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2006-08-04

Newsday Middle East Bureau Chief Mohamad Bazzi on Reporting the War in Lebanon

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In our continuing coverage of how the war in Lebanon is being reported, part two of our discussion with Lebanese-born journalist and Newsday Middle East Bureau Chief Mohamad Bazzi. [includes rush transcript]

Israel’s aerial attack on the suburbs of Beirut is intensifying. On Thursday Israel dropped leaflets on the suburbs of Lebanon’s capital warning residents to flee their homes ahead of a massive bombardment. Earlier today Israeli warplanes bombed three bridges linking Beirut to northern Lebanon. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz says the strikes are the worst northern Lebanon has seen so far.

On Thursday Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatened to strike the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv if Israel continued to bomb Beirut. We play part two of our interview with Mohamad Bazzi, a Lebanese-born journalist and Newsday’s Middle East Bureau chief. He spoke to us from Beirut on Wednesday.

  • Mohamad Bazzi. Lebanense-born journalist and Newsday’s Middle East Bureau chief

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the second part of our interview with Mohamad Bazzi, Lebanese foreign journalist, _Newsday_’s Middle East Bureau Chief. Juan Gonzalez and I spoke with him from Beirut earlier this week.

MOHAMAD BAZZI: Hezbollah has been fairly open about some things. I mean, they’ve actually organized tours for journalists into the South Beirut. They are very cautious. They don’t allow journalists to go into these areas without Hezbollah people with them. And they are very paranoid, in some ways, about photographs, and they insist on having Hezbollah people with photographers or with camera people, and even with print people. But they’ve been fairly open, in terms of access to these places, but not — it’s not total access.

There are a lot of Western journalists all over Lebanon now. They are in Beirut. Quite a few in Beirut, quite a few in the south. And journalists are able to move around. You know, it’s not like Baghdad, as there’s really no threat of kidnapping or being singled out because someone is a journalist or a Westerner. The biggest danger is just not being on the wrong road at the wrong time when there’s an Israeli air strike or there is, in the south, artillery fire and things like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamad Bazzi, can you talk about the attitude of the Lebanese right now? Their feelings about Israel, their feelings about Hezbollah, both, are they changing?

MOHAMAD BAZZI: I think at the beginning of this, there was quite a bit of anger at Hezbollah, and especially among non-Shiites, especially among sort of Sunni population, amongst Christians, among Jews. There was a lot of anger that Hezbollah had abducted those two soldiers and that this whole thing had started. In the past week to ten days, as the Israeli attack has intensified and as Israel’s response is so far so much greater than Hezbollah’s response, because of Israel’s very powerful military force, and then leading up to Qana, the response has changed quite a bit.

You hear a lot of people who are critical of Hezbollah for abducting the soldiers, you hear them very angry at Israel and also angry at the U.S. They’re very angry at the U.S. for backing Israel in this way. Lots of people just really put the blame on the U.S. for there not being a ceasefire. They see the U.S. dragging its feet and not allowing anything through the UN Security Council. And on Sunday, the day Qana happened, there was a lot of anger. Basically, the Lebanese prime minister told Condoleezza Rice not to come to Lebanon, and this is a U.S. ally. He’s someone the United States wanted in that job. And you definitely see that on the street, that people are much angrier at Israel and at the U.S. than they are at Hezbollah at this point.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Mohamad Bazzi, on a personal level, you’re an American journalist, but you were born in Beirut and raised there for the first ten years of your life. And what is your personal reaction to seeing the kind of damage and destruction that you’ve been witnessing the past several weeks?

MOHAMAD BAZZI: There was a point when Beirut had really gotten back on its feet, and Lebanon as a whole, the state for both Beirut and for the south and for the north, but definitely in Beirut the past few years, there has been, basically since the mid-’90s, after, reconstruction of a lot of this sort of life, of cafes and restaurants and nightclubs, and all of those things in Beirut got back to normal, and Beirut was beginning to draw a lot of Arab tourists again and Western tourists. There was a life and liveliness to Beirut in the past two years.

It got dampened a little bit after the former prime minister was assassinated last year, but it really wasn’t — it was just this all completely got killed within a week, since this started. And the level of destruction to the infrastructure, to the roads, the bridges and just the things that took many years to build, just instilled this kind of feeling of helplessness in people. You know, there’s sort of this almost a nightmare no one expected, and I certainly didn’t expect Lebanon to go through this again. And it went through it in such a — the destruction came in such a short period of time, and it was on such a grand scale that it shocked everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamad Bazzi, we were talking about journalists before. Did you know the young photojournalist, 23-year-old Layal Najib, who was killed when she drove down to Tyre?

MOHAMAD BAZZI: I didn’t know her personally. My sister knows her, and some friends of my sister know her and were friends with her. But I did not know her.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us a little about her, from what your sister and her friends said? She was a young woman, young photographer?

MOHAMAD BAZZI: Yes. She was a young photographer. She was very lively, and she also wrote. She took pictures and she wrote for various magazines. At one point, she worked for some sort of a — for these Arab celebrity magazines, writing things and taking pictures of sort of parties and things like that and sort of covering the very active social scene in Beirut. And she decided — and then she got some assignments to cover the war, and she decided to go south, as quite a few journalists have done in recent weeks. And it was one of those situations of being on this road at the wrong time, that really no one can control.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Mohamad, you have been covering Iraq intensively, from being based in Beirut but going to Iraq a lot for Newsday. Can you talk about how Iraq has affected the people of Lebanon and how aware you are of what’s going on in a place you’ve been covering for years, given what’s happening now in Beirut?

MOHAMAD BAZZI: I think people in Lebanon, and especially Shiites in Lebanon, were really crestfallen and almost devastated in a lot of ways to what was happening in Iraq. Shiites in Lebanon have a lot of ties to Shiites in Iraq, and part of that is a lot of the clerics and scholars in Lebanon had gone to study in Iraq. They went to the seminaries in Najaf. Before the time of Saddam Hussein, a lot of Lebanese Shiites would go on pilgrimages to Karbala and Najaf, and so there are a lot of these family ties and clerical ties. And, you know, people just felt a part of this wider Shiite community, and definitely a lot of Shiites in Lebanon were feeling this kind of pain of what was going on in Iraq, especially on a lot of the attacks that targeted Shiite civilians in Iraq. And just also on a grander level, there was this feeling that here was this great Arab country, Iraq, that’s sort of rich in sort of Arab nationalist history, but also in Islamic history, that was basically in a civil war, very similar in some ways to the Lebanese Civil War, but also on a grander scale and with quite a lot more casualties.

And now, I have some friends in Iraq who’ve been emailing me and calling the past couple of weeks asking if I’m okay and my friends and family are okay, and it’s a strange feeling to have people in Baghdad and in Northern Iraq and other places be calling you in Beirut and asking you what the situation is and whether you’re okay, despite everything they’re living through.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamad Bazzi is the Middle East Bureau Chief for Newsday. He was reporting to us from Beirut.

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