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The War on Lebanon: A Reader

Edited by Nubar Hovsepian
Reviewed by Tara Marie Good

The War on Lebanon: A Reader: your purchase benefits in part LCC (click image to buy)The War on Lebanon: A Reader: your purchase benefits in part LCC (click image to buy)The War on Lebanon is a surprising and enjoyable—if reading about the horrors of war and the political chicanery surrounding it can provide any pleasure—collection of articles concerning the 2006 Israeli/Lebanese war. Addressing the gravity of the 2006 war in an accessible way, without sacrificing academic rigor, is a difficult undertaking. Nubar Hovsepian proves that it can be done.

The work is a blend of hard academic inquiry and articles capturing the emotional and physiological effects of the war. On one hand we have Haneen Sayed and Zafiris Tzannatos' article, "The Economic and Human Costs of the War," filled with charts and equations fit for an economist. This very dry piece is preceded by Sara Roy's deeply personal reflection of the war, "A Jewish Plea." The balancing of subjective and objective perceptions drives home the fact that the Middle East is not just a chess game of foreign policy played by the superpowers of the world, or regional disputes between burgeoning nationalisms, but a region of peoples desperately fighting to find and define their collective identities. It is the conflict between these three forces, or the "concentric circles" of influence described by Hovespian in his own article, "State-Society Relations and the Reproduction of the Lebanese Confessional System," that drives the Lebanese conflicts.

The collection opens with a forward by eminent scholar Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, who concisely locates Lebanon on the map of modern history of the Middle East, its role in the proxy wars of Saudi and Iran, the larger wars of containment and realpolitik between the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War, and ultimately the war of ideology characterized by the Bush administration. In entering the twenty-first century, Khalidi ominously describes the Bush administration's plans for a "New Middle East," and through their bumbling of foreign policy, the danger that they may cause the region to fall further into war and chaos.

Destruction in Thaniye, a Beirut suburbDestruction in Thaniye, a Beirut suburbKhalidi's introduction, like a number of the articles, attempt to predict potential outcomes of the 2006 war. They almost uniformly see this war as a precursor to an American invasion of Iran, and hence, almost a total war scenario for the Middle East. These projections, excellently constructed, both terrify and relieve the reader. With the Bush administration now seeming like a terrible dream, the reader will review these projections like a movie where they already know the ending. An invasion of Iran never came to pass. At the same time, these predictions serve as a poignant wake-up call as to how close we were to realizing such a nightmare.

The work is divided into six parts. The first addresses elements of Lebanon's construction, mainly sectarianism and Hizballah. While I found this portion the weakest, it serves its purpose by laying the foundation for the real meat of the collection. Part Two, "Israeli and American Collusion," is a chilling account of American involvement and encouragement of the war. While little of the information is surprising to a student of the conflict, it is nonetheless deeply jarring. Part Three, "Israel's War on Lebanon," from which the title is derived, is the soul of the collection. This section derivates from the traditional format of a collection of academic works by including "Letter to our Comrades in the Democratic Left Movement," by novelist Elias Khoury and political writer Ziad Majed, a direct address to the Lebanese people, "Meditations Upon Destruction," a poetic investigation of war by Khoury, and personal accounts of the war laced with objective analysis by Hanady Salman, Kristen Scheid, Hiam Turfe-Brinjikji, and Rasha Salti. These accounts paint a vivid picture of the war outside of media sound bites and intellectual framing upon which many rely. It causes the reader to personalize the subject, and ask, where was I when this took place?

Part Four returns to the academic stage. "International Law and War," contains important contributions, including the role of the United Nations, Resolution 1701, the meaning of "self defense," and the role of the US as arms dealer. The fifth section, representing the Israeli perspective, is perhaps the most important in this collection of articles on war. This section deconstructs the physiological and political motivations for Israeli aggression toward the Palestinians and their Lebanese neighbors. While the articles are both detailed (Yoav Peled's "Illusions of Unilateralism Dispelled in Israel," and Virginia Tilly's "Israel in Lebanon: The Foreign Policy of Logic of Jewish Statehood") as well as moving (Sara Roy's "A Jewish Plea,' and Azmi Bishara's "The Culture of Annihilation"), what is really missing in the collection is what we don't want to hear-the voice of the opposition. Throughout the book, I yearned to put these brilliant articles in direct dialogue with their Israeli counterparts. But, this is not a hard criticism, considering that one doesn't have to look very far to find extensive catalogues of Israeli opinion and justification of the war.

The final section, Part Six, frames the repercussions of the war. The authors address the effects both on the local and international stage, and appropriately closes with the Rami G. Khouri's article "Remember, Palestine Is the Region's Festering Sore," driving home the fact, which all the articles refer to in their own way-that without peace for Palestine there is no hope for peace in the region.

For any teacher of contemporary Middle Eastern Studies, I couldn't recommend this book highly enough as a well-rounded presentation of the Lebanese perspective. Put in dialogue with other sources, it will hold its ground in describing the injustice and inhumanity of the 2006 war. This book is not just for students, however; it is sure to challenge, enlighten, and certainly surprise any layman. The very dry, if not ominous cover of the book, black with a photo of presumably Israeli soldiers marching up a hill, should not put off a potential reader. The War on Lebanon is an immensely human and accessible compilation of works explicating the shocking Israeli/Lebanese war of 2006.

Tara Marie Good received her Master's in Performance Studies at NYU; she is the two-time recipient of CLS State Department scholarships to Amman, Jordan and Salalah, Oman.