In Lebanon, We Have No Bomb Shelters

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. 

Art therapy with kids in a Beirut shelter

Many organizations and volunteers have started to work with children who were displaced with their families from many parts of the country, and who are now filling the schools, parks and different establishments in Beirut. The goal of current efforts and programs is first to encourage the children to express their feelings and anxieties about the war, and second, to give some time to their parents to relax a bit during the days. In addition to drawing, many volunteers are reading with children, singing, playing, or even just sitting and talking. 

"The only thing she keeps asking about is Ahmad"

She’s much prettier than her pictures, Hweiyda, despite what they did to her. The one safe eye she still has is green, sad, and beautiful. The stitches that go all the way down from her right eye to underneath her neck are almost as deep as the look in her eye. She was sitting on her bed, very silent, very small, so small. Her aunt was trying to get her to eat. Jelly, custard, cheese, chocolate, fresh orange juice. There was everything on that tray. But only when she saw the books my colleagues brought her did she have something that looked like a twinkle in her eye. The one eye they left her. 

The Descent into Hell Is Optional

On the way to Jean-Marie’s flat, we had walked along the Corniche, a paved boardwalk that fronts the Mediterranean. It was surprising to see that people already were returning to public spaces. A few weeks earlier, the Internal Security Forces had begun to prevent small-scale venders from pushing carts along the Corniche, but now, in the space opened by the chaos of the war, they were back. The Lebanese, after decades of intermittent disruption, have evolved into the most flexible of survivors. They were out again, defiantly. 

Another Day in Beirut

Two days ago, sitting on my sister’s balcony in Achrafieh, I saw an American helicopter. Well, I heard it first. I followed my ears with my eyes. There it was in the sky, making slow, calculated progress. My brother-in-law, Hasan, explained to me what type of helicopter it was. It had two sets of spinning metal blades. Both sets of blades were chopping into the air furiously, loudly and indiscriminately, in order to keep itself afloat. I had seen this type of chopper before, flying over Baghdad three years ago, again in July. Funny how memory works. One war reminds you of another. 

Seven with a Single Blow

The morning air was cool, but we were all plagued by swarms of flies that nipped at our ankles. You could swipe at them, but nothing could stop their annoying attacks. Each of us was bothered by a personal swarm, our own Hezbollah. Betsy was talking to a few of the children tormented by the flies. She began to tell them the folktale of the tailor who, when similarly tormented, had once made a desperate swipe and managed to kill seven flies with a single blow. He made himself a belt, proclaiming that he had killed seven with a single blow, and fellow villagers — assuming he had vanquished seven formidable foes — admired his uncanny strength. 

Why Are We the Story?

The western media has been focused like a laser on the dramatic story of the evacuation of refugees from western countries. The Americans I know who are on their way out all have the same question: Why are we the story? With hundreds dead, thousands injured, hundreds of thousands displaced, Lebanon essentially turned into a Gaza with mountains, and the Bush Administration saying that talk of a cease-fire is “premature,” can we ever expect the western media to report what is significant rather than what will entertain its audience? 

"Didn't you watch the news? They started hitting Palestinians"

“People are starting to sell what they have to get bread; yesterday two people came to ask me if I buy their cell phones, they are selling all what they have. Yesterday, a father of five children who used to work in delivery came to sell me his cell phone, since I work in that area of telephones. Well. it was worth at least 50,000 liras — $32 — and he offered it for just 30,000 liras — $20 — he that 30,000 liras will buy 30 bundles of bread and, which will allow them to live for a month. He asked me, ‘what do I need with the cell phone? I needed it for work, but where is work now?” 

What will happen to us when this is all over?

I get up, fix breakfast for my own personal refugees, and start my daily phone marathon (don’t tell them land lines are still working). I start with Saida; she tells me the bombing was far from their house. She did not synchronize with her son who told me a mall very close to their house was hit. I call my friend in the north: all is fine. My other friend in west Bekaa: they brought a factory down that used to build pre-fabricated houses and hangars and export them to Iraq. But that wasn’t all. Some miracle happened early this morning it seems, when the shelling spared Al Hanane Institution where tens of orphans live; the whole area was bombed like hell. 

The Siege Continues: Evacuations of Americans Begin

“Cruise beyond your dreams” read posters pasted on the walls of the huge air-conditioned tent that functions as the final stage in processing the evacuees before they board the ship. The ship, as if someone wanted to amuse Edward Said for a brief minute, is called Orient Queen. It is part of a Lebanese-owned fleet of commercial cruises, AMC (Abu Merhi Cruises) and contracted by the US embassy to shlep American passport holders to Cyprus. Holders of American passports stranded in the south were shuttled by busses earlier that day to the port of Beirut. They were greeted by US embassy personnel, a small contingent of US Marines and Orient Queen crew.