Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Amazing Adventure of Hariri Militia in North Lebanon. This is the first detailed account of the role of the Hariri militia in North Lebanon (I just wish that Annia would not write about Palestinian affairs in the New Republic. To write about the Palestinians in the New Republic is akin to writing about Jewish affairs in an anti-Semitic publication): "Outside the entrance to Nahr El Bared, a crowd of about 50 men is gathered. A battered white sedan with two bullet holes in the front bumper pulls up. A giant man with a bristly grey crew cut unfolds himself from the car and lumbers toward us, clearing his path with a massive potbelly and dragging a Kalashnikov. He has a green strap tied around his head and a pair of handcuffs dangling from his belt. The pack of men part eagerly before him. His name is Mustafa Abu Saqr. "We're helping the army," he says, with pride. "I am bringing the bodies and the injured soldiers out under constant gunfire. They even fired a mortar at me. You can see it, look at the building over there; all the people saw it hit the building. You can take a picture of it. Mine was the only car moving on the street." Loyalty to the Palestinian cause has always been a reliable way to boost your Arab nationalist credentials; this is why Saddam Hussein donated money to families of Palestinian suicide bombers. So attacking Palestinian civilians is generally not a good p.r. move in the Arab world. But there's deep resentment of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and they're often an easy scapegoat for the country's problems. When we ask Abu Saqr if he knows about civilian casualties inside the camp, he answers by referring to the Palestinians as "Jews," and the camp as "Tel Aviv." "Over there, in Tel Aviv?" he says, pointing toward the camp with contempt. "Don't bother asking! There are lots of dead bodies lying in the street like dogs. No one is moving them. None of the hospitals would accept them." (This is not true; half an hour later, we speak to a 17-year-old Palestinian boy, with shrapnel wounds in his chest, at a local hospital that has been treating casualties from the camp.) Abu Saqr is part of an old Lebanese tradition: He's a qabaday, a kind of neighborhood strongman... If we have any doubts about which zaim has summoned these guys to the streets, they clear it up for us: It's Saad Hariri, in whose name food is being sent to the refugees. "We are all with Sheikh Saad!" cries one overexcited cadre, raising his fist in the air, as if it is a demonstration. A few of his comrades follow suit, earning themselves pained looks from their more au courant comrades. Abu Saqr sighs. "No, don't say we're with Sheikh Saad," he says wearily, like he's had to explain this several times already. "Just say that we're helping the army. We're with the army. We're not with anyone else." Somebody seconds him: "We're with the Lebanese army! We are willing to sacrifice our lives for them." (thanks Rayan)