I arrived to meet Ahmad after a highly emotionally charged trip through the destroyed villages along the Israel-Lebanese border. We stood there silently sobbing, watching the forbidden land that we consider Palestine as we puffed our cigarettes along with our frustration and helplessness. On one side of the border total destruction, burnt land and graffiti of resistance; and on the other side, green fields and tidily arranged houses protected by the Israeli military. All look serene, rendering the scene all the more brutal and surreal. Borders never looked more ridiculous and painful, a winding barbed wire with fences and military roads marking the separation, cutting through a land that looks very much alike. A land that is one, a natural continuation divided by a war machine and ruthless bombing. We had to leave quickly; the feeling of helplessness and frustration in the face of such a ridiculous fence and such grave injustice was too intense to bear.
I met Ahmad in his village, Dayr Seryan, in the south of Lebanon, while he was playing with his friends around plastic water tanks stacked in front of the village’s school. The tanks were waiting to be distributed as part of relief programs and were the source of imagination for the kids game. They were playing war, using the water tanks as shelters, running around throwing little stones at each other, then screaming “go to the shelter, go to the shelter” before they run laughing to hide between the lines of grey water tanks and stay still for a while before they storm out and start throwing pebbles again. Even as we sat to talk we were not spared few pebbles and laughs from the crowd, inciting us to leave the interview and join the game. Ahmad is 12 years old and he spent 21 days in his village during the war before they left during the 24-hour ceasefire declared by Israel - a ceasefire Ahmad told me was restricted to aerial bombing while the Israeli cannons thundered in the distance. He caught my attention from the first minute, the way he spoke calmly with a smile and much confidence, and the way he stared at the ground and took time to think before he answered. His friends were all around us, teasing him, to which he responded with a wide smile and closed eyes as he turned his head down. Ahmad’s father works in Qatar while he lives with his mother and two siblings, an older brother and a five-year-old sister - in the village.
Where did you stay during the first 21 days of the war? And what do you remember of those days?
We stayed in our house, with our grandparents and our uncles and their families. We played all day as our parents watched the news or listened to the radio. At night there was a lot of noise from the bombs. The noise felt much louder at night and scared us a lot; during the day we could ignore it and play, but at night it was impossible. We also had to turn the lights off so the planes won’t know that there are people inside. I kept telling myself that if things become very dangerous my family will save me; this is how I went to sleep. We heard that some families had no food left, but we had grains and we were taking vegetables from our garden to eat. Sometimes there were people from the Civil Defense delivering bread, and when they did not come due to the bombing my mother would bake some. What scared me the most were the empty streets. It was very scary to look out anytime and not see anyone nor hear any movement. We felt all alone though there were many people in the village. This was the scariest part. My little sister was crying all the time, and we could not do anything to make her stop. Even letting her play with my toys did not work.
How did you leave the village?
After they bombed the bridge connecting the villages in our area to the north of the country, the people of the village decided to leave during the ceasefire. People started going out of their houses bit by bit. At first I could see a few families walking down the streets, then more and more till we became around 400 people walking. My mother told me not to be scared, and that everything would be fine once we leave. I believed her but still I was scared. You could hear the cannons in the background. All through the way I was thinking about what will happen if they start bombing us. It was all over the news that they were bombing caravans of people leaving their villages. I thought they would start bombing us any minute. We leaved at 8 am and walked till a village where we could find cars to take us to Beirut. We walked around three hours. There were a lot of people walking with their things, also from other villages. Some people were throwing away things they were carrying because they were getting tired. Some children like my sister were crying, I held my mother’s hand and tried not to be scared.
What do you think of the UNIFIL?
They are here to protect us. Before they did nothing to protect us, but now they say they will. We will see.
There is a UNIFIL base very close to your village, why did not you go there to hide instead of walking for hours?
We did not want to be the only ones to go there, and the people in the village were scared that Israel might bomb the UNIFIL base if we went there. They did it before in Qana and killed a lot of people. It was much better to go far from Israel.
You told me you went to Syria after you left the village, how was it there?
I was worried about my grandparents who stayed in Beirut. We were bored in Syria and did not have our toys with us. But it was good because my father met us there and we got to spend time with him though most of the time he was either waiting for the news or trying to phone the family in Beirut.
Did you want to leave the village?
I do not know. I did not think about it. We did not have the choice, and I was scared. Here we were sitting around waiting for the bombs expecting to be hit any time. We had to run away. If I was older I would have helped defend the village, but now I do not know how.
When did you come back, and what can you tell me about it?
We came back to the village few days after the final ceasefire. My parents were anxious to see if our house was destroyed. When we arrived the house was still there, but we were told that the Israeli soldiers stayed in it during the few days they occupied the village. A lot of furniture were broken, and there were a lot of mattresses on the floor and a bit of the food they left behind. We were scared that they might come back; it felt like the house smelled of them. My mother was crying when we entered — she thought we would never come back to see it standing. They threw our year-stock of grains on the floor, mixed all different kinds in a pile then poured oil on it. We had to throw it all. My mother was very upset about that.
Why do you think they did it?
I do not know. I think to hurt and scare us. But maybe ask them, why did they kill all those children. It is very easy, give us our prisoners and let them take theirs, without the war.
Do you think they will start another war? and if so, what to do?
I do not know, but they will come back for their soldiers. We have to let them go anyway, but after they free our prisoners in Israeli jails. I do not like war and it scares me. But I feel for the prisoners — poor them, we have to free them. Israel has been detaining them and torturing them for such a long time. If they start a war again, we have to protect ourselves, we have to support the resistance … they are the only ones defending the village.
Do you have any message to the world?
[Smiles shyly] I do not know.
And to the resistance?
May god protect them, and grant them victory.
Do you think we won this war?
We stopped them this time, but maybe they will come back. There were a lot of destroyed houses and a lot of people died; they are all martyrs. The prisoners are still in jail; poor them. I do not know, yes I think we won.
Ahmad’s friends were getting restless around us, giggling and teasing him by chanting “Ahmad, the martyr”. He looked to the ground and smiled shyly — I left him at that point. There was nothing more I wanted to know, or could bear to ask. It was becoming harder for me to fake strength in front of his, holding back my tears was choking me in front of his words of defiance and the calmness of his voice. I did not live this past war, and did not feel entitled to break down in front of him while he held together so beautifully. I thanked him, and he ran to join his friends in throwing pebbles at me before they ran to hide behind the water tanks shouting to me to come to the shelter. I walked away towards the car. In Ahmad’s village there is not a single bomb shelter, a village contaminated with cluster bombs, a few kilometers away from the Israeli-Lebanese border, a few kilometers away from a green land packed with beautiful houses with red-shingle roofs and lots of bomb shelters — those are Israeli settlements.
Imad Mortada is a Lebanese anarchist queer activist and Indymedia volunteer based in Barcelona. His writings can currently be read on qursana.blogspot.com