Fisk’s ‘Farewell to Beirut’ is a beautifully written portrait of the city from someone who has spent much of the past 30 years in its streets. One sided, certainly, but at least in this piece, his voice is free of polemic:
Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.
They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite.
But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis — in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside — tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity?
We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties — more than 300 in all of Lebanon by last night — with Israel’s 34 dead, as if the figures are the same.
And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel’s “disproportionate” response to the capture of its soldiers by Hezbollah.
I must say, that this last comment is one that has bothered me as well. The domestic talk of Canadian and US evacuation (and claims to citizenship) seems at times immorally void of what is being left behind. No easy answer I know, but the rush to get our own out seems strangely removed from the events they are escaping.
And on the destruction of civilian infrastructure, he is measured, but distressed:
And now it is being unbuilt. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri’s transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.
It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shiite Muslims to schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hezbollah, another of those “centres of world terror” the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands.Here lived Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God’s leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man, and Sheikh Mohammed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics, and many of Hezbollah’s top military planners — including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.
But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pinpoint accuracy — a doubtful notion in any case, but that’s not the issue — what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?
The whole thing is worth a read. More on the potential strategic costs of such civilian infastructure damage and casualties tomorrow.