Today I was woken up by a text message from a friend, ‘Welcome to 1982.’ Indeed, if you have not already seen this image, have a look on Time magazine’s archive for August 16, 1982. The cover photo depicts Ramlet Al Bayda in Western Beirut with buildings ablaze. Beneath TIME is written, ‘Destroying Beirut’, and at the bottom left, ‘Israel Tightens the Noose.’ The parallels are extraordinary, and the wordage highly apt.
Only a few hours after receiving the text the old lighthouse in Ras Beirut (the new one was destroyed in the first week of the war), was targeted. The lighthouse is less than five minutes drive from where Time’s 1982 photograph was taken.
The power situation is definitely worse, with power outages longer and longer (only five hours today, between 5-10am), and businesses struggling to power generators. Last night at Torino, a bar in Gemmayzeh, it was like a disco, with the lights continuously flickering off and on. Talk, among ‘citizens’ and the numerous journalists out for a thirst quencher (Magnum, The Sunday Times, US Radio, South African newspapers, Time etc.), revolved around Israel’s strategy, whether they would push beyond the Litani river, Sayeed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on TV, and what is likely to happen after the war ends.
Nasrallah’s speech was important in many regards. One because it encouraged the Lebanese to be united and not ‘play into Israel’s hands’ by fighting one another or engaging in demonstrations that could bring about the downfall of the Siniora government (which some people call for), and secondly, backing the decision to deploy the Lebanese Army in the South. Thirdly, Nasrallah essentially apologized for killing Arab-Israelis in N. Israel (target was an arms factory nearby), and called on all Arabs in Haifa to leave…
A couple of days ago I visited a high school in the Christian village of Safra, 20 kilometres north of Beirut, that housed 60 refugees from the southern suburbs and the south. Each family was allocated a classroom to sleep in, with food and drinks provided by former General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. The FPM has been doing a wonderful job in supporting the displaced and bridging Muslim and Christian animosity.
In the corridor on the first floor, sat on stools by windows that overlooked the Meditteranean shimmering below, two men told me about their experiences.
Abass Ayoub had fled the south five days before, from the village of Salaa, 20km to the south-east of Tyre. He said he spent two days with 20 others trapped in an underground kitchen when the building was bombed, with “no water, no food, only God.”
“We felt like we would die, the children were very scared. I saw death and then life returned when we were rescued,” Ayoub said. He added that he still cannot quite believe he survived.
Mohsen Charab, a Palestinian married to a Shia-Maronite Christian woman, said he fled Haret Hreik in Beirut’s Southern Suburbs. He said he had tried to visit the area to see if his apartment was still there. “But the area looks like Stalingrad – you know Stalingrad? – up to your head in rubble.”
“Most people here don’t know if their house is in one piece or not.”
Charab said “we are Hizbullah in our heart now. Everyone, even my baby daughter.”
“They can kill all of us, but there will always be one left that will resist. When we die we die like this,” he said, his two fingers raised in the victory symbol.
“What the Israelis don’t realize is that they are dealing with people who are used to being beaten. We are poor, we are beaten everyday. In 1982 when the Israelis captured us they would leave us in the sun all day to try and make us suffer sunstroke. But we would go outside for 4 or 5 hours a day to prepare, so it wasn’t anything to us! And when they would electrocute us, we would be happy, as we had no electricity!” Charab said semi-ironically.
Another man introduced himself to me. His wife and 10 month old daughter were killed in a bombing in the south. At only 22 years old, he looked much older than his age.
Children ran along the corridors and played in the playground. If these displaced were not here because of the war, one could be forgiven for thinking the school was a summer retreat, escaping the humidity in the mountains with the stunning views of the sea.
A man in the street offered to sell me some fresh fish today. “From the sea?” Yes. “Ah, no thanks.” With the coast polluted from Tyre up to Tripoli, the oil spill even reaching Cyprus, local seafood is most definitely off the menu. As everyone knows this, I am rather puzzled as to who would actually by the fish.
Leaflets were dropped by the Israelis on Beirut this afternoon, threatening a ‘painful and strong’ response to Hizbullah rocket attacks on Israel. Israel has also imposed a 7pm curfew on the northern coastal road, saying any vehicle moving could be hit. Residents of the southern suburbs were also told to leave.
Israel tightens the noose.