In Lebanon, We Have No Bomb Shelters

Overcrowding puts tremendous pressure on sanitation facilities. Displaced children collecting water at Bourj Hammoud High School. (UNHCR/C.Lau)

Today all of Lebanon is under attack, and the target is the country’s civilian population. The facts speak for themselves. Bridges, tunnels, highways, hospitals, national gas storages, and privately owned gas stations have all been bombed by Israeli planes, ships, and artillery. Churches, mosques, village roads, state electric and water plants, homes, grain silos, food factories, and trucks transporting gas and goods have been destroyed, and civilians ordered to evacuate their homes have been targeted while searching for refuge. They too have exploded at the push of a button, a wrist manipulation of some of the world’s most powerful weaponry. Everywhere, the entrails of the state are exposed. Often, they are mixed with the that of human beings. Today, yesterday, and tomorrow, the Lebanese people understand the terror of technology.

For the past nine days, the State of Israel has been violently pursuing a policy of collective punishment directed at Lebanese civilians in order to achieve their military goal of isolating and eradicating Hezbollah. To that effect, the country has been dismembered, sectioned into cordons that are then roughly chiseled into unreachable islands via the explosive incision of what must rather cynically be called “precision bombing.” These islands of rubble, formerly villages in the south and the southern suburbs of Beirut, have been made possible by the US-made and funded F-16. While Western media outlets salivate over the fact that some of Hezbollah’s weapons are manufactured in Iran, the United States evacuates its citizens away from artillery shells designed, manufactured, and tested in what could turn out to be an evacuee’s home state. The irony is not lost on anyone, but everyone pretends otherwise.

It is true that sometimes Israel kindly remembers to drop leaflets warning residents of impending destruction. But what good does it do if the roads leading out of that area are still smoldering from a previous round of push button bombing? In those cases where the roads are still functional and people do venture onto them, Israel has bombed civilian vehicles.

In fact, Israel has declared a policy of targeting trucks that brave the roads. In theory, this is because Hezbollah may be using these trucks to move fighters and arms from one area to another. In practice, this policy amounts to targeting and further crippling the distribution of food, water, medicine, and other necessitates throughout this country, which is besieged by land, sea and air. In addition, this new “policy” of Israel further constrains the ability of citizens, particularly the poor, to move en masse to safety. And, in a final twist of irony, it is those who cannot leave, who have in fact been kept from leaving, who are subjected to the daily round of bombing from Israeli planes and ships stationed far, far away. They have been immobilized, and are now paying for their paralysis with their lives.

Consider this. A few days ago, a convoy of ambulances and a truck containing much needed medicines, part of an emergency relief package from an Arab Gulf country, was bombed by Israel before the convoy could reach the needy. Israeli warships also bombed trucks in Achrafieh - a Christian residential area of Beirut. These trucks were part of a construction site. Apparently, the IDF thought that the drill was a missile. Some people in Lebanon are saying that this was a “scare tactic”, aimed at widening the gap between the different factions in Lebanon. That the two bombs were actually an encoded message that read:

“See what Hezbollah is doing to you? Because of their actions, we are now forced to bomb you into oblivion (and trust us, we will).”

Unfortunately, these games could have a receptive audience in Lebanon.

Currently there are more than 600,000 people who are officially “displaced” due to Israeli aggression. They are dispersed throughout the country, housed in schools and other public buildings, private residences and charitable organizations, and when no other options are available, in public gardens and other open-air locations. They lack food, water, baby formula, medicine, mattresses, sanitary supplies, gas and electricity. Meanwhile, the country’s infrastructure, its skeleton, is broken.

Several grass roots organizations have been established in order to deal with this burgeoning humanitarian crisis. They are working with the government, established NGOs, civil and political society organizations, and several religious charities. The government, it must be said, cannot do much, despite their best efforts. Their main priority is to weather the storm intact and unified. We all know the price that will be paid if they fail.

Consider this. Where is the international community? What are they doing, other than busying themselves with statements declaring Israel’s right to “self-defense” and simultaneously planning for the evacuation of their, and only their, citizens? They, apparently, are worth saving and transporting away from Israel’s weapons. Their evacuation is safe, recorded with video cameras, and protected from aggression. Their faces, and those evacuating them, deserve a close up. Especially if they are blond, and, of course, do not have a beard or wear a hijab (head scarf).

The roads to Syria, however, which are the only route out of Lebanon available to those with merely a Lebanese or Syrian passport (who knows what will happen to the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon), are deemed a legitimate military target by Israel. Israeli fighter jets shriek over the roads, sometimes releasing a bomb or two. The international community, its chief executive the United States of America, watches, yawns, and switches the television station.

The Lebanese government - which is being blamed, bombed, and blockaded in order to “help it” implement the internally divisive UN Resolution 1559 (and by the way, does this mean that the Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian armies can now also “help” Israel implement the numerous UN resolutions that it has failed to comply with?) is, and should be, responsible for the welfare of Lebanese people. However, under the current conditions it is becoming all but impossible for them to fulfill their role and duties towards their citizens. The State of Israel, whether they admit it or not, is waging a de facto war against the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people and residents. War. Funny how this word now slides easily into conversation, filling a room with time. A sense of before and now. In Lebanon, we do not use the word “after” yet.

Consider this. How many Lebanese lives does it take to avenge the taking of two Israeli soldiers? If you’ve already guessed, here’s another question: How much of Lebanon can, and will be flattened before Israel feels it has proven its point, before it can say that it has “damaged” Hezbollah? The answer, apparently, lies in the silence.

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Maya Mikdashi is a PHD in Anthropology at Columbia University. She is co director of the award winning documentary film About Baghdad.