Friday, November 13, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #7: Ebb & Flow; Palestinian Animals

Today was like the tide: ebb and flow. Forward. Back. Absence. Retreat.

The sea may weather and erode the cliff, but the cliff still stands.

I had my first Arabic lesson. Though I learned a lot, I am sure that solid instruction in a second language should not feature the teacher speaking more than the student. At any rate, I am now able to order food in a restaurant, or at least tell people that “I want [this or that], thank you.” Quite a step forward!

Countless people have told me how difficult Arabic is to learn, but I’m dubious. I mean, any language is challenging to speak, let alone apprehend, but in order to get by, I think I can manage a base level of understanding, though I also completely understand that I have a long way yet to travel. Knowing how to string together sentences is one thing, but comprehending what others are saying is entirely something else. So, I’m thankful to my instructor that I’ve picked up some, and confident that there’s more to come.

For a concrete example, I ordered my dinner tonight:

“Fadl, wahadah labnah sandwiche, kamaan whahada Almaza, shukran.”

“Please, one sour yogurt sandwich, also one Almaza (The Lebanese beer), thank you.”

Now, if the waiter had asked me if I wanted to order an appetizer, well, I would’ve been in the woods, nodding and smiling while he just stared in wait for me to say what appetizer, exactly, I would prefer.

It’s really strange, not to say disempowering, to be without a language in common with the people who surround you. It’s isolating. I spend the vast majority of my time in my own head. In fact, I probably say 100 words a day. (To all my students: I know you find this completely beyond belief. But it’s true! Now you know: learn another language, and speak it in class, and I’ll have nothing to say!)

This lack of a common language means that I rely on gestures, moreso than verbs.
But June Jordan taught me that Language carries the consciousness of a People. And beyond that, the verbs—the action words—in any language drive meaning home. So, for me, a Neaderthal gesticulation really does nothing to gain me entry into this place and these people.

I must learn The language they speak.

And to this task, this necessity, I commit myself.

II. Sunset As Metaphor

During one of my study breaks today I took a walk up the Corniche to Pigeon Rock, so I could watch the sunset. Quite beautiful, for sure. It drove home just how infrequently I watch the sun fall beyond any horizon, anymore.

The beginning of November is the time of my Amma’s birth. She passed on seven years ago.
The setting sun speaks to me.
The setting sun keeps me from forgetting.

III. Daily Star

The Lebanese newspaper is called the Daily Star ( I read it every day to keep abreast of regional events. There’s very little reporting on US news, a fact that I find…pertinent. There’s really no reason for the Lebanese to report on US issues, unless they directly pertain to the domestic concerns here. This means I get to skip all the racist coverage of Fort Hood, the healthcare fallout and the utter gutlessness of the Obama administration.

Thanks be to God!

At any rate, there were some things that did catch my eye. I mean, Peter Murphy dissed David Bowie for not showing up to a concert here! Now that’s news you can use!
Also, there were two scant sidebar paragraphs, under the title: “Judge Calls for Death Penalty for Israeli Spies.” The editors conveniently left out that it’s a Military judge, who wants these four men prosecuted in military court.) Talk about complicated! The death penalty for espionage! The US has quite a history with such cases. The Rosenburgs are the obvious touchstone, though “we” also had good ole McCarthy to put any dissenters he wanted on trial for just the same charge (Jackie Robinson testified against Paul Robeson in HUAC hearings).

At any rate, four Lebanese (not Israeli) citizens have been charged with “cooperating and communicating with Israeli spies.” One of these men, captured in London, is alleged to have had explosives and weapons in his apartment.

Crazy, right?

This same judge has also called for the *exact same penalty* for five Palestinian Refugees. These stateless humans have been charged with “terrorist activities” and “observing the Lebanese Army” near the Ain al-Hilweh camp, near the city of Sidon.
It takes one word to describe Lebanon’s approach to Palestinian Refugees:


That’s how they are treated. Worse, actually. I mean, at least animals have some small measure of freedom. (Here in Beirut, feral cats roam the streets with impunity.) But according to the UNRWA chief, in one of her final speeches, Palestinian Refugees
“…do not enjoy legal status and have little access to medical, education and social services. The refugees are subjected to sever restrictions of movement, forbidden from owning or repairing property and are barred from all but the most menial professions.” (

Lebanon’s (mis)treatment of these stateless Palestinians is unique, in fact. Syria, Jordan, Iraq, even Israel haven’t gone to such lengths to dehumanize these people. People, let us not forget, who are the sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of those who fled a war, with the understanding (based on international law, and common sense) that they’d be allowed to return to their homes.

There are over 400,000 Palestinians, in 12 camps, in Lebanon alone. If these people were counted, or treated as equal, they would comprise about 10% of the population of this nation.

Ten percent.

Unable to own property. Or repair property. Or be counted as citizens. Or count anything but their godforsaken days left on this earth. But they do dream. They do live. They are not invisible, and can not be invisibilised. (For a tender, honest exploration, see the film “To Each, His Palestine.”)

So, what needs to be put to death is Lebanon’s criminal subjugation of these living human beings, and Israel’s relentless hatred of democracy. Spare the nine so-called spies/terrorists.

Bring a new understanding to fruition.

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