SEPTEMBER 1999, pages 87-88
Southern California Chronicle
Lebanese Ambassador Denounces Israeli Blitz on Civilian Areas, Power Plants
By Pat and Samir Twair
While pulverized power plants and broken bridges in Beirut were still smoldering from a June 24 blitz by Israeli aircraft, Lebanon’s Ambassador to the U.S. Farid Abboud vowed to a Los Angeles audience that his nation would “bounce back, albeit with more pain and sacrifices.”
Ambassador Abboud addressed more than 360 members and friends of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in the Beverly Hills Hotel. His June 28 talk had been billed as a discussion of whether the South Lebanon Army’s withdrawal from Jezzine could be the harbinger of a full Israeli pullback from Lebanon. But the envoy focused instead on an even more recent development, the Israeli attack that killed nine Lebanese and wounded another 67 civilians.
Prefacing his views of the Israeli assault, Ambassador Abboud explained he sits on a monitoring group established in 1996 with representatives from the U.S., France, Syria, Lebanon and Israel which reviews any charges of attacks on civilians or civilian infrastructure in Israel or Lebanon.
“The escalation in hostilities was triggered by Israel,” he declared. He charged that initially, in a bid to alter the balance of deterrence, Israel or the Israeli-directed South Lebanon Army (SLA) shelled several Lebanese villages, injuring a Lebanese woman and child. In retaliation, Hezbollah forces fired missiles into the Galilee in which four Israelis were wounded. A series of Israeli air raids then took place in which nine Lebanese were killed and two electrical plants, three bridges and 24 houses were destroyed. Hezbollah then responded by firing missiles into northern Israel, killing two Israelis.
“This latest onslaught by Israel has dealt a serious blow to the reconstruction of Lebanon, but the more Israel hits us, the further it will be from enjoying a secure border,” he continued.
“Somehow Israel thinks that by occupying Lebanon and establishing its so-called ”˜security zone’ inside our land, it will protect its northern border,” Abboud said. “It is difficult to fathom this self-centered approach. The Israelis have the notion they can enjoy a noble and safe life at the expense of their Lebanese neighbors who must suffer under Israeli occupation. Israel’s Lebanese neighbors have exactly the same right as Israelis to live without fear of violent incursions.
“Targeting civilians and the civilian infrastructure of a country is abnormal. When Israel does this, it is stepping down from the moral high ground it claims for itself,” he explained.
Stating that water rights, the future of Palestinian refugees and border disputes all are issues that Israel should be willing to negotiate, Ambassador Abboud said the Zionist state is only preoccupied with “security.”
“We are ready to negotiate on the formula of the Madrid Conference of 1991, land for peace,” he concluded. “The U.S. must play an active role in negotiations as was stipulated at Madrid when it called for the U.S. to be a driving force in the peace process.”
Several hostile questions came from supporters of Israel in the audience. One voiced incredulity that Israel would strike Lebanon without a reason.
“I am a member of the Monitoring Group, I am privy to the sequence of hostilities,” Abboud reiterated. “Israel struck the first blow on Lebanese civilians, then Hezbollah retaliated. Maybe your Los Angeles Times only reported the events after Hezbollah entered the fray, but Israel started it.”
Another supporter of Israel in the audience challenged the ambassador to explain why Israel would deliberately destroy civilian targets.
“It is a ”˜security’ philosophy,” he responded. “Israel presupposes that occupying Lebanon ensures the security of its northern border. Tel Aviv should find another solution so it can live with its neighbors without killing them. We will fight the Israelis until they leave our land.”
In response to a query about the future of the SLA, Abboud stated: “Most of the SLA troops were forced conscripts. SLA officers were involved in horrible, unspeakable activities and they were paid lots of money by their Israeli masters. They will go to Israel.”
When asked what his expectations are for newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Lebanese envoy, who holds a Ph.D. in history from UCLA, commented: “Barak publicly announced in his campaign that, if elected, he would pull Israeli troops out of Lebanon within one year. I hope this will be carried out. I still suspect he is focused on the security of Israel. Security is not the only issue. All grievances must be dealt with constructively.”
A more naive questioner asked why Lebanon does not have a missile defense system to protect it from Israeli attacks.
Somewhat at a loss for words, the Lebanese envoy finally responded, “We don’t have the billions it would cost to protect ourselves from the equipment the U.S. gives to Israel.”
When asked how Lebanon will resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees, Dr. Abboud replied: “Lebanon is too small to accept the permanent settlement of 400,000 Palestinian refugees—which would be 10 percent of its total population. The solution is compensation or repatriation.”
Another hostile questioner stated that Jews in Arab lands were forced to flee to Israel so why shouldn’t the Arab countries absorb Palestinian refugees.
“Do you expect the Palestinians to forget their homeland in a matter of 50 years?” he responded to applause that filled the Crystal Ballroom of the historic hotel.
“Well, why don’t the Palestinians just leave Lebanon so the fighting can stop?” asked another person.
“The fighting in southern Lebanon isn’t between the Palestinians and Israel—it’s between the Lebanese and Israel,” Abboud answered. “Hezbollah and other Lebanese resistance forces are waging a legitimate war against an Israeli military occupation of Lebanon. As long as Israelis are in Lebanon, the resistance will make them as uncomfortable as possible.”
Abboud also was asked, “When will 35,000 Syrian troops leave Lebanon?”
“Even if Syrian forces were not in Lebanon, it is in our best interest to have close ties with Syria,” he replied. “The presence of Syrian troops has no influence over our decision to cooperate with Syria.”
Muslims Host Jerusalem Program
More than 1,200 guests attended the second annual United for al-Quds conference in the Sequoia Conference Center of Buena Park. Dr. Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California opened the evening program with an address entitled “The Challenge of Zionism.” He said that few people in America realize that political Zionism is a nationalistic movement based on a sense of superiority which uses religion to serve a specific group and to distort scripture to take over land as a base for expansion.
“I don’t believe Jerusalem is the issue,” said Dr. Hathout. “It is a symbol, but is not the issue. Life is more important than spaces or shrines. But the violation of certain places means the lives of people are being raped.
“Political Zionism never states what it wants, just what is does not want: a Palestinian state or giving up settlements,” he continued. “The borders of Israel are where the Israeli army stops.”
Omar Ahmad, a co-founder and board chairman of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the only difference between Israel’s brutal dispossession of the Palestinians and South African apartheid is that a politically organized group existed in the U.S. that protested apartheid. He called upon Muslims to let the world know their side of events taking place inside occupied Palestine.
Imam Saadiq Saafir pointed out that more than 50 countries are predominantly Muslim but, he said, not even two of them can work together.
“Our No. 1 problem is disunity,” he continued. “We should come together and declare a United Nations of Islam. We should have our own military and we should boycott those nations fomenting trouble in Sudan and causing the suffering of children in Iraq. Muslim nations control most of the world’s gas and petroleum supplies. We should come out of our state of denial and make use of the media to make our story known.”
“In the U.S., the people hear that Israel is giving back the land to the Palestinians. If someone takes my house and furniture and then tells me I can have back my color TV, I say it’s not enough and it’s not theirs to give back.”
Imam Saafir called on all Muslims to live a life of honor 24 hours a day and to return to the basic precepts of Islam.
Khaled Turaani discussed American Muslims for Jerusalem, a national organization established May 17 in Washington, DC. This will be a watchdog organization trying to protect Muslim and Christian properties in Jerusalem. For more information, he invited the public to check the organization’s Web site at http://www.amjerusalem.org
Kan Zaman Performs at Northridge
The Kan Zaman Community Ensemble lived up to its reputation when it performed its spring concert May 29 at California State University Northridge.
Praising the ensemble, Dr. Roger Takla commented: “This group tries to perform Arabic classical music in its original form; whereas at home, Arab orchestras bastardize their music by incorporating Western influences.”
It is this pristine attention to authentic styles that endears Kan Zaman to its audiences. The Northridge concert produced an instructive as well as entertaining program which explained each number to non-Arab members of the audience.
Conductor Wael Kakish took the ensemble through a demonstration of rhythmic formulas and structural tonal systems that distinguish the sama’i. Compositions ranged from a medley of muwashshahat to Balad al Mahbub by Mohamad Abdel Wahab.
Muslims Open New Cemetery
The American Islamic Institute of Antelope Valley has opened the first exclusively Muslim cemetery in California. During June 18 ceremonies, Dr. A. G. Mohammed, institute president, stated: “This cemetery is not designed to serve only Muslims in the Antelope Valley but in all California. If a Muslim living in Sacramento wants to be buried here, we will bring his remains here.”
The cemetery project has been underway for five years. It covers 28 acres and is 23 miles north of the Palmdale Mosque. The gated property contains a wash room, prayer room and land that can accommodate up to 125,000 interments.
Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance writers based in Los Angeles.