Franklin Lamb: Bombing at Qarantina, Lebanon

By Franklin Lamb in Qarantina, Lebanon
Special to

That word again, Qarantina.

Qarantina was the site of January 15th message to the Bush administration where a 33lb bomb killed three and wounded 21.  The explosion destroyed the bomb resistant titanium reinforced US four wheel drive SUV. This day it was being used for an Embassy errand, a drop off at Beirut’s airport.

Qarantina, forever etched in the black annals of Palestinian history is the area of east Beirut near the Port where on April 13, 1976   Phalange forces killed 26 Palestinian bus riders.  A grisly crime, followed by another massacre of Palestinians months later in nearby Tal al-Zattar Refugee Camp which  began on August 12, 1976 and according to scholar Helena Cobban killed 1,500 Palestinians in one day, and eventually as many as 3,000 according to other reports.  Qarantina and Talal-Zattar. Some historians argue that these events ignited Lebanon’s 15 year and Civil War which killed and injured 152,000 and from which Lebanon has never recovered.

Some Lebanese geographical place names, like Qurantina and Tel al-Zatter return to the World’s attention from time to time. Another is Qana, site of the April 18, 1993 Israeli massacre of more than 106 Lebanese and wounding of nearly 400, and Qana again, July 25, 2006 site of the massacre and maiming of dozens more.

Yet another is Khiam, the Israel created and closely monitored detention Center, near the blueline, and so often in the news due to its torture and murder chambers and infamous utility poles where prisoners were routinely handcuffed naked in freezing temperatures and left for days and mockingly given electric wire shocks to keep them, sometimes unsuccessfully, from freezing.  During the July 2006 War, Israel carpet  bombed Khiam,  futilely trying, like the killer in  Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell Tale Heart,  to erase its two decade old crime scene, which following Israel’s May 24, 2000 expulsion from Lebanon was turned into a grim ‘museum’ by its liberators.

Ironically, for all the tons of US bombs Israel used against the former Prison at Khiam, the metal torture box where a recalcitrant prisoner would be squeezed inside an oven or freeze, depending on the season, and a deranged sadist would then beat on the metal walls with a hammer inducing hearing loss and psychological disorientation and well as dislocated joints. Ironically, the Khiam torture box and the torture poll, no doubt both Israeli July 2006 bombing targets, remained undamaged during the intensive assault-erect today amidst the rubble, a  monument and testament to Lebanese defiance and resistance.

Quaratina’s blast in the afternoon of January 15 was heard by this observer as he was weaving in and out of Beirut traffic on his motorcycle pleased that he had a good way to get home without sitting in traffic half the evening. These days in Lebanon when one hears of bomb blast the first word that comes to mind is who. Who was the target? Who were the perpetrators?

The organizers of  the bombing of the Embassy car on its way back to the American Embassy at suburban Aukar, north of Beirut,  are unlikely to be identified anytime soon, just as none of the past 21 bombings over the past 30 months in Beirut have been solved.

But this bombing seems different somehow.

It is doubtful that it was a failed attempt to assassinate Ambassador Feltman. Had they targeted him it is likely the Ambassador would be dead.

Murderous as it turned out to be for those killed and wounded, and while all terrorist acts are fundamentally designed as means of communication,  the Qarantina blast, using 33 lbs. of high explosive is meant to tell the Bush administration something.  Specifically that the Bush Administration is widely viewed in Lebanon and the Middle East, and increasingly in America itself, as a criminal regime, and that it must depart Lebanon post haste.

The Qarantina blast is advising Bush and Rice to expedite US Ambassador Feltman’s long delayed and overdue departure and send a helicopter if necessary to get him to Cyprus for a plane back to Washington. Don’t even use Lebanon’s airport.

The message is also that if Bush and/or Israel act on their plans to attack Iran or Lebanon or Syria, the Embassy should be closed sooner rather than destroyed later. Few in Lebanon doubt that if Israel or the Bush administration bomb Iran that the American University of Beirut, bombed in 1991, and other US Rumsfeldian ‘ legitimate targets of opportunity’ will be attacked.  Security guards at AUB’s four main entrances, Main Gate, Dorm Gate, Medical Gate and Sea Gate are on heightened alert this morning, list of targets found in suspected Salafist offices routinely list the Embassy, AUB and American businesses.

Despite Ms. Rice’s tough talk from a Saudi Palace that: "The United States will, of course, not be deterred in its efforts to help the Lebanese people, to help the democratic forces in  Lebanon resist interference in their affairs," the Embassy closure may be imminent with a possible reopening with the new US administration.

For many in Lebanon, the American Embassy under the Bush administration has become an Israel Embassy in the way that John Bolton became a second Israeli UN Ambassador. Once an Embassy joins one side in an internal conflict as it did in 1982 it loses its diplomatic status and under international can be targeted if is a participant in hostilities against the Country.

What little credibility the Bush administration had, was lost when it  intensified the US record of facilitating Israel’s destruction of Lebanon, a string of five wars armed and funded, largely unknowingly, by American taxpayers and without their consent during 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996 and 2006. The Bush performance this week in occupied Palestine erases any doubt about it objectivity.

Few in Lebanon, Palestine, or the wider Middle East take Bush for anything more than a dangerous zealot in the service of Israel, not America. American citizens have no problem with Arabs and Muslims and they are realizing that Bush/Cheney has created fear to facilitate Israeli aggression.

The Arabs, indeed the World realize that Bush and Rice’s latest Middle East trip was merely a futile fantasy tour and will achieve nothing to resolve the Question of Palestine, the central cause of the conflict in the Middle East. Which of course is the whole idea.

Any rational that the American Embassy is dong legitimate work for American citizens here and should remain in Lebanon was severely weakened during the July 2006 war, when Embassy staff stiffed US citizens and left them stranded and in mortal danger in Tyre. This occurred when the Embassy cancelled a rescue Ship because of Israeli attacks near the Port of Tyre,  and ordered Embassy staff not to take the US citizen telephone calls because it might "tie up our lines".

"Just drive to Beirut for Christ’s sake" ‘asc # 1’ (American Service Center employee number on– US Embassy consular staff can’t use real name anymore for their own security) advised some American citizens who did manage to get through by phone.  Apparently oblivious to the fact that Israel was bombing any vehicle that moved south of the Litani River with weapons paid for by the same frantic and desperate US citizens.  Anger is still intense in Lebanon and the States over these callous breaches of diplomatic responsibility and national duty.

The Bush administration’s intense and continuing interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs rendered it guiltier of doing what it claims others are doing. Many of Lebanon’s political leaders have asked it to stop. It ignores these calls and sends instead a parade of Welch Club adherents including David Welch, John Burns, Eliot Abrams and others on almost weekly visits with more orders, commands, and threats.

Bush would do well to close up shop here thereby protecting American interests and let the new administration offer an Ambassador to Lebanon. And next time hopefully based on the standards laid down at the 1815 Congress of Vienna when diplomatic immunity was offered for plenipotentiaries from nations who presented letters of credence and pledged to refrain from using their posts to undermine the sovereignty of the country which accredited and received them. This action would serve American citizens as well as the people of the Middle East.

The next administration can open a new phase of honest relations with Lebanon by a whole series of friendly and needed acts, including but not limited to these:

1.  Order the delivery to UNIFIL of the Israeli firing logs to limit the continuing loss of life from the US ordnance fired into Lebanon under penalty of freezing US aid;
2.  Permanently ban all shipments of cluster munitions to Israel;
3. Offer Lebanon a Marshall Plan for reconstruction projects necessitated by 30 years of Israeli bombardment with American weapons;
4. Demand and enforce, if necessary, Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanese territory including Shebaa Farms and the village of Ghajar;
5.  End American interference and support for certain factions and extend respect and dialogue with Lebanon’s opposition which in fact represents a significant majority of its Lebanon’s citizens.
6.  Help more than 12% of Lebanon’s population, i.e. the Palestinian refugees, return to their land and homes in Palestine by forcing, if necessary, the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 242;
7.  Remove the Lebanese Resistance from the silly US ‘terrorism list" which makes a mockery of American ideals of the right to resist occupation and American commitments for respecting the choices of voters in elections from other countries as we ask them to respect ours.

These acts by the next US administration will go a long way in restoring the loss of respect our country has suffered from the current Cheney-Bush-Israel lobby cabal. And it may well prevent American expulsion from the region.

-Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He is the director of Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, Wash.DC-Beirut, and is a Senior Fellow at The Institute for Middle East Policy Dialogue, USA

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