For little Lebanon, geography is a source of both pride and suffering. Its Mediterranean coastline, to the west, is as beautiful as any in the world. Forested mountains along its spine — rustic villages throughout — are a visual delight. Further east, the Bekaa valley is among the world’s most fertile.
However, to the north and east sits Syria, Lebanon’s self-appointed big brother, shaping/manipulating Beirut politics. Israel, to the south, has invaded Lebanon three times in the last thirty years, occupying southern Lebanon for an eighteen-year stint.
Most recently, in response to a July 2006 attack on a group of its soldiers by the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah (and the capture of two), Israel launched a thirty-three day aerial bombardment of southern Lebanon. In the final 72 hours of the conflict — after a tentative cease fire had been arranged — Israel covered southern Lebanon with tens of thousands of cluster munitions. These munitions continue to pose a major hazard. They hamper the field work of Lebanese farmers, restricting their harvests and placing them in an even more precarious situation (given the scant support they receive from Lebanon’s clannish, corrupt and neoliberal elite).
I traveled to southern Lebanon in the company of Rami Zurayk, a professor at the American University of Beirut. Zurayk’s Land and People group provides strategic marketing and technical services to Lebanese farmers, helping them carve out a niche, effectively brand their unique farm products and earn more money, whilst sustaining natural resources and strengthening Lebanons rural social fabric.