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The Lebanese Exception as an Arena for War


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The Lebanese Exception as an Arena for War

Wednesday, 8 June, 2022 - 16:30

One day before the 40th anniversary of its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel began drilling for gas at the two countries’ maritime borders. This excavation, some observers believe, might not lead to war because of the “regional conditions.” However, other observers believe these same “regional conditions” may turn it into another devastating war.

Two conclusions can be drawn from these premises: first, the active state of war has not lost any of its vigor in Lebanon despite 40 years having gone by since the war and 22 years since liberation of the South. Second, “regional conditions” are what determine the validity of the state war and its vigor.

We are extremely vulnerable, whether in war or peace, to the fluctuations in “regional conditions.”

Ours is not typical of Arab experiences regarding active states of war: more than ten years after the defeat of June 1967, the state of war, be it active or dormant, between Egypt and Israel ended.

Since 1973, the southern borders of Syria have been closed tight, only exploding again after the Assad regime had blown everything else up in his country.

Since 1993 and 1994, peace agreements have governed Israel’s relations with Palestine and Jordan.

This does not mean that ending the wars has ended all disputes, some of which are extremely significant, nor does it mean that the Israelis will refrain from infringing on other countries here or there. It certainly does not mean that peace has made heaven descend onto the countries that made peace. Nevertheless, it accomplished something extremely significant: it ended the wars. It ended mass death. This is neither a minor development nor a trivial detail.

It is true that people are still dying, especially in minor wars that have erupted and continue to erupt between Israel and the Gaza Strip, but they do not die in the numbers we had seen during the previous major wars.

Our colleague Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered in a heinous crime, and another may be perpetrated in the future; however, channels have been established to cool conflicts, resolve them or contain them, and these channels would have been more effective and accomplished had it not been for the extremism that has been taking hold in Israel and throughout the region, exploiting the faltering peace.

What does this mean?

In the 1967 war, 20,000 Arabs and 800 Israelis died. In the October War of 1973, 12,000 died. The 1982 invasion did away with more than 7,000. They are not dying anymore.

Whether or not people die or live should mean a lot to us. Life and death are themselves reason enough to invent unfamiliar ways of thinking and engaging with politics.

As for those who are not alarmed by this issue, their situation is dire, and our situation, with them, is even direr.

It is true that the formulas for the Arab-Israeli relationship that emerged after major wars are neither ideal nor honorable, but the worst of it is nonetheless better than the “best” of war.

And yet, Lebanon is the only Arab country exempt from this rule: 1982, the Lebanese equivalent of Egypt, Syria and Jordan’s 1967, was not the end of its war; it was the beginning.

The prevailing wisdom today in Lebanon is that more wars, more deaths, and a culture of glorifying war and death are needed. Israel is covetous of us alone, and it aggresses us alone; this demands Lebanon alone to remain stuck in the war regardless of the fact that it is among the weakest Arab countries militarily and the least unanimous on the idea of war.

This Lebanese exception leaves many captivated by conspiratorial logic: Why should we be the only ones stuck in war? If we add the role of “regional conditions” in causing it, or keeping us close to its eruption, this conspiratorial awareness develops robustness that is difficult to challenge.

The fact is that consciously misrepresenting war and the supposed need to wage it is precisely how it is used by totalitarian regimes: George Orwell, speaking through his protagonist Winston Smith in his novel “1984”, says that he cannot remember a time when his country was not at war. The inhabitants of Oceania were constantly fed reports of crucial victories in Estasia and warned, at the same time, of grave dangers at home.

We are also seeing, alongside our wars and the victories we are told we are attaining, “grave dangers at home:” from the pettiness of our ruling elite, to Hezbollah’s arsenal, to the economic crisis.

This situation is accompanied by a model: in the place of the old Lebanese exception, which had been accused of rushing too eagerly to make any peace, comes the new exception, rushing too eagerly to wage every war, lusting to remain at war even after all the others had given up on it.

Worse than the country being an arena where its open wars and the closed wars of others are fought, is one being an arena where the hatreds of the entire region gather and rot. That suffices to make for spiteful and resentful Lebanese citizens with whom it is no more safe to live and share a common political or social sphere.

Necrophilia is a very prominent feature of all of this. The presence of necrophilia, here, is palpable.

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