Tuesday, May 13, 2008


While the rest of the world was celebrating Israel ’s 60th birthday, the Arab and Muslim media was bemoaning 60 years of “an-nakbah”. The word means disaster, but has come to take on a definition of its own; the displacement of Palestinians from their homes.

I watched a recent interview with Salman Abu Sittah, director of the Right to Return Organization. With dozens of maps he showed that the majority of the land evacuated by the Palestinians is relatively unpopulated even today. Most Israelis live in or near northern cities, and the majority of Palestinians were from the southern part of the country. Abu Sittah claimed that the Palestinians could return to their original homes and villages with little disruption of national life.

It’s an interesting idea, but it’s not going to happen. To understand why, here’s an Idiot’s Guide to the last 60 years of another country in the region, Lebanon :

1. The French leave Beirut , but not before drawing up a constitution that guarantees political representation to all the Lebanese factions. Maronite Christians, Catholics, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and the Druze all play a part.

2. To everyone’s amazement, it works. The economy is booming and tourists flock to the Paris of the Middle East . The beaches are beautiful, the women gorgeous, and the night-clubs stay open till dawn.

3. Yasir Arafat (yes, the same Abu Umar who later received the Nobel Peace Prize) flexes his muscles one too many times in Jordan and King Hussein gives him the boot. Arafat and his militias arrive in Beirut and use it as a staging ground for their operations against Israel .

4. The Lebanese army reacts against Arafat, the Lebanese factions take sides, and the country plunges into civil war. Arafat, booted out once again, watches it all from his villas in Tunisia . I still remember seeing his black Mercedes careening through the streets of Tunis , bodyguards hanging out the windows waving their AK-47s.

5. Lebanon crawls out of its civil war. Led by smart, forward-thinking businessmen such as Rafiq Al-Harari, it begins to once again make progress.

6. But there are new players. Syria applies pressure from the north, and supports Hizballah in the south. Hizballah wants more power and influence. Al-Harari is assassinated, Hizballah instigates another war with Israel , is further emboldened to challenge the Lebanese government, and all hell breaks loose.

Substitute “Lebanese Christians” with “Israeli Jews”, and “Hizballah” with “Hamas”, and you can imagine the picture in Israel in twenty years.

Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah has been all over the TV screen the last few days. He has a lisp that turns his r’s into w’s, so that “al-tariq” becomes “al-tawiq”, and makes him difficult for a non-native to understand. Fortunately, his two favorite words do not contain r’s so even I can follow him. They are “difah” and “dahiyah”. “We only fight in self-defense, and we are always victims.”

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