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Israeli TV is on all Lebanese channels as we wait for Israel’s expected response to an attack on one of its convoys in South Lebanon. Hezbollah is saying the attack is retaliation for the killing of several of its men a week ago by Israeli warplanes.

It’s hard not to feel reminded of those days in 2006 when soon after an Israeli convoy was attacked, Israel’s military began shelling south Lebanon as is happening right now. At the time, I remember a colleague in my office laughing it off, while I worried things would get much worse. Sure enough, things escalated over the next few days when Israel warplanes destroyed highways, bridges, airport runways and eventually leveled several villages and parts of south Beirut in a month long war that left over 1,000 Lebanese civilians dead.

Is this Deja Vu or have things changed? This time around, Hezbollah is already involved in a war in Syria and some believe its forces are stretched too thin for a second war. But on the other side we have Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is considered one of the most hawkish Israeli leaders, far more so than his predecessor in 2006, Ehud Olmert.  Some say Israeli elections are upcoming in March and a war won’t help him win. Or will it?

The ironies are already starting to pour in. Today a former Lebanese warlord was warning current Lebanese warlords about the dangers of in war:

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If he’s worried, should we worry? Or is a large part of this media theatre, with all sides trying to score propaganda points?

You’ll notice the Western media frequently calls Israeli attacks retaliations, but will almost certainly frame any action by Hezbollah as offensive. Hezbollah also claims the Israeli soldiers were occupying Lebanese territory– rather than peacefully minding their own business in Israel. That’s another detail you probably won’t hear much about in major Western media outlets.

On the other hand, Hezbollah media are broadcasting call-in congratulations from various officials and they just aired a report on a handful of cars near the border, claiming these spectators proved that ‘people are not afraid.’

“No one is scarred,” said one pundit on Al Manar. ‘On the contrary, people had been waiting anxiously for the resistance to respond.” Meanwhile Arab media are reporting up to 15 dead Israelis, while Israeli media only report “medium to light” injuries.

All we know for sure is that it started out as such a beautiful morning…

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Yet now my only hope is for a massive storm. Maybe a deluge will wash away some of the belligerence.

Follow me on Twitter for updates.

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UPDATE: More evidence not to worry? Al Jadeed TV just posted a video of Lebanese smoking arguileh (hookah) near the border.

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I managed to capture the final moments of Lord’s Hotel this afternoon.
The gradual destruction of this 1950s landmark is almost complete. Luckily, I took some pictures last month and was able to compare some of these to a wonderful archive I was given access to by researcher Camille Tarazi,  who saw my previous post and forwarded me a 1956 article about Lord’s in La Revue du Liban magazine.

Elder residents eyes light up when asked about the place, describing it as one of the finest in the area, known for attracting tourists both from the West and the Arab countries.

1956:

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December 2014

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January 2015

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December:

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January:

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December:

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January:

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Today, only one room remains:

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But when I was here in December, I managed to get some shots of the vintage overhang:

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At the time, the entrances were sealed with breeze blocks:

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But there were still some holes…

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Revealing glimpses of the past:

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I reached over the wall and found a larger opening:

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Could these equally-spaced holes on the left be the shelves of the old bar?

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I could also could see a hallway area:

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Could it have been part of the old lobby?

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According to the 1956 Revue du Liban article, Lord’s was known for its modern art and matching furniture:

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I made it over to another sealed off section….

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And found this mural through the cracks:

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And got a better view through another opening:

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I wonder who painted it? Just left of the painting, there were other parts of the lobby, marked by pink marble columns:

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The 1956 Revue article makes note of decorative paneling and wallpaper throughout. From another hole, I found some remnants of those panels:

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And the wallpaper:

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I wonder if these were similar to those used in the the dining rooms?

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Back in December, I managed to get around the back side of the hotel, where a large tree was growing:

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When I walked beneath it, I could see the vintage bubble balconies:

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As well as a hidden atrium section:

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The windows had been bolted shut:

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None of this remains today…

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Amid the rubble are chunks of the blue tile facade:

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The walls seem to have been made of archaic sandstone:

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Sandstone construction is supposedly one of the criteria for preserving a building.  So why wasn’t Lord’s Hotel saved?

And how many more will be lost before parliament and the public begin mobilizing to save what’s left?

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Attached are the original pages discovered by Camille at Saint Joseph University’s “Bibliotheque Orientale.”

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Among other things, they discuss special Thursday candlelight dinners, “happy” ladies at the bar, and receptionists trained at France’s Grenoble Hotel School:

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When you can have a cafe instead…

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You can’t even walk in the street because they have tables there too!

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Pedestrians can either get run over by cars or just sit down and dream of sidewalks….

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Surely Ka3kaya Cafe is not doing anything illegal. I just didn’t know the municipality of Beirut was renting sidewalks. Maybe I should open an arguileh joint under my building.

 

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Source: Al Ahram

I’ve tried to avoid reading about this story until I was asked to talk about it tonight on Canada’s CTV. At first I considered not doing the interview but I decided to go ahead with it to question the global media focus on the seemingly frivolous affairs of an objectifying beauty pageant in a country where 1.6 million Syrian refugees are living in terrible conditions and some are literally freezing to death. (The world’s major powers have accepted little responsibility for this human tragedy with zero to insignificant numbers of refugees given asylum in Europe, the US or the Arab Gulf countries).

And yet Miss Lebanon distancing herself from Miss Israel in a “selfie” is a global news story, covered by CNN, NBC, Gawker, The Daily Mail and hundreds of others. Most of these media outlets have expressed shock and dismay at the behavior of Miss Lebanon who claims she was “photo-bombed” by the Israeli contestant who took the picture against her will.

Wherever the truth may lie, the media and the Miss Universe organizers have been quick to chastise Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, while Ms. Israel is painted as a victim.

“So much for world peace,” cried The Wall Street Journal, lamenting Greige’s’ actions. The Journal dismissed the possibility that Greige may have wished not to be photographed with a citizen of a country at war with her nation, saying the selfie disavowal could be read as “throwing her fellow contestant under the bus.”

NBC was also sympathetic to Miss Israel, Doran Matalan:

“A seemingly good-spirited selfie taken at the Miss Universe pageant has caused a political stir,” opened a piece on the NBC News website.

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The national news giant did a follow up report quoting the pageant organizers, stating:

“It is unfortunate to know a photo of four smiling women from different parts of the world, working together at an event, could be misconstrued as anything other than what it is, a celebration of universal friendship, which the Miss Universe pageant is all about.

The organization said it hopes that when the contestants go to local charity events in Miami ahead of the pageant they will “see just how much they have in common” and form bonds that could “make inroads for change in the future.”

But can a celebration of skin-deep beauty and glamorization of women’s objectification really “make inroads for change in the future?” Few news organizations seemed to question this.

Like many other American outlets, the NBC story closed with the Israeli contestants ‘disarming’ remarks.

“Matalon expressed a similar sentiment on her Facebook page on Sunday, saying that she wished “hostility” could be forgotten during the three-week period the contestants spend together.” 

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Gawker and CNN gave Matalon’s peaceful attitude more weight:

“It doesn’t surprise me, but it still makes me sad,” wrote Matalon on Facebook. “Too bad you can not put the hostility out of the game, only for three weeks of an experience of a lifetime that we can meet girls from around the world and also from the neighboring country.”

It will not be hard to imagine which of the two contestants is painted as ‘the bigger person’ and in this scenario. But is Ms. Matalon really working toward peace and coexistence in the Middle East?

According to one report Miss Israel served two years in the Israeli Army:

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Miss Israel, Doron Matalon in military uniform. Source: The TImes of Israel

Of course anyone who knows a little Lebanese history will know that the Israeli military has bombed Lebanon extensively over the last 50 years and such bombs and missiles have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians. As recently as 2006, over 1,000 Lebanese were killed in Israeli attacks during the July that left entire towns leveled and over a million cluster bomb fragments in the earth, many of which killed civilians for years after the war.

But unlike NBC news, which has called the selfie scandal a “political firestorm” many Lebanese TV channels are far more busy covering other news tonight, mainly Israel warplanes’ attack on Lebanese fighters for Hezbollah. As thousands mourn the dead carrying coffins through the streets of Beirut, the move could indicate a dangerous transnational widening of the Syrian war next door. Perhaps that is a more relevant issue to be discussing on CTV tonight.

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Preserving heritage is not usually a very acceptable activity in Beirut. Activists are routinely harassed for documenting it–sometimes assaulted just for taking pictures of historical sites, even threatened by officials and developers. But the tide could be turning.

Architect and preservation activist Mona El Hallak was just awarded a French medal of honor–the “Ordre National du Merite” by the French Ambassador in Beirut. El Hallak has worked on a number of preservation campaigns over the last 20 years, the most prominent of which is her effort to save the early 1900s Barakat Building, which will now be turned into a museum, with help from French institutions.

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Source: Skyscraper City

El Hallak told me the historic building was just four days away from demolition in the early 1990s in a piece I wrote last year for Al Jazeera about the continuous destruction of old Beirut amid real estate speculation.

At first Mona teared up when she approached the podium, flanked by French Ambassador Patrice Paoli.

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But she quickly gained her composure and delivered a rousing speech, casting light on the many battles that have been waged and the many battles ahead, where activists have been volunteering their time and making progress.

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These include struggles to protect the last undeveloped seafront at Ramlet el Baida and Dalieh, the struggle to demand the opening of public parks and to resist the destruction of green spaces by municipality projects such the halted Boutros Road–battles to overcome the power of real estate companies and government officials and give citizens a voice in how their city is built. (See Mona’s full speech at the end of this post)

Many of the big TV channels showed up.

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And plenty of photo opportunities with Ambassador and members of Lebanon’s vibrant civil society.

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But where were our government officials? Mona told me she hadn’t seen any of them. So why is that foreign governments are recognizing the value of our hard-working professionals and not the local Lebanese government that stands the most to gain from their efforts?

And while Beit Beirut is now under construction by the municipality, how long will it take to open? The expropriation order to save the building was issued in 2003 and this 2007 photo shows the scaffolding up:

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Source: Now Lebanon

While this 2010 photo shows the banner has changed with completion date of 2013:

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Source: Skyscraper City

Today, almost 12 years after the first expropriation order, some progress has been made on the interiors and window frames, but the completion date has been moved to 2014, which has now also passed:

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If anything, this proves activism and preservation is a long term project in Lebanon, but one that is steadily seeing results. It will take much hard work and dedication from people like Mona to keep the momentum going to push this project and other preservation efforts forward. Maybe now with some international recognition, local officials will slowly start to come around.

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Here is Mona’s full speech, delivered at the French Ambassador’s residence on Jan 15:

 

Thank you Your Excellency Ambassador Mr. Patrice Paoli.

I am honored to be standing here among family and friends receiving such a distinguished

recognition from France in such a remarkable architectural setting. To be decorated in the

Residence des Pins from the porch of which General Gouraud proclaimed the establishment of

L’Etat du Grand Liban in 1920 is almost a dream.

 

But in Beirut, my beloved city, one has to keep on dreaming…

I dream of a city with proper urban planning where real estate speculation and construction are

regulated by building laws that serve the city’s interest and creates a good urban environment

rather than allow chaotic developments to satisfy the developers’ greed .

 

I dream of a city with a law to preserve its architectural heritage, where unique early 20th

century buildings are not destroyed for towers to be built changing irreversibly the character

and scale of the few remaining intact heritage clusters in the city. Yet the sign at their entrance

gate still reads in the shadow of the tower:”Rue a caractere traditionnel”…a city where when

they say Sama Beirut, they mean our beautiful blue sky on a sunny Mediterranean day and not

a glass faced tower rising infinitely in a closely knit neighbourhood ruining its unity and

overloading its infrastructure beyond redemption.

 

I dream of a city where cultural heritage is also preserved in buildings like Theatre de Beyrouth and

Studio Baalbeck. I dream of a city with a public transportation system where people can enjoy urban mobility

without having to drive their car to move from one point to another in the city, or walk safely

on an uninterrupted sidewalk…

I dream of a greener Beirut, of children playing again in Horsh Beirut, the largest public green

space right next to us closed for more than fifteen years now, like I did when my father used to

take me there for the famous swings every Eid.

I dream of a city where public space is celebrated as a necessity in our polluted and congested

urban environment,

where the public sandy beach of Ramlet el Baida is in no way and under no circumstances

thought of as a private hotel and beach resort,

where Daliet el Raouche is an extraordinary public maritime parc on the last coastal area of

Beirut whose morphology and paysage have remained intact with its rich biodiversity and

unique archaeological, geological and cultural significance…not one more private exclusive

resort and marina,

 

I dream of a city where when the choice is between creating the Fouad Boutros urban parc and

reviving an obsolete 1950’s highway plan that would destroy the beautiful existing fabric with

gardens and open green spaces, the choice would be to find a way to resolve the problems that

make the parc a reality instead of trying to defend the highway and minimize its destructive

environmental impact.

 

I dream that my son Yazan will have the chance to walk in a Downtown Beirut buzzing with life

and people from all over the country and all socioeconomic layers, not a compound built by the

rich for the rich; a beating heart of the city where the Martyrs’ statue is celebrated as a national

monument not left in the dark surrounded by car parks that await further high end luxurious

construction projects that will change the identity of Martyrs’ Square forever.

And I always dream of Beit Beirut “La Maiso Jaune” glowing with its yellow furne stone as a

uniting place in the city,a space for peace and hope, an urban cultural center

dedicated to the memory and the history of the city where people talk and listen to each

others’ stories, instead of fighting and killing each other; a project that will instill some civic

engagement and collective belonging where people will go in to learn more about their city and

go out to discover it, respect it and hopefully preserve it better. a place that will use art as a

means of cultural expression to make memory issues more accessible to the wider public and

through its interactive exhibitions, screenings and lectures , it will be a platform to raise

questions, initiate the debate and address the reconciliation process in the city, 25 years after

the end of the civil war.

 

When I discovered the Barakat Building in 1994, I found in the first floor East apartment of Dr.

Nejib Schemali an old newspaper with his photo receiving the Ordre National du Merite from

Comte Du Chayla. I never imagined that after twenty years , I would be standing here receiving

the same honor from you, Mr Ambassador. In that paper, there was a verse that read in arabic:

غير بلبنان ما بتروي غليلها فرنسا منَا قلبها دليلها

لو حللوا دمنا تحليل كيماوي فرنساوي وحياة عينك فرنساوي

This is the historical relationship between France and Lebanon : “une histoire anciene et riche

des liens d’amitie” . I take the chance to thank France for all the support it has given the

Municipality of Beirut in the past decade: be it the Region Ile de France in the Bois de Pins

Rehabilitation, Le Projet de Liason Douce, et Le Plan Vert de Beyrouth , or the Ville de Paris

with the project management assistance for Beit Beirut and the institutional and scientific

support from the French Embassy and the Institut Francais du Liban.

 

Allow me to thank H.E. Mr Yaacoub Sarraf for his invaluable support as the Governor of Beirut

to get the expropriation decree for Beit Beirut in 2003,

to thank the previous Beirut Municipal Council -Mr Ralph Eid is here with us today- and the

present Beirut Municipal Council- who are having their Council meeting right now so no one is

here with us- for making Beit Beirut a reality.

and to thank H.E. Governor Ziad Chbib for keeping Beit Beirut a top priority project inorder to

proceed with the cultural program of the Museum.

I thank my family, my mom who never understood why i fight so fiercely for buildings that are

not owned neither by my father nor my grandfather, my husband Anas who shares my

enthusiasm and tolerates the time it takes me away from home.

Thank you again Mr Ambassador for receiving us in your beautiful residence and inshallah we

all meet again for the opening of Beit Beirut.

 

As the video above states, a new initiative is finally allowing everyone to recycle in Lebanon. Beginning tomorrow,  you can sort all plastics and metals in blue bags and put all paper and perishables in black bags.

Trucks will start picking up the blue bags tomorrow. The black bags will go to the landfill, where the paper and the waste can biodegrade.

The hope is that this streamlined initiative– which is being spearheaded by Lebanese recycling guru Ziad Abi Chaker– will take on a life of its own, by encouraging dumpster divers (the poor folks that dig through our garbage every night) to also participate. By sorting your own garbage in this simple way, you can encourage them and help them become more efficient and productive.

Once again:

Blue bags (or bags of any color other than black) = all types of metal and plastics (bottles, cans, plastic bags, plastic containers)

Black bags = all types of paper (cardboard, newspaper) and all other perishable waste (food). 

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I have been taking my recycling to Ziad for the past several months, sorting them into plastics, bottles and paper:

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But now he has simplified the process to just two types of recycling to encourage mass participation by making use of existing garbage scavenger networks– meaning you won’t have to physically transport the waste yourself.

This is also an emergency reaction to Lebanon’s current garbage crisis, with a shortage of landfills and much feuding in parliament, which has issued one temporary solution after another. Ideally, Ziad says one day we’ll get to a stage where mass sorting of paper will be an option. But in the current crisis, with waste piling up on streets, combining paper and perishables will help reduce smells.

Will it work? This probably depends on you. The more the idea catches on, the more it is likely to succeed.

For more on Ziad’s work; see these previous posts I have done on his glass recycling initiative to support Lebanon’s dying glass blowing industry and his recycling production plants, where plastic bags are processed to create eco-friendly construction materials, fertilizer and the region’s first recycled beer brewery.