A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Druze’ Category

stars in my eyes

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 5, 2008

A long time ago – almost a year and a half – I wrote a post about the various stars that I see around the region, including the five-pointed Druze star.

There’s a building in Ras Beirut, further down the street from the famous Khalidy Hospital (where Kheireddine first joined the world!). Its beautiful and well kept up, and the sign over the front entrance indicates that it was built in 1926:

Most of the building’s windows look like the ones above. But on the left-hand side of the building, the windows of the uppermost floor have a star motif:

Obviously, this side of the building hasn’t been kept up quite as nicely as the facade, but I still like the building. And I’m curious about the stars. Does this mean that the building was Druze-owned? Or was it simply built by a family that liked stars?

Kheireddine, since this is your “hood”, I’m counting on you for the answer 🙂 !


Posted in Beirut, Druze, friends, home, Lebanon, research | 10 Comments »

Monday morning grumpies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 12, 2008

Duhnuh, duhnuh, duhnuh duhnuh duhnuh: imagine the Jaws theme. As I type, the USS Cole (“mudammara” in Arabic, which really drives home the meaning of the word “destroyer”) is sailing up from the Suez Canal to an undisclosed location “in the Mediterranean”, according to the AFP and all the morning newscasts. I wonder where it could be going, I say to myseld, tongue in cheek. And I wonder what State Department idiot thought that sending the Cole back here was a good idea.

American battleships and Lebanon go way back – and their relationship is not a happy one. The Chouf was already bombed yesterday – no need to bring back Civil War memories of the USS New Jersey doing the same twenty years ago.

On the other hand, perhaps this is the “private watercraft” that the last warden message mentioned …

I’ll let you know when the Cole arrives. Meanwhile, its another beautiful morning here in the non-shot-out hills, although a bit hazy. Here’s a slightly shifted view of the city, focusing on the deep downtown and the coast:

As the days wear on, I’m handling the situation less and less gracefully. I’m grumpy – I miss my routine, my apartment, my wardrobe, my neighborhood. But I am gaining new respect for one of my least favorite za3ims: Walid Jumblatt. What happened yesterday in the Chouf was awful – and Jumblatt stepped up and showed real leadership.

There are too many egos in Lebanese politics – too many men who use their constituencies to feather their own nests and to defend imagined slights to their big-man image. Jumblatt did the opposite yesterday: he put his own ego aside in order to keep the people of the Jebel from sparking a full out conflagration with one another and Hizbullah.

(For those of you who don’t speak Arabic, he gave an interview on Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story that aired this morning around 7:15. I can’t find it on the channel’s website yet, but it should be up soon. He’s unshaven and dressed in his usual one-step-above-homeless style, but he speaks well. And this morning he has been on the phone with every news channel I have flipped to, from New TV to Arabiya, explaining his decision and the importance of civil peace.)

Thanks to the shoot-out in the Jebel and the crisis generally, I have a new mini-za3im to snicker at: Jumblatt’s cousin, Talal Arslan. What a goober. He has never had such media attention before, and with each press conference he looks more and more self-important, talking about how the Jebel is and will remain “lil-muqawama wa al-muqawamin”. Right. And the muqawama is lil-Arslan and will remain so as long as he is a useful alat.

Oh well – he’s getting his 15 minutes of fame, and clearly reveling in it. Here is is giving press conference number four or five yesterday evening, with an entourage of men:

Wherever there is a cameraman in the Middle East, there are men. Sometimes young, sometimes old – but always there. They are the same men who halt their conversations when I walk by – men with nothing better to do than 1) watch girls and 2) stand patiently behind the person being interviewed for the fleeting pleasure of appearing on satellite television. Not to be sexist, but women seem to have better things to do with their time.

Of course, some of these men were probably encouraged to stand behind Arslan – big men need big entourages. But they enjoyed it – whenever Arslan shifted position, the men nearest him shifted as well, to make certain that they were still on camera. My favorite was the cool guy in sunglasses on Arslan’s left. Sunglasses at night and a black Hizbullah-style baseball cap – star qualities indeed.

But the most important man in this group – aside from Arslan – was the ceremonial Microphone Holder. No metal microphone rack for Arslan, but rather a 21st century version of the king’s chamberlain:

And unlike the entouragers, the microphone-ji was taking his responsibilities quite seriously. He didn’t make eye contact with the camera once – he was focused on his job. (And for the curious: the microphones belonged to Manar, OTV, and LBC. I don’t know why New TV wasn’t included, or NBN, or the satellite news channels – maybe he could only hold three microphones.)

I’m going to go and sweat off some of this grumpiness at the gym in a bit. Until then, I’ll be the one hissing at the screen while sending some Monday morning emails. After all, in the rest of the region (excluding poor Sudan) its a normal work day.

Posted in Druze, explosion, Lebanon, media, mountains, politics, words | 2 Comments »

odds and ends

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 30, 2008

Its 8:30 am by the airport clock and not quite that hour by my body clock, so I’m killing time on my laptop until my next flight home to Beirut. Oh, and watching a self-important Indian man try to unplug the mobile phone I am charging in one of the available outlets. He reminds me of the Lebanese men who change the channel on the televisions at the gym without first asking whether I am watching (usually, yes). In a way its heartening to see that sexist, arrogant men are not exclusive to Lebanon.

I’m editing the photos I took this weekend, which led to the unhappy realization that I abandoned our Beiteddine jaunt without talking about the mosaics – especially this one:

See diamond? H said when we passed this mosaic. I told you Lebanon had lions and tigers back in ancient times

He did indeed, although to me this looks like a leopard. Still, I wouldn’t have been any more pleased to encounter a leopard on our Metn walk than a lion or tiger.

And this mosaic (in the same room as the houses of Lebanon and the lovely gunshot door) does look more tiger’y:

The scary beast mosaics were part of a massive collection of mosaics of all sizes, which filled the stables of the palace. Many were of animals – including a surprising number of chickens and roosters. Perhaps the Romans saw more in them than we do today?

Others were stunning geometric designs that to my eye looked incredibly modern, like this one:

According to a tri-lingual, rather outdated Xerox-behind-plastic wall text, the mosaics are all from a late antique Roman church excavated in 1987 from the sands of Jiyyeh:

On the one hand, its refreshing to know that Jiyyeh’s sands have been good for something more than beach clubs. On the other hand – why not build a museum around the mosaics in situ, as Jordan did with Madaba?

There must be more to this story – and there must be more to the story of the church, as well. There were a lot of mosaics in the Beiteddine stables. Not one, not two – upwards of 20 full floor pieces, and at least as many more smaller ones.

This church must have been the largest thing for miles around ancient Jiyyeh – and its trustees must have controlled a huge chunk of wealth, if they were able to afford the cost of commissioning so many stunning mosaics. I knew the late antique period was one of great richness, metaphorical and literal, but seeing its evidence at Beiteddine was eye-opening.

Posted in Arab world, art, church, Druze, Lebanon, photography, religion | 1 Comment »

“no other explanation”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2008

When H and I entered Beiteddine’s interior courtyard, we found a mid-40s man assembling what tourists there were for a look into its reception halls. Since Lebanon’s independence, the living quarters of Beiteddine have been used as the president’s summer residence (yes, I know, I’m thinking the same thing: better hurry up and elect someone if the residence isn’t to sit empty all summer!), so the rooms are otherwise off-limits.

The reception halls were beautiful, with interiors that ranged from late 18th-century lacquered wood inlays with roses and other flora painted on them (as well as several rather primitive buildings), to an elaborate 1908 (? maybe 1904 – I can’t remember) extravaganza of mosaic, painting and stained glass windows.

(I don’t have any photos of these rooms, sorry – we weren’t encouraged to take photographs.)

The ceiling of one of the smaller halls in particular caught our eye. It was decorated with a series of six-pointed stars, large and small, and the theme was carried over into the wall panels as well. It even carried through to the hall’s more contemporary wooden doors, which I felt were fair game for a photo since they were 1) not antique and 2) technically in the courtyard:

We’ve been interested in the evolution of the six-pointed star from Muslim world decoration to Star of David – it seems to have been a “neutral” decoration here for much much longer than in Europe. Two older buildings in my neighborhood – late Ottoman or at best early Mandate period – have six-pointed star windows, but we don’t think that they were Jewish-owned buildings.

Ask him, I whispered to H as our guide motioned us towards another building. The man had kindly decided to overlook my obvious foreignness and speak to us both in Arabic, but I didn’t want to push my luck by actually asking him a question. Instead, I whispered commentary to H and he patiently passed my questions on.

But since the six pointed stars interest H too, he didn’t need my encouragement.

We’ve noticed that this room has a particular star decoration, H said diplomatically. Is there any reason for this?

The guide smiled kindly. Evidently he has heard this question before. Its a design for decoration, he said. Ma fi tafsir tani – there is no other explanation.

What I didn’t see in these halls was any prevalence of the five-pointed star that I associate with the Druze, although the late 20th century eternal flame sculpture in the main courtyard does have a five-pointed star as its base. I don’t know the history of that star, or when it became associated with the Druze. Perhaps it too is a 20th-century phenomenon.

Posted in Druze, Lebanon, travel | 4 Comments »

tourist photos

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2008

I’ve just arrived back to the US for a few days, with the usual SSSS “special” security treatment coming through Heathrow. Between jet lag and family stuff, I have much to do – so I’ll be quick about finishing our tour of Beiteddine.

The interior part/western wing, where the emir’s family lived, was stunning. Here is the entrance – a small taste of what lies inside:

This is the view through the door above:

The view is stunning, but also puzzling. The courtyard is puzzingly asymmetric: the fountain is off-center relative to the staircase, while another fountain (cut into the stone floor) points toward the doorway just visible at the left side of the photo above.

Asymmetry in palaces is something I rarely see. I think of additions as things that are added on to main building and fitted into the original scheme. But Beiteddine, whose original structure was built in the late 1700s, was added on and added on and added on until the outer view suggests a massive palace complex and the interior view suggests a creative, if not terribly coordinated, jumble.

This weekend’s jaunt to the US has allowed me to pick up the copy of Touring Lebanon I bought in March. It is just as enlightening – and as entertaining – as I had hoped. Without it, I would never have known that the staircase that leads to the courtyard above was known as the “tumbling stairs”, which Ward says was “named from a celebrated mishap when a sheep escaping barbeque butted an eminent pasha”.

I bet that sheep didn’t escape the butcher’s knife for long – a tumbled pasha sounds like a man out for revenge.

Its 9 pm and I’m desperately jet lagging, so I’ll close with a quiet photograph of the sun warming the stone floor of the walk to the stables, where the mosaics are house. What mosaics? you might ask. More on that tomorrow, when I’m better rested!

Posted in Druze, Lebanon, photography, travel | Leave a Comment »

like water for mezzeh: lunch in the chouf

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 29, 2007

Last Sunday’s drive through the Chouf took us through lovely Deir al-Qamar, M’s village (which my friend R terms rather less romantically “my ancestral thing-y”). I ought to have taken photographs, but all my artistic efforts on the way up had made me carsick. By the time we reached the checkpoint on the way to Mukhtara, I was delighted to have the chance to stop for a bit.

The soldiers solemnly took M’s and T’s ID cards, as well as the car’s registration. When T told me to get out my passport, one said: bas al-shabab. Only the guys [literally, the youths]. Someday a woman will commit a terrible act of terrorism in this region, and the shockwaves will be monumental. Until then, though, I am happy to keep my passport in my (uninspected) handbag.

Once the soldiers saw T’s ID, their manner changed. From Xxxxx? they asked, smiling. Yes, T replied, grinning back at them. Ana walad al-balad – literally, I am a child of the country, but in this case meaning more Yes, I am from around here. With a local in the car, they judged us no threat to Jumblatt, Mukhtara’s most famous (and most likely to be targeted for assassination) resident, and waved us on.

Of course, we weren’t headed to Jumblatt’s palace, but rather to a well known restaurant nearby. The restaurant is a complex of buildings and terraces, built into the rocky mountainside, with a waterfall cascading down in the back.

This photo looks back towards the entrance from the main front courtyard:


This photograph was the view we had during lunch, from our table at one of the lower (and quieter) terraces:


These two show the waterfall:




The food was incredibly delicious, and our table was enlivened by the presence of the two cousins who now tend the restaurant, which their grandfather began decades ago. T’s good friends from university days, they kept the dishes (and the arak, for anise lovers) coming to our table.

It was a lovely day, marred for me only by one small cross-cultural difficulty – one that crops up now and again, particularly in nice but more traditional restaurants like this one and the ones I know in Damascus.

In the United States, restaurant bathrooms are quite strictly divided by sex. Men and boys use the men’s restrooml; women and girls use the women’s. Bathroom attendants, when they exist, work in the gender-appropriate restroom.

Here, however, it is quite common to find an adolescent boy as the bathroom attendant covering both bathrooms. While I understand in my head that there is nothing inherently creepy about having a fourteen year old boy come in to the women’s restroom to hand me a towel, I can’t shake my American sense of “my space is being violated”.

I can’t shake it, but I do try to compensate with an extra generous tip!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, beer, Beirut, citizenship, Druze, economics, friends, holidays, Lebanon, mountains, time, tourism, travel, vanity, weather, women | 1 Comment »

more chouf’ing in the chouf

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 26, 2007

Having so impressed myself with my photographic artistry with the me-in-the-rearview-mirror photos, I decided to try photographing the Chouf looking over the back of M’s car.

This one isn’t so bad:


With this one I think I went a bit too far – it looks like I’m about to fall out of the car:


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, Druze, family, friends, holidays, Iowa, Lebanon, mountains, photography, time, tourism, travel, weather, women | Leave a Comment »

chouf’ing myself in the chouf

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 23, 2007

Yesterday I went to the Chouf with three friends – my first trip there ever (I am a terrible tourist.)

I had to look it up on a country map before we left to know where we were going. I had thought north; instead, we went south and then east. So much for my attempts to defy the stereotype of Americans as hopeless with geography.

As we drove up the mountain I decided to experiment with more artistic photographs than my usual ‘touristic’ shots.

My mother, who is a terrific photographer, took beautiful photographs of a trip to the badlands that she and my father made this fall. She has stunning shots of the terrain – all taken from their convertible, with her smiling face and camera visible through the passenger side rear view mirror.

So, inspired as always by my mama, here are two photos from yesterday’s drive:





Posted in Americans, Beirut, citizenship, Druze, family, friends, holidays, Lebanon, mountains, music, photography, tourism, travel, weather | 1 Comment »

a star is born: in the Golan and around the region

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 6, 2007

It rained steadily through the night and early morning, halting only briefly and rather deceptively as I exited the gym. Once I had committed to walking home, the rain returned, letting up again only when I reached my neighborhood.

You look like you just took a bath, one of the coffee vendors said to me, laughing. The five ladies walking in a cluster in front of me (and making a valiant though ineffective attempt to share one umbrella) turned, curious. I know, I thought: 3ayb 3aleyii, brazenly appearing in public with wet hair. Ya hajjat, its from the rain.

I returned home just in time – the pause was merely preparation for something more: a hail shower. The hail was small, but loud. It reminded me of the last hail shower I had seen, almost exactly two years ago, in my favorite forbidden city.

The hail shower in turn reminded me of another cross-border subject: stars. In this part of the world, they come in three flavors: Jewish, Druze and Christian.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note here that I love stars. I love the way they bring light into darkness, and I love the sense I have that starlight, metaphoric or real, signals hope.

I also love more literal stars. For several years, my aunt (Intlxpatr) has sent Swarovski stars to my mother (Big Diamond) and my other aunt (Alex) as Christmas gifts.

They are beautiful – my grandmother, another lucky recipient, hangs them from her dining room window, where they catch the light and refract it into the room.


Last year, my sister and I were elevated to the ranks of star recipients, an honor that delighted us both.

I like stars in more kindergarten-school-teacher ways as well: one adorns my daily calendar, keeping me on track regarding when (if not where) I am:


(The calendar isn’t really “mine” – I “borrowed” it from my parents.)

Such is my relationship with stars. But mine is not the only one: the Druze also have a star.


The five colors symbolize different principles/characteristics/virtues (as with any secret religion, there are multiple stories as to the significance of what little is known). I have seen the star on taxi windshields and in storefront windows, including one in a little everything shop on the outskirts of … Jerusalem.

The shop turned out to be run by a family from the Golan; the son-cum-cashier was amused by my friend B’s formal Arabic and rendered almost speechless by my foreign-with-a-shami-lilt accent. We chatted for a few minutes, at which point he introduced us to his friend. My friend doesn’t speak Arabic very well, he apologized, but he understands it. And do you know what? He served in the army! The friend nodded, shrugged, and smiled.

The position of the Druze in Israel is fascinating – both those present in 1948, many of whom have citizenship (I assume the former soldier came from this group), and those from the Golan (Jolan in Arabic – English has taken the Hebrew pronunciation), who retain Syrian or Lebanese citizenship and have cross-border privileges based on their liminal position.

As the hail fell and I thought of Jerusalem, I paged through the online Daily Star, where I found another person considering the Druze. Although part of me is still reeling at the thought that I should find quotable anything produced under WINEP’s offices, I must say that Seth Wikas, one of the Institute’s visiting fellows, has a very good piece out on the rather good life that the Golan’s Syrian Druze population enjoys under Israeli occupation. Just ignore his snide WINEP’y comments on “the emptiness of Syrian rhetoric”; in his opinion, Syria should recognize that the Golanis best interests lie in their becoming Israeli citizens. Perhaps he believes that Syria should cede the rest of its country as well. I can see the posters now: “Souria wa Isra’il: sha3ab wa7hid fi balad muwa7h7hid”.

The Golan’s Druze Wonder What is Best

W hen, earlier this month, the Israeli daily Haaretz uncovered the details of secret, unofficial Syrian-Israeli peace talks, it revived a familiar menu of questions and concerns whenever Syria and Israel negotiate: Would Israel give back to Syria all of the Golan Heights? How would its water resources be shared? Can either side trust the other as a true partner?

And what about the people who actually live on the Golan? Not the 20,000 Jewish settlers who have built 24 settlements there since 1967, or the 2,000 Alawites who live in the divided village of Ghajar along the Lebanese border. Rather, what will happen to the 20,000 Arabs living in four villages – Majdal Shams,Ain Qinya, Masaade and Buqaata – in the northeastern section of the plateau? The fate of the Golan’s Arabs, who are Druze, illustrates the human side of future land-for-peace deals. It also highlights the emptiness of Syrian rhetoric about its “occupied Golan brethren,” inasmuch as Druze villagers have been given little economic incentive to return to a Syria where they can expect to be poorer.

Yet economic incentives aren’t everything.The Druze of the Golan went through turbulent days in the early 1980s, when they held strikes to protest against the Israeli government’s attempts to force citizenship upon them. Hundreds were arrested, and some continue to languish in Israel jails. Less than 10 percent of the Druze took Israeli citizenship, resulting in their social ostracism.The Druze continue to talk about the 40-year-old Israeli occupation, travel restrictions, political prisoners and the continued presence of unmarked land mines on their lands.

Refusing citizenship, however, has not changed the life of the Druze in their villages or placed them at a significant disadvantage outside. Irrespective of their legal status, all residents have access to Israeli schools (which teach Torah and Hebrew), pay taxes and enjoy municipal services such as water and electricity.

Once a year, the Druze clergy visit their counterparts in Syria, and high school graduates are allowed to study any subject of their choosing at Damascus University, for free, irrespective of their high school grades and test performances. In 1986, when the Israeli government gave up its efforts to “Israelify” the population, it neglected the area and allowed the villages a large degree of autonomy.

All mayors must be Israeli citizens and are selected by the Israeli Interior Ministry. However, three of the villages don’t have a mayor. Still, there is little crime and the villages function well enough.

Most worrisome to Golan residents when it comes to a future return to Syria are economic issues.While not as rich as the bon vivants of Tel Aviv, the inhabitants have a standard of living vastly surpassing that of their counterparts on the Syrian side of the border. “Life is all about the shekels,” one resident of the largest village, Majdal Shams, told me on a recent visit.The locals work hard – whether in agriculture, construction, or services – and have little regard for Syrians who, in many Golanis’ minds, “drink tea and sleep all day.” In Syria, working hard rarely ever translates into making more money – unless you have government connections.

Nearly every day, the Syrian media talk about their oppressed brothers in the occupied Golan.Yet few Syrians have the slightest idea of daily life there. Just ask any student from the annual crop of 300400 Golanis who travel to Damascus to attend university.Their university peers there are largely ignorant of Golan affairs.

The students from the Golan – a younger generation that may not have been born during the political turbulence of the 1980s – understand that they are linked to Syria by blood and to Israel by economics; however, they have found that their identity, as time has passed, is tied mainly to their small parcel of land located between Israel and Syria.They feel stuck: a part of both states, yet a part of neither.

While most identify themselves as Syrian and take Syria with both its grandeur and its faults, once in Damascus these students can see how the Golan has become a rhetorical tool that has not trickled down into Syrian public consciousness.This and the fact that they can earn more in Israel are why many young Druze, as well as their parents, fear a return to Syria.

Peace between Syria and Israel will allow the people of the Golan Heights to be reunited with their families, a paramount concern on both sides of the border. However, without domestic reforms in Syria that allow people to profit from their hard work, the return of the Golan to Syria will hardly alleviate the concern the Druze have for what might come afterward.

I have seen the Golani students in Damascus – several years ago, I was startled to hear the sounds of a Hebrew “Happy Birthday” cd playing on the sound system of a local nightclub. Oh, said my friend M, that’s normal. They are from the Jolan, so they speak Hebrew.

Right, I thought. Hebrew in Damascus: totally normal.

I visited Bethlehem a week after the hail storm. The economic stagnation was heart-breaking: almost none of the shops were open. After all, said my friend B’s camera-man (and our host) C, no one comes here these days.

We wandered through one of the few shops open, where I was struck by the presence of multiple faiths’ symbols: Star of David pendants, Qur’an pendants, crosses, and … the Druze star.

We are very ecumenical here, said the shopkeeper.

I can see that, I said, impressed. Do you have a lot of Druze coming here?

What? he asked. What Druze?

Well, I said, I see the Druze star for sale here with all the other religious emblems.

Miss, he said, incredulously, what is the Druze star? This is the Star of Bethlehem.

I had never seen a five-pointed Star of Bethlehem before. In the United States, the Star is represented quite differently, as in this nativity set from Christmas Inc.:


Amazing, the things one learns from traveling.

The rain is ended; the sun is out, and it is a beautiful noon-time in Beirut.

Posted in Americans, art, Damascus, Druze, economics, family, Golan, guilt, holidays, Islam, Israel, media, neighbors, news, religion, stars, Syria, time, travel, weather | 2 Comments »