Lebanon: historic Byblos threatened by oil slick, Israeli naval blockade

Mike di Paola writes an excellent summary of the environmental and archeological damage from the Lebanese war for Bloomberg, Aug. 15. One of the coastal areas affected by an Israeli bombing-induced oil slick is the ancient Phoenician Canaanite harbor of Byblos. Di Paola writes:

Another war casualty has been the environment. It will be a while before we know the full extent of the ecological nightmare unleashed by the Israeli [June 13 and 15] strike[s] on the power station in Jiyyeh, but we do know that at least 13,000 tons of oil have spread over 93 miles of the Mediterranean into Syrian waters, a spill that could grow to three times that amount, at which point it will reach Exxon Valdez proportions.

That oil slick, like the incontinent bombing from both sides, has no regard for the sanctity of archaeology. Byblos, an ancient harbor 25 miles north of Beirut renowned for its Canaanite ruins, is now tarred with oil. A few miles to the north, a tremendous rock wall carved by the Phoenicians 2,800 years ago to protect their ships docked off Batroun is likewise on the verge of getting a horrific lube job. But a full assessment of the spillage — let alone cleanup efforts — cannot even begin until the shelling stops completely and Israel lifts its naval blockade.

Ironically, on the day the war started, July 12, the need to avoid further conflict was on the minds of Lebanese feting Byblos:

Lebanon becomes ‘Point of Peace on Earth’ on Byblos’ 7,000th birthday

12 July 2006
Daily Star (Lebanon)

Beirut: Lebanon became the seventh Point of Peace on Earth and one of 198 other participants in a Worldwide Peace Marker Project on the occasion of Byblos’ 7,000th anniversary. To mark the event, Culture Minister Tarek Mitri and the mayor of Jbeil (as Byblos and its surroundings are now known), Gino Kallab, unveiled a Peace Marker Lebanon sculpture in the garden of the International Center for Human Sciences – UNESCO, Jbeil.

Mitri said the center had been constructed by the Lebanese government with UNESCO cooperation before it became a joint center. “We are re-examining the cooperation equation between us and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, but this cooperation will stay even if it takes a different form,” he added.

“The center’s program was reviewed and it is currently specialized in making comparative studies about democracy and the diversity of cultures,” the minister said.

Painter Salwa Zeidan, who was chosen as “Peace Ambassador to Lebanon,” said that the event aimed to promote a “sense of loving and striving to establish peace” among young generations in the country.

“Lebanon is in dire need to establish peace, end war, start development and build human beings,” Zeidan added.

Musical composer Elias Rahbani performed a song dedicated to “peace and love” before stressing the importance of respecting the values of tolerance, forgiveness and love.

Poet Henry Zogheib praised Byblos as the “oldest inhabited city in history.”

“The first house was built with polished stones on seven pillars that represented the seven pillars of wisdom; the first temple and the first wall against invasion were built in Byblos,” Zogheib said.

The city was also “the first Phoenician capital, which Qadmos visited to take the blessing of its priests before sailing across the world to spread the alphabet,” he added.

Di Paola also describes damage to Israel’s environment and historical sites. See also: Hezbollah rockets ravage forests of Galilee.

See our last post on the Lebanon crisis.