-Lebanese cooperation reportedly also includes:“exchanging information on defense means and enhancing international security capabilities; activating anti-terror cooperation; improving joint cooperation in the fields of cadre training, military exercises and armed forces building; exchanging IT expertise; establishing mechanisms for cooperation between the two countries’ armies.”  This could be a game changer against the drive to war since the tag-team of the US and Israel is not used to an even match and certainly, Russia is more than capable of evening the fight or at least protecting its investment.

Whether Russia will be able to contain these forces from starting an all-out war is not yet clear. As William F. Engdahl sums it up in his piece in Global Research (February 15, 2018):

The Russian decision to sign a military cooperation agreement with Lebanon at the same time a leading Russian energy company wins rights to drill for oil and gas offshore Lebanon is no spur-of-the-moment decision. It is a calculated chess move in one of the most entangled lands of the world.

This week’s American re-staffing in seeming preparation for a return to more worldwide war, torture and wanton civilian death came in the manifestation of neo-conservatives Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to power. This does not bode well for the rational US thinking or Israeli restraint. Added to the already laughably amateur demonization of Russia via the Skripal poisoning set-up, it appears the US and its willing proxies are all too willing to rush to war and hear only the drums of war.

Driving back west on the same narrow rough road, the day is almost over. The sun begins its slow descent into the Mediterranean horizon far away and below our vantage point across the southern Lebanese hills. The beauty of this panorama cannot hide the realities that the winds of war are now blowing in furious gusts from the south, across a simple barb-wire fence, meters away to the left.

Ukraine? Syria? Yemen? Iraq? Afganistan? Libya? Venezuela…? All destroyed, their countries ravaged, the futures and the happiness of their people now being toyed with like a sick, demented child smashing underfoot the slow-moving, defenceless snails, one by one, while merrily stomping along a rain-soaked footpath.

On these same winds of war, there is a horrible sound. It does not bode well. Is it the sound of the horrors of war? Is it the sound of the screams of the innocent? Is it the sound of lives forever shattered? No.

It is the sound of silence.

It’s growing quiet as we wind back down slowly to sea level. In my time in Lebanon, almost constantly I saw the remaining ravages of wars past. Bullet holes last a long time. Despite this past, Lebanon maintains an optimism in its people that has somehow managed to transcend these repeated horrors. There is a jovial spirit and a kindness here. There is optimism for a new future that is better. This future, like that of the remaining civilized world, deserves to be defended.

We, the civilized world, cannot accept and then witness the same fate for Argentina, Brazil,  China, Russia before we act. For Lebanon?  Will we continue to ignore wholesale fact and truth and accept the lies instead? Will we accept growing atrocity and the sacrifice of our humanity rather than rise up and demand peace? Will we continue to sit in silence?

If the answer is to be yes, then it is time for what remains of the civilized world to seek safe a final haven.

It will, then, be time for everyone to…head for the hills!

• Read Part One here; Part Two here; Part Three here

The Error in the Canadian Tsilhquot’in Case

Territory of the Tsilhqot’in people

1. Before the influx of Europeans the Indians of what is now Canada lived in organized societies with exclusive possession and jurisdiction of the land. But according to the Supreme Court of Canada in Tsilhquot’in v. British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44:

[113]… Can the [provincial] legislature have intended that the vast areas of the province that are potentially subject to Aboriginal title be immune from forestry regulation? And what about the long period of time during which land claims progress and ultimate Aboriginal title remains uncertain? During this period, Aboriginal groups have no legal right to manage the forest; their only right is to be consulted, and if appropriate, accommodated with respect to the land’s use: Haida. At this stage, the Crown may continue to manage the resource in question, but the honour of the Crown requires it to respect the potential, but yet unproven claims.

[114] It seems clear from the historical record and the record in this case that in this evolving context, the British Columbia legislature proceeded on the basis that lands under claim remain “Crown land” under the Forest Act, at least until Aboriginal title is recognized by a court or an agreement. To proceed otherwise would have left no one in charge of the forests that cover hundreds of thousands of hectares and represent a resource of enormous value. Looked at in this very particular historical context, it seems clear that the legislature must have intended the words “vested in the Crown” to cover at least lands to which Aboriginal title had not yet been confirmed.

2. This conflicts with the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the previously established precedents interpreting it and section 109 of the Constitution Act, 1867 read together. They confirmed the continuity of the Indians’ exclusive possession and jurisdiction of the land pending treaty of relinquishment.

3. The proclamation is what is now Canada’s 1st constitution. The proclamation enacted:

And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to our Interest, and the Security of our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians with whom We are connected, and who live under our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds—…therefore…no Governor or Commander in Chief…do presume, upon any Pretence whatever, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass any Patents for Lands…upon any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them.

…And We do further strictly enjoin and require all Persons whatever who have either wilfully or inadvertently seated themselves upon any…Lands which, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us, are still reserved to the said Indians as aforesaid, forthwith to remove themselves from such Settlements.

…if at any Time any of the Said Indians should be inclined to dispose of the said Lands, the same shall be Purchased only for Us, in our Name, at some public Meeting or Assembly of the said Indians, to be held for that Purpose by the Governor or Commander in Chief of our Colony respectively within which they shall lie…

4. Section 109 enacted:

All Lands, Mines, Minerals, and Royalties belonging to the several Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick at the Union, and all Sums then due or payable for such Lands, Mines, Minerals, or Royalties, shall belong to the several Provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick in which the same are situate or arise, subject to any Trusts existing in respect thereof, and to any Interest other than that of the Province in the same.

5. The precedents held:

St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company Ltd. v. The Queen, (1888), 14 AC 46, 52-53, 54, 55, 58, 59, 60 (JCPC). [52-53] Of the territory thus ceded to the Crown, an area of not less than 32,000 square miles is situated within the boundaries of the Province of Ontario; and, with respect to that area, a controversy has arisen between the Dominion and Ontario, each of them maintaining that the legal effect of extinguishing the Indian title has been to transmit to itself the entire beneficial interest of the lands, as now vested in the Crown, freed from encumbrance of any kind, save the qualified privilege of hunting and fishing mentioned in the treaty….Although the present case relates exclusively to the right of the Government of Canada to dispose of the timber in question to the appellant company, yet its decision necessarily involves the determination of the larger question between that government and the province of Ontario with respect to the legal consequences of the treaty of 1873.

[54] Whilst there have been changes in the administrative authority, there has been no change since the year 1763 in the character of the interest which its Indian inhabitants had in the lands surrendered by the treaty.
[55] It appears to them [their Lordships] to be sufficient for the purposes of this case that there has been all along vested in the Crown a substantial and paramount estate, underlying the Indian title, which became a plenum dominium whenever that title was surrendered or otherwise extinguished.
[58] The Crown has all along had a present proprietary estate in the land, upon which the Indian title was a mere burden. The ceded territory was at the time of the union, land vested in the Crown, subject to “an interest other than that of the Province in the same,” within the meaning of sect. 109; and must now belong to Ontario in terms of that clause,…
[59] The fact that the power of legislating for Indians, and for lands which are reserved for their use, has been entrusted to the Parliament of the Dominion is not in the least degree inconsistent with the right of the Provinces to a beneficial interest in these lands, available to them as a source of revenue whenever the estate of the Crown is disencumbered of the Indian title.
[60] By the treaty of 1873 the Indian inhabitants ceded and released the territory in dispute, in order that it might be opened up for settlement, immigration, and such other purpose as to Her Majesty might seem fit, “to the Government of the Dominion of Canada,” for the Queen and Her successors forever….

The treaty leaves the Indians no right whatever to the timber growing upon the lands which they gave up, which is now fully vested in the Crown, all revenues derivable from the sale of such portions of it as are situate within the boundaries of Ontario being the property of that Province.

AG Canada v. AG Ontario: (Re Indian Claims), [1897] AC 199, 205, 206, 210-11 (JCPC). [205] The effect of the treaties was, that, whilst the title to the lands ceded continued to be vested in the Crown, all beneficial interest in them, together with the right to dispose of them, and to appropriate their proceeds, passed to the Government of the Province,…

[206] The beneficial interest in the territories ceded by the Indians under the treaties of 1850 became vested, by virtue of s. 109, in the Province of Ontario.
[210-11] On the other hand, “an interest other than that of the province in the same” appears to them [their Lordships] to denote some right or interest in a third-party, independent of and capable of being vindicated in competition with the beneficial interest of the old province.

6. The critical error in the judgement in Tsilhquot’in is the sentence “It seems clear from the historical record and the record in this case that in this evolving context, the British Columbia legislature proceeded on the basis that lands under claim remain ‘Crown land’ under the Forest Act, at least until Aboriginal title is recognized by a court or an agreement.” It is true that “the historical record” consists in British Columbia granting warrants of survey and passing patents for lands throughout the province, before purchasing the lands by treaty with the Indians as stipulated mandatory by the royal proclamation, section 109 and their precedents. But in doing so the province acted unconstitutionally; it could not and did not repeal the previously established law by breaking it, which is what the Tsilhquot’in Court in effect held.

7. In 1874 British Columbia enacted a Crown Lands Act that regarded all crown land as if it were public land available for disposition, even though the land is part of the continental reserve for the Nations or Tribes of Indians, not being “ceded to, or purchased by Us.” In a report to the Canadian Privy Council, Attorney General Télésphore Fournier recommended disallowance under section 90 of the Constitution Act, 1867, on the ground of conflict with the proclamation and section 109. The report was approved in a Minute in Council dated 23rd January 1875 and endorsed by the Governor General.

Section 90. The following Provisions of this Act respecting the Parliament of Canada, namely, — the Provisions relating to Appropriation and Tax Bills, the Recommendation of Money Votes, the Assent to Bills, the Disallowance of Acts, and the Signification of Pleasure on Bills reserved, — shall extend and apply to the Legislatures of the several Provinces as if those Provisions were here re-enacted and made applicable in Terms to the respective Provinces and the Legislatures thereof, with the Substitution of the Lieutenant Governor of the Province for the Governor General, of the Governor General for the Queen and for a Secretary of State, of One Year for Two Years, and of the Province for Canada.

8. British Columbia then made a proposal to Canada to resolve the Indian problem by establishing a commission to investigate and “set apart” provincial Crown lands as “reserves” for Indian use. This led directly to the Indian Act, 1876. The Acting Minster of Interior Affairs in a report dated 5th November 1875 recommended approval of the provincial plan, which was done by the Canadian Privy Council pursuant to Minute in Council dated 10th November 1875. This entailed leaving the originally disallowed Crown Lands Act to its operation, i.e., reviving it. Attorney General Fournier was elevated to the Supreme Court and was replaced in office by Attorney General Edward Blake. Blake reported under letter dated 6th May 1876 to the Governor General explaining that “Great inconvenience and confusion might result from its disallowance.” As recommended, on second thought the Governor General did leave the statute to its operation. Treaties were not made thereafter in mainland British Columbia. There was no need, since all Crown land was thereafter unconstitutionally regarded as public land available for disposition. It was as if the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the “subject to” proviso in section 109 duly had been repealed or had never existed.

9. The Court in Tsilhquot’in overlooked the determinative St. Catherine’s and In re Indian Claims precedents, and also the crucial historical fact that British Columbia’s legislative disregard of Indian Title should have been disallowed pursuant to section 90 of the Constitution Act, 1867, but was not because disallowance might have caused inconvenience and confusion. In consequence Tsilhquot’in is per incuriam, meaning it is a decision taken through inadvertence or want of care, in ignorance of a binding statute or precedent, and of a crucial historical fact, and therefore is itself wrong.