Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Both sides of the Coin

(The following is an article for Face up, an Irish teen magazne)

War is not just high politics and gun battles, but touches everyone near it. Adults are oft set in their ways, children say what they are told and politicians lie. Teenagers, on both sides are the one sure way of finding the truth. I spoke to Darine from Lebanon and Yotal from Israel about their experiences of the war, everyday lives and there hopes for the future.


“I’m still scared, not scared from Israel, scared from Hizbollah…”Darine Matar is a nineteen year old teenager from Tyre, a badly bombed city in southern Lebanon. Darine is a member of the minority Christian community, and is afraid to walk the streets for fear of Hizbollah. Hizbollah are a radical Shia Muslim militia which operates throughout Southern Lebanon. The recent war was not so much a war between Lebanon and Israel, but a war between Hizbollah and Israel.
On the first day of the month long conflict, Darine was with her friends on the beach. “I saw boats and I thought it’s a joke… it’s not real. But after five days, I was crying all the days” The Matar family immediately moved from their home by the sea in Tyre to live with Darine’s grandmother across town. Their home is on the second story of a group of houses, and as such they would be far less likely to survive an Israeli hit than if they were in their grandmother’s Bungalow. “I slept next to my little sister every night, not because I was scared for me, because I was scared for her”
While they remained in Tyre, life was made up of fearful days and sleepless nights. Bombs rained down upon their city, killing hundreds. Having endured the Israeli pounding for a week, the Matars fled north to the relative safety of the mountains, leaving behind friends, their home and their father’s fishing boat. There they stayed until a ceasefire was declared, a month after the bombing started.

Darine, now back home, tells me how girls are not allowed to work in Southern Lebanon. “In Tyre, girls not work. I have idea to work, but my father, he say no work” “The boys, they can do as they like, do anything they want, but the girls no.” However, this discrimination has led to an interesting development. Boys are allowed, and indeed expected to work from about age twelve onwards, while the girls are told to remain in school. During the summer the girls swim, sleep and go for walks while their male counterparts are earning money. The “close-minded” men see education as little more than a pastime with which girls can entertain themselves until they are ready to marry. Indeed some adults, including Darines parents, push their daughters not to work even when they are finished university.
But what all of this leads to is that the female population of Lebanon including Darine, who wants to study media in Beirut next year, are far more educated than the males. With the difference that an education can make to ones wages, it will be very interesting to see the effects that the difference in education between males and females will make to Lebanese society in the next decade or so.


“Every time I hear a door slam I jump, I think maybe it’s a bomb” Yotal Phung is a thirteen year old Israeli from Haifa, the northern Israeli city which was hit by many Hizbollah rockets. Yotal’s Christian parents immigrated to Israel following the Vietnam War. They now run a successful Chinese restaurant on Jaffa Street in Haifa.
When the war started, it was believed that Hizbollah did not have the technology to reach Haifa. But after less than a week, Fajar missiles started to fall upon Yotal’s home city. Yotal’s family restaurant is located near the port area of Haifa, by far the worst hit area of Haifa. Hizbollah attempted to disrupt the Israeli economy by hitting her ability to trade. Some fled, others waited in bunkers hoping the war would be short lived. After a week and a half of enduring sirens, bombs and terror, the Phung family fled south to live with relatives. They did not return until the war was over, and the rockets stopped falling.

Yotal hopes to study computers when he leaves school, but this comes of course after his stint in the army. Conscription is in place throughout Israel, and everyone, male and female must enter the army once they finish school. Only orthodox Jews and Arabs are exempt from military service. When I asked Yotal about his feelings on the matter, he just laughed. “I need to join, or else I’ll go to gaol!” he chuckles, as if the idea of not joining the Army was a silly one. I asked him would he join if service were not compulsory, the bright young man paused at this, as if the idea was a totally new one. “hmmm… I think yes” –Why? “They teach you to fire a gun” Yotal tells me with a smirk, “and they turn you into a man.”

I asked Yotal why he thought Hizbollah bombed Haifa; “…they try to scare us. Because Israel Army bomb their house” he says with a shrug. “I think everyone the same” Yotal goes on, “I think there can be peace with the Arabic. We need to talk.”
“This is everyday life here, wars bombs and terrorists.” Explaining why he wishes to stay in Israel once he’s older rather than emigrate from the war torn nation, Yotal tells me that he loves Israel, he considers himself Israeli despite the fact that he is Christian, and he loves the “beautiful city” of Haifa.

Christians Jews and Muslims all mix in the same social groups in Haifa, as well as members of the Bahi faith, and countless other denominations. It is a truly multi cultural city, despite the strains of war. I asked Yotal at the end of our chat did have anything he wanted to tell the readers of Face Up. “Arabic is not bad, you see war on TV and people say Arabic is bad, but not all Arabic is bad.”

-Ross Frenett
Israel and Lebanon

Monday, September 11, 2006

“Shabbat Shalom motherfuckers!”

“The sirens started going off and I just froze, I didn’t now what to do” Ben, an American working on a kibbutz for the summer tells me. He marvels at the cool headedness of his fellow workers. “The Israelis, they just walked. I mean, I was running for my life, but to them this is just, life, you know?” Ben is not Jewish, but decided to come and work on the Jewish commune after he had completed his degree in religious studies. He was one of the few volunteers who stayed on the Kibbutz once the katushia rockets began to fall. The closest rocket landed less than a kilometre from Ben’s bunker, in a field within the Kibitz.

The terrifying sirens didn’t wake Ben up one night, and it was the exploding rockets which acted as his alarm clock. He told me how he ran through the abandoned kibutz towards the bunker in which the remainder of the volunteers had taken refuge upon hearing the shrieking Sirens.

I’m visiting the Kibbutz Beerot Yizchak. A friend of a friend, Mat, is studying here for a few months and has invited myself and some friends to visit him on the Sabbath, or Shabbat.
As the sun sets we are taken out to a pumpkin field and ten or so Jews welcome the coming of Shabbat with Hebrew hymns. There is something strangely sad, but proud out the songs being sung, and I couldn’t help but feel privileged to have been there.

“Shabbat Shalom motherfuckers!” One of Mats class mates wishes us goodnight as we sit around in the Kibbutz common room playing cards and chess, drinking tea and chatting. On Shabbat we can use no electronic equipment, and we cannot write, in addition to many other prohibited acts. The next day was much the same, sitting, chatting and playing chess. The Kibtz zoo, housing camels, goats and monkeys provided a good two hours of entertainment. The food n the Kibbutz was some of the best I’ve eaten in Israel.

I’m queuing for the buss to Haifa in Jerusalem central station. An orthodox Jew pushes past me to get ahead, a member of the IDF next to me shifts the weight of the rifle slung across his back from one side to the other, and a group of girls at the head of the queue chatter without care. The radio being broadcast out or the Buss stations speakers goes silent, and a man begins to speak softly in Hebrew in its place. Everyone turns away from there que, the girls continue to chatter, the Russian immigrant, recognizable by the book he was reading, to read, but they all make they’re way silently and calmly to the exists, like the audience clearing the Auditorium after a film.

I follow the crowd. When we get to the gather point I ask a question I already know the answer to, “what’s happening?” “They think be there is bomb, but maybe not” a young woman answers me, as calm as telling the time. She then goes to get Coffee and a pastry. This is life in Israel, no point complaining or making a fuss; the people here learnt long ago that such things are the luxuries of a peaceful society, where bombs and wars are rare.

People with guns are everywhere, soldiers, police, young men in three quarter length shorts and sandals, all carry machine guns. But, or some reason, this does not seem odd. The rifles are not brandished threateningly, but just appear to be a fact of everyday life. I tried to come up with a way of explain this to someone who has never been to Israel, and the closest example I can give is this. Imagine a medieval town. Try to get a mental picture; most people will imagine, amongst the monks and plague ridden peasants, a large proportion of the population carrying swords and bows, just going about their daily lives.

Get up in the morning, put on your shoes, brush your teeth, pick up your M16 and head of for the day. As I try to express myself a man with an automatic rile and a coffee speaking on his mobile phone sat down next to me.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

For some reason this computer wont allow me to paste from a word document...

No matter, there is a colage of scribilings which I've produced over the last few days up on my bebo page. Ill work on getting them up here.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On the road again

Tomorrow morning I make for Haifa, the northern Israeli city that was hit with a good number of HIzbollahs rokets throughout the war.

I will be spending a day in the port city, and then going on to spend Friday end Saturday on a Kibutz near Tel Aviv.

I'm not really sure what to expect, but then again I suppose thats why I'm going.

On a vaugely interesting side note, Gerry Adams is currently in Israel, so I've emailed the Sinn Fein press office to see would it be possible to interveiw him, or least of all see him speak. It will probibly amount to nothing, but you never know.



Sunday, September 03, 2006


Red Fm is tonight, tueday the 5th at 23.15, rather than yesterday. Thanks.
The city where David ruled, Jesus rose from the dead and Mohammad flew....I had a nice cup of tea and a sit down.... I'm happy with that though.

I'm going to be on Red fm at around half nine on Monday, and the Corkman are printing that piece this week, rather than last week (Thursday to be specific). I'm going to take a break from war for a few days and enjoy the most important city in the history of mankind.

You'll hear from me when I head north.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

“If I were sure that this war would finish Hizbollah, I would wish it to continue”

I’m sorry about the flowery introduction and conclusion, but I couldn’t help myself. They were cut from the ones I sent to papers (not that that matters)!

A gust of wind catches litter on the streets in Tyre, brings it together and makes it dance then drops it again a few feet from its original position. Up turned by this weather educed ballet is one of the many propaganda leaflets which Israel scattered all over Lebanon throughout the course of its 34 day long war with Hizbollah. A cartoon depicts the Shia groups leader, Hassan Nasrallah as a snake hiding under the ground, with Lebanese civilians dieing over head. A rough translation of the Arabic script which tops the caricature is: “Hizbollah, protectors of the Country…? The country is the victim of the resistance!!!”

“If I were sure that this war would finish Hizbollah, I would wish it to continue” Diana Matar, a 23 year old mother from Tyre confides in me. “We hate Israel, we hate America, but we also hate the Hizbollah, all for war. We want peace in all the world” Diana is a member of Lebanon’s ever shrinking Christian minority.

Diana’s 19 year old sister Darine says she is still scared to walk the streets at night, “not scared from Israel, scared from Hizbollah” Darine told me how the mainly Shia city of Tyre is “not for Christians, not for anybody who is no Muslim, anybody who is not Hizbollah. They can come, do as they like, take your things, you can do nothing”

Darine finished School this year, and hopes to study Media in Beirut next year, but with no timeframe given for the re-opening Lebanon’s badly damaged Schools and Universities, she may have to wait another year.

The sectarian tensions which are still rampant within this small country, following its 30 year civil war, are never more apparent than when one is speaking to the young. “If I see a boy, and he want to talk to me, maybe he like me, if he is not Christian, I walk away” I asked her did this mean she only spoke with and socialised with Christians, she answered as if I had asked her if she breathed air “of course!”

Darine bemoaned the “close mindedness” in traditional southern Lebanon, when her father, who up until this point was silent as I spoke to his family in their house by the Sea, cut in. “We are not the winners of this war! No one is! Look around you, winners…” After his animated outburst, Joseph dismissingly waved his hand toward the south, and slumped back down into his Chair. This weather beaten fisherman was taken prisoner by Israel and tortured for two days during their 1982 invasion of Lebanon. “He was not a fighter,” his wife told me, Joseph having fallen mute once more, “he was on his boat, and they just took him. UNIFIL got him out.”

Lebanon’s Christian community have never been great lovers of Hizbollah, but following the costly 34 day war which Hizbollah brought down onto the heads of the people, the tensions have risen. The Matar family told me how the very same Shias who took refuge in the Christian region of Tyre, which was mostly spared Israel’s wrath, were now waving Hizbollah flags, blaring out hateful “resistance” songs from their cars and homes and harassing Christians in the street.

I spoke to the Matars as shocking new storeys are emerging of Hezbollah’s treatment of Christian civilians during the war. The Observer newspaper has heard accounts that Hizbollah Gunman fired on Christian civilians as they attempted to flee the fighting. Again, according to The Observer, on the 26th of July a convoy of civilians attempting to leave the southern village of Ain Ebel were fired upon my masked gunmen, injuring ten of them.

Leading Hizbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan denied that the group was involved in preventing civilians from fleeing the war zone. Hizbollah claims that Israel deliberately targeted civilians, and has called for an international enquiry into Israelis conduct in the recent war, which cost over 1200 Lebanese lives. However, the Christian villagers are adamant, and they claim that their stories can be verified by the fact that the bullet holes in their vehicles match the 7.62 round, which is fired by Hizbollah’s AK47 rifles, and not the 5.56 round fired by Israel’s American made M16.

Stories like these, whether true or false can only serve to deepen the anger that Lebanon’s non Shia community feel towards Hizbollah. During the course of the war, the people here were united against Israel, however now that the dust has settled, Lebanon’s Sunni, Druze and Christian community have begun to ask questions. Posters, Baseball caps, flags and t-shirts bearing the Hizbollah Logo could, two weeks ago, be seen all around Lebanon, as a singe of defiance to Israel. Today, they are confined to Shi areas. A poll in the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient du Jour found that 51% of the population, more than 80% of non Shia’s, want Hizbollah disarmed.

The wind picks up again, the dance resumes, and the leaflets that were disguarded as useless propaganda two weeks ago, are being looked upon again with fresh eyes. The “divine victory” fades as anger grows.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Annan calls "for the seige to be lifted" as UNIFIL remembers its dead

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan today visited the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqora, Southern Lebanon. His visit comes as his tour of the Middle East, to shore up the ceasefire in Lebanon, is ongoing.

In today's ceremony Mr Annan was visibly moved as he lay a wreath at the memorial to the UN dead in Naqoura. All of those killed “in service of peace”, as Annan put it, were remembered today, but particularly the six UN personnel who were killed during the course of Hizbollahs war with Israel. Four military personnel who were killed by Israeli shelling in the patrol base Khiam, and two civilian UN staff who were killed in the Israeli bombardment of Tyre.

The Secretary General spoke of the “serious irritants” which needed to be resolved, referring to the issue of the two captured Israeli soldiers, an addition to the “issue of the prisoners.” He spoke about Lebanon's obvious commitment to the implementation of resolution 1701, which brought an end to this current conflict, and in light of this called for “the siege to be lifted… which for the Lebanese is a humiliation, and infringement on their sovereignty.”

Mr Annan was very good humored about the heckling he received yesterday, as he visited the devastated suburbs of southern Beirut saying “what happened yesterday was really a little side show put on to impress me. And I think some of the young ones got a bit over zealous, so that , that was fine.”

The UN chief, after dieing in Naqoura, flew by helicopter to inspect two UN positions in the east of the country, before continuing on to Jerusalem. This visit goes on as Italy's first contingent of around 800 peacekeepers, out of a promised 3,000 set sail on what Rome said would be a "long and risky" mission. The Italians are due to arrive in Lebanon’s southern port city of Tyre by Saturday.

Ross Frenett
Naqoura, Southern Lebanon

Kofi Annan, press conference

The UN Secretary General visited the UNIFIL base in Naqoura, Southern Lebanon today. I was lucky enough to be in attendance. I’m putting together a short article, but this is what he had to say to questions asked of him by the media.

We watched and listened yesterday as you talked to the Lebanese side, and you couldn’t have been clearer, even us in the news media understood you perfectly. If Israel and Hizbollah are serious, as they say they are, about this ceasefire, what must they do in the next 48hours?

That’s a very god question. I think first of all we have managed under general Pellegrinis leadership to establish a coordination mechanism monitoring Mechanism. We have had three to four meetings already, The Israeli army and the Lebanese army, under his chairmanship. It is important for the two sides, to come together, to press forth, to reaffirm their acceptance and the speedy implementation of resolution 1701.To affirm, and actually cooperate in the withdrawal and the handover process. I think there is a lot that can be done. With good will it can be done faster than we are doing. We on our side, we are trying to get in the additional reinforcements as quickly as we can. And I think the Israelis need to move on what, are certain key issues which are becoming serious irritants on both sides.We need to resolve the issue of the abducted soldiers very quickly, obviously the issue of the prisoners which will also have to be dealt with. We need to deal with the lifting of the embargo, sea, land and air, which for the Lebanese is a humiliation, and infringement on their sovereignty, and of course the government need measures to assure, ensure that the entrances their country, sea land and air, are secure.And the Prime Minister and his government have taken very serious steps too, first of all they have deployed to the North and East of the country, we have thousands of Soldiers deployed which has not taken place before. They are also in serious consultation with the German government, to give them expertise and equipment in order to protect their land boarder, the airports and the sea, and I think the time has come for the siege to be lifted, the Lebanese have shown their serious about the implementation of 1701 in all the deployments and efforts they have made.So I think these are essential steps, but they will also be very serious confidence building exercises , to reinforce our efforts to stabilise the situation.

Mr Secretary General, what are your Impressions From South Beirut today, both the hostile reaction to you personally and the destruction?

The destruction was quite shocking actually, what I saw, and I could understand the anger and the frustration of some of those who had lived there. But, what happened yesterday was really a little side show put on to impress me. And I think some of the young ones got a bit over zealous, so that , that was fine.

Sir we have witnessed so many violations of the resolution from the Israeli side in the latest days. What are going to say to the Israeli leaders regarding this issue?

No, I have maintained that both parties have to respect the ceasefire, and the agreement. And when we declared the ceasefire I sent both governments a letter with one page attached, indicating what should be done, and what should not be done. Explaining very clearly what I understood cessation of hostilities to mean. And the referee is General Pellegrini on the ground, and myself and the SC at HQ. Parties with complaints on the ground they should come to General Pellegrini, not take matters into their own hands. You can not have, it’s a bit like having a football match where one of the teams also attempts to play the referee. You cannot be a team in a foot ball match and the referee at the same time.If there are problems they have to go to Pellegrini, or come to me. I urge all parties to respect, scrupulously the ceasefire. We do have a chance to turn this into a permanent ceasefire. And with an agreement on the political framework, we really have a chance to build a peaceful Lebanon. We don’t want to go back to a situation wear we can have an explosion like this in six months, or six years. Lets make sure this time its for good, and it requires both sides to cooperate.

Ross Frenett