Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2014

Lebanon: eyewitness to the Israeli attacks

This article is over 17 years, 6 months old
Guy Smallman is in Beirut to document the human cost of the war for Socialist Worker - here is his diary and photographs for this week
Issue 2014
At 7pm people gather in Martyrs’ Square to remember the dead and to talk about the future
At 7pm people gather in Martyrs’ Square to remember the dead and to talk about the future

Tuesday 8 August: ‘Many of the kids have been traumatised by their experiences and have to be gently coaxed into joining in’

Today I join activists from the Zico House Social Centre in Beirut who are on a mission to cheer up the refugee children in this district. The centre had previously been home to a meeting space as well as offices.

The activists have well and truly risen to the challenge posed by hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding in from the south of the city and the rest of Lebanon.

They have organised committees to deal with different aspects of the daunting refugee situation. I am with the group formed to help refugee children have some quality of life while they remain in overcrowded centres with little or nothing to do.

The basic idea is to get the children active and engaged through a number of games and workshops that have been planned in advance.

At the Raml el Zarif school, which is now home to over 100 families mainly from south Lebanon, the activists gather the youngest children together to begin a series of games. At first their parents look on nervously unsure exactly what these bohemian hippie types are doing with their kids.

This is a world away from the simple, rural and often deeply religious existence that they have left behind in the south. However before long the kids are laughing and letting off steam, so the parents relax and let them get on with it.

Many off the kids have been traumatised by their experiences and have to be gently coaxed into taking part in the activities. Others have huge amounts of pent up aggression from their experiences and feel alienated by their change of surroundings.

Fights are a regular occurrence and many of them have issues triggered by recent events that most could not even begin to understand.

After a few hours of carefully managed play the activists accomplish their mission and the children are tired, smiling and more engaged with their situation and each other. They have certainly been hard work but the workshop will pay dividends both for them and others in the camp.

Wednesday 9 August: ‘Exactly what was the point of this? Are the Israelis being given free bombs by the US for target practice?’

We heard on the news that the Israelis had yet again bombed the south Beirut district of Dhayiya. After trying in vain to persuade numerous cab drivers to take us there we eventually secure a lift.

Soon after we arrive we realised our mistake. We have landed in an area without first seeking permission from Hizbollah. The fact that there was no checkpoint or local cordon is no excuse. We are now in a ghost town with around a kilometre to walk to get out. We are on our own. The driver has left at considerable speed.

Looking at the devastation the obvious question is why has this happened here? This area is deserted and has been for a while. You can almost taste the silence.

No cars, no birds singing, no people anywhere. We photograph and film the latest Israeli “strike against Hizbollah” – a deserted block has been demolished. Exactly what was the point of this? Are the Israelis being given free bombs by the US for target practice?

Or are they just making sure that Lebanon’s capital city gets bombed every day so everyone knows that the war is not just happening in the south? Is it “propaganda” to make the headlines across the world?

Whatever the reason the eerie silence is punctuated by occasional sounds from the shadows that tell us that the people may have fled but this is still a base of resistance. And we are being watched.

Two teenagers appear on a scooter and a brief political conversation takes place. They get their information and speed off. We start to make our way out and as we speed walk through the deserted main street an elderly man appears in the distance. He makes a gesture to us. It says, with some urgency, “Leave now.” We do.

As we reach the edge of the district we are relieved to say the least. We have not been detained and a passing cab is a godsend. The driver tells us that he wants a ceasefire like everyone else.

He is saddened by the carnage but as determined as everyone else that not an inch will be given to the invaders. Heading back into the city we drive through the neighbouring district where thousands of refugees from Dhayiya are staying.

The determination on their faces is plain to see. They may have lost their homes but they are undefeated. These people have been through much over the years and this is just another hurdle to jump. Now that the Arab League organisation has left the city, the ban on demonstrations has been lifted. Every night at 7pm people gather in Martyrs’ Square to remember the dead and discuss the situation.

Children are lighting candles and placing them with flowers on simple unmarked concrete plinths. Some begin a chant in support of the Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The mood is one of defiance as well as remembrance. I get talking to a young Lebanese Marxist called Ali. He tells me how the Lebanese left, who were bitterly divided, have come together with some of the more radical trade unions to coordinate aid for refugees.

This is a story that is being told across a country that was previously divided by race, class and religion. Far from isolating Hizbollah, the Israelis are creating a sense of unity never before seen here.

I share a cab home with some young refugees from the south who are staying in a school near my hotel. Mohammed is 17 and a big fan of Eminem. He is very worried about his baby sister who has had a stomach upset for over a week.

She is losing weight and cannot sleep. She is also very dependent on her mother so the family has an agonising decision. If she stays in the school her condition could worsen despite the twice daily visits from the Red Crescent medics.

However being transferred to the already overcrowded hospitals away from her family could aggravate her condition due to the stress it will cause.

Thursday 10 August: ‘Samah’s bed is needed but she must go somewhere clean if her burns are not going to be infected’

I go to the Government University to talk to Bilal Masri, the assistant general director of the Government University hospital. The government has announced that the hospitals are in danger of running out of fuel for their generators.

“So far we are doing OK,” Bilal tells me. “We think we have fuel for the generators for another week to ten days running at our present capacity. This is about 25 percent of what is usual.

“We are saving electricity wherever possible. We keep essential operations running. Everywhere else electricity is a commodity. If the situation continues to escalate and the Israelis stop the fuel ships from docking in the port then we could see an energy crisis in the whole country, not just the hospital.”

What about supplies getting to the rest of the hospital?

Bilal replies, “At present supplies are still getting in from flights into the one remaining runway at the airport from countries like United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and France.

“We do however have a problem with dialysis patients. Most of the supplies needed for them are based in warehouses in the north of the country and the bridges have been bombed.”

Before leaving I am introduced to two of the patients. Nine year old Samah Shehab is unbelievably lucky to be alive.

She was playing near her house in a village in south Lebanon. An Israeli shell, which was the first of a sustained bombardment, landed just five feet from where she was standing.

Every piece of shrapnel and casing managed to miss her so she suffered only burns on her arms, legs and body. Her doctor says she will be able to leave in about a month but her problems are far from over. Her hospital bed is desperately needed but she must go somewhere clean and sterile if her burns are not going to be infected. Her village is occupied and the refugee centres are anything but clean.

I am also introduced to Ahmad Saad who is suffering from shrapnel and burns. He is part of Lebanon’s civil defence force.

When the south Lebanese town where he was based was bombed he went without hesitation into a burning building to try to rescue a trapped family.

The building then took another direct hit and it was Ahmad who was dragged from the rubble by his colleagues barely alive. The family all died. “He is a hero,” I comment to my guide. “He is one of thousands of heroes across the country,” he replies.

Saturday 12 August: ‘Many villages have been without aid for some time and their situation is desperate’

Over the past few days Lebanese activists from a broad range of political and social groups have been meticulously planning aid convoy to villages in the south. The idea was both political and humanitarian.

Many villages have been without aid for some time and their situation is desperate. Meanwhile the Israelis have consistently announced that all moving vehicles in certain areas are legitimate targets.

This was to be an open defiance of that ban. The convoy of over 50 cars loaded with everything from food to nappies was publicly announced to both the Israelis and Hizbollah. Hizbollah had agreed to clear the way so there was no excuse for any bombing in the vicinity.

But there was no response from the Israelis who have refused to allow NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Red Cross a safe passage. In the end Lebanese National Security guards on Mount Lebanon stopped the convoy on the grounds that it would be too dangerous to proceed.

Initially the organisers of the convoy tried to negotiate a passage with the guards who refused to budge. The people made it quite clear that they were aware of the risk and were prepared to take it. Then activists tried to put pressure on the authorities by taking aid from the cars and trying to cross the checkpoint on foot.

Many of the participants were from the affected areas and desperate to see what had become of their communities. It was an emotional standoff and tempers became frayed with much shouting and a small amount of pushing and shoving. There was no violence.

The guards were on the whole sympathetic to the activists but had their orders.

Before long the decision was made to turn back. The traffic jam caused by the blocked road was in danger of inhibiting the progress of emergency vehicles and no one wanted that to happen. The reason that the authorities had for stopping the convoy remain unclear.

Last night Red Cross ambulances were attacked by the Israelis so people are understandably nervous. It is also possible that the corporate media may have unwittingly sabotaged the project.

They had been phoning various senior members of the government about it. If it had ended in a bloodbath then the politicians would have been asked why they let it go ahead when they knew about it in advance.

The important thing however is that over 50 vehicles and 100 people were successfully organised for this project. The convoy will go ahead in due course once this obstacle has been overcome. Inspiring work by everyone involved.

Sunday 13 August: ‘It seems that the Israelis are making the most of the last few hours of bombing’

At around 2.30pm the Israelis start pounding the southern suburbs of Beirut again. One of those bunker buster bombs shakes the windows of our accommodation. Even though we are miles away.

We get a lift into the south of the city. Hizbollah stop our car as we approach the area around an hour after the strike. They have put a large cordon around the areas that are being hit or expected to be.

They give us directions to a vantage point high above the city where we can view the proceeding from a safe distance.

The Christian area where we are sent has become a circus for the corporate media. If offers a panoramic view of the city. Smoke billows up from several fires started by the earlier bombing. The districts that have been attacked smolder below us. They have been empty since the first days of the war and all but destroyed.

It seems that the Israelis are making the most of the last few hours of bombing before their licence is taken away by the ceasefire. Two areas have been hit and the fires will burn for hours.

Then a massive explosion rocks the landscape to the south of us. An enormous mushroom of smoke appears visible from many miles away – the refugee camp of Naameh has been hit.

One of the Arab journalists present explains that Naameh is home to around 12,000 Palistinian refugees who have lived there for many years. There is a history of tension between the mainly Sunni Palestinians and their mainly Shia hosts, so the idea that this was a strike against Hizbollah is absurd.

There are however a number of Palestinian militants in the camp who are wanted by Israel. This it seems was a simple case of score settling by Israel who seem to want to use every last bomb before the UN resolution goes through.

Go to Eyewitness to the murder of Lebanon for Guy’s previous report

Refugee children being encouraged to play in order to let off steam
Refugee children being encouraged to play in order to let off steam
Bomb damage
Bomb damage

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance