Lebanon's anguish

THE BALTIMORE SUN

To bring readers the words of those directly affected by the conflict in the Middle East, The Sun is presenting a series of brief essays, in this case by people writing from Lebanon. In coming days, this page will present the voices of people in Israel and elsewhere.

Mayssam Zaaroura is an editor at the Daily Star, Lebanon's English-language newspaper.

The ruin of a nation can only herald the rise of a better one. This is what I keep telling myself as I watch my once-beautiful country fall.

Life to us is no longer the future. It is today. The safest route to work. Do I have time to stop at home and check if everything is still standing? No, it's too dangerous. Better just get to work.

The Lebanese have risen to the occasion to help their fellow man. They have become more united than ever -- forgetting religious and political differences to open their homes to those who have none. Veiled Shiite women taking refuge in a church and thanking the nuns there for their shelter. People once displaced by Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 now open their doors to those left homeless in 2006.

As I walked out of my friend's building today, I was carrying boxes and bags because he was moving. An old woman sweeping the stairs stopped and looked at us. "You're leaving?" she asked, a tinge of desperation in her voice. "No," I said. "Just moving. I'll still be here." "Then God be with you," she told me, breaking into a wide smile.

Our days are spent calling family and friends every hour to make sure everyone is safe. Our emotions are always at the ready. One minute we are laughing and returning to some sense of normalcy. Then we see the gory images flashing across our screens. And the laughter dies.

A friend and I had to go do an interview at 4 one morning. We were getting ready to leave, and for a while both of us were silent. Then the question on both our minds emerged: "Shall we drive with the car light on or off? Maybe it's best we try to keep them on so they don't think we're someone we're not. We don't have anything to hide."

The sound of the planes is terrifying. They circle for hours before they strike, looking for their prey. No one knows where the bomb will fall, but after a while it doesn't matter. You just want the sound to stop -- it doesn't matter where the bomb will fall and who will die in the name of collateral damage. Until they circle again.

My niece and my sister-in-law were trapped in the south -- in the heart of battle. My niece is 5 and had no idea what is happening around her. I talk to her every day, and her voice gets lower and sadder everyday. By chance of birth, she is French and is awaiting her embassy to get her out.

She's lucky. She will, I hope, get out eventually. Many other children, her friends, won't. How do you explain to a child why their friends died in a war between Hezbollah and Israel?

Stephen Sheehi, formerly a professor at the American University in Beirut, is a professor at the University of South Carolina. This essay is excerpted from an article that originally ran in The State, Columbia, S.C.

My family and I are due to be evacuated from the American University of Beirut, where I have been teaching for the past three years. We will leave Beirut with only a knapsack each as we relocate to Columbia, where I will be assuming my new position at the University of South Carolina.

For three days in a row, we were scheduled to be evacuated by the U.S. embassy, only to have those plans canceled at the last moment.

What has been most disturbing is to see my two sons (Shadee, 6, and Jad, 11) completely terrified. The bombing is sometimes so loud that it shakes your bones, making the kids jump to hold me as I pretend that my own heart did not skip a beat.

I have met people who have lost their homes, who escaped carrying their possessions on their backs along mountain dirt roads, who are sleeping outside in public parks, whose young and old relatives have been killed senselessly as they slept in their beds or fled in their cars.

My elder son sums up my discomfort. He told me on a recent night: "Poppy, I used to be scared of imaginary things. Scared of the dark especially after watching scary movies and stuff. But, I know what I should really be scared of now. Real things, not imaginary."

As proud as I was of his wisdom, my heart also broke. What lessons he had to learn so young.

Raida Hatoum writes of her life in Aley, Lebanon in this series of personal e-mails. She works with Najdeh, a women's nongovernmental organization in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon.

July 15 -- I am fine at my parents house in Aley, yet how can we be fine while worried about other members of our family who are sleeping in the shelters like my sister and her husband and three children who live in Sawfar where the bridge that takes you to Beqa'a region and then to Syrian Lebanese borders was attacked twice? Their house was partially damaged but they are all fine physically, and cannot leave the area but they are sleeping in the shelter. Today more than 10 children were burned to death when the Israelis attacked their cars while trying to escape the bombing.

I am fine physically but about to fall sick seriously because I am so worried about the many people I know who live all across the South, Tyre, Sidon, Beqa'a and Beirut. I have been trying to call Mohammed. I am so worried about him and his family yet as you might know the mobiles are not working well. I am worried about my coworkers in Najdeh, Fatmeh lives in Haret El Naemeh, the area was bombed 5 times till now. I am worried about Wafa who you have met recently. She lives in Borj El Brajneh camp, at the outskirts of the camp and very close to where Israelis bombing 7 times the area of Dahieh. I am worried about the people in Tyre camps, I am worried about my friends in Khiam, Houla, Rmeish, Habboush, etc.

Two hours ago, the Israelis attacked a Syrian civilian car killing every one who was inside it. I will end this email now, I have no idea when the electricity will be cut again, we have less than 2 hours of electricity every day.

Salaam my friend

Raida

July 20 -- Yesterday was the worst, 70 civilians were killed most of them are still under the ruins of their destroyed houses in the south and Bealbeck and Hermel.

I went to a shop to buy cigarettes and milk, the shelves in the 7 shops I visited were almost empty. The roads are cut and there is no way to provide goods from one region to the other.

I try to imagine that I have to sleep in the same outfit I was wearing for a week, in the same underwear. I try to imagine how it would feel to be in a minivan on the road with tens of other people squeezed running away to what might be a safer zone, fearing that the Israeli missiles would hunt us in any second and that we would make the news like the family of Dweir, the family of Ramlieh, and others. I try to imagine if I can stay with no shower for a week, with no medicine for a week, with no food, no bathrooms, no water to drink, no contact with other members of my family.

[P]lease tell those who care that we don't want to be left alone, in case this madness would stop we will rebuild Lebanon and we will rise again ...

Salaam, Raida

July 24 -- Yesterday my sister and her three children moved to stay with us. Their house was damaged in the Israeli bombing of the bridge near their house and they were staying in the shelter. The children were terrified as they are hearing the bombs and the jets in the sky. Having the children at home with us forced me and the others to hold on and to be stronger.

I want to thank you, all my family send their greetings and thanks to you and every one by your side who are acting or concerned and pray for the safety of people here. take care, Raida

Rana El-Khatib is a poet living in Beirut.

In her book Baghdad Diaries, Nuha Al Radi described how fragile the birds were when the bombs dropped on Baghdad during the first Gulf War. I now understand just what she meant. Two days ago, when Israel dropped a barrage of bombs on the southern Beirut suburb of Dahieh, I happened to look out of the window at a small area of trees after the first set of bombs crashed down with unimaginable force. There, I saw hundreds of birds take to the skies around their trees in a state of utter panic, flying every which way to escape the sound waves that seemed to throw their little bodies off kilter. And then, as more bombs hit the suburb nearby in rapid succession, they continued to throw the birds into a total tizzy.

Our already fragile environment has taken a massive beating, taxing it almost to the point of no return. It is estimated that 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil has spilled into the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of Lebanon so far.

The marine ecosystem in our portion of the Mediterranean has been adversely affected. It is covered in the sticky noxious waste and is slowly suffocating while the sludge creeps its way down the coastline.

Then there is the polluted air we are breathing. After the massive fires that blazed up when Israeli planes bombed three of our key fuel reservoirs, they burned for days on end and until every last drop of fuel was exhausted.

The impenetrable, intense flames and black smoke that bellowed upward from those fires covered large swathes of land, creating a thick enough cover to block the sun. Everywhere we turn, it seems, someone is coughing or complaining of a headache.

The garbage in our streets is pilling up. The stench in some areas is oppressive. Truck drivers hesitate to take to the streets. Trucks, all kinds, have been subjected to "smart" bomb attacks, no matter where they are and no matter how long they have been parked, and no matter what their cargo.

Where humans have drawn lines on so-called "maps" to segregate people and nations from one another, the reality is that planet Earth has none. What lands on our soil today may end up on your soils tomorrow. The poisons we inhale now may one day seep their way into your air space.

Wars affect people and the environment in which they live. For every bomb that is dropped, thousands of smaller worlds die a small death. And when we succeed in killing off the smaller worlds within our own, what will be left to salvage?

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