May 16, 2011

Two Views from Lebanon on Yesterday

My friend Sean takes issue with what I wrote yesterday. Sean is obviously partisan on this issue (and I do not use that word "partisan" pejoratively), but read his account of events from the Lebanese side of the border anyway. Another great witness account was posted in the comments. This is from an American student studying at the American University of Beirut.*

I was there yesterday at the Lebanese
border, not protesting or remembering but watching what happened (I'm an
american student of European descent, with more ties to the Jewish
community than to any arab community). There was a clear effort by
Hezbollah to make their presence known at the event, but only as
"traffic cops". They were all clearly visible in their yellow hats with
green writing, and green lanyards, but NONE of them were openly armed.
even on the drive down, there was a distinct lack of weaponry on anyone
except for Lebanese Army/Police forces. Hell, they were even checking
bags to make sure that no one was bringing in weapons of any sort. On
top of that, they were helping to transport the dead/injured out of the
zone as fast as possible, by either bringing them out of the valley or
helping clear a way through the crowds for the ambulances. They wanted
to make it clear that NO ONE from Hezbollah was instigating anything,
and that this was only a Palestinian movement (even if for it to happen,
it did take government acquiescence). So from what I could see and
hear about the other remembrances, it was very much the same. None of
the anti-Israel groups wanted to give them a reason to start anything,
and to keep it as much of a Palestinian event as possible.


At #1: as I was leaving the event after getting a little spooked at
seeing dead bodies getting rushed up the hill, the current kill count
was four, and that was at 3PM local time. I heard estimates of up to 16
dead, but 10 seems much more likely from the amount of ambulances I saw
going in and out, and the stretchers being rushed up and down the hill.
Also, as far as from what I could tell and from what I heard (although
this is still probably subject to some more scrutiny), was that the IDF
fired on the crowd before they even started throwing rocks, and fired
on people at the fence vandalizing (aka hanging Palestinian flags on)
the LEBANESE fence and chanting, which in turn spurred the rock
throwing. From my vantage point and from the pictures I took, the area
where the Palestinians mobbed the fence was near for the most part open
farm land, with about a maybe a 10 yard stretch of trees between the
Israeli fence and the farmland, with IDF soldiers right on the edge of
the trees near the fence. If the Israelis were worried about anyone
crossing the border, they could have sat out of range of the stones, and
just watched. Not to mention the surveillance along that area of the
border includes CCTV cameras (from what a friend who had visited the
border the weekend before, the number of cameras had grown by a bunch
that week) that could have easily told them if someone was attempting to
cross the fence. Not to mention that there were two Merkavas, an
observation post, a Humvee and a couple of civilian looking SUV's nearby
that were all watching the border and could have easily run down or
taken out any Palestinians crossing the border.


For me, this was really really disconcerting, because I've always
thought of the IDF as a professional force, one of the best in the world
and one that knew how to exercise restraint (especially after reading
accounts of the Al-Aqsa intifada), but what I saw left me with the exact
opposite impression. You would think that the IDF would remove
themselves from a situation where they would be forced to use any sort
of force, but what I saw really dictates otherwise. Even if they did
return fire for stone throwing, they were waiting for it to happen. The
soldiers didn't have to be within range of the stones, it seemed like
they wanted to be there. From what I could discern from my pictures
(taken from long range with a good zoom lens), the IDF soldiers were in
full battle garb, not even riot control. I hate to insinuate that they
wanted to kill Palestinians, but that's what seemed like. what made
that even more stark was watching a man being brought up the side of the
hill with most of his right leg missing. Now, I heard no explosions,
but I did hear gunshots (I know my ear's not discerning enough to tell
the difference between calibers), so that makes me wonder how he lost
his leg, and a logical conclusion would be that it was shot off, and
from my limited knowledge of weapons, it seems like it would have had to
have been a large caliber weapon, or one with a high rate of fire. Why
would any force on crowd control fire either something with that much
of a rate of fire into a crowd, or a caliber that large?


I too find it extremely weird that the IDF was caught "unaware" of
the coming protests, and in many ways find it too convenient, especially
after being told that the gatherings were well publicized via facebook
and other forms of social media, and you'd think someone in Israel would
have picked up on it. One other bit of food for thought, normally that
valley contains a large UN presence (an English friend had been the
weekend before and told me as such), but they were starkly absent, minus
one overflight of a UN helicopter, which then summarily disappeared.

*These two accounts are from Americans living in Lebanon. A summary of events from a truly Lebanese perspective (and one sympathetic to the Palestinians) can be found via the Leftist newspaper al-Akhbar.