Socialist Worker

Lebanon diary: ‘Residential buildings have been hit at random, rubble is everywhere’

Photographer Guy Smallman continues his record of life in Lebanon

Issue No. 2016

Protesters heckle Kofi Annan in Dahieh, south Beirut (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Protesters heckle Kofi Annan in Dahieh, south Beirut (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Wednesday 23 August: ‘Khiam became a symbol of resistance’

Standing on a hill above the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon lie the ruins of a prison used by the Israelis during the occupation to hold detainees - a place of torture and despair.

When the occupation came to an end in 2000 the locals did not wait for the Israelis to withdraw. They showed up in force and smashed their way through the gates as the guards fled down a cliff face to the rear of the compound.

The liberation of Khiam prison became a symbol of resistance and a museum of liberation. It had a visitors’ centre and a bookshop, and hosted regular events when former prisoners would meet with their families to remember fallen comrades.

The courtyard was home to several captured Israeli vehicles, which now lie in pieces strewn around the remnants of the buildings.

This was clearly a propaganda strike against the Lebanese. The locals insist that this location was of little strategic importance and occupied only by its caretaker during the war.

The rest of Khiam is typical of towns in the south. Residential buildings have been hit at random. Engineers are working around the clock to restore the power.

The only drinking water is from temporary tanks installed in the town centre. The locals are doing their best to clear out the ruined shops and clear the rubble that is everywhere.

Thursday 24 August: ‘The cost to the environment has been catastrophic’

The beach I am on would usually be packed at this time of year. The sand would be obscured by tens of thousands of sunbathers and local families.

Now the bars along the sea front are as deserted as the beach itself. It is closed to the public for reasons of safety. Only press and volunteer clear-up teams are allowed in.

Tourism was the fastest growing part of this little country’s economy. Unlike Israel there is no US money to plug the gap left in people’s livelihoods.

The damage to the income of the coastal towns and cities is high but the environmental damage is a catastrophe.

The stench here is unreal. Imagine being in a fishmongers that had been without power for a week.

Every day the volunteers clear the dead marine life from the shore. “In the first 12 days we cleaned 4,000 kilos of dead fish from here,” says Abdul, a local man whose usual job is to maintain the beach for holidaymakers.

How many more fish are rotting out to sea and depositing their toxins into the ecosystem is unclear. This pollution has been caused by refined petroleum which on the whole causes less damage than spills of crude oil.

I’m told this could have been ten times worse. Hard to imagine really.

Monday 28 August: ‘Kofi Annan is given the welcome he deserves’

Today the head of the United Nations (UN), Kofi Annan, went to Dahieh in south Beirut, an area that was bombed solidly for 33 days while the world’s leaders could not even call for an immediate ceasefire.

The feeling on the ground here is that it was the Israelis’ realisation they were in an unwinnable ground war that forced the ceasefire. The UN was, as usual, forced to tow the line of the US.

A fire engine sprays the ground due to be walked by Kofi Annan before he arrives. I find the sight of Beirut’s brave firefighters doing this quite offensive.

These were the men and women who gave their lives during the war. Their resources could never cope with the Israeli onslaught, yet they performed above and beyond the call of duty. Now they are told to lay down a watery carpet for the person who failed to protect them and their country.

A crowd has gathered around the cordoned area by the time the convoy arrives. Kofi Annan emerges from his limo with the Lebanese prime minister.

In a split second there is a deafening chorus of booing and hundreds of Hassan Nasrallah placards appear. The level of organisation in this area is awesome. The delegation is now surrounded by a backdrop of resistance banners and slogans. I can’t help thinking that this is not what the UN media team had in mind.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 2 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2016
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.