Diaries: Live from Lebanon

"Popcorn" bombs: The casualties continue

Yasmine is 11 years old, from a small village in the south of Lebanon and a good tour guide around her family’s garden as she shows you the remaining unexploded cluster bombs. Two to give a count — one is hiding high in the grape vine and the other next to a little rock. They look nonthreatening, just little odd metal canisters calling to be removed. But Yasmine is good at protecting you. She firmly asks you not to touch them nor get close to them, only to laugh later as she teases you that you can never know when the one on the grape vine would fall, “so you’d better be ready to run”. 

An uncertain Ramadan in Beirut

“I told my wife, you just buy clothes for our son. I do not need any new clothes for myself and if you postpone getting a new outfit for yourself too, it will be good. Who knows what will happen in the next few months. Whatever we have saved, we spent during this summer, and now we need to save so we can eat during the next war.” This is what the taxi driver tells me in response to my remarks that Beirut does not feel as it did during previous Ramadan seasons. He was trying to explain to me why there is no movement in the city, why the city is dead despite the holiday season. 

Can War Be Over When Battles Remain?

Less than a month after the guns fell silent - despite the ear-splitting roar of Israeli jet fighters regularly searing through Lebanese air space in violation of a UN brokered “ceasefire” - my recent trip to Beirut and the war-ravaged southern Lebanon brought home the brutal reality of Israeli savagery. In scores of places where we stood knee-high deep in debris and rubble of towns and villages, the signs of life are steadily becoming more and more visible. Noises emanating from the engines of front-end loaders, tipper trucks and bulldozers clearly signal the intent of the million plus displaced Lebanese not to allow Israel to succeed in turning their homes in picturesque southern landscape into no-go “ghost” areas. 

Signs of life in Bint Jbeil

On Thursday September 21, 2006, I returned to Bint Jbeil, guiding members of the Netherlands delegation from D4. We walked again through the streets and I searched for our friend from the scarves store. It was 3:30 and I remember her saying that she goes home at 3:00. I was sad to miss her. But I was glad to see more signs of life in the town on the main road and in parts of the old town. We walked through the old town and I searched more carefully with my eyes for the remains of family life in the neighborhood. I remembered the destruction in Jenin and I could see that here the destruction was more complete, more thorough. It was as though the neighborhood was put in its entirety into a monstrous machine which ground it to dust. We stepped in many inches of fine beige dust, dust as fine as talcum powder. 

Photostory: Bint Jbeil to Beirut

This was our second visit to Bint Jbeil and we saw more and more life coming back to the town. The rubble here is of old hand-hewn stones fallen from a very old house. We saw many children’s books all through the neighborhood. Inside the windows of the homes still standing was extensive damage. I had asked why the garage doors of the stores were bent in various ballooned shapes. The answer was that the bombs created pressure that blew out all windows and doors and bent the metal garage doors of the store fronts into various ballooning shapes. 

"The power that made dust out of life"

Trucks loaded with rubble arrive at the rate of one each minute - 1350 per day as the taxi driver tells. As we climbed the mountain, we saw embedded in the rubble the torn bits of family life. Shoes, clothes, curtains, shards of furniture, bits of rugs, closet doors, children’s books, school books, shards of kitchen utensils, all torn to shreds, all smashed, all dusty, all mixed in an ugly salad of dust, shattered cement, broken glass, and bent steel. But the dust formed the largest percentage of the mix. I try to imagine the power that made dust out of life. 

Fear and Defiance in South Lebanon

It is true that Israel’s military campaign flip-flopped often and its goals kept changing, but the assault on civilians, particularly of the south, was relentless. I arrived in Tyre on the tenth day of the war just as the remaining inhabitants of the south were beginning to realize that Israel would spare no one. They all tell us that this assault is different from what they’ve seen from Israel in previous attacks. (Israel has invaded Lebanon twice before in 1978 and 1982, occupied various portions of the country for over 25 years, and launched massive military assaults focusing on civilians and their infrastructure in 1992 and 1996.) People who’ve never left their village were now leaving. 

Flowers in Bint Jbeil

In Bint Jbeil we saw almost total destruction and this destruction encompassed all parts of life. Yet in the middle of this damage there were a few amazing jewels of life bubbling open. In the south of Lebanon the landscape is covered with the dust of missiles and destruction. The trees, the weeds, and the cultivated plants are coated with a sickening yellow dust that immediately impresses a sensation of poison and death. Inside the villages, the dust and garbage spread through all parts of the town regardless of the damaged areas. Areas of massive destruction looked like strange cliffs and fields of broken cement chunks interspersed with bits of brightly colored cloth or plastic. 

"As long as you are alive, you can regain everything."

Lens on Lebanon interviews Saida residents: I was affected financially and psychologically. I have no money at all. Psychologically, I have two sons. They don’t want to stay in the country anymore. They want to immigrate now after they realized there is no safe area in Lebanon. My little daughters have a phobia. When they hear any bombs, they just hold in the arms of their mother and can’t move. As for work, there is nothing. Everything has stopped after the Israelis bombed all bridges. I went one month without any job. Now some fishermen have started getting fish from Syria, so I started to clean the fish to survive. 

For Israel's Security: Zainab Fawqi-Sleem and the Question of Lebanon

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. There’s a memorial to the massacre in the center of town, not far from homes smashed flat by this current war.