Sunday, August 27, 2006

Journey To South Lebanon: Part Two

Interview From South Lebanon

Footage of Bint Jbeil Destruction

After the funeral, we stopped to photograph and shoot video of three large pictures of what appeared to be resistance fighters. An old man grabbed our attention and asked if we wanted to document his tattered home. We accepted his offer and entered his modest home. Children glanced and laughed at us as we walked to the back of his home. The old man’s donkey gave me a paranoid stare. I felt strange being an American in the circumstances. His house had been destroyed with the support of US tax dollars.

The old man began telling his story. “I am a Lebanese citizen from Jebbail village and I spent 21 days under the bombs with no food, no water, nothing. Israel gave us 48 hours to leave the village. Under gunfire, we went carrying our things to tractors,” he said with passion.

The old man explained that his home was shot up after he left town. He told us how several members of his family, including his brother, were killed in the fighting.

He explained his experience being displaced during the fighting. “We went to a village with no food, no water, no underground shelter, and no house to live in. We stayed in the fields. Now look at what I returned to see,” he exclaimed pointing to his shelled up living room. He continued, “We stayed in forests, in destroyed buildings, anywhere, because there weren’t enough houses left for all the Lebanese refugees.”

He talked of the history of wars with Israel. “We are the people that Israel has been in war with for many years.”

He elaborated on other villages that received damage from the war. “Here… you can see for yourself here if you go to Harfa, Yareen, Marwaheen, not only our village, all the land here was destroyed. They are still burying the people, including children. People’s remains are still under buildings from the 34 days of war.”

As we were leaving, another man grabbed us and asked if we would visit his house. He claimed to have unexploded bombs in his front yard. We went and saw that his home was completely destroyed with the exception of rubble and remnants of furniture. The man spoke to us clearly about his situation. He was made homeless by the destruction.

He began to tell his story. “During the war, after 20 days, Israel warned us to abandon the villages or be held responsible. We left. I was surprised to return and see my house destroyed. I don’t belong to any group or political party. My guilt is to be a Shia and Lebanese citizen at the same time. They wanted to take revenge. I found the house mined with more than 10 mines and the house destroyed. There are still unexploded mines that I can show you…” He showed us two round flat metal objects that looked like land mines. He offered to move them back to the original location for our cameras. We declined out of fear for our and his safety. We had already read the story of two children who were mutilated by cluster bombs and had no interest in becoming the next news story.

We drove along the Israeli border. We got so close that some villagers stopped us to tell us that we were headed toward the border. We turned around and kept going toward Bint Jbeil. We saw a dead cow that had been shot. We looked across the valley and saw Israeli Armed Personnel Carriers and trucks patrolling on the Israeli side. There were houses dotted throughout the landscape on the other side. These were the neighbors of the villagers whose homes were destroyed. A little over a week ago, some of those soldiers may had been on this side fighting a brutal ground war as fighter jets flew ahead bombing the way to the Litani River.

We continued on to Bint Jbeil. It was leveled. You could almost count the number of standing buildings on your right hand. This village had housed over thirty thousand people. We walked through the rubble and documented all that we could. It was pure horror to think that people lived here and they would return to see this. There is no way that all of the bodies had been accounted for. The stench of death was in the air.

A man approached Rema and me. He had something to say. He talked of Nasrallah and the “divine victory”. “We are from the liberation town, not just Bint Jbeil. We are from the capital of resistance. This is a Zionist crime. See what they did!” He pointed out to the landscape of rubble. “May God protect the leader of resistance, our leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and may God protect the resistance guys!”

It was too much to digest. Everything was destroyed. Businesses, homes, schools, cars; everything was burnt out, or rubble. I tried to envision the city before the destruction. Now there was nothing. It looked like a post-apocalyptic Wild West ghost town. It was all dust, rubble, and the foul stench of death.

We decided to move on to a small hospital in Bint Jbeil. A doctor showed us where a bomb had pierced the roof of the hospital. We walked to the back and saw where another missile had targeted the emergency generator. It had knocked the power out for the hospital in the midst of a time when the hospital was most needed. We visited a lady who was wounded after returning to her home. There have been several injuries that have occurred when people have climbed around in rubble.

We left the village and decided to make one final stop in a small village where a man was living with a two-ton bomb. The bomb had been dropped and went into his living room, piercing the wall of his kitchen and into his bathroom. He and his family were in the living when this happened. Luckily for them, the bomb didn’t explode. Now, journalists and activists visited his home to see the bomb. In all honesty, it probably was not the safest place to visit. I mean there was a big unexploded bomb in this man’s house.

We got lost in the winding mountainous roads. We stopped and asked villagers and Lebanese soldiers for directions. Everyone was friendly and at least one group of women invited us in for dinner. If anyone has ever spent time in the Middle East, then they know of the incredible hospitality and generosity that people exhibit. It is a quite overwhelming in fact. One has to constantly refuse offers of dinner or coffee and tea. People would share their last meal with you. The news never shows one that side. It is just angry demonstrators or destroyed buildings. One would think that that this entire area of the world was nothing but dust, rubble, and angry demonstrators burning flags and cursing Israel. There are certainly are manifestations against imperialisms, but one only needs to study a modicum of the history to know why people are upset. The Western powers have spent decades attempting to divide up the region.

We arrived in the village and asked around about the bomb. We came to a small road and asked one final family. A young boy came and offered to show us the way. We arrived to learn that the bomb had been removed. We would not get to capture the bomb, but we were relieved that another family would not die from an unexploded ordinance. The man invited us into his home to see where the missile had landed. It must have been massive. There was a huge hole in the side of his living room with holes decreasing in size through two other rooms. You could see the shape of the missile.

The man was confused over why Israel would send a large missile into his house. He appeared to be a middle or upper middle class man with no connection to Hezbollah. It was not too surprising after our trip through the south. It seemed that everyone there was a target.

We asked him about the ceasefire. The man replied, “I think that this ceasefire will be for a short time. It will not last. There is no peace with Israel here. We are caught up in the middle of politics and are very small compared to these politics.”

After spending some time with man who had lived with the missile, we decide to make out way back to Tyre. Just about every village along the way had been damaged significantly. We made bad jokes to lighten out mood. It was surprising to see a village still intact, rather than one blown apart by bombs or shredded with machine gun fire.

In Tyre, we grabbed dinner with a group of international leftist reporters. We shared stories. The other group of journalists were working on a story on the unexploded ordinances throughout Lebanon. There were lots of morbid jokes. Most people would not appreciate the war humor. It is something that develops in harsh situations. People laugh at jokes about what they know. In war and post-war situations, you know death and destruction. A Lebanese fixer for the BBC told horrible jokes. He had worked in the south during the height of the bombings. I would never repeat any of them.

The conversation would be light, but then get heavy again. The fixer told us about his play. We looked at him with some surprise, not guessing him a play writer. The light mood became serious and sad again. He wanted to write a play about two people that lived with two dead bodies for eleven days. He figured this would be full of morbid humor. It would be an existential piece. The end would be tragic sense the two characters lost their minds. We all took long hard sips of our Almaza beers and decided it was time to return to Beirut.

The road from Tyre to Beirut was treacherous. Right outside of Tyre there was a detour down a dark, dusty dirt road. Banana trees lined the road. It was creepy and the fact that we had worked for 16 hours straight on just a few hours sleep left us in a state similar to the last few hours of an acid trip. Paranoia and delusion permeated our minds. We got lost trying to find our way across the Litani River. We drove slowly through an old, beaten graveyard.

“Old graveyards at night send chills up my spine. Even in a war zone, graveyards give me the creeps,” Andrew said.

A mangy dog ran in front of our car startling us. We jumped and then laughed about our uneasiness. After the graveyard, we ran into a checkpoint from the Lebanese Army.

“Which way to Beirut,” Rema asked a young Lebanese soldier. The soldier pointed to the north and we continued driving. The Lebanese Army has been a toothless tiger in this war. Their rusty old tanks and assorted machine guns are not weapons for the kind of war that happened in Lebanon. No matter how much Israel bombed, they would have to set and wait to clean up the wreckage following the massacre.

The main road was littered with holes of various sizes that were a result of the 34-day bombing campaign. I would start to drift to sleep and then awakened suddenly as Andrew slammed his foot on the break to avoid driving into a hole in a bridge or to make a sudden detour. Driving from South Lebanon to Beirut was scary at night. Everyday there were changes, as the military would draw up new routes for travelers to avoid obstacles in the road. I’m sure that there were many accidents during and after the war.

After driving for three hours, we arrived back in Beirut. The trip would have taken 45 minutes to an hour before the war. We were exhausted. Andrew and I said goodbye to Rema, grabbed a final cold beer and went to sleep in the quaint, little hostel that we were calling home.

Interview From South Lebanon

Footage of Bint Jbeil Destruction

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