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Eyewitness to the murder of Lebanon

This article is over 17 years, 8 months old
Photographer Guy Smallman is in Beirut to document the human cost of Israel’s war on Lebanon for Socialist Worker. Here are the first of his diary entries
Issue 2013
A ruined apartment block in Beirut (Pic: Guy Smallman)
A ruined apartment block in Beirut (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Friday 4 August: ‘Cars are packed with the lucky ones who have enough money to escape’

The border with Syria is chaos. Going into Lebanon is easy. Coming out hundreds of cars and lorries are stacked up in a never ending queue. Some are HGVs driven by those desperate to get their goods and vehicles out of the war zone. Others are packed with refugees – the lucky ones with the right documentation and enough money to escape.

The road into Beirut is deserted. We have been forced to take this route via the north because the main road from Damascus has been bombed. Now we hear that five bridges have been flattened this morning by Israeli strikes cutting the capital city off from the north.

Many people are scared to drive following the attack on two ambulances a few days ago. There is also a chronic fuel shortage as petrol stations have been attacked.

We take the one remaining road along the coast. Before reaching the city we pass the Halat bridge, which was destroyed this morning.

The remains of the motorway bridge lie in the gorge below, along with at least one civilian vehicle. There is a cordon of used car tyres to divert motorists around it.

Israel has claimed that these strikes were necessary to stop weapons coming in from Syria. This is of course ludicrous. Hizbollah is resourceful enough to avoid the main routes and probably have had their artillery placed in and around the battle theatre for some time.

Israel’s attacks are about smashing the infrastructure of the country, creating mass unemployment and choking the supply line to the hundreds of thousand of refugees from the south who are massing here.

Beirut itself seems equally deserted. People are staying indoors and the few cars on the empty roads are just ignoring the traffic lights.

Saturday 5 August: ‘Human remains have a very distinctive smell. The odour is everywhere’

This morning Israel announced that it had hit several Hizbollah strongholds in the south of Beirut. It claimed its targets had been carefully selected and were areas where Hizbollah were storing arms. We went to the neighborhood of Dhayiya to take a look for ourselves.

The last time I saw devastation on this scale I was covering the aftermath of the South Asia earthquake. Entire blocks have disappeared into piles of rubble and twisted metal.

Aside from a few small shops and work units this was clearly a densely populated residential area. We are told by locals that the buildings destroyed include a mosque, an orphanage and a neighbourhood health clinic.

The death toll is unknown. This area has been bombed periodically over the last week. How many bodies lie under the rubble is unclear but human remains have a very distinctive smell and the odour is everywhere.

As we pick our way through the devastation the remains of people’s homes and lives is all around us. Many of the flats and their contents have been blown into the street. Furniture, clothes, children’s toys and family portraits are strewn everywhere.

As I proceed down one street a Hizbollah volunteer starts shouting at me in Arabic that the building I am standing by is liable to collapse.

Nowhere do we see any evidence of stored arms or munitions. Nor do we see any of the leaflets that the Israelis claimed to have dropped warning the locals to leave. The only crime committed by these people is that this impoverished area provided a political base of support for Hizbollah.

“This was my business,” a young man tells me indicating a small blown out unit filled with what looks like scrap metal. He was a mechanic fixing cars and scooters.

“I am very sorry,” I reply. “It’s OK, god willing I am still alive and, for as long as I live, I am undefeated,” he says.

As I photograph the smouldering burnt out shell of what used to be an indoor market, people begin to panic. The low pitched moan of an Israeli drone is heard overhead. It’s time to leave.

Our guide assures us that a strike during the day is unlikely: “This is just surveillance. The missiles usually hit in the early hours when people are asleep.”

Heading back to the centre, we spot a thick plume of smoke rising from a district off the main road so we stop to investigate. The Muawwad neighbourhood has been the subject of a sustained missile strike. Two residential blocks and a shopping mall have been reduced to dust.

The Lebanese army and police are frantically trying to dig out a basement underneath the ruins. People were sheltering here. Four bodies have been discovered but faint cries can be heard from within. The situation has become urgent because a fire is raging in a core of the rubble. No firefighters or water are available.

It is here that I meet Marwan Osseiran and his teenage son Nazir. They are trying to salvage saleable goods from what is left of his shop.

He used to sell trainers and sports goods from a small unit at the base of a block which is devastated but still standing. I ask him what he will do now. “We will rebuild when the time is right,” he says. “They did not defeat us in 1982. Nothing has changed and neither have we.”

Sunday 6 August: ‘Hundreds of families sleep on mats in the open. Sleep is difficult with the constant sound of bombing’

Sanayaa Park is a home to some of the thousands of refugees who are flooding into Beirut. The small ornamental garden near the Beirut financial district has become a village for people fleeing from the south of Lebanon or southern Beirut suburbs.

It is hot and dusty. Hundreds of families sleep on mats in the open air with no shelter and few facilities. Sleep is difficult with the constant sound of bombing and sonic booms from Israeli fighter jets.

Ryan Salaheddine, one of the volunteers who help the refugees, shows me round. He said, “I came here from the United Arab Emirates to visit my family. I came before the bombing started, but I decided to stay to help. My cousin told me that homeless families were gathering in this park.

“We established a small committee mainly made up of university students. We asked around the neighborhoods for donations and food, and people were very generous.

“We did not originally want people to sleep here. It is unsafe and unhealthy. There are no basic facilities for hygiene and it is an obvious target for a bombing. But now there is no choice.

“Last Tuesday we did a count and found that there were 870 people sleeping in the park from 179 families.

“Many more have arrived since then. Our main fear is that soon we could see an epidemic of diseases like cholera and typhoid.”

I am introduced to Bilal Awada who, along with his wife and 14 month old baby, has been here for 20 days. He used to run a mobile phone shop in the southern border town of Aitaroun, previously home to around 5,000 Lebanese of mixed faiths. He said, “After the second day of the war we left. We came with just our clothes. The Israelis do not differentiate between the Hizbollah army and ordinary people.

“Fifteen days ago there were two massacres in the town. An entire family of 13 were killed when their home took a direct hit in an air strike. Another smaller family were also wiped out.

“My cousin and his family came to visit from Germany just before the war started. We have had no news of him. He has seven children.

“Here it is very difficult. There are very few washrooms and showers. Care is provided for the baby, but I still have to feed and clothe my family.

“Now I want to ask you a question. These countries like Germany, France and Belgium, the ones who are known for their compassion and campaigning for human rights, why do they not let us in?

“Even if the adults have to stay why do they not take the children until the war is over?”


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