Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Eyewitnesses in Lebanon, July 24, 2006.

Today, World Report looks at events in Lebanon through the eyes of those in Lebanon, primarily those in west and south Beiruit and northern Lebanon. I will read to you from letters, blogs and personal descriptions of experience and thoughts of people under seige. Next week we will look at blogs and letters from northern Israel.

After September 11, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Aziz Alsaud, offered the City of New York $10 million. But when the Prince suggested that the United States "must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack," Mayor Rudy Giuliani construed his statement as a justification of the terrorist incidents and rejected the money.

Patrick McGreevy is the first Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Beiruit. In this letter, he explains why he and his wife are staying in Beiruit. He notes that for their Lebanese friends there is no evacuation plan.

On Saturday (Jul 22) Director McGreevy writes "We woke up this morning to a crowded sea. From our Beirut balcony, we could see a steady parade of warships, ferries, cruise ships, helicopter ships, and one aircraft carrier. Helicopters ferried evacuees to the aircraft carrier, and it eventually disappeared to the west. Back and forth, all day, the ships steamed between Beirut and Cyprus. There had been many complaints about the efficiency of the evacuation, but it seems that sufficient resources and will is finally producing results. Tens of thousands are relieved to be getting out....

"About 1500 Lebanese lined up yesterday [that would be Friday] to renew their passports or obtain new ones so that they could leave Lebanon; the scene at the General Security headquarters in Beirut was ugly. As citizens of a country under attack by Israeli forces, they will hardly be able to pierce the naval blockade, so their only option is a land route to Syria.

"Most Lebanese [McGreevy says] are not lucky enough to be refugees....

"Domestic workers from developing countries also face a situation very different from that of North American and European citizens. These are mostly unmarried women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ghana, and other countries. Leaving Lebanon for the Philippines, for example, means finding yourself back where you started without a job and facing a very expensive return trip in order work again.... Moreover, some who wish to leave, cannot because their sponsors themselves have fled and left them without papers.

"The western media has been focused like a laser on the dramatic story of the evacuation of refugees from western countries." (Informed Comment Jul 22 06)

On Thursday, Rania Masri writes from El Koura in northern Lebanon. She is an assistant professor on the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Balamand.

Jul 20 06

"We were at peace"

Quote A colleague stopped by yesterday (to give me the cat of an American who is evacuating - a refugee cat). We talked, naturally, about politics. She said that we were at peace before, we were doing fine before.

Who is the we, I asked her. The south has never been at peace. Since 1948, the city of Nabatiyeh has not had one week of rest from Israeli assault. Not one week of peace since 1948....

[Israeli attacks, she says,] did not begin this Wednesday with the apprehending of two Israeli soldiers. For more than the past month, the Israeli army has been conducting live ammunition training on the border. Lebanese shepherds have been killed.... Let us also remember: Israel has refused to submit a map of the 400,000 land mines that it deliberately left in South Lebanon, and these mines regularly kill Lebanese children.

The chicken and the fish in Lebanon are Hezbollah fighters

A fish farm in Hermel [in the north] has been destroyed.

A chicken farm in Zahle [where her family lives] has been targeted and destroyed.

It seems the Israeli army is frightened of Lebanese chicken and Lebanese fish.

They have also attacked a milk factory in Zahle. Yes, Lebanese milk can be quite dangerous as well.

On Monday, the 17th, Sonya Knox writes from West Beirut, a predominantly Muslim suburb. Quote

Last night we didn’t have electricity. Sitting in the darkness, in safe West Beirut, this is what I heard:

First, there’s the new voices in the neighborhood, the refugees that were lucky enough to escape from Southern Lebanon and Beirut’s southern suburbs before Israel started bombing.

Then, there’s the whine of the generators – Israel’s land and sea blockade of Lebanon means not enough fuel can get into the country, so the government is rationing hours of electricity across the country. Generators are surprisingly loud.

Then there’s the semi-constant drone of an Israeli F-16 overhead. With the Beirut airport bombed, if you can hear a plane, that means it’s Israeli and, thus, dangerous. Which means you have to wonder: scoping mission, on the way to an attack, or just back from one?

Then there are the booms themselves. In West Beirut, the loudest, the ones that shake your windows and make the CDs topple over, are those from Israeli gunboats, shooting their shells over your head into the port or the southern suburbs.

Less loud, but more frequent, are the bombs from the F-16s, which can happen at any time. Sometimes at 10.30am, when you’re finishing a late breakfast. Sometimes at 4 pm, when you’re driving back from visiting a friend, watching her try to help her parents, grandmother and sister leave a small village in Southern Lebanon. Often at night, waking you up at 1.30am, and then again at 2.10am, and then again at 2.20am, and so on. And then a final shot at dawn, in case you had actually managed to sleep.

And then, of course, there’s the crying....Anywhere you go, someone’s in tears.

Sonya Knox
West Beirut, Lebanon
Monday, Jul 17 06

Zena el-Khalil is an installation artist, painter, curator, and cultural activist. She is the co-founder of xanadu*, an art collective based in NYC and Beirut. She currently lives in Beirut.

July 19 (Wednesday)

Today I drove through downtown on my way to visit my parents. I was driving alone and was a bit nervous. First time in a car alone since this whole thing started ... But I had to see my parents.

I came across a red light and stopped. The streets were empty, and I caught myself wondering why I stopped and didn't just go through. Streets were totally empty - no other cars, no traffic police. Then I remembered my latest policy that is helping to keep me sane; that even under attack, we should not lose our manners. That even under attack, there are still some regulations we should abide by. Somehow, by not crossing the red light, I was able to maintain some dignity.

Then I looked into my rearview mirror and saw other cars approaching. I closed my eyes and in a fit of prayer wished that they would stop too. That somehow, if they didn't cross the light, it would indicate that somehow we are all thinking the same. I know most of you have heard about Lebanese drivers ... They never stop at red lights! Ladies and gentlemen, today, they stopped.

I opened my eyes and then burst into tears. All the cars had stopped. Everyone was behaving. It was a ray of hope today. It's the little things that make you happy. I turned and smiled and nodded my head to the other drivers. Maybe they thought this bleached blond was flirting with them.

I don't want to write about all the miserable moments I had today. They were too many. And how can I find the words to really express my despair?

I don't want to write about the tears that fell when I heard about how the Israeli army bombed food storages today. They bombed wheat silos and vegetable storages. Now they want to starve us to death? About how they are now targeting Lebanese army outposts. Lebanese army who are not even fighting them. About the planes that are flying so low. About how my house starts to shake every time a bomb drops. About my worries now about food and water shortages. About the refugees who have lost so much, who are now living on the streets.

The biggest threat today has been to bomb our main electrical plant. The very same one they blew up a few years ago. If that one goes, we are without electricity. I remember that summer ... It was long and hot. I don't know what I would do without Internet. Dear friends, if you don't hear from me after this email it is only because I no longer have access.

I don't want to write about the cramp in my heart every time I hear the death toll rising. So many children! I don't want to write about how everything I have spent my whole life working for has disappeared in a matter of days. A matter of days ... my whole life has changed.

My whole life has changed and I did not ask for it. My whole life has changed without my consent. My whole life has changed because someone, not me, decided they were going to change it. Who said they could? Why didn't they ask me? I was supposed to be camping in the mountains (Chouf) this week. I was supposed to be working on a proposal to bring a New York artist out here next summer. It was supposed to be a surprise; I was going to set the whole thing up, get the funding and surprise him with it. People bought artwork from me, I am supposed to cash my checks. I am supposed to deliver art to people.

Two bombs just went off. My windows are shaking. Stupid me, I closed them to stop the mosquitoes from coming in. thank God they didn't just shatter. My heart - my heart is another story.

We are doing the best we can to help those in need. We are all playing our respective roles and finding roles to play. My sister has been working with the Zicco House/Helem rescue point. They have gotten a bank account open to accept donations so they can buy food, medicine, water, blankets, and mattresses. The ministries of heath and social affairs have proven to be ineffective. It is up to the civil society now to help out.

I can not thank you all enough for all your wonderful emails. They are filling me with life. Please forward the news ... I am so tired. But as long as I have electricity and Internet, I will continue to write.

Until I lose my mind ... maybe by then I can get back into my studio again and paint.

To any Israelis who may read this: I have not learned to hate. I still believe in humanity. Violence begets violence. I know there are some of you protesting this.
Thank you.

With love,

Zena el-Khalil
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