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Blogging From Beirut

Personal Voice: A young Lebanese blogger shares his day-to-day experience of living in a war zone.
The morning of July 12 started like any other summer morning in Beirut. The biggest dilemma for most people on that day was how to fit the numerous seasonal activities into their weekend schedule. There were summer concert festivals competing at the various historic sites around the country. The hottest ticket this summer was the Lebanese iconic diva Fairuz, who was to perform in a musical play on a stage sandwiched between the majestic temples of Bacchus and Jupiter in the city of Baalbeck.

Baalbeck also happens to be one of Hezbollah's public strongholds. On the morning of July 12, Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in the border region between Lebanon and Israel. The goal of this military operation was to exchange the captured soldiers for Lebanese prisoners of war held in Israeli jails. Hezbollah and Israel have constantly stepped on each others toes in this border region, but these skirmishes were usually quickly contained since neither side had an interest in the escalation of hostilities. This time, however, things evolved differently. By that afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had declared war on Lebanon.

Just like that, the Lebanese people went from planning leisure summer activities to worrying about their survival. Personally, the idea of being in a war zone didn't sink in for a few days, even when the fighter jets were overhead and the massive explosions were shaking my bedroom. But our priorities changed overnight. Suddenly, the questions we had to answer were life and death decisions. Do we have access to a safe shelter? How long will our food and water supply last? Should we leave everything behind and evacuate? Is there even a safe road that we can take out of Beirut if we wanted to leave?

After convincing yourself that you have taken all the precautions you could possibly take in these circumstances, you move on to trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in your day-to-day life. The helplessness of not having control over your fate is the most nerve-wracking factor during war. That is when you start planning your days one at a time. Days lose their names, they all become "Today."

The blog must go on

I started blogging a year ago about the silly idiosyncrasies in Lebanese society. Life in Beirut provided me with an unending supply of curious oddities that only this unique city possesses. This satirical look at Lebanese politics, culture and daily life was my meditative outlet, a way to release the stress and frustration caused by the overwhelming experience of living in a dysfunctional yet exciting environment.

When the war started, I was naturally expected to transmit an image of what we were experiencing here in Lebanon. After seeing international media networks oversimplifying and Hollywood-ifying the news coverage of the suffering of thousands of my compatriots, I felt that any little contribution toward helping people get a more informed idea of what goes on beyond CNN's camera frame was a worthy one.

In my case, that meant reaching the hundreds of daily readers that stumbled upon my blog in search of answers and granting interviews to international radio reporters around the world. At the same time, I wanted to stay upbeat -- for my readers inside Lebanon and for myself. So I tried to keep some sense of humor in my blog posts even in the darkest of times.

Some of my blog entries during those five weeks of hell might give the impression that I was too comfortable and unaffected by the war. This was not the case at all. I don't think any person in Lebanon during this period was left unscathed. Even the lucky few who did not experience the terrorizing F-16 raids suffered major inconveniences from the air and naval siege placed on the country. That didn't stop people from lending a hand to the over a million people, one-quarter of the population of Lebanon, who were displaced during the war.

Setting an example for the world

A number of young people I know got involved -- not only helping house and feed thousands of families, which required a large volunteer workforce, but helping with the thousands of confused kids who could not possibly understand the concept of war. The wartime solidarity that the people of Lebanon showed should be an example for the world. People put all their differences aside, and found time and energy to help others get through the crisis.

Ironically, this example shown by the politically and religiously diverse population of Lebanon while under attack could be the model for future peace in the region. Lebanon suffered from a lengthy civil war in the past due partly to injustices stemming from colonial divisions of power. The warring parties ended their fighting by sitting around a table and coming up with an accord that was far from flawless, but definitely more just than the status quo ante.

Negotiations and justice are the keys to peace in the region. I don't want to bore you with a lengthy and complicated political analysis, but Israel is widely viewed in the region as oppressive to the Palestinian people. The common belief is that Israel -- with the generous backing of the United States -- is trying to bully the people who are opposed to their policies into submission. When George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert call Hezbollah a terrorist organization, they are not taking into consideration that, on the other side of the fence, these people are widely viewed like the U.S. Marines are in the United States -- a few good men defending their country.

These differences have been in place for nearly six decades, and both sides have always resorted to violence to impose their will. Not once has there been a just solution on the table, which has moved the sides to the point of extremes. The prospects that the parties involved will sit down together and negotiate peace seems far-fetched on days like these, but in my opinion, that is the only choice for peace. In the meantime, the open exchange of ideas -- through avenues like blogs -- is even more crucial than ever.
(Editor's note: Do you have a perspective on the recent developments in the Middle East that differs from Jamal's? Email it to us here. We're looking to showcase writing from young people with a range of viewpoints on this issue.) Jamal Ghosn, 27, is a freelance business consultant living in Beirut. He also produces occasional radio features and documentaries, and has been writing about Lebanese politics, culture and society in his blog since September 2005.
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