Review by Marina Chamma.
As anyone following the Middle East will tell you, the sad truth is that wars or conflicts so tense that put us on the verge of war, are never too far away. Nothing less could be said of Lebanon, having seen its fair share of wars and such conflicts in its contemporary history. And while much will happen regardless of people’s good will and hopes for peace, the least we could do is learn from them and stop the blood and tears from going in vain. But even this exercise may have become too complicated for Lebanese to handle.
In War Diary: Lebanon 2006, AUB professor and author of the Land and People blog Rami Zurayk provides a day-to-day account of the 2006 July War and Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon and its civilians. Zurayk’s personal account is filled with the same hopelessness and despair shared by many at the time, struggling through yet another conflict and hoping to make it through. His slightly dark humor and unrelenting sarcasm are mechanisms that many have used and continue to use through trying times to maintain some degree of sanity. But by no means does he remain indifferent to the underlying politics of the war. Zurayk is a leftist, Arabist, anti-colonialist and anti-Zionist at heart, whose atheism does not prevent him from supporting Hizballah during the war, in so far as his support is based on the latter’s “opposition to Israel and its commitment to armed struggle.”
Reading it almost seven years since the war, the book reminds us how brutal of a southern neighbor we have, with its utter contempt towards civilians, the 2006 Qana Massacre being one of many such examples, proud to bomb a nation back to the “stone ages”, and acting with an unimaginable degree of impunity with little to answer to the rest of the world. But equally as important, it reminds us how Lebanon became so polarized during the war, as parts of the country seemed completely detached from the chaos and destruction only kilometers away. Under the bombs and daily threats, Zurayk ponders on essential questions about Lebanon, its people and what, if anything, keeps Lebanon together. One does not have to agree with Zurayk’s politics or the sides he takes during the war to agree that we have developed little as a single and united nation. And this will remain so long as we learn not to settle scores in times when faced with foreign threats (instead of dealing with our problems once the dust of gun powder settles), accept that Lebanon isn’t made only of those who share our own ideas (whether political, social or religious) and the need for all sides to accept this diversity if we care to live together.
34 days after the first shots were fired, and “as if someone had suddenly switched the war off”, hostilities came to an end. For Zurayk, the war was a victory for Lebanon, though victory must be hard to quantify in the face of so much death and destruction. Perhaps a better means to quantify victory could be what good the Lebanese as people managed to take out of the conflict, which doesn’t seem to be much. Growing political and sectarian tensions since the conflict need only attest to this fact. Yet Zurayk believes that the war was won, but “we know there is no hope to change the world in our life time”. One cannot but agree that changing the world now seems farther than ever, but that’s a lesson I have chosen to contradict, no matter how small the change may be, starting with Lebanon…