Photo Essay: Tell about the children who have dreams
Published in rabble.ca | July 13, 2011 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly readers
Men protesting in Tripoli, Lebanon. Photo by David P. Ball
July 13, 2011 — Five years ago today, I was living in Beirut when Israel began its 33-day air and land assault on Lebanon, killing 1,200 civilians. The invasion was Israel’s response to the killing of five soldiers by Hezbollah, a popular Shia movement which provides much of the south’s social safety net.
For two weeks, I witnessed the impacts of the war firsthand and spoke with dozens of refugees, teachers, shopkeepers and community organizers about their hopes, fears and rage at the injustice. Although Lebanon has long been unstable — enduring several civil wars — the 2006 invasion set off a destabilizing chain of events which constantly threaten to plunge Lebanon into chaos.
Read more of my Middle East reporting:
• A farewell to Beirut under siege (rabble.ca)
• Lebanon diary: Innocence in the rubble (United Church Observer)
• Arab Spring, Lebanon rising (Briarpatch Magazine)
• Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (MAP-UK)
Hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into Beirut’s Hamra district after neighbourhoods were flattened by Israeli airstrikes. They slept in parks, schools and mosques. The Lebanese army was ordered not to engage with Israeli planes and troops, their role reduced to watching helplessly by their tanks and distributing relief to roughly a million people displaced by the war. Photo: David P. Ball
At the time, I wrote about the siege and my evacuation with thousands of other Canadians for rabble.ca: A farewell to Beirut under siege. Today, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the future is, as always, uncertain. For those of us who were impacted by the July 2006 war, the memories remain.
July 13, 2006 — The airstrike’s rumble shatters Beirut’s eerie midday silence — the bombs are getting closer and closer. The airport was the first to go; the blast awoke me at the other end of Beirut. Entire apartment blocks are now rubble.
I find my way through the creaky antique wrought-iron gates of Zico House in Beirut’s Hamra neighbourhood. Since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon began, this has become a home base for anti-capitalist activists. They are providing a space for young radicals to organize and communicate with the world and other Lebanese people, but also direct aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees who have flooded into the neighbourhood, an alternative media centre, and a pharmacy.
“Please don’t look at Lebanese people as terrorists,” Rania Shatila tells me. “We have children who want to play and have fun, to go to the cinema. Are we going to live to see the sun in the morning? Will we live to see the moon tonight? We are counting hours and days, living day-by-day, and hour-by-hour.”
“I hope you can do something for Lebanon — tell them about the children who have dreams.”
Most of the refugees were children, many of whom had not be alive during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. “When I heard the first loud noise (of a bomb) I started trembling,” 14-year-old Noor Salameh told me. “My heart was beating very much. I was so frightened.” Photo: David P. Ball.
Activists at Zico House in west Beirut — a hub for independent media and grassroots aid for refugees — sort through mountains of clothes and diapers, and deliver baby formula, medications and blankets as part of the relief efforts. Photo: David P. Ball
Anti-capitalist organizers set up an independent media centre in Zico House, using laptops, cellphones, internet and satellite transmitters to communicate the situation to the rest of the world. Photo: David P. Ball
Several weeks into the war, Canada evacuated 14,000 citizens from Lebanon, albeit reluctantly. Here, a man at an Aug. 6, 2006 protest in Montreal holds a United Nations flag, with calls for the UN to declare a ceasefire. The invasion killed 1,200 Lebanese civilians, several hundred Hezbollah militants, 120 Israeli soldiers and 44 Israeli civilians. On July 25, four unarmed UN peacekeepers were killed in an Israeli air strike, including Canada’s Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener, who were in a clearly marked UN observation post in south Lebanon. Photo David P. Ball
Just five months into his first term as prime minister, Stephen Harper declared Israel’s response “measured.” But tens of thousands, led by the large Lebanese-Canadian community, protested in Montreal and across Canada against the 34-day war, many with signs with images of those killed in airstrikes. On Aug. 14, a UN ceasefire came into effect. But the legacy of Lebanon’s 2006 war continues. Photo David P. Ball
As Israel imposed a naval blockade of Lebanon during the war, US, French and other warships and aircraft carriers were visible on the horizon – standing by to evacuate citizens and maintain a presence. However, many criticized their reluctance to criticize what they saw as Israel’s collective punishment of the Lebanese people. Photo: David P Ball
Hundreds of thousands of refugees, including these children, flooded into Beirut’s Hamra district as more and more neighbourhoods were flattened by Israeli airstrikes. They slept in parks, schools and mosques. Photo: David P. Ball
Still scarred from decades of civil war, Beirut’s southern suburbs were among the hardest hit by the airstrikes. The carnage – entire residential neighbourhoods turned to rubble – was even visible from space. Photo: David P. Ball
Lebanese children seek shelter in their family’s home and flag-selling shop. During the 2006 war, almost no region of the country was safe from attack, with Israel destroying key infrastructures such as bridges, roads, airports, ports, schools, and hospitals, as well as 15,000 houses. Photo: David P. Ball
Canada evacuated 14,000 people from Lebanon, albeit reluctantly, after several weeks. Many of the evacuees held dual citizenship (there are 40,000 Lebanese-Canadians in the country), but mainstream media outlets expressed outrage at them for costing Canada $85 million, despite being entitled to protection as citizens. Photo: David P. Ball
Canadians were evacuated to Montreal, where demonstrations raged both for and against Israel. A small group of pro-Israeli protesters shout at an anti-war vigil outside the Israeli consulate; one of their signs read, “Palestinians are terrorists.” Photo: David P. Ball
Tens of thousands protested in Montreal and across Canada against the 33-day war on Lebanon, many with signs depicting civilians killed in airstrikes. Photo: David P. Ball