BEIRUT (17 September – 22 September 2009)
Friday afternoon Abu Jafar took us on a drive through Beirut, focusing on the south Beirut neighborhood of Dahiyeh (pronounced DA-hee). Here is where many people from southern Lebanon moved after Palestinians began attacking Israel from that border and Israel hit back hard. Finally, as history proves, Israel simply invaded, and occupied southern Lebanon for 20 years, draining water from the Litani River and inflicting ongoing hardship and humiliation. “Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982-codenamed Operation Peace for Galilee-could not have been a more Orwellian, nor a more brutal, chapter of Israeli aggression,” writes Hadas Their, an American-Israeli, in the International Socialist Review, Issue 50, November–December 2006. “Ostensibly, it was an operation meant to rid the Galilee, the region of northern Israel along the border with Lebanon, of the threat of terrorist attacks. Despite the fact that there had been no Palestinian-inflicted Israeli deaths in the Galilee for nearly a year, Peace for Galilee rained destruction on Lebanon. It resulted in thirty to forty thousand Palestinian and Lebanese deaths, with a hundred thousand seriously wounded, and half a million made homeless.” http://www.isreview.org/issues/50/Lebanon1982.shtml
Many moved to what is now Dahiyeh.
The streets are narrow and there are no rules of the road: no right of way, barely and way at all to get through. Busy shops line both sides of the street. It’s Friday afternoon.
Everyone’s anxious for Eid to be declared (will it be tomorrow, Sunday or Monday?). Posters of Musa Sadr and Nabih Berri smile down from lamp posts and second story walls. People in all kinds of outfits flit from shoe shop to sweets vendor, fruit stands to stacks of bread. There are completely covered women and girls revealing lots more.
Abu Jafar asks another driver for directions to a spot in Dahiyeh known as the garden. The other responds, “We’re all lost here.” After some wandering we come across a fenced-in “island” in the road with a tree in it. That’s the garden. Someone on a moped sees Katie with her camera. “Sahafiyeh?” “La, ziyara, touring” replies Abu Jafar.
I suppose that was a cue for me to tuck away my pen and pad but no one seems to care.
It’s simple curiosity.
Just as I’m writing how amazed I am that there are no fender benders in this impossible-to-navigate-neighborhood there’s a blockage in front of us. Two cars came too close together in an attempt to squeeze by a tow truck parked halfway on the sidewalk. Dust and petrol fill our noses as we wait for them to scrape by. They do.
On to Hearta Hreit. Here’s a part of Dahiyeh where the somewhat better off laid claim. Higher rise apartments, wider streets. Clean clothing hanging from balconies. Fashion and food billboards replace Berri and Sadr. This area was partly a Christian neighborhood until the Civil War, says Abu Jafar. That’s when they left. “And they don’t come here any more,” added Samia, somewhat discouraged by the segregation that, in this albeit reunited country, is evident.
Now we drive through areas bombed by Israel in 2006. There are piles of rubble where many buildings once stood, but in the six months immediately following that summer siege much of the destruction was cleaned up and the area rebuilt. Most of that work was funded and organized by Hezbollah. That’s why the people like the organization – not because of its militancy. Militancy brings on the danger of Israeli attack – this doesn’t raise favor. But the reconstruction, the building of hospitals, clinics, and schools does.
Mountains of the rubble removed in the process of construction are piled along the Mediterranean shore like untended landfills. Apparently the Lebanese government cut a deal with scrap metal merchants to let them sift through the remains like people panning for gold. The piles contain not only the remnants of stoves and refrigerators but toys, sheets, and remnants of family photos.
Hiding behind the newer buildings we see older ones, pock-marked by years of civil war. Abandoned now as un-welcome reminders of a stormy past and all-but-forgotten by today’s generation. Or is it? Is that storm fully finished?
Katie shot a photo of the remains of the Hezbollah headquarters in Dahiyeh. And that’s where we are stopped by someone who is not simply curious. Soldier or policeman, Hezbollah, perhaps, with a walkie-talkie and no visible weapon, he waved us to a stop. He was extremely polite, apologizing, but it’s the rules. This time I slide my notebook into my purse and shove our binoculars under the front seat.
“Don’t give him your camera,” I tell Katie. He asked for it but did not insist. Instead he used his walkie talkie and called for back up.
“Inti min wein?” Where are you from? He asked me.
“Askun fi Amman,” I told him, ever grateful to Eman Malhas for teaching me the “I reside in” verb form. I gave him my Fulbright card, Arabic side forward. I’d had my scarf over my hair to keep it out of my eyes as we drove with the windows down and now pulled it tighter. How very convenient! A “Mehdi,” from Amman, with hijab. He looked at Abu Jafar’s license: Mustafa B-- from Tyre (Lebanese ID’s show where they are from, which gives any one who knows an idea of the person’s religious background and allows a presumption of political allegiance. In this case that played well for us. We were certainly not enemy spies.
Back up came in civilian clothing. An older man who after a few words with Abu Jafar, smiled at us and said, “No problem. Sorry to disturb you. We are here protecting you from Israel.”
On to Sabra and Shatilla.