Destruction Part 1
Yesterday I joined the masses returning to the southern suburbs. Roads were busy, back to the usual traffic jams in places, and upon arrival in Mreyjeh, an area I used to live in and last visited two weeks ago, the difference couldn’t be more pronounced.
From resembling a post-apocalyptic future movie with nobody around, the area was filling up again and butchers, fruit and veg sellers, dukanee (corner shops) and barbers were open, albeit with no electricity.
It was clear that many people had only returned that day or the day before.
“Hamdullah a-salameh!” (Thank God you have arrived safe and sound), embraces and kisses on the cheeks as people greeted friends and neighbours they had not seen for weeks.
“Where were you?”
In Sanayeh (an area in West Beirut near Hamra), the mountains, Byblos…
“All ok, your family, the village?”
And so on, based on my exchanges and the people I overheard.
No one I knew, or talked to, had lost friends or family in the war but posters of the dead were to be seen on the main roads not far off. More are likely to appear in the coming months of the “shuhada” (martyrs) on lampposts, walls, and slabs of concrete that serve as traffic dividers.
“Is this a victory?” came up in conversation with several people, instigated either by myself or by acquaintances.
The response was a unanimous yes.
“Israel took a beating…”
“They will not try this again…”
One young chap, who spent the entire war in Mreyjeh (like my friend Hassan), pointed to two posters of Nasrallah either side of his apartment’s front door – “he protected us”.
“But what will you do now?” I asked him, as he used to work with his father selling fish. (The sea is now polluted from Jiyye, 30km south of Beirut, until the far north as well as 100km of the Syrian coastline by15,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from a power plant destroyed by Israeli warplanes on July 13 and 15. (Separately targeted were the walls of the preventative tanks, constructed to stop a spill entering the sea)).
“I don’t know, God will provide.”
My journalist friend Peter and I then met up with Hassan at his family’s apartment. His mother and brother Abass were just about to drive to the south.
“We may not get there before midnight,” he said - the roads to the south are jammed due to the sheer number of people heading home and damaged infrastructure putting a spanner in the works.
“Why not go tomorrow or the day after?”
“Well, my mother insists on going home,” he said, rolling his eyes.
We then set off – Hassan, Peter, Hassan’s sister Miriyam and her friend A – to walk to Rweis and Haret Hreik to see what the wrath of Israel looked like.
We had just passed the cemetery of Bourj Al Barajneh, on the edge of Haret Hreik, when the damage became evident, smashed glass and dust littering the streets.
Then, the sight of utter destruction hove into view, a 12-storey building that had been totally levelled to around 10 meters high. Smoke still drifted out of the wreckage.
JCBs were moving away rubble, and previous occupants walked through the wreckage to try and salvage some personal items. There were quite a lot of people also walking around, taking in the destruction and snapping photos with camera phones.
We then walked past apartment blocks still in one piece, then on to more mounds of concrete rubble. It was hot, sweaty and dusty, people holding tissues over their mouths.
Hassan sucked in his breath on seeing a building he helped construct over a decade ago half-demolished.
“Strong building though.”
The Haret Hreik Husseiniya (a building used for religious gatherings) was the size of a football pitch, and lay utterly gutted. Buildings surrounding it were equally wrecked. Apartments had been cut in half – half a lounge, half a kitchen, oven and fridge still there.
We then walked into the area surrounding Hizbullah’s political HQ.
This was where considerable damage was evident for thousands of square meters.
On looking at one demolished building, Hassan cussed. Another building he had constructed. Hassan then pointed to the badly damaged building opposite.
“This building has been rebuilt three times. It was totally destroyed in 1985 when they [CIA, M16, Saudi intelligence] tried to assassinate Ayatollah Fadlallah but instead killed 80 people and wounded hundreds.”
Fadlallah’s house, behind the Haret Hreik municipality building, was also destroyed we were to see later, as were Hamas’ political offices.
We walked through the Shura council building. You passed through a gate and left through the gate on the other side, but there was no remaining structure standing in between.
Out of the gate was another mound of rubble and dirt. That building had been hit several times with craters, carved deep into the red soil, in two places.
The smell in places we walked through was terrible at times, from rotting fruit and veg, dairy products and possibly, decomposing bodies stuck under the wreckage.
We saw some people with large black bin-liner bags full of clothes and no homes.
P met a friend that ran a pool hall in Hamra. “That was my house,” he said, pointing to a levelled building.
“Hizbullah will provide us with money to rent a house for a year while it’s rebuilt. It is ok.”
(Tomorrow, Thursday, I am venturing to the south for the day - Destruction Part 2).