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assault

An LBC camera crew has become the latest victim of violent Lebanese real estate companies seizing the country’s diminishing natural shores, destroying essential ecosystems for profit and assaulting anyone who tries to document their activities. The LBC crew was violently attacked on Wednesday while filming a new resort being built in the tiny village of Mansouri in South Lebanon, home to the country’s only untouched sand beach and rare sea turtle reserve.

The attack was recorded on the TV reporter’s cell phone and is now making the rounds on Facebook. As soon as the news camera pans toward the resort– built directly onto the public coastline, in what appears to be a clear violation of the constitution and international maritime conventions–a man comes charging toward the TV crew with his fist raised. He throws the cameraman to the floor and then yanks him up by his shirt, shouting in his face: “What are you doing you dick!

He then grabs a man helping the crew and holds him by the shirt: “Do you know who I am? If I want to shoot you I will shoot you, you dog!”

Get the hell out of here,” he repeats,  adding in the crudest terms: “kissikhtkoon bi aiiry (I’ll put my d*** in your sisters’ p****)!”

The man then approaches the woman being interviewed, Mona Khalil, who manages the turtle reserve and operates a small bed and breakfast nearby the new resort development, whose owners have not been revealed. The man rushes toward her and says. “I will burn tires in front of your house on orders of the Hezb (Hezbollah) and the Harke (Amal Movement).”

Watch the video here:

[ممنوع التصوير]

يوم تغيب الدولة.. يضرب الزعران..اوقفت شعبة المعلومات ح.ش (مواليد عام 1981) لإعتدائه على فريق LBCI اثناء اعدادهم تقرير حول محمية السلاحف البحرية في صور.(Source: LBCI)

Posted by STOP Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

 

The cell phone footage was used to open the LBC news bulletin, which condemned the destruction of Lebanon’s coast. It was also featured in the reporter’s news package and the broadcaster even ran a full in-studio interview with the reporter Sobhiya Najjar, for a first hand account on the attack she and her cameraman, Samir Baytamouni experienced.

بالتفاصيل – ماذا حصل مع فريق الـ LBCI في صور؟

بالتفاصيل – ماذا حصل مع فريق الـ LBCI في صور؟لمزيد من التفاصيل زوروا موقعنا https://goo.gl/8WESLg

Posted by LBCI Lebanon on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

 

Najjar said she was prompted to investigate the story after seeing a Facebook post by Khalil, who has been vigilantly documenting the resort development since construction began. She says the construction has been taking place slowly and secretively, and that the resort will put the turtle nesting project and the entire ecosystem at severe risk.

 

The attack began when the reporter was looking at the social impact side of the story by interviewing a young boy asking him what would happen if the beaches were privatized and closed to the local community. At that moment the man came out of nowhere swinging and punched the cameraman in the face.

Of course this developer must be afraid of our reporting because he just attacked us immediately, he didn’t even try to talk to us or ask who we were,” Najjar said.

Because the village of Mansouri is so small and has no mayor, Najjar said she requested and was granted permission from a local administrative official in Tyre before heading out to the site. But that same official curiously later accused her and the crew of breaking into the site and instigating violence against the assaulter.

The official also promised to provide the necessary permits proving that the resort was “legal” but then said the documents could only provided if Najjar handed over the attack footage. She simply told him he would see it on the evening news.

At this point, the interviewer also reminds viewers that according to a law recently passed by parliament, the media and the public have the right to access all government decisions and legislation.

Najjar ends by noting that this is not the first time her team has been attacked while reporting on a resort, with similar experiences in Adloun, an endangered coastal archeological site, as well as Ramlet El Baida, Beirut’s only public beach. Cameraman Baytamouni has also been attacked multiple times in the past.

LBC reported that the assailant was arrested and the crew waited at the turtle reserve until an army  escort arrived. But some worry the man could be bailed out of jail at any moment and that there will be no accountability for those further up the chain of command. It remains unclear who owns this resort.

It’s also important to note that not all journalists and citizen reporters carry the weight of LBC–one of the country’s largest and most influential media outlets– with its high level political and military contacts to get out of a jam. In May, an activist was attacked and his phone destroyed when trying to document the construction of Eden Bay resort in Beirut, which has also been built directly on the public sand coastline.

 

In February, straw huts used at the public beach nearby the Eden Bay resort were reportedly set on fire. Those who manage the area have frequently mobilized against the Eden Bay resort.

Arsonists apparently set fire to the straw huts at Beirut's only free public beach. This is the same beach that is being eyed by private developers. Will the police investigate?

Posted by Beirut Report on Tuesday, February 7, 2017

 

And in November of last year, an activist resisting the Eden Bay resort by pulling out its dredging hoses (reportedly installed illegally and subject to a constitutional lawsuit) was beaten and bloodied, as shown in this video:

Activist reportedly beaten after trying to sabotage dredging work at private high rise project (Eden Rock) on Beirut's…

Posted by Beirut Report on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

 

Finally I have personally been assaulted by developers when photographing ancient ruins discovered during the excavation of the massive District S project in downtown Beirut back in 2013. Site workers and supervisors locked me inside the project gates, tackled me and twisted my arms until I erased all photos I had taken of the ruins. The project is now going forward and all traces of the ancient history of Beirut on that spot have been erased. See previous post:

Getting physically assaulted today at District S site

 

The question begs asking: are real estate developers more powerful than the state itself? How exactly did we relinquish control over our country and its scarce natural resources to these violent, destructive and self-serving firms?

All of these attacks raise important questions about the lawless state of Lebanon’s multi-billion dollar real estate industry, its frequent destruction of public space and ecosystems and its intimate relationship with the country’s leading politicians, who have routinely bent or broken laws to make projects happen. Above all the real estate industry’s immense profitability is made possible by a shameful lack of environmental or labor regulations compounded by an utter lack of taxes paid into the system to cover the damages and drain on resources and infrastructure these mega projects cause.

In fact, as I have reported for the Guardian, there are over 1,000 illegal resorts built on Lebanon’s coast making immense profits and paying no taxes with many owned by politicians themselves. While police take pains to crack down on minor violations such as destroying tin fisherman shacks along the coast or possession of small amounts of cannabis among poor farmers, the police fail to take any action against multi-million dollar resorts and their wealthy and well-connected owners. And let’s remember these projects are not only local–many are financed, designed or executed by multinational corporations, regional, Western and global, seizing upon the opportunity to exploit a developing market with weak law enforcement and low to nonexistent tariffs or regulations to ensure public health, safety or sustainability. 

The only upside to this story is that exposure and shaming of these resorts and destructive projects is gaining ground with activist campaigns mushrooming over recent years and growing more sophisticated in their use of technology, visualizations, distribution channels as well as major lawsuits being launched. See this previous post for more details on the battle to save Lebanon’s coast:

Beirut’s stolen coast and the growing fight to get it back

 

Of course all this exposure is being made possible by advances in the breadth and reach of social media, but also by old school print and TV media, which is becoming increasingly bold.

At the end of her interview, Najjar is asked if she will continue to report on seafront projects despite the dangers posed to her and her crew.

“Of course. We are not here to do regular reporting. We are here today to play a role as the fourth estate. We are not here just to represent ourselves, we are here to represent the public interest. 

You know, no one dared even to speak to us on camera in Tyre. This shows you the kind of political backing this project has.”

Perhaps it is time responsible real estate developers also exercise some social and moral responsibility for the immense profits they are making. If there are ethical construction and real estate firms in Lebanon, will they condemn this activity and be transparent with the public? Or will they and the country’s politicians remain silent and complicit in their colleagues’ behavior?

 

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In the video below, an Al Jadeed TV crew says they were assaulted by at least three car loads of men with machine guns while investigating a controversial Bekaa cement factory connected to a member of parliament. The female reporter–Youmna Fawaz– says she was grabbed by the collar and thrown against a car, the photographer says he was beaten and threatened with murder and a local municipal council member said guns were thrust at him for trying to intervene.

While the cameraman’s video card was reportedly confiscated by the militiamen, a surveillance video in the report above shows men pushing and shoving a group of people, one of them swaggering away brandishing what appears to be an Kalashnikov assault rifle. According to news reports, the factory–which is opposed by many area residents– is owned by Pierre Fattouch, brother of MP Nicolas Fattouch. That name may sound familiar because the same MP allegedly punched a female civil servant last October and was subsequently disbarred a week later.

Apparently Fattouch and his brother own several of rock quarries across the country. Al Akhbar has reported the businessmen are involved in a number of controversial multimillion dollar deals in relation to the quarries and other companies and may owe millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

Let’s hope this issue leads to more investigative journalism in the vastly unreported and unregulated areas of environmentally destructive rock quarries, the militiamen assigned to moguls and politicians and attacks on the press with impunity. This is by no means an isolated practice and even some of those politicians/businessmen now standing with Al Jadeed (from both sides of the M8/M14 political divide) have engaged in some of these nefarious practices themselves.

 

 

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    I just spotted about 15 police officers at this new hotel opening near Raouche.

    There about four police cars on the scene, a cluster of officers near the entrance, another to the side. You can see four in this shot, and there were several more out of frame.


    There were about five more cops near the back exit. Sorry for the poor quality. I shot these while I was driving by. 
    It’s interesting that the Internal Security Forces (ISF) can deploy so many officers to a hotel opening, when one rarely sees such numbers of police out patrolling the streets. In fact, despite a major police station in Hamra, I can hear people drag racing cars and motorcycles all throughout the night, just past the station. 
    Worse, students from AUB, which is literally across the street from the station (Mukhfar Hobeish) have complained of several armed assaults over the past two weeks, when walking home through the streets of Hamra. The students question the lack of police patrols in this report from LBC yesterday:

    All this raises serious questions about the management of our police forces. Is the protection of private enterprises given a higher priority than the protection of citizens?  

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      Friends and supporters of a hit-and-run victim hung pictures of the driver–a Lebanese security agent– on the walls of the Justice Ministry today. 
      They also named the judge who they say has failed to jail the assailant and instead gave orders to detain several activists after they were assaulted by the same security agent a day earlier. 
      The rally began at the Justice Palace, Lebanon’s hight court, where activist Nadine Mouawad asked: 
      “Who made the phone call to the judge to make him detain our friends?”

      “Wasta, Wasta, Wasta,” they chanted, in a reference to the Arabic word for political and personal connections–known to promote cronyism and nepotism within the Lebanese political and justice system.

      “The judge is bought with dollars,” the crowd chanted. “Our country is run by thieves.”

      Other chants included: “March 8, March 14–  have sold the country to private interests,” referencing Lebanon’s two opposing factions, which dominate Lebanese politics.

      The prominent lawyer Nizar Saghieh, who helped free the activists yesterday, said today’s rally was a historic moment.

      “This is the first time citizens demand accountability from a judge, here at the Justice Palace,” he said to cheers from the crowd.

      The protestors then walked around the corner to the Ministry of Justice carrying photos of the assailants:

      Then posted them on the walls:

      The police were very relaxed and some took an interest in the images:

      And got an explanation:

      The protestors left after a couple of hours, leaving only pictures behind, such as this screenshot of a bodyguard who is seen slapping protestors a couple of nights ago at (1:02) of this video:

      As well as the driver of the vehicle:

      Who is seen here waiving a gun at a protestor after filming him drive into protestors:
      Source
      Videos to be uploaded… however long that takes!

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      I’ve watched several television interviews where MP Gemayel describes “an unprovoked attack” on his convoy by a crowd of people armed with “sticks and rocks.” 

      But Gemayel has admitted he was not in the convoy at the time; it was parked on the street as he was having dinner in a nearby restaurant. 
      So if he wasn’t at the scene, how does he know exactly what happened?
      This question wasn’t asked by a single media outlet despite around a dozen activist videos that tell a different story: not a single rock or stick is visible in any of the footage shot by people on the scene.

      But for some reason, Gemayel is ignoring this primary video source and sticking to his vague and somewhat outlandish second-hand account.

      First he told MTV a crowd of 50 armed with sticks and rocks attacked his convoy. MTV tweeted the claim as fact, without any question of Gemayel’s source:

      A group of men intercepted MP Nadim Gemayel’s convoy in Ashrafieh Mar Mikhael neighborhood, wounding one of his … http://t.co/Fcyc5oblYL
      — MTV English News (@MTVEnglishNews) June 28, 2013

      (Nahrnet also propagates the MP’s second-hand account as fact.)

      But then Gemayel’s story changes slightly in this interview with Future TV English, saying 30 not 50 attacked his convoy:

      “When you have 30 people attacking a convoy, it’s the minimum you can do by pulling out their weapons,” Gemayel said when asked about his bodyguards’ heavy-handed response.

      “It’s clear that my guards were hit with stones and sticks,” Gemayel continues, adding: “I want to assure you that no one was hurt in any way possible.”

      “I know that my security team did a very professional job without hurting anyone.”

      But how does he “know” that? When asked if he was in the convoy at the time, Gemayel says he was at a “nearby” restaurant:

      “I wasn’t in the car; the car was parked.”

      Gemayel tells a similar account in this LBC interview, but now he has reduced the crowd size dramatically–  not 50, not 30, just “some individuals” (at 6:16)

      “There was an attack on the car, but there was not even a slap in the face (from my guards)”

      Again, Gemayel is certain of the circumstances, but what is his source and why does the number of attackers keep changing?

      Numerous testimonies from eye-witnesses and videos of activists seem to tell a different story, one of activists being beaten, not armed bodyguards.

      Instead of “attacking” the convoy, the activists were actually minding their own business in the Nasawiya cafe (a women’s and human rights association) and taking silly videos of each other or just lounging on couches and bean-bag chairs when Gemayel’s bodyguards show up and barge into their space:

      The guards tell the young people to stop taking videos, and they go outside to see why.

      Earlier that day, many had been protesting parliament’s cancellation of elections this year and were angry that this unconstitutional MP’s bodyguards were blocking the street and invading their space–very typical bodyguard behavior in Lebanon.

      So they began repeating the chant of that day’s protest. “MPs go out, MPs go out, out with the thieves!”

      The bodyguards react by screaming and cursing the protestors, telling them to get inside and cocking a weapon at (3:49), activists say.

      We can also see that the number of young people is 15-20; they are unarmed–even jovial–far from the menacing crowd of “50 armed with sticks and rocks” as published earlier.

      We can also see that the crowd is unarmed in this video taken from across the street around the same time.

      In fact there is no sign of any rocks or sticks in the compilation clip (below) of almost a dozen videos from the scene. It’s also worth noting that Nasawiya is on a paved road and there is no dirt or rocks around.

      And again, contrary to Gemayel’s statement that “there was not even a slap” from his guards, we can see what appears to be multiple slaps and blows (at 1:04):

      The clip above also contains footage from the next day, when a number of those chanting against Gemayel’s armed guards were detained at the police station in Gemmayzeh.

      A crowd of friends had gathered to demand their release when incredibly one of Gemayel’s bodyguards shows up again. The protestors spot him and try to block his way, but then he drives into the crowd and one young girl is partially run over. (I also captured this chilling moment in a video uploaded yesterday.)

      The police at the station–there are about 15 of them watching the protestors at this point–do absolutely nothing and the young activists chase the vehicle with their cameras. One is then held at gunpoint by the passenger–a Lebanese security officer–who forces him to erase his footage.

      Finally, the crowd surrounds the car, demanding justice until the driver is taken inside the station to jeers.

      Following the days event’s the prominent human rights lawyer Nizar Saghieh, who had come to defend the activists who were all eventually freed, told Al Jadeed:

      “Who could believe a women’s association attacked armed and trained body guards?”

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        One of many videos uploaded from the scene, contradicting MP Gemayel’s claim that he was “attacked” with rocks and sticks.

        UPDATE: Friends of activists say many have just been arrested following questioning. They are asking supporters to come down to Gemayze police station at 4PM today.

        Just got off the phone with one of the young activists now giving testimony at the police station in Gemayze after last night’s armed assault on Nasawiya cafe by MP Nadim Gemayel bodyguards.

        “They grabbed us and punched us,” the activist said, in a reference to 4-5 armed members of Gemayel’s convoy.

        “I have a right to kill you,” one threatened, the activist said, adding that one of the bodyguards grabbed a broomstick and hit another activist.

        It all began when a group of young people– many who had been protesting downtown that day– met at Nasawiya, a feminist collective, for a farewell party. The bodyguards reportedly parked illegally at the cafe entrance while Gemayel was eating at a nearby posh restaurant and asked them to stop taking pictures.

        The crowd started chanting anti-government slogans and thats when the bodyguards apparently pulled their weapons, raised their voices and started assaulting people.

        The source said some activists pushed back, struggling to protect each other from the blows until the police arrived and locked everyone inside. Some apparently had pounded on the hood of the MPs car.

        Then about 20 minutes later, 4-5 new men showed up, middle-aged men “walked past the police and pulled us outside and hit us again.” 

        “I feel to the ground and they kept punching.”

        “Ya manyak (You fucking punk)!” one of them shouted as he grabbed the activists.

        A very similar account was confirmed by several eyewitnesses who published their stories on Facebook such as Krystel, Reine, Zeina, Maria and others (It was a largely female crowd as Nasawiya is a feminist collective), in addition to several videos and pictures that were posted by others.

        “Even the army was attacked by the bodyguards,” said the activist.

        These multiple accounts completely contradict Gemayel who appeared on MTV claiming the unarmed young people attacked his mulit-vehicle armored convoy and assault weapon-brandishing bodyguards with “rocks” and “sticks”

        “They had machine guns,” said the activist at the police station. “How could we attack them? We were just trying to take cover.”

        Yet MTV and now Nahrnet and Now Lebanon–all media outlets very friendly the MPs political party–have completely ignored the multiple accounts of activists, pictures and videos and published Gemayel’s words as fact without question, though he admitted he was not even at the scene.

        But thanks to social media and telephone cameras, we have a different story.

        More to come…

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          My assault has also been covered by Al Akhbar

          L’Orient Le Jour:

          The Samir Kassir Foundation:

          And even an Italian news site:

          Not to mention influential social media outlets like Blog Baladi

          Read my original post that started it all here.

          So much appreciation for all my media/blogging colleagues and friends who have supported me as well as the thousands of others that tweeted, liked and shared. If it wasn’t for them, this story would have never gotten the exposure above.  

          UPDATE: There has also been coverage by France 24

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            The interactive website www.peacefulcountries.com which has just been nominated for a prestigious Webby Award, aims to show viewers how “peaceful” countries help arm “dangerous” ones.

            But if the idea is to challenge stereotypes, setting up a stark visual contrast between the black-and-white scary places (above) and colorful, lush and verdant ones (below) may be doing more harm than good.

            How do we define “peaceful”?

            Can we call countries that send their young people every year to foreign lands to engage in coups and violence that kills civilians every day– ‘peaceful’?

            How do we define “dangerous”?

            The United Kingdom, listed here as ‘peaceful’, actually has one of the highest violent crime rates, according to the Daily Mail. Meanwhile other ‘peaceful’ states such as Canada and France have recorded over 300,000 violent crimes per year.

            In fact, more than half of the ‘peaceful country’ finalists have made the Mail’s list for most violent:

            Lebanon, naturally, has been listed as one of the world’s 10 ‘least peaceful’ states:

            Again, I’m not sure about the statistics here.

            The site suggests military conflict has been ongoing in Lebanon since 1982. But the Lebanese civil war ended in 1991. Recent years have seen sporadic clashes in Tripoli, but how can these be linked seamlessly to the full scale military conflict that ended decades ago?

            In terms of danger levels, Lebanon’s per capita homicide rate is less than half that of the United States. The number of violent assaults recorded in Lebanon is at least 30 times less than the US rate, according to estimates.

            Highlighting the global weapons industry is a hugely important task and the creators of “Peaceful Countries” should be lauded for that. But equally important is how global citizens view one another.

            The fear that drives our perception of where danger lies– and thus where intervention is needed– can help sustain the weapons industry and silence criticism of it.