At a crossroads in downtown Beirut

The aftermath of attacks by Israel on Lebanon 16 July 2006. (Peter Speetjens/IRIN)

Today I drove through downtown on my way to visit my parents. I was driving alone and was a bit nervous. First time in a car alone since this whole thing started … But I had to see my parents.

I came across a red light and stopped. The streets were empty, and I caught myself wondering why I stopped and didn’t just go through. Streets were totally empty - no other cars, no traffic police. Then I remembered my latest policy that is helping to keep me sane; that even under attack, we should not lose our manners. That even under attack, there are still some regulations we should abide by. Somehow, by not crossing the red light, I was able to maintain some dignity.

Then I looked into my rearview mirror and saw other cars approaching. I closed my eyes and in a fit of prayer wished that they would stop too. That somehow, if they didn’t cross the light, it would indicate that somehow we are all thinking the same. I know most of you have heard about Lebanese drivers … They never stop at red lights! Ladies and gentlemen, today, they stopped.

I opened my eyes and and then burst into tears. All the cars had stopped. Everyone was behaving. It was a ray of hope today. It’s the little things that make you happy. I turned and smiled and nodded my head to the other drivers. Maybe they thought this bleached blond was flirting with them.

I don’t want to write about all the miserable moments I had today. They were too many. And how can I find the words to really express my despair?

I don’t want to write about the tears that fell when I heard about how the Israeli army bombed food storages today. They bombed wheat silos and vegetable storages. Now they want to starve us to death? About how they are now targeting Lebanese army outposts. Lebanese army who are not even fighting them. About the planes that are flying so low. About how my house starts to shake every time a bomb drops. About my worries now about food and water shortages. About the refugees who have lost so much, who are now living on the streets.

The biggest threat today has been to bomb our main electrical plant. The very same one they blew up a few years ago. If that one goes, we are without electricity. I remember that summer … It was long and hot. I don’t know what I would do without Internet. Dear friends, if you don’t hear from me after this email it is only because I no longer have access.

I don’t want to write about the cramp in my heart every time I hear the death toll rising. So many children! I don’t want to write about how everything I have spent my whole life working for has disappeared in a matter of days. A matter of days … my whole life has changed.

My whole life has changed and I did not ask for it. My whole life has changed without my consent. My whole life has changed because someone, not me, decided they were going to change it. Who said they could? Why didn’t they ask me? I was supposed to be camping in the mountains (Chouf) this week. I was supposed to be working on a proposal to bring a New York artist out here next summer. It was supposed to be a surprise; I was going to set the whole thing up, get the funding and surprise him with it. People bought artwork from me, I am supposed to cash my checks. I am supposed to deliver art to people.

Two bombs just went off. My windows are shaking. Stupid me, I closed them to stop the mosquitoes from coming in. thank God they didn’t just shatter. My heart - my heart is another story.

We are doing the best we can to help those in need. We are all playing our respective roles and finding roles to play. My sister has been working with the Zicco House/Helem rescue point. They have gotten a bank account open to accept donations so they can buy food, medicine, water, blankets, and mattresses. The ministries of heath and social affairs have proven to be ineffective. It is up to the civil society now to help out.

I can not thank you all enough for all your wonderful emails. They are filling me with life. Please forward the news … I am so tired. But as long as I have electricity and Internet, I will continue to write. Until I lose my mind … maybe by then I can get back into my studio again and paint.

To any Israelis who may read this: I have not learned to hate. I still believe in humanity. Violence begets violence. I know there are some of you protesting this. Thank you.

With love, Zena el-Khalil

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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. She currently lives in Beirut.