Chasing oil and coming home to another massacre

“Qana” by Mazen Kerbaj. View more of his work.

Yesterday, a few of us got into a car and drove up the Lebanese coast line, northwards in order to document the oil spill. We took pictures, video, and prepared a map that traced the movement of the oil slick.

Though I was on the edge of having a panic attack the whole time, being afraid that at any time, the road, bridge or tunnel we were on could be bombed, it felt good to finally get out of Beirut for a few hours … first time in a long time.

What we saw was horrendous. Our glorious beaches all covered in black. Bays, rocks, crevices, hidden under a blanket of oil. I can not tell you how big this spill is. We went as far up as Anfe (which is about 10 minutes before Tripoli) before we had to turn back to Beirut in oder to make it to our evening interviews on time. The oil slick continues to travel north, eating up everything in its path. We heard it had now reached Syria.

Byblos (Jbeil) bay is completely smothered. This once picturesque and touristic town, also the oldest port city on Earth, is in ruins. we could smell the oil before we were anywhere close to the bay. This summer, the town was planning to celebrate its 7,000th birthday! There were huge festivities planned, so much went into it — now, nothing but this black plague.

We stopped to speak with a few fishermen. They are completely devastated. They have no means of income anymore. So many of them had fixed up their boats for this summer in hope of giving tourists small boat trips around the coast. Now, that is gone too.

I had a really bad headache all day … we were driving on the coastal road, stopped every few minutes to document. The smell was so strong. When I got home, I blew my nose and the tissue was all black. I made sure to take a really good shower.

We were going to send out the press release, pics and video today, but we got even worse news …

There had been a massacre in Qana early this morning. History repeats itself. The Israelis dropped a bomb on a building that was sheltering refugees. The news at this point is that 55 were killed. Mostly women and children … but the numbers are growing. The news is still fresh. It was only a few years ago that the Israelis did the same thing, except last time, it was a UN building that they hit and over 100 people were killed. Mostly women and children killed … why? How can anyone be so inhumane?

I think Israel is the only country in the world that is allowed to hit UN posts and get away with it. Only a few days ago, a UN post was hit in the South. UN peacekeepers died. To their families, I beg forgiveness. Lebanon is a beautiful country full of beautiful people. We all mourn your loss.

This whole attack has been one massacre after another. And still they persist. And still, it continues …

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Zena el-Khalil is an installation artist, painter, curator, and cultural activist. She is the co-founder of the art collective, xanadu*, that is based in NYC and Beirut. Her blog, documenting her writing from Beirut, is located at