While in Lebanon, participants of The Lebanon Project spoke to several media outlets in Beirut, including Al-Jadeed Television, and Al-Akhbar Magazine. While Al-Akhbar misquoted some participants to sound Orientalist, the media attention was in support of interfaith work, which is a positive message for a divided community. The entire article, which is written in Arabic, can be seen here. Below is a translation done by TLP’s Director Josh Martin:
American University Students Sculpt Steadfastness in Lebanon
Beqa’a Valley – Nibal al-Hayek: January 14th, 2008
Ten university students from the United States of America have spent a week in Lebanon during which they moved around between most Lebanese areas and undertook a program of activities and meetings with students from Lebanese universities, including erecting a sculpture from destroyed ruins left by the Israeli occupation in El-Khiam Prison.
The American students that visited Lebanon recently on invitation from the United Lebanon Foundation declined to deal directly with macroscopic political issues—American policy towards the Middle East, the Palestinian issue or Israeli aggression in Lebanon. The interests of the American university students emerged as different from the preconceived expectations of their Lebanese peers owing to the fact that they specialize in International Relations and Middle East Studies.
Josh Martin, 22, concentrates his interest on Lebanese society and hopes to return for a longer time in order to enhance his understanding of the political situation. From her side, Sharon Weintraub, 21, said she found the country to be an area of expansive natural beauty while she explained that Lebanese politics are extremely complicated and that she prefers listening to the opinions of different Lebanese sects in order to better understand the facts.
However, Frank Fredericks, 22, indicated that “we as Americans have been surprised that stereotypes about Arabs are not true—we used to think that we would see people riding camels, or something similar, and that Lebanon as a country lags behind the West—as we now find ourselves in a small country distinguished for its great civilization and culture.”
The American students’ visit had come by chance after communication had begun over the internet between one of the students from the ULF and one of the American students approximately one year ago. The relationship became entrenched by exchanging emails about the possibility of collaborating to organize the visit of ten students from the American state of New York to Lebanon to communicate and share ideas and opinions with students from the Foundation and others in different Lebanese settings.
The American delegation was accompanied by students of Arab and Lebanese backgrounds on their ten-day visit to the Beqa’a, the South, the North and areas of destruction in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The students also participated in many seminars and cultural dialogue sessions, particularly in the Beqa’a where tours and meetings were arranged for them in different villages and townships of the area, including a conversation with students of the Lebanese University in Zahle in the presence of filmmaker Jean Chama’oun.
In similar service projects, the students collaborated with the ULF in facilitating children’s art projects at a primary school for Palestinian refugees in the Beqa’a village of Ta’lbaya, in addition to the sculpture work at El-Khiam (using materials from the remains of buildings bombed by Israel in July/August 2006) that symbolized the importance of life and steadfastness in the face of adversity.
The Beqa’a District Head of the ULF, Dr. Fatin al-Mor, said that the American students’ visit “was a good opportunity for the American students and our own, allowing dialogue between them and the exchange of ideas and information around cultural and academic issues.” Al-Mor added that discussions only sometimes referred to overarching political issues.
Dr. Milad Sebaaly, General Director of the United Lebanon Foundation, said that his foundation aims to further human society, erase illiteracy, undertake cultural and artistic activities and engage in volunteer service work. He further stated that the exchange of student visits that the Foundation has begun to undertake (with its approximately 4,000 members in all of Lebanon) with the foreign students is a first step, and that subsequently a delegation of Lebanese students from the Foundation will travel outside the country to familiarize themselves with the cultures of Western countries and build bridges of friendship between the East and the West.
Dr. Sebaaly also mentioned that, although it may have been financed independently, the American students’ visit to Lebanon afforded them a much-improved understanding of Lebanon, its people and its politics from their previous conceptions.