Backfire

Phoning from Beirut, photojournalist Ed Kashi tells how Israel's "surgical strike" against Hezbollah is playing into the hands of the enemy it vowed to destroy

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Every day since the Israeli offensive against Lebanon began, Hezbollah fund-raisers drive up and down Hamra Street, the chic commercial center of West Beirut. Patriotic songs blare from the loudspeakers atop their flag-bedecked Mercedes Benzes. Passers-by, not just the veiled, bearded Shiite Muslims, but Greek Orthodox, Maronite Christian, tonily dressed cosmopolitans, unhesitatingly empty their pockets into the Hezbollah collection boxes. More money for more Katyusha rockets to rain down on northern Israel.

At a Hezbollah cemetery in a poorer Beirut neighborhood, a 17-year-old girl, the victim of Israeli helicopter gunship fire, is buried to the accompaniment of screams and curses from the living hurled against Israel and the United States. On day five of the assault, my Hezbollah guide tells me not to come around any more. “It’s not safe here because you’re an American,” he says.

A Lebanese employee of Motorola tells me that all the imported executives at a plant here have been sent home. Once again, it is not safe to do business in Beirut. Israeli helicopters knocked out a power relay station and a domestic fuel depot as Lebanese anti-aircraft guns waved back and forth fruitlessly. Any hope of recovering from 17 years of war, civil and otherwise, have been set back months, maybe years.

It’ll all be OK once there is a cease-fire, the conventional wisdom goes. Syria, the country’s real lord and master, will come to its senses, and Hezbollah will cease to be an effective fighting force. Maybe Assad will be drawn into the peace process now.

Yet Israel, just as it did with its invasion of 1982, has generated so much hatred here, that such calculations seem sure to backfire. The Israeli assault appears to have done little to hamper Hezbollah’s ability to pour rockets into the Jewish state. A product of that invasion, Hezbollah has sunk roots into Lebanese society, with its schools, hospitals and other social organizations. Long regarded with suspicion, if not outright hostility, by many elements of Lebanese society, it is now seen as a defender of the nation’s sovereignty against an aggressive Israeli force that controls its own “security zone” in the south (forgetting for a moment that 35,000 Syrian troops are also stationed here).

Gone is the kernel of sympathy the Lebanese may have felt for Israel in the wake of the wave of Islamic suicide bombs that killed dozens of civilian Jews. It is hard enough to get Arabs to understand how genuinely vulnerable Israel feels. Israel’s actions — at least as they appear from here — make that task virtually impossible. Rather, one wonders how many new suicide bombers, carrying the image of mutilated mothers and headless babies lying on the ground at the UN refugee center at Qana, now await their turn to wreak Allah’s vengeance on equally innocent Israelis.

We think of the Israelis as really smart. They’ve got great intelligence, and supposedly the best fighting force in the world. They want peace, God knows. Either we have given them too much credit — and the not-so surgical strike at Qana hardly fits their pinpoint image — or they have become so calloused and cynical that they just don’t care anymore. In the past, a massacre like that which occurred at Qana would have sent 100,000 Israeli protesters into the streets of Tel Aviv. Not this time.

One wants to believe that some good could come out of such a catastrophe, that it would have a clarifying effect on all parties. But 12 days into this merciless imbroglio, the guns are still blazing, the diplomats still scurrying, and the mutual distrust deepens. From here, “peace,” if it should come at all, looks to be a very cold one. As cold as the grave.


 

Slash and Burn
Angry enviro beats up Sierra Club,
targets Clinton next

BY MARK HERTSGAARD

Tim Hermach is a take-no-prisoners kind of guy. Which is unusual for an environmentalist these days, the Eugene, Ore. native is quick to tell you. “Most people in this movement want things to be nicer,” he says, his lips curling in disgust, “but they don’t want to do what’s necessary to win. The worst are the mainstream environmental groups headquartered in Washington. Professional losers, I call them.”

Hermach, executive director of the Native Forest Council, a grassroots group he founded in 1988, scored a major victory Sunday when Sierra Club members, against the policy of its governing body, voted 2-1 for a “zero-cut” — absolutely no commercial logging within America’s national forests. Hermach’s proposition was endorsed by 14 state chapters, including southern California, the Sierra Club’s largest, as well as by dozens of leading activists.

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“We’ve been sold out by our board of directors,” charged Hermach, “the same people who went along with (President) Clinton’s forest plan in the first place.” That 1994 accord, brokered by Clinton and endorsed by mainstream environmental groups, allowed for the continued harvesting of old-growth timber in the Pacific Northwest, even in endangered ecosystems. Hermach and other radical activists dubbed the agreement “The Deal of Shame.”

They were further enraged when Clinton signed a budget bill containing a rider authored by Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., suspending environmental laws in parts of the national forests of Washington and Oregon through 1996. Gorton said the rider would allow “salvage” logging of diseased or burned trees. The US. Forest Service estimates the bill will triple the amount of lumber extracted from ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest.
“The whole notion that somehow these forests are overflowing with diseased and dying trees that have to be cut down for the forests’ own good is a transparent scam, designed by the timber industry to justify its continuing destruction of the national heritage,” Hermach growls.

Clinton said later he had made a mistake signing the bill, and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt called it a “tragedy,” but Hermach is unforgiving. “Clinton has lied and betrayed us so many times I want him out,” says Hermach, who is supporting a new coalition, “Environmentalists To Dump Clinton,” to accomplish just that. The organization already has 2,000 members, he says.

Hermach is unpersuaded by the argument that, compared to the slash-and-burn Republicans, Clinton is the lesser of two evils.

“I think Clinton would be the worst president for environmentalists to support. Including Buchanan. Environmentalists did OK during 12 years of Reagan and Bush. And we did OK because we had to fight.”


 

Now We Are Gone

Christopher Robin Milne, bookshop owner and the model for Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh’s companion in his father’s famous children’s books, died on April 20, aged 75.

The following excerpt is reprinted from the
The Times
of London’s elegant obituary.
“Diffident and thoughtful in character, with a gentle nature and a precise love of words, Christopher Milne would become as gloomy as the moth-eaten old donkey Eeyore when the subject of his father’s books was broached. His father (A.A. Milne), he said, had climbed on his
infant shoulders and filched his good name. “One day I will write verses about him and see how he likes it,” he once declared.

Christopher Robin Milne was born in Chelsea, in a genteel street of bay-windowed cottages where fuchsias and geraniums flourished in fastidious front gardens. His father, despite the affability which his children’s books suggest, was distant, though amiable, with his one and only son. Warm, but with a thin lip and ice-cold eye, “his heart remained buttoned up all through his life,” Christopher Milne later wrote. As a young boy he passed most of his time with his nanny in a nursery on the top floor of the house. He was taken formally downstairs three times a day to visit his parents: in the morning, when breakfast was nearly over, after tea, when he could scramble around on the drawing room ottoman, and in the evening shortly before he went to bed.”


 

Quotes of the day

“Standing around together naked? Oh no, man — people would feel really uncomfortable about that.” (Andre Henning, 18, senior at McHenry High School, West Dundee, Ill.)

“You just cake on the deodorant and hope you’re not going to smell too bad.”
(C.J. Glawe, 16, sophomore, McHenry High)

– from “Students Sweat, They Just Don’t Shower,” New York Times story about the new reluctance of American kids to shower after P.E.)

Photojournalist Ed Kashi has covered stories for the National Geographic and other major magazines throughout the Middle East. He is the author of "When the Borders Bleed: The Struggle of the Kurds" (Pantheon).

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