Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah released its first manifesto in almost 25 years this month, renewing its resolute position against the Jewish State. The organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah told a captivated audience in south Beirut via satellite link from a hiding place that their resistance against Israel remained unchanged.

What was different from early Hezbollah rhetoric, however, was the distinction made between Zionists and Jews, with Nasrallah plainly saying that their problem with Israel was “not because they are Jewish,”– lines which did not appear in the original 1985 mission statement, when their slogan was the “Islamic Revolution in Lebanon.”

 Yet it seems what Hezbollah says and what they do are two very different things. They say their war is not against Jews but on the “Zionist entity,” yet just a few weeks earlier they broadcasted a diatribe against the teenage Holocaust victim Anne Frank on their local TV station Al-Manar, renouncing her diary as Zionist propaganda.

Their subsequent campaign to ban the book from the Lebanese school syllabus sent the 15-year-old, who wrote on the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust in Germany, back into hiding.

Hezbollah said copies of the memoir had been distributed illegally in Beirut and demanded it be recalled during a report for Al-Manar. Some private English-language schools in the capital then removed a textbook containing excerpts of “The Diary of Anne Frank” after pressure from the Shiite organization.

“The book focuses on the persecution of Jews during the war, but even more dangerous is the theatrical and dramatic method employed to narrate the diaries in an emotional way,” Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said in the November Al-Manar broadcast.

“These respected, established schools are teaching the so-called tragedy this girl lived, and yet they are ashamed to teach the tragedy of the Lebanese people, the tragedy of the people of the south under the hands of Zionist occupation,” he went on.

Hassan, the agriculture minister in the new Lebanese unity government and one of two ministers representing Hezbollah in the new 30-member cabinet, then asked how long Lebanon would remain an “open arena for this Zionism.” 

Attorney Naim Kalaani, a member of the Committee for the Boycott of Zionist Goods, was quick to support the claim that any use of the book in a school constituted a violation of Lebanon’s penal code and was “tantamount to a step toward normalization” in ties with Israel.

The famous book was recently translated into Arabic and Farsi by the Paris-based Aladdin Project, which aims to spread awareness of the Holocaust among Muslims and counter racism and intolerance, and millions have downloaded it from over 50 countries, including Lebanon.

Contrary to Kalaani’s claims, the diary is not banned in Lebanon under law and is in fact available from most high street book stores in the country.

Lebanese journalist and criminologist Omar Nashabe agrees that such arguments from Hezbollah are groundless. “The law talks about the state of Israel – the Israeli flag, Israeli institutions, the Israeli entity, as a nation,” “besides Anne Frank is not Israeli,” he added. “Anne Frank is part of world literature.”

The group has always said in no uncertain terms that they wish to eliminate the state of Israel, but some far from choice quotes over the years have often blurred the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

However, putting aside any previous anti-Semitic or incendiary remarks made about Jews by the militant group, and taking them on their most recent mission statement, it seems this latest decision is proof that they did not wish to distinguish, but rather indiscriminately silence an entire race.

To ban a diary recounting the suffering of a young girl during the Holocaust would be a selective editing of history- a history that future Lebanese generations should be allowed to know about.

 If Hezbollah wants a new manifesto for a new age –as they themselves proffer- they must be prepared to stand by every word of December’s speech, and be held accountable if they don’t.

A Lebanese woman was sentenced by a Batroun court to 15 days in prison this week after being found guilty of beating a Filipino maid working in her home. 

The accused,who has been identified only by her initials F.S., was also asked to pay a court fine of $34 and a further $7,200 in compensation to Philippines national Jonalin Malibago, by presiding judge Munir Suliman on December 9. 

Malibago worked for the woman between February 2006 and July 2006 in her home in Achrafieh, Beirut, during which time she sustained bruises to her head, chest, back legs and arms. 

The bruises were first noticed when Malibago was hospitalized in June 2006. Her employer told doctors she suffered from a blood disease known as Thalassemia, which could account for the injuries. 

 A medical report later commissioned by the Beirut Appeals Prosecutor confirmed the bruises were in fact caused by direct blows. The Batroun court last week ruled that they were sustained from the continuous beatings she was subject to by her employer while she worked as a maid in her home. 

 Malibago returned to the Philippines in late 2006 after filing the complaint and the court rejected the accused’s request to have her return in order to stand trial in Lebanon. 

 Nadim Houry, a migrant rights researcher for the US-based Human Rights Watch, sees the ruling as an important step in fighting this widespread abuse of migrant workers and expressed hope that the verdict would act as a precedent for future cases. 

 “The fact that a prison sentence was passed – even if it was only 15 days – will act as a deterrent to others,” Houry said. “The judiciary has been somewhat absent in the past but the judge in this case made the right decision, people need to be afraid of being named and shamed,” he added. 

 However, Houry expressed concern that a number of obstacles still prevent migrant workers from filing lawsuits against their employers, such as the high financial costs incurred and the prolonged procedures required for investigation. 

 “Many victims are forced to leave Lebanon before seeing justice, as the case takes so long to reach trial stage,” Houry said. 

Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud said last week during a meeting with the Philippines, Ethiopian and Sri Lankan embassies in Beirut that the ministry intended to take their own measures in cases of abuse of domestic workers “out of utter respect for human rights.” 

A recent report released by Human Rights Watch shows that at least one woman dies a week in Lebanon, while many more are injured trying to escape abusive employers and harsh working conditions. 

In the past year, Ethiopia, Nepal and the Philippines took the step of banning all travel to the country due to the high number of suspicious deaths among the domestic worker community.

A leaked manual on security measures at US airports reveals that Lebanese passport-holders are made to go through tighter screening when traveling to America.

Lebanese citizens will automatically be subject to greater security checks at the airport “unless there are specific instructions not to,” according to the secret Homeland Security document.

Extra screening measures could include being asked to remove footwear, body scanning by airport staff, lengthier questioning at passport control or an increase of hand luggage checks.

The document, marked as “sensitive security information,” is the first to let slip post-9/11 security details for American airports and reveals that travelers from certain countries are treated with greater caution.

Lebanon is one of a dozen singled out on the list, along with Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria- all countries the US has experienced strained diplomatic relations with in the last few years.

Senator Susan Collins, a ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, called the release of the information shocking and reckless this week, saying the manual “provides a road map to those who would do us harm.”

Security at US airports has been significantly tightened since the September 11, 2001 attacks when hijackers commandeered four commercial planes, crashing them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Passengers are now more likely to experience being patted-down or thoroughly checked by screeners using hand-held metal detectors as part of a new policy adopted after the attacks.

The “tyre explosion” in the Syrian capital last week has raised a few questions, many of which may never be answered.

Ruins of bus in Damascus

 

A friend and colleague of mine Richard Hall has decided to do some investigating, in the form of some good old fashioned digging.

Demolition experts in the UK seem to think there is more than meets the eye with this incident.

“If the damage process had indeed been started by an exploding tyre, then it is most unlikely that it could have been sufficiently powerful to cause the damage shown, unless the fuel tank had been near-by and had disintegrated under the impact. However, the fuel tank arrangements are unknown,” the specialist, who did not wish to be mentioned due to the sensitivity of the case, said.

Even if the tyre had exploded and burst the fuel tank, the fuel explosion would only occurred if the engine had been hot, i.e. the engine must have been running for some time.”

None have ruled out the possibility the culprit, if there is one, could be a smaller terrorist group or offshoot of Al-Qaeda. But whether Syria gets to the bottom of this, or whether they will even try, is unclear.

Lebanon’s new cabinet has agreed on a policy statement that recognises Hizbullah’s right to use arms against Israel, despite reservations from the Western-backed ruling majority.

The cabinet had already met eight times in an attempt to iron out the clause which refers to the party’s substantial arsenal, with some ministers arguing it undermines the authority of the state.

The clause in question states the right of “Lebanon, its government, its people, its army and its resistance” to liberate all Lebanese territory.

Hizbullah is commonly referred to as the resistance in Lebanon.

Christian members of the majority, including the Phalange Party and Lebanese Forces, argue that group’s arsenal runs counter to UN resolutions.

However Hizbullah, which has two ministers in the new 30-member unity cabinet, has made it clear the group’s right to use weapons against Israel is not up for debate.

The Shiite group, considered a terrorist organisation by Washington, maintains that Israel poses a serious threat and it is necessary to protect the country against future acts of aggression, citing the 2006 war between Israel and southern Lebanon.

The body of British journalist Alec Collett who was executed by Palestinian militants has been found this week in Lebanon after a 24-year hunt.

The search for the 64-year-old’s remains, organised by the British embassy in Lebanon, began last week in the eastern region of Bekaa after the excavation team received a tip-off.

Alec Collett's body was found in Lebanon after 24-year hunt

Both the British Foreign Office and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) confirmed the DNA results Monday.

Collett, who was on an United Nations assignment covering refugee camps in Lebanon, was kidnapped at gun-point by a Palestinian terrorist group known as Abu Nidal during the height of Lebanon’s civil war in 1985.

The team of Metropolitan counterterrorism police and two forensic archaeologists found the bones at a site formerly used as a military base by the group near the border with Syria.

The UN gave their condolences in a statement released by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s spokeswoman. “He is grateful for the work done by the Department of Safety and Security in helping to determine what happened to Mr Collett.

“Although he is saddened by Alec Collett’s death, he hopes that the actions taken to find his remains can provide a measure of comfort to his loved ones,” the statement said.

Private arrangements are being made to fly the body back to his family, according to Britain’s Foreign Office, who said they were “pleased to have closure after so long.”

Abu Nidal’s leader, Sabri al-Banna, had reportedly thought that hostage Collett could be swapped for three members jailed in Britain after the attempted assassination in 1982 of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador to London.

One year after he went missing with no exchange made, his captors killed Collett and released a grainy video showing a hooded figure that appeared to have been hanged, though no positive identification could be made.

Collett was one of at least 88 foreigners to be kidnapped in Lebanon between 1984 and 1991. Fourteen of which were British nationals, including television reporter John McCarthy.

Until this week, the United Nations had tried four times in vain to find the body of the missing Briton.

They expressed relief the body had finally been unearthed this week and that their searches had paid off. “The secretary-general appreciates the role played by the relevant authorities in the United Kingdom and in Lebanon to resolve this matter after so many years.”

Maid in Lebanon found hanged from her employer's balcony

It is being called modern-day slavery by human rights groups, and is claiming the lives of hundreds of women each year in the Middle East.

You wouldn’t think it, but domestic labor is a deadly business for migrants here, where up to 30 women have committed suicide, or died trying to escape intolerable working conditions in the last few weeks alone.

Rather than being anomalies, unfortunately, their deaths are the most recent in an alarming trend.

The women, mainly from developing countries Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, come in their millions to the Middle East in search of better pay and opportunities, but soon discover the move comes at a higher price.

Last month, 26-year-old Ethiopian Matente Kebede Zeditu, was found hanged from an olive tree in southern Lebanon. Kassaye Atsegenet, 24, jumped from the seventh floor of a Beirut building days later, having left a suicide note. Another, a Madagascan named only as Mampionona, leapt from the balcony to escape her high-rise virtual prison, tired of the daily grind of cleaning and minding the children.

Without the legislation to protect their basic human rights and with little access to justice in their host countries, sadly it is not uncommon for many women working as maids to experience forced confinement, food deprivation, excessively long hours and even sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.

One of the girls left a simple parting message for her employer, reading “Here are your f***ing bedsheets, Madame. I will not be cleaning them today,” before tying a noose around her neck and jumping from the balcony.

“She is one of the brave ones,” a young woman named Angelique working as a maid for a Lebanese family in Beirut tells me. “I think about killing myself almost every day. When I am hanging clothes out to dry, I watch the tiny people going by from the seventh floor and wonder how long it would take me to hit the ground.”

At 19-years-old, Angelique should not be thinking about ways to end her life, but that is all she has done since leaving her home in rural Ethiopia eight months ago.

“Anything would be better than my life as it is now,” she says, during the first time out of her employer’s house in over two months.

Angelique, who did not wish to give her full name, has had her hair cut short by her female employer, who complained she looked too pretty with it long. She is forced to wear the traditional pink maid’s uniform six days a week, 14 hours a day, and sleeps on the floor of the kitchen.

Like many other women in her situation, she was lured to the Middle East with false promises made by the agency that employed her. These agencies sell women to “sponsors,” or employers, who then pay wages depending on their nationality.

The newest on the market; Nepalese women can earn as little as $150 a month, while the older hands, the Filipinos, known for their good English and affable manner, can make as much as $300.

Angelique gets just $175, which she sends home to support her family each month. “But I don’t get paid if I am ‘bad’,” she says, “or when Madame is not in a good mood. I didn’t get any money for four months when she was arguing with her husband.”

It is not surprising human rights workers in the region are calling it slavery when these women are literally being worked to death, often for nothing in return.

US-based organization Human Rights Watch has found that at least one woman dies a week in parts of the Middle East, while many more are injured trying to escape their abusive employers and harsh working conditions.

Lebanon, Jordan, UAE and Kuwait have seen the highest suicide rates, where it is not uncommon for women to have passports confiscated or to be locked inside the house for years at a time.

In the past year, both Ethiopia and the Philippines took the step of banning all travel to Lebanon and Jordan due to the high number of suspicious deaths among the domestic worker community.

 The ban has only pushed the trade underground, however, and agencies in the two countries now smuggle women through third countries like Yemen. As long as there are women from developing countries desperate enough to be smuggled in, the onus should be on the countries letting it happen to pass the legislation ensuring their basic human rights.

Yet all but three countries in the Middle East have refused to sign the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, as cheap labor makes up an integral part of the region’s economy.

Not even the needless deaths of hundreds of women have given governments the impetus to sign; leaving migrant workers’ rights the gap in the law that seems no one is willing to fill.

Middle Eastern countries should sign the convention, or at least introduce their own labor laws, in order to stop more women returning home to their families in coffins.

A Beirut school has removed a textbook containing excerpts of The Diary of Anne Frank from its syllabus after Hizbullah claimed it promotes Zionism.

annefrank

Anne Frank

“The book focuses on the persecution of Jews during the war, but even more dangerous is the theatrical and dramatic method employed to narrate the diaries in an emotional way,” MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said on Hizbullah’s TV station, Al-Manar.

“These respected, established schools are teaching the so-called tragedy this girl lived — how long will Lebanon remain an open arena for this Zionism?”

Attorney Naim Kalaani, a member of the Committee for the Boycott of Zionist Goods, told the channel the use of the book in a school constituted a violation of Lebanese law, which bans the import of Israeli goods and cooperation with Israeli institutions, and is “tantamount to a step toward normalisation” in ties with Israel.

Soon afterwards, a private English-language school removed the book. Others are still discussing the possibility. The Diary of Anne Frank was recently translated into Arabic and Farsi by the Paris-based Aladdin Project, which aims to spread awareness of the Holocaust among Muslims.

The project said in a statement that it “condemns this campaign of vilification and intimidation by Hizbullah’s TV.”

Thousands have downloaded the project’s translated versions from over 50 countries, including Lebanon.

This marks the second campaign by the group in as many weeks against material in textbooks, after it forced a leading Lebanese school to remove pages from a history book that described Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organisations.

The road to equality is still a long one in Lebanon. The promises following the period of civil peace were betrayed, especially those intended to forge equality for women, which was a fundamental demand of Lebanese civil society.

Lebanon ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996 in response to continuous pressure from civil society organizations. 

Despite this, the Lebanese state continues to maintain reservations on nationality, arbitration and marriage and family life, and the Lebanese Penal Code still discriminates against women in a number of its provisions, including rape, adultery and impudence.

I publish here a list of key legislation restricting women’s rights in Lebanon, and breaches of the laws aimed at upholding them.

Lebanese Penal Code 1943

* Rape is permitted within marriage [Articles 503 and 504].

* If a man rapes a woman but then offers to marry his victim, he is given a pardon [Article 520].

* An adulterous woman is sentenced to three months to two years of imprisonment [Article 478] .

* “Honor killing”: Men benefit from an extenuating excuse if he catches his wife, daughter or sister during the act of adultery or sexual intercourse and kills or unwillingly injures one of the two people involved [Article 562].

Nationality Law

Lebanese citizenship is granted to:

– The children of a Lebanese father

– The person born in Lebanon and did not prove that he/she has acquired on birth another foreign nationality by filiation.

– The person born in Lebanon from unknown parents or parents whose nationalities are unknown[Article 1, Law 1925].

 Personal Status and Family Rights Law 

* In all sects, the father is the mandatory custodian over children. He is, therefore, the only one entitled to authorize their travel or open banking accounts [Family Rights Law].

* Couples cohabiting outside of marriage have no legal protection [Personal Status Law]. 

For Sunni and Shiite sects:

* The testimony of one man is equal to that of two women [Family Rights Law: Article 34]. 

* The husband has the right to forbid his wife from leaving the home of the married couple, to watch her visits, to bring her back to the house against her will and to educate her [Family Rights law: Article 73].

* A man has the right to inherit twice the amount that a woman does.

 For Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Evangelical sects:

* The man must protect his wife and the woman must obey her husband and follow him to wherever he sees appropriate for her to live. 

Key International Conventions on Human Rights signed by Lebanon:

* The Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in 1996: reservations on Article 9 pertaining to nationality, Article 16 pertaining to marriage and family life, and Article 29 pertaining to arbitration 

* The Convention for the Political Rights of Women in 1948 (ratified in 1955).

* The Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960

* The Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of other in 1956

* Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

* Universal Declaration of Human Rights

* The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1972

 Lebanese Constitution:

* “Lebanon is … based on respect for … social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.” [Paragraph (c) of the Preamble]

* “All Lebanese are equal before the law. They equally enjoy civil and political rights and equally are bound by public obligations and duties without any distinction.” [Article 7]

Lebanon is to mark occupied Jerusalem’s appointment as “Arab Culture Capital 2009” with events across the country for the Palestinian diaspora next month, as Israeli authorities quash celebrations at home.

The much-contested capital Jerusalem was chosen by UNESCO and the Arab League this year to receive the annual award for its unrivalled contribution to Arab culture, despite Israeli protestations that the holy city is its own.

A Palestinian girl celebrates the Al-Quds honour

With Lebanon home to almost half a million Palestinians, the Culture Ministry has decided to celebrate the achievement with two months of cultural and artistic events to begin next week in Beirut, which was itself last awarded the honor in 1999.

The ministry’s coordinator of the Arab Culture Capital events, Dima Raad, said that with large number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon it was important the country mark the occasion.

“What we are doing with the events is highlighting the Palestinian cause. Its people should be allowed back, but because they are not we have to make it like home for them here in Lebanon,” Raad said.

“We plan to start the events now and carry on until the last day of 2009, so that every moment until then is a celebration for Palestinians in Lebanon.”

The first event is scheduled for November 9, which will see a week of film screenings at ARESCO Palace on various Palestinian themes, produced by Lebanese directors.

International touring dance troupe “Wishah” will then perform at Palestinian refugee camps across the country, aimed at sharing the Arab cultural history with those unable to return.

The last event on the agenda, “Made in Palestine,” will exhibit installation work, famous paintings and poetry readings in early December. The event will explore the modern history of Palestinians and their national struggle to liberate, as told by artists living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, however it is recognised by all members of the Arab League as the Palestinian capital.

Most of the celebrations in the capital have either been dispersed or banned in advance, as according to Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, the events would constitute a violation of the interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which includes a clause that forbids the Palestinian Authorities from organizing activities in Israeli territory.

Many Palestinians living in the occupied territories are now making the trip to Lebanon to join with the some-400,000 refugees in the country’s festivities.

Raad, however, expressed regret that two top visiting speakers have been stopped from leaving Israel to attend the events.

Lecturer Mohammad Atta and Islamic history professor Nazmi el-Jabah of Birzeit University in Palestine were programmed to speak during a series of talks, but have been forced to pull out.

“They stopped them just at the last minute which is a shame because it is people like these that have given Jerusalem its culture.”

However, Raad stressed that the 60-day-long series will not be dampened by the travel ban. “The celebrations must go on and the Palestinians are very grateful for these events. It is something for their destiny, something to show they will exist always.”

Simultaneous ceremonies took place in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza, Nazareth, and Al-Rashadiyeh and Mar Ilias refugee camps in Lebanon via satellite link at the official opening back in March, after its January start was delayed by the 22-day Israeli offensive on Gaza.

The synchronized celebrations were aimed at building a cultural bridge between Palestinian people in the territories and those living in the diaspora.

Memorial postage stamps bearing the Arab Culture Capital motif, designed and created in honor of Jerusalem’s appointment, have also been released in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Qatar.

A celebration was held earlier this month under the auspices of President Michel Sleiman at the headquarters of UNESCO in Beirut to launch the program for the Jerusalem Arab Capital of Culture 2009.

The general director of the Lebanese Culture Ministry Omar Halablab gave a speech in which he described the city of Jerusalem as “the true representative” of Arab culture and praised the Arab League’s choice.