The war never really went away - we just got used to it

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The Independent Online

Before the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1991, The Independent bought a roaring generator to power my fridge, computer, television and lights. In the years of peace - and lets forget about the Qana massacre with its 106 Lebanese civilians slaughtered by the Israelis, the killing of more than 100 Israeli occupation soldiers inside Lebanon by Hizbollah guerrillas and more than 2,000 Israeli air raids on Lebanon - I let the old Suzuki SE4000 generator rot.

Before the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1991, The Independent bought a roaring generator to power my fridge, computer, television and lights. In the years of peace - and lets forget about the Qana massacre with its 106 Lebanese civilians slaughtered by the Israelis, the killing of more than 100 Israeli occupation soldiers inside Lebanon by Hizbollah guerrillas and more than 2,000 Israeli air raids on Lebanon - I let the old Suzuki SE4000 generator rot.

The plugs have gone, the key has rusted, the carburettor is covered in soot. A few hours after Israel bombed the Lebanese power stations on Tuesday, I turned the key. Click, it went. Click. Peace process off track.

That's how we live in Lebanon. Just when we thought we might be driving all the way from Beirut to Jerusalem for lunch, we are told by Israel's Foreign Minister, David Levy, that "the soil of Lebanon will burn" if rockets fly over the border into Israel. Fat chance.

The soil of Lebanon doesn't burn. It gets churned into dust by Beirut's billionaire developers who are still tearing down beautiful Ottoman villas to construct crude, ugly, expensive apartment blocks - even now, as a new war seems destined to overwhelm them.

My landlord, addicted during the civil war to a diet of local news bulletins that predicted murder most foul on a daily basis, has been rejuvenated by events. Peace is boring. He even opened an ice-cream parlour on the seafront to pass the time. Now he is back with his ear bent over his transistor. "The Israelis have pulled out of the 1996 ceasefire agreement?" True. "The Israelis, after bombing the power stations, are now happy to return to the ceasefire terms?" Also true. Perhaps.

The Lebanese, of course, have grown used to hardship. A bomb or a few shells whiffling over their towns will scarcely disturb their sang-froid. The habit is catching. When an Israeli Hetz-class gunboat appeared at sea opposite my balcony in 1996, I took a look at the little ship through my old French naval binoculars (circa 1918) and then ate lunch on the very same balcony.

After stumbling through the wreckage of an entire power station at Baalbek two days ago, I came back to Beirut to enjoy fried fish, broccoli and champagne with a friend. War is bad. Evil. Cruel. Fearful. But you can live with it.

And why shouldn't we all be a little phlegmatic about events? Take the rhetoric. How many times has the Hizbollah announced that its revenge will be swift, that the soil will burn? How many times have the Israelis gone to war to "defend their civilians"? Yet now the Hizbollah and the Israelis are playing each other's roles. It is the Israelis who are threatening that "the soil of Lebanon will burn" if the Hizbollah fires rockets into Israel. And since the latest conflict began more than two weeks ago, the Hizbollah - killing six of Israel's occupation soldiers in southern Lebanon - hasn't fired a single rocket into Israel itself.

Lebanese radio stations gave prominence to a statement by Moshe Fogel, Israel's official spokesman, justifying the raids on the power stations because "Hizbollah terrorists are attacking our soldiers and civilians". Leaving aside the usual "terrorist" motif, there has not been a single Israeli civilian hurt in Israel since the latest battles began in southern Lebanon. The 17 wounded men, women and children victims are all Lebanese. The Israelis in their shelters south of the border were sent there on the orders of their government - not by Hizbollah rockets.

So I called up an old military friend of mine - a Westerner - for his thoughts. Well, he said, this is a rather odd war. The Israelis might have run out of targets. "If bombing power stations doesn't persuade the Lebanese to stop the Hizbollah's resistance to occupation, what will?" he asked. "Are they going to bomb the international airport in Beirut? Are they going to bomb road bridges? Maybe the "next" war just isn't going to happen.

It doesn't feel like it in my seafront home. The milk has gone off, the washing machine no longer works and I'm sourly remembering my unpleasant Kent school in a series of cold showers. The soil of Lebanon isn't going to burn. But the motor of my fridge is going to do just that in the power surges that turn the lights into flashing U-boat alarm lamps whenever I'm lucky enough to get a few hours of real electricity.

As for war, the actual number of Israeli air raids on Lebanon over the past two years - according to the daily statistics in the papers here - is close to 2,650. We no longer report them of course. Too routine. Too dull. So when real war comes along, we haven't repaired the generator.

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