The current US State Department “Lebanon Travel Advisory”, updated June 6, urges US citizens to “reconsider travel” to the small Middle Eastern nation “due to crime, terrorism, armed conflicts, civil unrest, kidnappings and the limited ability of the Beirut embassy to provide support to American citizens.” Three significant sections of “high risk” Lebanese territory received the even more dramatic warning “Do not not travel”: the Lebanese-Syrian border, the Lebanese-Israeli border and the refugee camps.
As an American citizen myself, I can definitely say that the greatest danger I felt during my recent 10-day stay in the country – where I have been a frequent visitor since 2006 – was at the top of the great Beirut’s seaside wheel, which somehow continues to make its rounds despite Lebanon’s notorious electricity shortage that has plunged much of the landscape into darkness.
Years ago, the operator of the Ferris wheel told me that the only time the giant wheel stopped working for an extended period was during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This incursion killed tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians, mostly civilians, and culminated in the Israeli-backed massacre of several thousand unarmed people in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila – speaking of the “dangers » settlements of refugees.
It just so happens that the United States gave the Israeli government the green light for the whole affair in 1982. Twenty-four years later, just before my inaugural visit in 2006, another bloody Israeli attack on Lebanon took place. with considerable help from the imperial hegemony, which hastened to ship precision-guided bombs to the Israeli military while endeavoring (ultimately unsuccessfully) to charge its own citizens for high costs for the luxury of evacuation from Lebanon.
One wonders about American priorities – and about “the limited ability of the Beirut Embassy to provide support to American citizens”.
Either way, the upshot is that the State Department has no reason to warn of ‘terrorism’ and ‘armed conflict’ in Lebanon when it has spent decades supporting terrorism. literal control of the country by Israel. And yet the only mention of Israel in the travel warning occurs in the context of the “Do Not Travel” specification: “There have been sporadic rocket attacks from southern Lebanon into Israel in connection with the violence between Israel and Hezbollah”, – the Lebanese political party and armed group which resulted directly from the 1982 invasion.
Certainly, Lebanon has the unfortunate distinction of being perpetually associated with the phenomenon of “terrorism” – that catch-all excuse for the United States to remain perpetually at war and ensure that the arms industry never suffers from hunger. The general American public, however, has never been privy to the precise details of the Lebanese situation beyond the often fabricated and politically expedient sensationalism that is regularly displayed in the establishment media as well as, of course, in the travel advice. section of the State Department website.
And guess what: Americans who are toxic and debilitatingly conditioned to fear the outside world, and especially specific parts of it, will probably never rectify their misconceptions to allow for the possibility of a common humanity – or the possibility that there should perhaps be travel warnings for, say, US elementary schools and other recurring locations of mass shootings.
Meanwhile, my own country’s established role in making much of the world very dangerous for much of humanity has not prevented me from being the recipient of an almost obscene from residents of various “Do not travel” areas. Hitchhiking through Lebanon a month after the 2006 war, my travel companion and I were relentlessly welcomed and cared for along the Lebanese-Syrian border, the Lebanese-Israeli border, in Palestinian refugee camps and other areas that the United States had helped reduce to rubble.
In the final days of the war, Israel flooded swathes of the country with millions of cluster munitions, many of which failed to explode on impact and which, to this day, pose a life-threatening danger. for anyone who stumbles upon it.
Talk about the reasons for, uh, “reconsidering travel” in certain areas.
In 2016, I took a week-long solo hitchhiking trip along the Lebanese-Israeli border and was again subjected to all kinds of appallingly generous hospitality. Ditto the generosity I encountered that same year in Iran – which also currently boasts a “Do Not Travel” warning due to the “risk of kidnapping and arbitrary arrest and detention of US citizens”.
Instead of being kidnapped, a lowly bookseller in the city of Isfahan gave me a bunch of books in English – the subjects of which ranged from Mao Zedong to the KGB to Peg Bracken’s Instant Etiquette Book, published in 1964. This man also escorted me to Soffeh Mountain south of the city, which he said I couldn’t leave Iran without seeing up close, and provided a snack called “Cheetoz” for the excursion.
And in February 2022, I visited Cuba for the second time – which, like Iran, has long suffered from a pernicious US embargo that amounts to a de facto war. The State Department’s Cuba travel advisory, updated June 13, begins with a warning of the dangers of so-called “Havana syndrome” – a mysterious un-American disease that materialized spontaneously in 2016 but has now been pretty much debunked by the CIA itself.
My own activities in Havana included performing a spectacular fall while jogging on the beachfront Malecón, where the only witness to the event was a 43-year-old man named Eraudis from Cuba’s Guantánamo province. Perched on top of the seawall, he apologized for not being able to bring my flayed self home because it had no legs. These, it turned out, had been blown over 20 years earlier by a landmine outside the United States’ illegal offshore penal colony at Guantánamo Bay.
The world is truly a scary place.
And, in case individual U.S. travel advisories aren’t enough, there’s also a handy Department of State “Worldwide Caution” that’s continually in effect to remind Americans that everyone is here to get them. .
But back to Lebanon and the perils of life for the average Lebanese resident, like the gross state neglect that led to the August 2020 port explosion that blew up much of Beirut. The country’s criminal levels of socio-economic inequality – fervently endorsed by the United States – which were far from resolved during the 1975-1990 civil war, and which have now only been exacerbated by the current Lebanese economic Armageddon, are also of great public concern.
Regarding travel to the aforementioned “high-risk” areas in Lebanon, the State Department advises US citizens to “write a will” beforehand. Completely normal additional precautions are also encouraged: “leave DNA samples with your medical provider”; “establish a proof of life protocol with your loved ones”; and “be sure to appoint a family member to serve as a point of contact with hostage takers, the media…and members of Congress if you are taken hostage or detained.”
A link is further provided to “FBI Travel Tips”, which ranges from ostensibly polite but actually Orientalist advice to “plan your wardrobe so it doesn’t offend the locals” to more blatantly ridiculous suggestions. like: “Do not gossip about the character flaws, financial problems, emotional relationships or other difficulties of your fellow Americans or yourself.
The FBI also warns that: “Unlike the United States, most other countries have no legal restrictions against technical surveillance.” It’s from an agency based on, well, espionage.
They say laughter is good for the soul. So I guess I have State Department travel advisories to thank for providing a considerable source of amusement – even if politically convenient imperial xenophobia is no laughing matter at all.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.