How Will it Look on CNN? Violent Protests Spark Public Debate in Lebanon

Published December 11th, 2017 - 12:43 GMT
Protesters at  a demonstration outside the US embassy in Awkar on December 10, 2017 (Anwar Amro/AFP)
Protesters at a demonstration outside the US embassy in Awkar on December 10, 2017 (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Violent protests in Beirut against the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem have sparked public debate in Lebanon.

At the center of criticism is concern about how the demonstrations will be portrayed in the Western media.

The stereotype of the irrationally angry “violent Arab” has long been used to silence and undermine legitimate resistance against Israeli occupation and rights violations.

When Palestinians announced “three days of rage” in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement last week, many responses asked “how will we tell the difference?”

The suggestion was that their outrage had more to do with some internally violent nature than with a justifiable response to injustice.

Looking at comments online, Halim Shebaya’s concerns over how the clashes with security forces outside the U.S. embassy in Beirut on Sunday would shape international opinion seem to hold true.

Commenters on a video of the demonstrations shared by American network ABC on Facebook reflected the same narrative of the “violent Arab.”

“What a bunch of barbarians… destroying your own streets,” commented Justine Chalin.

“Oh please. These guys will protest anything. Everyone already recognized Jerusalem as the capital,” added Trish Ricklefsen.

Headlines in the international media were in a similar vein: “Angry scenes near U.S. embassy as Beirut protest turns violent,” declared the U.K.’s Telegraph.

“Violent protests erupt near U.S. embassy in Beirut,” wrote Austrailia's The New Daily.

 

 

This coverage ignores two things. First, the legitimate issue at the heart of the demonstrations, which began peacefully. Second, the fact that the violence was highly criticized by many in Lebanon.

Attendees at Sunday’s protest in the Awkar area of Beirut, a kilometer from the U.S. embassy, shared images of what they said was a predominantly calm protest.

“I didn’t see anyone harm the security forces,” tweeted @eliasbarraj, sharing an image of himself attending the rally.

@PierreABISAAB claimed “The atmosphere was passionate and enthusiastic in the Awkar, but them some chose to turn it into a battlefield!”

In fact, many attendees and local media blamed excessive use of force by the Lebanese police and army. They used tear gas, water canon and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, The Daily Star reported.

Meanwhile, many justified the protest, emphasizing Israeli hostility against Lebanon itself, as well as Trump’s most recent undermining of the status quo in Jerusalem.

“[Don’t] act like Israel hasn’t targeted and bombed Lebanon for years,” tweeted @chahinda_93.

The idea of the “violent Arab” ignores the fact that the weight of violence often lies with the Israeli state.

Others criticized individuals for changing the tone of the Awkar rally, emphasizing that resistance to Trump’s decision should take a different form.

@hasanabazzi tweeted that the violence was revealing of the “racism and hatred of the Lebanese right.”

Tires were reportedly burned and rocks thrown close to a barrier preventing access to the embassy. Some buildings in the local area were vandalized.

“Why has no-one explained to the protesters that this is the Lebanese army, not the Israeli?” asked @nassif2_fatima.

@Samah_Kasamani complained: “We are certainly supportive of the Palestinian cause and reject Trump's provocative decision, but once again they have made Lebanon a theater of confrontation.”

Expressions of opposition against the Israeli occupation, and its violation of international agreements and human rights, come in many forms.

Symbolic non-violent actions like campaigns seeking to declare Washington the capital of the Native Americans or to rename the address of the U.S. embassy “Arab Jerusalem street” are underreported.

Emphasis in Western and Israeli media is placed instead on incidents of violence. This ignores the fact that in Lebanon, as elsewhere, clashes are often widely criticized, minority occurrences in a peaceful context or the result of internal tensions with security forces.

It draws attention away from the legitimate cause, which, as an elderly man attending Sunday’s protest told The Daily Star, is that for many “Jerusalem will always be the capital of Palestine, no matter what any U.S. president says,”


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