Rania Masri, PhD is a professor at the University of Balamand, Lebanon and member of Green Line Organisation. She came to the Bruxelles Tribunal as expert witness for the issue “The Environmental Impact of the Israeli War on Lebanon.” Her presentation was a devastating indictment at 360°, as well as a powerful analysis on the reasoning that seemed to be behind Israel’s claimed purpose that it would “turn back the clock in Lebanon back by 20 years.” I was overwhelmed by the completeness of the information, which presented aspects that the media simply does not cover, but more than that, it was the Round Table presentation that fully revealed the power of this speaker.
Professor Masri is a delicate and petite woman of doubtless elegance. Upon a casual glance, one might think that someone this beautiful was an actress. But, this is one of the cases where beauty of character is reflected in outward beauty, because the information was peppered with insightful and profound analysis that can only come from a scholar with a pure ethical sense. Her clear and powerful brand of communication was of absolute impact, and it left members of the public with a bulk of new information and with a drive to transmit this information as far as possible. She provided for the public copies of the dossier she prepared, with extensive details on the categories of her topic, as well as press releases from Greenpeace and other environmental organisations. I will try to upload the dossier on the peacepalestine documents blog in the near future.
Prof. Masri broke the destruction down into four types, and presented the essence of this destruction as having a three-fold characteristic of violence that was intricately linked.
The destruction can be broken down into
1) The Oil Spill and its consequences
2) Bombing of industries
3) Cluster Bombs
4) Demolition Dust from the destruction of buildings and other manmade structures
In the first, she described the bombing of the coastal Jiyyeh power plant (25 km south of the capital), which took place on 13 July, when the tanks were full to capacity, as energy consumption is increased in the summer. So severe was the damage and so likely was the danger of new fires, that only after two months could the Lebanese specialists intervene. As a matter of fact, the air and sea blockade imposed by Israel prevented any response to restrict the damage in the area of and other areas affected by it. It was impossible commence early clean-up operations for months, when any time there is such an economic disaster, immediate intervention is the rule.
The bombardment had destroyed the fuel deposits, and the destruction could be categorised into various sorts. The first was the fire itself, which raged for three days and nights, destroying the plant with the combustion of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil. Two kinds of soot came about from this, a white cloud of pulverised cement and a black rain of a different chemical nature. The soot that was in the air with “clouds that were visible and had debris that fell in flakes, like black cotton,” was also penetrating every living thing. “We breathe soot,” she declared. “The people of Lebanon were forced to breathe bio-accumulable and persistent chemical products that once inhaled, over time have been demonstrated to cause cancer.” The oil spill that was a consequence of the bombardment deposited into the Mediterranean 15,000 tons of crude oil, generating a spill measuring 150 km x 220 km, polluting the sea, the coast and the seabed causing long-term damage to the ecosystem that is impossible to quantify in its full entity with the current status of intervention. The destruction of the fauna was a consequence of this action, including the extinction of several rare species of turtles that have used this area for their reproduction since time began. Water wells were also polluted, and not in the south alone, rendering the potable water for personal and agricultural use nothing but a diseased source. The fishing industry was devastated as well by this disaster, and with it, the other major sources of income in the area, tourism, and agriculture. Priceless archaeological sites were damaged, including Byblos, one of the most antique settlements of humanity, which managed to survive other wars throughout the centuries.
To date, the Lebanese government has not presented any compensation claims to the UN or any of its relevant agencies. In the dossier furnished by Prof. Masri we read, “(it is) as if the disaster happened on another planet and not that the real responsibility lies in the hands of the US government which prevented then all calls for cease fire and then to end the blockade worsening the impacts of the spill. Professor Richard Steiner from the University of Alaska and member of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Commission of Environmental and Social Policy reaffirmed his conclusion that Israel intended to cause an environmental disaster as it knew exactly that the oil can only be used for the power plant and not any other activities related to war, making this attack a clear war crime.”
Adding insult to injury, the Lebanese government has not created a National Contingency Plan to confront similar oil spills and that the areas are still so severely polluted it is as if there were no clean-up activities undertaken at all. Such would be natural, as the only resources were a measly 5 million dollars. International efforts to hold Israel liable and force compensation for their intentional damage caused to humans and the environment have so far been fruitless and donations to date are practically non-existent.
The second category, the bombing of industries, was no less crucial to the goal of “turning Lebanon’s clock back 20 years.” Liban Lait, the factory in Balbek, (quite far from the “Blue Line”) that produces 90% of the pasteurised dairy products in the Lebanese market, was bombed to smithereens by the Israeli Air Force. Prof. Masri posed an interesting question: “Was the milk factory destroyed for a political and economic reason? It is known that it had just prior to the war won a tender to supply the UN forces in the region with their dairy products.”
The third category of damage is considered by the expert witness as “the greatest damage of them all,” and that is Israel’s use of cluster bombs. “Seventy percent of southern Lebanon relies on agriculture as its main source of revenue. In almost the entire southern area, cluster bombs were dropped, and each day, new ones are discovered.” She stated that these unconventional weapons create a situation of turmoil that is very difficult to counter. “Farmers and those who raise livestock have a choice to make: they either decide to abandon the harvest and not put their lives at risk, or they carry out their work, knowing that these bombs are disseminated and scattered everywhere. This then is not only a problem of the loss of income and the destruction of the economy, but it has a more sinister side to it, and that is the essence of national security. People are in one way or the other forced to abandon their lands because they cannot safely carry out their work, or they are subject to a growing fear that gives them the feeling that they have no choice but to leave.”
She mentioned a detail that was quite interesting: “The Israelis know what they dropped, but they have made a choice. They have chosen to NOT provide complete information either on the sites or the nature of the bombs they dropped. They have willingly encouraged the growing fear and the tendency of those remaining in the area to abandon their land.”
The fourth category of damage demonstrates “criminal negligence or deliberate destruction having consequences on the civilian population that are almost difficult for us to imagine unless we put it in a context we are more familiar with. The debris that was the consequences of the Israeli attacks upon Lebanon were four times that of the material removed from the destroyed World Trade Center.”
The rubble provoked its own material damages, with destruction of homes, factories, bridges, roads, ports, television stations, airports and anything else built by man. But, possibly more insidious than the rubble itself was the “Demolition Dust”. It penetrated everything, and its chemical content is unknown. The dust is known to include high quantities of asbestos, lethal to human lungs. The dust remains in the atmosphere, soil and water wells, polluting everything. Not only was the dust from the bombardments themselves dispersed, but the movement of the debris and rubble polluted other areas that had not been directly involved in the bombardments.
Two aspects of this destruction were mentioned that were to this point something I had never considered: the problems of where to put the debris and where to get the new building materials. Prof. Masri indicated that Lebanon itself unwisely and with negligence dumped the debris into the sea, aggravating an already devastated situation. In order to rebuild, the mountains of Lebanon will see an increase in quarrying and deforestation activities, which will devastate the environment for many decades to come.
The three-fold violence had environmental, economic and social damage as part of its devastation. The military violence was meant to bend the will of the people to capitulate to Israel. Israel attempted to place the blame for all of these things upon Hezbollah and the resistance. In this, they had wreaked havoc and a near apocalypse upon the Lebanese people, but they did not break their solidarity with one another and their support of the resistance.
The economic violence is “a theft of people’s livelihoods. If they see no future for themselves, which is likely in the case of the south, or in the case of the industries, small and large, that were totally devastated, they are bound to feel there is no hope and they may perhaps emigrate or surrender to desperation.”
The environmental damage does not touch Lebanon alone, but the entire region. “The Israeli war is ongoing due to the environmental aspects. This is not the first Israeli war against Lebanon, but it IS the most blatant US-Israeli war against us. I’m sad to say, it won’t be the last war either.”
The Round Table discussion brought out qualities of the expert witness that are testimony of her extensive activist experience, and statements that struck the heart and mind. “Much depends on our belief in our capabilities. Hezbollah believed they could win, and if it wasn’t so, right now we’d be speaking as representatives of Occupied Lebanon.”
“We as activists are placed in the defensive. We have to stop doing this. It is time we understand that we have to propose. We have to contextualise our issues and causes with other acts of solidarity. It is vital for us to make links across communities and it is time we realised something important: we actually ARE the majority. Our arguments are what most people think and consider as right if they are exposed to our arguments. The problem is that we have not been effective in framing the argument.” She then quoted Commandante Marcos about the universality of solidarity.
The public reacted to her contribution in a mixed way. While all were very enthused, since the public was composed mainly of activists from around the world who came with the very desire to seek justice for Lebanon and the rule of law, there were some comments asking for clarification of the thoughts just expressed regarding the spirit of activism and how to concretely realise the belief paradigm. A young woman from Morocco, Miss Freser, said that she was disappointed that there were far too few young people and students at the Tribunal, while she recognises that young people should be utilised as a tool and as a weapon if necessary. “Your discourse was very inspiring, yet it may be too simplistic and removed from reality. The media is so strong, and it would take a lot of force to disregard what they tell us. We should work with the media if we can, but they don’t give us space. It is time all of us got the same message across and that is, ‘We have to wake up together’.”
Prof. Masri responded that she felt it was indeed true that the media was very biased in favour of Israel, but part of our ineffectiveness as activists could also be that we aren’t recognising the problem in its true dimensions. We have to first create a unifying vision. “Let’s conceptualise what we want. It will happen maybe in several hundred years, but we have to know our goal.” In a humorous aside she noted, “if someone tells us it is all within reach, let me know what they are on and I’d like some of that!” She made some suggestions that were both of substance and ones of form.
* carry out a boycott campaign and other instruments that have short-term results where effects can be seen
* there has to be continuity in action
* find the spectrum to convince others, infiltrate the media and push the point forward
* create an alternative media system
She also suggested for the victims of the Israeli war against Lebanon to carry out legal cases wherever they could. Individual legal cases for dual citizens should be brought about in every case possible. International law is built so that the rule of law takes precedence and violations will have to be accepted by the courts in the countries, even if Lebanon has not yet brought Israel to court. She hopes this day will come.
There were other comments to Prof. Masri’s interventions from the other panel members. John Catalinotto, of the International Action Centre commented, “We have to educate people of the progressive struggle of the resistance, and as far as belief goes, we have to ACT AS IF it is possible. We have to be ready for the possibility of change. Mustafa Badr al-Din said, “The world knows that resistance in a small country can change the world. This is an important lesson. As far as not having a media of our own, that should not stop us, because we always have the chance left of talking to honest media people.”
This is the second of a series of reports by Mary Rizzo regarding the Bruxelles International Jury of Conscience (People’s Tribunal) for Lebanon