PLO leader Yasser Arafat taking part in the November 1974 Arab League summit
Most of the current commentary in the Western media on the 1973 Arab-Israeli war has focused on the “shock” effect the war had on Israel’s society and politics, or on the role the war played in jump-starting the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations that in 1978 led to the Camp David Accords, and a year later to the conclusion of a complete Egyptian-Israeli peace. (The recent release of a new Hollywood movie about Israel’s then-premier Golda Meir has helped keep the focus on the Israeli dimension of the war, though the historical accuracy of the movie has come under much serious questioning, e.g. here, here, or here.)
However, the Israelis and Egyptians were far from the only peoples in West Asia (the “Middle East”) whose fate was greatly impacted by the war. Indeed, given that Egypt was at that time far and away the weightiest of the Arab states, the fact that the war led to the launching of a diplomatic process that removed Egypt from the coalition of Arab parties that since 1948 had been in a state of unresolved war with Israel transformed the balance of power throughout the whole region.
The parties most direly affected by Egypt’s removal from the former Arab-rights coalition were firstly the always vulnerable Palestinians, and also the states of Syria (which had been a party to the war of 1973) and Lebanon, which had not.
Continue reading “The 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the Palestinians”
Above: 1982 view of the Green Line in downtown Beirut. Becoming greener in a bad way. Credit James Case.
Wars that are fought within countries, rather than between countries, are for some reason called “civil wars.” But in truth they are often the most brutal and uncivil form of conflict imaginable—perhaps because the express goal of the warring parties is to definitively silence the dissident voices of their own compatriots on the “other” side or sides, rather than to win a military contest on a battlefield. Over the years I’ve reported on, researched, analyzed, and reflected on a number of different wars on three continents. But the experiences I had in the very first war I encountered were different from all those other wars, and taught me the most about the nature of war. Because there, for six years, I was actually living and raising a family in the war-zone.
Let me take you back to the summer of 1974. I had spent some months discerning what I wanted to do with my very mediocre degree from Oxford; and now I decided to go to some intriguing-looking spot in the Global South to become a foreign correspondent. This was a step many British male writers had taken over the decades. So why not me?
The spot I chose was Beirut, Lebanon, where I had a few friends already. I went to my bank in Oxford and took out a loan of, I recall, £100. I bought an air ticket, and took off for Beirut. By the end of 1974 I had a job in a local advertising agency; I was taking Arabic classes in the Jesuit university; I was writing book reviews for the local English-language daily; and I had met an interesting local guy called Souheil, also an aspiring journalist…
Continue reading “On living in a war-zone”