Merhi Rima: The world has to stop this slaughter if a democratic Lebanon is to have a future

Israel has led my country into destruction and my people into a humanitarian emergency

The Independent

Published: 31 July 2006

Where are America and Britain now that we need them? Not that they listened to us last July, when I testified to the US Congress on the aspirations of the youth of Lebanon for national reform. I remember the moment when I cried out in sheer frustration: "Hizbollah, Hizbollah, Hizbollah - there is more to Lebanon than Hizbollah!"

Apparently not, at least not for Israel and the United States. "There is a limit to how far the Lebanese are willing to forgo their security and stability for the sake of reform," I told Congress. The tragic massacre at Qana yesterday is a clear demonstration to the US and the world of Israel's "measured response".

In complete disgust, I listened to one speaker yesterday on the BBC make the offensively racist remark that "Israelis are raised in a more human way than Arabs" while urging Lebanese mothers to not allow Hizbollah to use them as human shields. If she was a mother she would know that no mother in the world would risk her own child's life for any purpose in the world. In the name of "reform", "democracy" and "the war against terror", Israel, backed by the US, has led my country into destruction and my people into a humanitarian crisis. We are numb with despair on hearing Israel admit it is nowhere near achieving its military objectives against Hizbollah! Israel's responsibility does not begin and end with the security of its people, so long as it is party to conventions and treaties on international and humanitarian law.

No one will dispute that Israel is no more secure today than it was 19 days ago. Both Israel and Hizbollah have been accused of war crimes and must be tried by the international community at large. The whole world is outraged by Israel's disproportionate response. The attack on UN premises in Beirut yesterday morning is a desperate cry for help in a world where we feel abandoned by the international community at large, including our Arab neighbours.

With the support of my colleagues and professors, I made a speech on Lebanon at Oxford University last week. I was secretly amused to note that some colleagues may have had the illusion that Hizbollah is a terrorist dressed in black carrying a bomb and living every minute of every day with the sole intent of destroying Israel and the US.

I dread to think that many Israelis and Americans, among others, cannot see that the vast majority of Arabs simply call for respect of the Palestinian cause, while sharing the same humanity, dreams, fears and expectations for a lasting peace. I notice that the western media fails to inform the public of the underprivileged Shia living in abysmal conditions in the south of Lebanon, who are loyal to Hizbollah for no more than their bread and butter.

Last year, through democratic elections, the Lebanese government awarded 14 seats to Hizbollah in an attempt to integrate this isolated Shia community into the mainstream and build their allegiance to the Lebanese state. I reminded my colleagues that Hizbollah was established in 1982, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the 18-year occupation of the south of Lebanon that granted Hizbollah the legitimacy to continue their operations against Israel on the Lebanese-Israeli border. When Israel withdrew from the south of Lebanon in 2000, conditions for a sustainable peace were not met. The Lebanese government urged the international community to no avail to empower it to disarm Hizbollah by resolving the dispute over the Sheba farms and the safe return of not two but hundreds of prisoners of war who have been thrown in Israeli prisons for more than 20 years.

As more flyers depicting Nasralah as a serpent fall on Lebanese territory together with the bombs that are wiping out whole villages, it is not surprising that Hizbollah is gaining momentum once again. The fingers that were pointing at Syria for the assassination of Hariri are now slowly shifting to assess Israel's involvement in Lebanon's turbulent domestic affairs.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon is crippling a nascent democracy that only recently gained independence from Syria with the potential to become, in the words of President Bush only four months ago, "a beacon of democracy in the Middle East". I admit I am neither a shrewd politician nor an experienced diplomat - but I can clearly see that Israel and the US are working against their agenda for Lebanon and the "New Middle East", however they come to define it.

I would like to remind the international community that we are the same youth that put an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in compliance with our Peace Accord of 1991, and in the light of yesterday's massacre we are calling for an immediate unconditional ceasefire that will pave the way for diplomatic negotiations of a lasting nature with all parties to the conflict, including Hizbollah and Iran. This may well be a long and complicated diplomatic mission that will require top-notch mediation, diplomacy and dialogue. This is not a job that Israel can finish by massacring civilians.

I want the youth back home to know that I feel their anger, pain and frustration. I want them to remember that we scored a legendary victory two months ago when the government approved the proposal for the establishment of a youth government that will give us a real voice in the country. Use this medium to make yourself heard and make yourself available in any way you can. Our country needs us now more than ever. I worry many have started to go online searching for jobs outside Lebanon, at a time when there are opportunities for social and humanitarian work back home.

Organise locally to feed the hungry, take care of the injured with the Red Cross, volunteer with non-governmental organisations and give your unconditional support to the UN, especially in the light of yesterday's attack. They are all on our side. They are condemning the attack on innocent civilians on both sides and calling for an immediate ceasefire. I swear I would rather be in Beirut right now, sweeping the rubble with my bare hands and clearing the dust than living as a refugee in a foreign land. They can destroy our homes and kill our people, but they can never take our education from us. They can never break our will, either. United, active, and ambitious we will force the US Congress and the whole world to hear our cry for peace, justice and freedom.

The writer is a youth activist in Lebanon currently studying at a summer course in Oxford