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It is Not Women Who Declare War
|by Mehru Jaffer|
Despite the runways of Beirut airport being extensively rutted during the month-long August conflict with Israel, Bahia Hariri, 54, politician and sister of the late Rafiq Hariri, who was assassinated as Lebanese prime minister last year, made it to Vienna's Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue to speak on women and civil society.
Hariri says that the Lebanese today face an enormous challenge in rebuilding their lives following Israel's deliberate destruction of the civilian infrastructure and the flattening of several sites of cultural and historical significance. The Israeli offensive occurred despite the April 1996 ceasefire agreement, brokered by the US and monitored by France, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Released as a public document, the understanding includes a commitment by both Israel and Lebanon to ensure that civilians would never be targeted for attack and that civilian and industrial areas would not be used as launching grounds for attacks. However, nothing in the 1996 understanding prevents any party from exercising the right of self-defence. A preliminary damage assessment team of the European Commission found that of the 1,200 civilians killed in the Israeli bombardment of August 2006, a third were children.
Lebanon's many achievements of the past 15 years were wiped out, and more than a million people were displaced. Beirut was likened to Paris until the civil war of 1975 destroyed its infrastructure and economy. The period of relative peace after 1990 enabled life to return to normal and the government repaired its banking system and services. Until the 2006 war, Lebanon's bank assets had reached US $70 billion. The fragile economy is now damaged, and the Ministry of Finance fears further economic decline in the future. All literacy and bread-earning programs for women and children started within the last decade languish after Israel's most recent punch through Lebanon's peace.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. How did the recent conflict affect the lives of women in Lebanon?
Q. It's a loss of hope...
Q. In between conflicts, do Arab women try to reach out to Jewish women in an effort to bring about a more lasting peace in the region?
Q. What role can women play in bringing about such a peace?
Q. What is the role of the Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Q. What is the reason for the lack of participation of Arab women in society?
Q. Women in Lebanon would like 30 per cent reserve quota in Parliament. How soon might that dream be realized?
Q. You publicly refer to yourself as "the sister of the martyr", prime minister Rafiq Hariri. When will Lebanese women be known by their own names without being referred to as sister, widow or daughter of male politicians?
Q. The world is so fixated on the veil of the Muslim woman. What does covering your head mean to you?
Q. What do you say to people who take this choice away from women and force them to cover their head?
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