Monday, July 31, 2006

To Qana and back

I took advantage of the promised 48-hour lull in airstrikes yesterday, and drove to the south with two middle-aged journalists-- a Swede and a Californian, both conflict addicts who would ordinarily be in Iraq. It took us six hours to get from Beirut to Qana [roughly 70 km], during which I was exposed to a noxious amount of vapid cyncicism, endless comparisons to Iraq and the "mooooj" (mujahadin), as well as periodic offers of hand sanitizer. Like many war correspondents, fresh off the boat from Iraq or Afghanistan, the Swede and the Californian were well equipped to brave the lush greenery of southern Lebanon in sand-colored multi-pocketed vests and matching combat trousers. "Dude, that was probably an old people's home", the Californian exclaimed as we drove by one of many flattened buildings, to which the Swede responded, "Well you know they are the chosen people." And so on and so forth.

Since Google Earth hasn't updated its satellite maps of Lebanon, nobody quite knows which roads are open. We drove around in circles a lot, trying our luck on the highway, until a collapsed bridge appeared on the horizon, drove through the Chouf mountains, dirt roads, banana groves and abandoned villages. There were heavy traffic jams on every road with people packed into cars-- some in brand new Mercedes, others in battered, windowless wrecks-- and vans trying to flee the south, UN aid convoys, as well as local traffic since anyone not fleeing was frantically running errands. I saw at least 50 or 60 bombed-out cabs, cars, vans, and ambulances on every route we took, even on the trek through the dense banana groves.

Half the country smells like raw sewage, the other half like burnt fuel from the Jiyyeh power plant that is still ablaze and leaking oil into the sea.

The village of Deir Qamoun an Nahar to the east of Tyre (Sour) was almost entirely flattened and abandoned. Rows of houses and shops completely leveled to the ground, crater holes in the middle of the road that leads through the village, and hordes of goats roaming around. We drove through a series of bombed out ghost towns, populated by nothing but mangled dogs, screaming cats, donkeys and cows. We occasionally saw people wearily emerge from their homes, so not everyone can or has evacuated. They were exceptionally kind and helpful, offered us chewing gum and directions. Makeshift hand-written signs posted everywhere say "To Beirut" or "To Tyre".

The international press was still in Qana when we arrived. Here 60 individuals were killed when a missile hit an apartment building over the weekend. Again, the house was completely flattened; the debris stood 20-foot high, and 1 or 2 surviving family members told their story. The two journalists-- Swede and Californian-- opted to interview the weary young man whose cousins (age 6 months to 10 years) were killed. He had told his story to at least a dozen television cameras in our presence. "Did you really dig through the rubble with your hands?", the Swede asked, shoving his video camera into the man's face.

Amidst the concrete remains of the houses were shoes, baby photos, sheets, teddybears, lingerie, handbags, yoghurt cups, operating manuals for refrigerators and DVD players, and mounds of math and French homework. One essay which was neatly transcribed into a school notebook tackled the issue if women and men are capable of performing the same jobs. The child-- maybe her or she was ten, judging from the handwriting-- argued, yes (in French), and gave examples from her own family; how strong her mother is, how they all take care of the animals and land, how things were different in grandma and grandpa's day.

A friend who works for the BBC arrived on the scene the morning after it happened, and detailed how they pulled one child after another, after another, their mouths frozen wide open, caked with mud, from the rubble. Since the bodies had been removed, all that was left was an egregious violation of intimacy; personal belongings exposed, the details of someone's private life rained down in a neat radius around where their home once stood, for all to see and poke around in, for foreign journalists to step on and photograph.

Waiting for the Swede and Californian to finish probing the survivors, I went and petted the cow in the field across from the ruin. Her utter was bursting at the seams; she seemed in great discomfort.

We left Qana, because the Israeli air strikes (during the promised cessation) resumed nearby, and were coming closer and closer. We stopped outside a pharmacy on the way out of town. The pharmacist was hurling boxes of medicine and sanitary items into his car, in a rush to deliver them to nearby villages. Swede and Californian sidled out and requested an interview. The pharmacist, a young well-groomed man sporting stylish flipflops, said he was in a rush; they took their time setting up their recording devices. "What is your name?" "Hussein." "Are you a pharmacist? "Yes, I am a pharmacist, but I am also a painter". "Were you here for the, you know, bombing?" "Yes, for about 6 or 7 days". [They meant the massacre that caught the attention of the world, not the continuous shelling and bombardment of the past 20 days.] "Were the Hezbollah here?", the Swede asked, while the Californian obediently scribbled notes: Hussein- circa 35- pharamicist...
"I dont know if the Hezbollah were here. I'm an artist. Not compatible with that, is it?" the pharmacist politely responded, pulling down the shutters on the storefront, and starting the engine of the car. "Look, I really have to go now."

The trip back from Tyre (Sour) to Beirut only took two hours. My friend H. who is working as a fixer and driver for the Swede, argued with the Californian that he was going to try to take the coastal highway. "But there is no coastal highway, dammit. Drive into the mountains!", the Californian commanded. H. didn't respond, and headed for the coast, while the Californian smacked his lips in disapproval in the backseat. We barreled through villages between Tyre and Saida, and crossed over onto an in tact stretch of the highway between Saida and Beirut. Soon enough, we approached our obstacle: a crater from two 2-ton bombs that had taken out all 8 lanes of the highway, sending it crashing into the sea below. "See, see what I told you?", the Californian haughtily exclaimed. H. didn't respond. We were now in bumper-to-bumper traffic, edging towards this abyss. Everyone was getting out of their cars and walking towards the crater. And there, I saw that the Israeli bombs had indeed destroyed the entire highway, save a 4-foot strip, along the ridge by the sea.

Someone had placed scraps of metal across that crumbling segment, and cars in both directions were crossing, one at a time, under the guidance of a dozen men, shouting and waving them on. All the passengers in the cars got out and crossed on foot, while the drivers alone braved the treacherous stretch. The elderly were propped up or carried to the other side, and a victorious mood prevailed, having defied the IAF-inflicted inconvenience. Soon we were barrelling down the highway again, and made it to Beirut in no time.

18 comments:

saamida said...

A georgeous report. Chapeau, and please keep us informed.

So sincerely and so sad

saamida

Anonymous said...

How far have the Israelis advanced? I know it isn't very far, but is it 3 miles...6 miles...9miles...?

Anonymous said...

May the people of Lebanon and Palestine know true peace and may the Israeli aggressor be defeated.

Mark from New Mexico said...

Emily, you're a delight to read. I especially liked you petting the cow. Try to stay as non-ideological as you are: all sides that don't put life first are wrong.

CAFE YOUNES said...

It is as if I was in your place. Thanks Emily for this report...

Amin (The Coffee place in Hamra)

metsfan said...

Em, thanks for your reporting. As we discussed when you were last in Montreal, the only news one can believe about a war zone is from those who are seeing it first-hand, and not the papers who are selling their agendas. My personal anger is too great for me to comment rationally on what you are witnessing, but you are doing a great job of testifying to the truth of the abuses wreaked on the Lebanese and Palestinian people. People are listening. Keep safe (Niki)

euroarabe said...

good one

apokraphyte said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Lily mia,

You might want to check out (and add your witty Mittle-Eastern grain of salt!) to our libertarian Texan friend’s blog at:

http://kampfeblog.blogspot.com/

The man has a fascinating post

One of the best I’ve come to read since July 12

I mean apart from the Baklava Jumhuriyya thing of course!

Stay safe

Al Hakeem Al Muntasser Al Sâheliyy a.k.a. Dr V. de V.

Anonymous said...

Few things about staging the Kafr Qana so called "disaster":
http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/

Especially - the following:
http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/08/we-need-to-know-truth.html

When they show missiles launched from Kafr Qana towards Israel, and when Israel shows that between the bombing and the building collapse there was a 8 hours gap - anybody will start doubt.

When they recall the staged "Al-Durah" "show" - anybody understands - here we deal with a branch of PallyWood - the HezballaWood.
I remember in Jenin Palestinians buried cows for the "nice" "odour of "death", but to kill and burry your own kids?? OK - call them shahids - it is an indulgence anyway...
Muslims...

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

but to kill and burry your own kids?? OK - call them shahids - it is an indulgence anyway... Muslims....

How ironic that you (a rightwing Israeli bigot) would criticize radical Islamism!

FYI, America’s cherished Wahhabi “allies” (???), and, more generally, ALL fundamentalist schools of thought within Islam (knows as “Al-Salafi[s]” in Arabic) from the ultra-conservative “quietists” who silently took control of the majority of mosques in North America with massive funding from the Saudi embassy in Washington while George W. Bush and Dick Cheney chased imaginary “Mohammedan terrorists” amongst the Haitian and Hispanic communities of Miami, to the overtly “radical” jihadists who burn churches and Shiite temples in Pakistan and Iraq…etc. they all have one thing in common: paradoxical as it may seem, their main hero is the Hebrew Patriarch Moses, not Arabia’s homegrown Prophet, Muhammad Ibn Abdallah, the founder of Islam!

This explains a lot about Islamic fundamentalism and the penchant of Hamas and Al-Qaeda ideologues for old-fashioned Old Testament cultural references and metaphors, with a deliberate emphasis on “the early Jewish Prophets” viewed as authentic “Bedouin believers” and “virile conquerors” that the Jihadis of today need to emulate...

As I said earlier, the Hebrew tribes who conquered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua (Moses’ ruthless military commander) were indeed haughty Bedouins: Israelite invaders viewed themselves as “aristocratic nomads” and despised Canaanite “sedentary villagers” called “Kephérîm” in Aramaic and Hebrew…

Hence the word “Kfâr”, a racist word which means “village” or the dwelling of “inferior peasants” and other “ignorant gentiles”.

Quite ironically, this original Jewish concept was later adapted and adopted by Islamic fundamentalists the world over in its Arabized form: “Al-Kâffer” which translates as “dirty Infidel”.

This ancient Hebrew word then moved from Medieval Arabic into 17th century Flemish (Dutch Afrikaans “Kaffir”) and was used by South Africa’s proto-Nazi colonial thugs to designate black slaves...

Anonymous said...

Somehow Jews don't destroy churches and mosques.

Listen to a wises in Muslim world -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wafa_Sultan

thankgodiamatheist said...

Hey anonymous,a question.
Why on earth of all the educated and intelligent people that we know exist on the other side we ALWAYS have the vilest,nastiest,and
most moronic ,rascist son of b...
to come and pollute this wonderful blog?
Why are here,anyway?just to taunt.

sisselnor said...

PLEASE SIGN AND SEND TO YOURS :

Demand an Immediate International Criminal Tribunal for Israel to Stop Global War!


http://www.petitiononline.com/
un040806/petition.html

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Please Sign Your Full Name!

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To: The United Nations General Assembly
The brutal bombings and invasion of Lebanon and Gaza are acts of Israeli state terrorism. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the present U.S.-Israeli threat to Syria and Iran indicate their ruthless struggle for hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East, which would escalate into a global war.

At least 900 people have been killed in Lebanon, more than one-third children, and 3,000 wounded. The number of refugees in Lebanon has already exceeded one million. Whole residential areas, roads, bridges, ports, power stations, factories and other infra-structure have been destroyed by Israeli precision bombing. Lebanon’s economic and infrastructure damage tops $2.5B as of 4 August 2006.

In Gaza hundreds have been killed. Homes, greenhouses, bridges, water and sewerage treatment plants and electricity generators have been destroyed in the latest acts of Israeli genocide sadistically code-named ‘Operation Summer Rain,’ which began on 27 June 2006. Israel continues its brutal air strikes on the Gaza Strip almost daily.

Israel must be prosecuted immediately for its war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine to stop the war escalating into a global catastrophe. Frances A. Boyle, Professor of Law, University of Illinois, has asserted the legal framework for The United Nations General Assembly to immediately establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI).

“The United Nations General Assembly must immediately establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI) as a ‘subsidiary organ’ under U.N. Charter Article 22. The ICTI would be organized along the lines of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was established by the Security Council.

“The purpose of the ICTI would be to investigate and prosecute Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine--just as the ICTY did for the victims of international crimes committed by Serbia and the Milosevic Regime throughout the Balkans.

“The establishment of ICTI would provide some small degree of justice to the victims of Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine--just as the ICTY has done in the Balkans. Furthermore, the establishment of ICTI by the U.N. General Assembly would serve as a deterrent effect upon Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, Chief of Staff Halutz and Israel’s other top generals that they will be prosecuted for their further infliction of international crimes upon the Lebanese and the Palestinians.

“Without such a deterrent, Israel might be emboldened to attack Syria with the full support of the Likhudnik Bush Jr. Neoconservatives, who have always viewed Syria as ‘low-hanging fruit’ ready to be taken out by means of their joint aggression.

“The Israeli press has just reported that the Bush Jr administration is encouraging Israel to attack Syria. If Israel attacks Syria as it did when it invaded Lebanon in 1982, Iran has vowed to come to Syria’s defense.

“And of course Israel and the Bush Jr administration very much want a pretext to attack Iran. This scenario could readily degenerate into World War III.

“For the U.N. General Assembly to establish ICTI could stop the further development of this momentum towards a regional if not global catastrophe.”

We, the undersigned, demand that The United Nations General Assembly immediately establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI) as a ‘subsidiary organ’ under U.N. Charter Article 22 to prosecute the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, Chief of Staff Halutz and Israel’s other top generals and war criminals for their infliction of international war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine.


Sincerely,

The Undersigned




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