Friday, June 7, 2013


I arrived yesterday via Paris and I’m staying with a friend in the South Beirut neighborhood of Haret Hreik, one of the former outlying villages that have now been absorbed into the urban sprawl of the city.  Collectively, these neighborhoods are known as Dahiya – “The Suburb”.  But it is anything but "suburban" here today.  It is a bustling commercial area with mostly new 8-12 storey apartments buildings.  At the center of the neighborhood is the nearby Bahman Hospital, and the Husseiniya Mosque, where the influential Shia cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah is buried. It’s an interesting place to be -- a world away from the clubs and boutiques of Hamra and Downtown Beirut to the north. 


My friend's apartment on the 1st floor above the entrance – which is good news, since the electricity is often out and the elevator won’t work.  The bad news is that this structure was rebuilt – as nearly all the housing in the area, after being reduced to piles of rubble by Israeli bombing in 2006. People are acutely aware that it could happen again, as tensions in the region are high from the spillover of the civil war in Syria next door and the Israeli attacks on supposed advanced armaments destined for Lebanon’s Shia Resistance militia Hezbollah (“The Party of God”).

This was a headline in Today's Daily Star, Beirut's English-language newspaper:
 Army warns of plot to drag Lebanon into Syria war

And an alarming column by AUB-based Rami Khoury:
Qusair portends great danger ahead 

Inter-sectarian fighting, always a danger in Lebanon, has been raging in Tripoli in the north of the country, and there have been scattered rocket attacks, bombing and assassination attempts elsewhere.  Things are tense here, but the Lebanese are so used to it that life goes on uninterrupted.

The originally Maronite Christian population of Haret Hreik was swamped by the massive influx of poor, mostly Shia villagers, from the south.  They arrived as part of the typical trend toward urbanization common to many poorer countries, but also driven from their homes by Israeli attacks since the 1970’s and 80’s.  Like most of Dahiya it is now heavily Shia, with a strong Hezbollah presence.  That's why the Israelis bombed it so heavily in 2006.  It was an act of pure terrorism, with no real military objective, to punish civilians for supporting Hezbollah.

Just to the south is Rafiq Hariri International Airport, where I arrived yesterday.  It's named after the Saudi-backed Prime Minister who was assassinated in 2005 -- a political crime which a Special Tribunal of the UN is still investigating.  A short walk to the north and west leads to the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp, site of the horrific 1983 massacre perpetrated by the Falangist (Fascist) Christian militias and enabled by the Israeli occupying army under the command of Ariel Sharon.  Beyond that is Ras Beirut, where the American University of Beirut (AUB) is located, and the sea.  To the East and south are the mountains of the Lebanon range and the Shouf.

Later today I'm visiting a friend in the Bekaa Valley, which has seen some clashes recently near the ancient ruins of Baalbek between rival militias supporting different sides in the Syria war.

More later.

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