Houla 1 September 2006
Yesterday, I shed my first tears for Lebanon.
Yesterday, I visited Houla, a stone’s throw from the Israeli border.
Yesterday, I was discovered by Zainab Fawqi-Sleem - a young, Lebanese woman who was killed in Houla, alongside her sister-in-law, Selma, on July 15th. Zainab is but one of over 1,300 innocents killed in this war, but she is the one who found me.
On October 31st, 1948, in one of the few massacres of the Nakba to occur inside Lebanon, proto-Israeli militas seized the town of Houla, setting off bombs and burning down several houses. They took eighty-five people captive, and summarily executed eighty-two of the them. There’s a memorial to the massacre in the center of town, not far from homes smashed flat by this current war.
According to news reports, Israel bombed and shelled Houla on at least ten separate occasions during this last war. Israeli soldiers repeatedly invaded the town and occupied people’s homes. They remain, in one home, in one corner of the village, to this day. If I had run across those soldiers, I wonder what I could have said to them? What might they have said to me?
I was in Houla yesterday with LebanonSolidarity, a local relief and resistance organization. I was in Houla to assess how we might be able to help the people living there. We brought medicines, and arranged for a doctor to come by and give free medical exams. We took down the names and ages of the people made homeless by the bombings, so we might bring them some donated clothes.
Throughout South Lebanon, there are thousands of destroyed homes and buildings, and tens- of-thousands of homeless. Some towns, like Bint Jbeil and Khiam, are more rubble than anything else. Traveling through South Lebanon today, I am reminded so much of Palestine, of Nablus and Jenin and Gaza.
For Israel’s security, Arabs must not possess functioning towns or secure homes.
More than anything, the people of Houla need drinking water. The town’s main pump was destroyed during the war, and the $20,000 needed to replace it is beyond the scope of our group’s resources. And, again, I am reminded of Palestine and the theft of local water sources, taken in the West Bank to supply Israeli settlements with lush, green, desert lawns and private swimming pools.
For Israel’s security, Arabs must not possess secure access to potable water.
Short hours before Zainab was killed in Houla, Israel bombed a powerplant in al-Jieh, just south of Beirut. Al-Jieh was one of several powerplants across Lebanon that were destroyed during this war.
For Israel’s security, Arabs must not possess electricity.
As in Gaza, where Israel has repeatedly shot at and shelled Palestinian beachgoers, the al -Jieh bombing has stolen Lebanon’s oceanfront. The bombing destroyed the powerplant’s oil tanks, and ruptured the berm built to protect against a spill. Millions of gallons of heavy fuel oil has leaked into the Mediterranean, ruining Lebanon’s once pristine beaches.
For Israel’s security, Arabs must not possess beaches.
The ancient port city of Tyre, some twenty-five kilometers from Houla, has one of Lebanon’s last, remaining, usable beaches. Some Lebanese still go there, to swim and visit with family or friends and, for a while, escape the disaster that is South Lebanon today. Young men with slicked-back brush cuts pass a beer among themselves, as they watch women in French bikinis jump in and out of the surf. In the heart of “Hezbollah” country, at the center of George Bush’s “Islamo-Facist state-within-a-state”, you can still see children building sandcastles here.
But, farther out in the ocean, the Israeli navy maintains its blockade of Lebanon. Nothing is allowed in or out. In Washington D.C., Congressman Tom Lantos has blocked all U.S. humanitarian aid until Lebanon’s government agrees to deploy UN troops along the border with Syria, to stop and search all cross-border traffic - something that Syria has already said it will not permit. Farther south, Israel’s long-running blockade of Gaza has caused, in the UN’s words, a “humanitarian catastrophe” as malnutrition rates there skyrocket.
For Israel’s security, Arabs must not possess open borders, or engage in free trade with the world.
Like so many places in South Lebanon, the roads in and around Houla are severely damaged from the war. South Lebanon’s streets have suddenly come to resemble their sister thoroughfares in Palestine. There, Israeli bulldozers have combined with decades of enforced neglect and the violence to birth a network of degraded and barely passable roads. Here in Lebanon, the same thing has been accomplished in a matter of weeks by dropping over a billion dollars worth of bombs and shells and tanks and soldiers on the South.
For Israel’s security, Arabs must not possess modern roads.
From the hills of Houla, one can see Israel/Palestine. Just over the border, and even before the war, Israel had permanently tethered a videodrone blimp, visible for all to see. The drone is constantly filming Houla, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Overhead, the low, humming sounds of Israel’s unmanned reconnaissance planes have become another permanent part of the landscape.
For Israel’s security, Arabs must not possess privacy.
On July 14th, 2006, Ibrahim Sleem owned a modest ranch house in Houla. Within the walls of his home now lay a surreal jumble of charred furniture, clothes and children’s toys, broken glass, scattered fragments of wood, and chunks of concrete fallen from the walls and ceiling. Sixteen members of his family, including five children, gathered in this home on July 15th, for a quiet meal. As they were visiting after dinner, a bomb or shell exploded among them, killing Ibrahim’s daughter Selma and his daughter-in-law, Zainab. It was an American ordinance that destroyed this home, and killed Zainab and Selma. The writing on the bomb’s fragments is in English, not Hebrew. It happened at precisely 8:28pm. The clock that used to hang on the wall is now forever frozen at that moment.
Outside the home is a small shed, with tools hanging on its walls. Next to the shed is a modest flower garden, and a beautiful Eucalyptus tree. More than all of the destruction I have seen in these past weeks, much more than simply the damage I saw inside the Sleem family home— that shed, that garden, and that tree tore a hole inside of me.
Someone lived in this place. Someone used those tools to maintain their home. Someone planted that garden, and carefully tended it. Someone sat beneath that tree in the afternoons and enjoyed a cup of tea. Someone loved this place.
Zainab Fawqi-Sleem was twenty-two years old and two months pregant when, for Israel’s security, she was killed. Zainab’s nine month old daughter, Nadine, will never know her mother’s love. Zainab’s unborn child will never know life at all.
Living in Lebanon today, I am left with a single, unanswered question. It’s a terribly important question. It is a vitally important question.
The United States speaks for Israel’s security from all we Islamo-Facist terrorist Arabs living throughout the Middle East. The United Nations Interim Force speaks for Israel’s security here in Lebanon. During the war, Hosni Mubarak, the dictator of Egypt, spoke for Israel’s security. During the war, King Abdullah, the dictator of Jordan, spoke for Israel’s security. In Marjayoun, a mostly Christian village in South Lebanon, the Lebanese Army even offered the Israelis tea when they invaded.
For the West, and for all its pet Arab dictators, this is the proper moral response to Israeli terror. We Arabs must not only accept all of the bombs and the blockades. We must not only accept the destruction of our homes and dreams. We must, in fact, rejoice in our own devastation. This is, after all, the joyous “birth-pangs of a new Middle East.”
My question, our question, Lebanon’s question, is simply this: Who will speak for Zainab Fawqi-Sleem?
Ramzi Kysia is a Lebanese-American essayist and activist. He is currently working with LebanonSolidarity.org to resist war and renew shattered communities in South Lebanon.