Rene Robert Fisk: 'I think there are enough weapons for the next war'

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This is Fisk at his best, a journal–ist rg
Robert Fisk: ‘I think there are enough weapons for the next war’
In his diary of a week which saw yet another assassination, our man in
Beirut reflects that the present violence in Lebanon creates longings
for a supposedly peaceful past
Sunday Independent/UK
26 November 2006
Sunday 19 November
To Khiam, in the far south of Lebanon, to photograph Israeli bomb
craters in which a British scientific team say they have found traces
of enriched uranium. Spanish troops – along with Indian soldiers – now
patrol this dangerous corner of Lebanon, and their UN vehicles hum
past us as we drive under a white-bright winter sky.
All of this has a screen of irrelevance over it – journalists writing
yesterday’s story for tomorrow’s paper – as the dangerous political
war between supporters of the Lebanese government – Sunni Muslims and
Christians – and the pro-Syrian forces opposed to it, especially the
Shias, employ increasingly incendiary language. The Shia Hizbollah’s
leadership demand an end to the democratically-elected Fouad Siniora
cabinet, set up after the murder of the ex-prime minister, Rafiq
Hariri, last year. The Christians are calling Hizbollah
fascists. Tomorrow the cabinet is supposed to sign up to the new UN
tribunal to try suspects for Hariri’s murder, even though all six Shia
ministers (largely pro-Syrian, of course) have resigned.
Monday 20 November
Sure enough, Syria’s faithful Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, claims
the cabinet is constitutionally unable to approve the UN’s tribunal,
which just might point a finger at Emile Lahoud himself.
My driver, Abed, mourns for the French mandate of Lebanon under which
he was born. The French, according to Abed, provided a respite between
the brutality of the Ottoman Empire – Abed’s father was taken from his
young bride only days after his marriage to fight for the Turks
against General Allenby in Palestine – and the corruption of
post-independence Lebanon.
I am not sure I agree with Abed. The French cruelly suppressed riots
in Sidon with troops from Senegal and resisted independence. But in
these fearful, sectarian days, it’s easy to see how the grand
boulevards built by the French, the Parisian cafés and boutiques – all
exquisitely restored by Hariri after the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war
(150,000 dead, no less) – has become a useful myth, an oasis of
colonial peace between Oriental massacres.
I visit the BBC office in the city centre to record an interview and
talk to their Beirut correspondent, Kim Ghattas. We talk about the
demand of the Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for Shia street
demonstrations, and I tell her I fear there will be another political
assassination soon. I name two Christian leaders who might be murdered
and whose killings could unleash the ghost of the civil war.
Tuesday 21 November
Pierre Gemayel shot and wounded. Minister for Industry. Maronite
Christian. I remember my conversation with Ghattas – the two
prominent Christians I had identified to her did not include the young
Falangist MP. But I should have written about my general suspicions in
this morning’s Independent. I have 38 minutes to write more than 1,250
words. Pierre Gemayel, son of ex-president Amin Gemayel, nephew of
murdered ex-president-elect Bashir Gemayel, uncle of Bashir’s murdered
two-year-old daughter Maya. Unmarried. Driving almost alone. Three
gunmen. The hospital pronouncing him dead. The sixth prominent
political figure to be slaughtered in 20 months. How many more before
we hear gunfire?
Wed 22 November
Beirut’s newspapers are filled with pictures with Gemayel’s weeping
mother Joyce (“those bullets ripped his face to bits”) and his wife
Patricia (he was married – I got four phone calls today to point out
my error). Drive to the scene of crime. There is Gemayel’s Kia in the
road, still filled with blood, still backed into the van into which it
rolled after Gemayel was shot. An Australian journalist, Sophie
McNeill of SBS Television, is counting the number of bullet holes in
the driver’s cab (around 12), like a police constable – and probably
making a better job of it than the real Lebanese cops, who wander
among us, giving totally different accounts of the murder. Five
killers in all, it seems. Didn’t even wear masks.
McNeill suggests we call a telephone number on the side of the damaged
van – the driver must have seen the gunman when Gemayel’s car crashed
into him. “Our office is closed today,” says the recorded voice. “We
will be open tomorrow.” Like Lebanon.
To Bikfaya, where the dead man’s body lies in a closed coffin (yes,
his face was indeed shot away). Thousands of Christians – and Sunni
Muslims and Druze – in black. No shouting. No calls for revenge. Yet.
Thursday 23 November
Half a million? 250,000? Crowd figures are as reckless here as in
London or Washington. There are few Shia. I can think of only six who
are attending this massive service for the dead at St George’s
Cathedral, which stands next to the great Hariri mosque – and one of
these is the Speaker of Parliament.
I had asked Rudi Polikavic to come with me, an old Christian
militiaman opposed to the Falange in the civil war, with the scars of
three bullets on his neck and arms. I receive a call from a friend,
Amira Solh, who is with another Al Arabiya crew, asking where I am in
the crowd. “I am on the mosque side of the church,” I shout, and
Polikavic collapses with laughter. ” Fisky,” he roars, “that really is
the story of Lebanon. Aren’t we are all now ‘on the mosque side of the
church’?” Later, Rudi will listen with growing horror to ex-Christian
militia leader (and convicted murderer) Samir Geagea, as the crowd
applaud what sounds suspiciously like a call for retaliation.
Amin Gemayel, Pierre’s grieving father, who so honourably urged
restraint rather than revenge in the immediate aftermath of his son’s
murder, has told a TV interviewer that assassination may now “move to
the other side…”. Does that, perchance, mean the Shia “side”? This
is war-war, not jaw-jaw.
Friday 24 November
Shopkeepers have refused to close for a Chamber of Trade strike,
called to protest at the congealed politics of the country’s
leaders. Hizbollah has postponed its street demonstrations until next
week. But Shias blocked the airport road to express their anger at
funeral speeches insulting Nasrallah.
Saturday 25 November
I fly out of Beirut for a brief trip abroad. Lebanese army vehicles
stand in the darkness beside the airport road, their occupants’
cigarettes glowing in the night. Most of the army are Shia. What are
they thinking as they drag on their cigarettes?
My flight soars over the dawn Mediterranean and there below me are two
German warships, tiny grey arrows sliding through the ocean on UN duty
to hinder maritime arms traffic to Hizbollah. But I think Nasrallah
has quite enough weapons for another war. With good reason, I check my
return ticket coupon to Beirut.