Diaries: Live from Lebanon

The damage against civilians

“You’re just a kid,” scoffed nonogenarian Ahmed Yehya al-Hajj when I told him I was sixty years old. “I have sons older than you and a grandson over fifty.” Ahmed is fortunate to be alive, and not just because of his age. He was visitiing one of his many offspring in the village of Houla when the house was struck by an Israeli missile. First reports were that as many as sixty people may have died, but in fact there was only one fatality and several very serious injuries, some permanent. Still bad enough, for those affected. The survivors showed me the remnants of the missile. They also shared the remnants of their hopes and dreams. 

What the camera fails to see

No matter how hard the photographers tried to capture with the camera what the eye sees, the picture cannot fully communicate the scene. It does not take with it the smell, the thoughts, the feelings one experiences while walking among the rubble left by the Israeli war machine. On the TV stations, one can see the toys of children shattered everywhere, broken furniture, torn out clothes. But on the TV stations or on the pages of newspapers, these are just items, objects one sees and one’s eyes get used to them, just like how the bodies of the deceased become objectified while on screen. 

After the ceasefire

This past week has been slow and tough. It is almost as if last month was all played in fast forward and then since the ceasefire, we are moving in ultra slow motion. For the last month, I just wanted everything to end. Now I don’t know where to begin. For the last month, I would purposefully try and numb myself because I was too afraid to feel everything. Today I am begging for my feelings to return because without them, I cannot live. After a month of stress and living in fear, everything has caught up with me. My throat hurts a lot and my stomach is a perpetual mess. The knots have not gone yet and its beginning to cause physical damage. I am down, down, down. I couldn’t lift a finger to type. I couldn’t answer my phone calls. It was so difficult to wake up in the morning (and I’m usually Mrs. super positive!). 

Photostory: From Al-Amiriyyah, Baghdad to Amiriyyah, south Beirut

“To the residents of the Amiriyyah building Please visit the Afaq Center, Sayyid Hadi bridge. Please bring along any paper that proves your rent or ownership of a unit in the building. Thank you for your cooperation.” Thus read a sign on the rubble of a leveled building in south Beirut. The building was hit by a bunker buster on 13 of July 2006, the second day of the war, when the Israeli Air Force hit the Nour Radio Station that used to operate from the Amiriyyah building. Amiriyyah is a name that takes us to the first Gulf War, specifically to 13 February 1991, when the United States Air Force committed a massacre in the air raid shelter of Al-Amiriyyah in North Baghdad. 

The Massacre at Qana

Two days ago, driving toward the village of Qana, we saw men at work, creating neatly aligned rows of rectangular cement structures that would soon be ready for burials. On foot, we entered Qana, thinking we should at least identify the site where a massacre had taken place when, on July 30th, an Israeli bomb hit a building that sheltered children as they slept. It took five hours for ambulances to reach them. Statistics differ, but the most recent Human Rights Watch report estimated that twenty-three were killed. 

A Proportionate Response

Upon arrival in Beirut in early August, 2006, Michael Birmingham met Abu Mustafa. Michael is an Irish citizen who has worked with Voices campaigns for several years. Abu Mustafa is a kindly Lebanese cab driver. Having fled his home in the Dahiya neighborhood which was being heavily bombed, Abu Mustafa was living in his car. Abu Mustafa joked that he sometimes went back to his home in the already evacuated area of the Dahiya, just to take a shower or sometimes a proper nap. 


Breakdown. I had a momentary breakdown. Driving back to Beirut last night, alone in my car, paying attention to Music for the first time in a month, I began to comprehend all that I saw this last week in the South of Lebanon; I finally let out tears. How does one describe destruction giving it a unique touch, a local expression? I am beginning to think this is impossible because of the very nature of man made destruction. Villages in the South look like pictures I have seen of Hiroshima; they look like Berlin at the end of WWII, and they basically look like many other cities and villages destroyed in history; in a picture, frame per frame, it all looks the same. 

"They are here again!"

“They are here again!” It took just this one sentence for a gathering of people making burghol in a village to the north of Baalback to scatter in all directions, running to check the news on the TV stations. The “they” being referred were the Israelis, who according the first report at ten last night, were raiding an area to the north of Baalback. The villagers left the wheat and the fire and started to follow the news. At almost ten thirty, Al-Jazeera assured them that the five air raids were “mock raids”. The villagers gathered again around the big boiling pot of wheat but anxiety was still in the air with uncertainty. 

The land is still there

By the time we returned to Siddiqine yesterday morning, someone had cleared the dead cows and hopefully adopted the new calf barely standing the night before. Other than that, there is little in the way of good news. Large areas of Siddiqine, Bint Jbeil and many other villages and towns are completely devastated. We spoke to one driver whose car was piled high with foam mattresses. He said he was from the local village but couldn’t figure out where his house had been. I filled my camera with frame after frame of destruction, but soon realized the futility of it all, and limited myself to shots that had a unique and often ironic twist to them. 

The next move

We almost went south again early this morning. At the meeting yesterday, ISM volunteer Alberto Cruz reported that on his factfinding tour he had come upon Israeli soldiers preventing entry to the village of Maroun al-Ras, not far from the route that my team took yesterday. The mayor, who lived just outside the village, had told him that he had had no contact with the villagers who had remained in the town, mostly old people, for several weeks, and was very worried for their welfare. Alberto and a Venezuelan journalist determined to find out for themselves and were turned away.