Thursday, July 27, 2006

Diaries of Siege, July 17, 20

From my sister Darine in Saida, Lebanon

Thursday July 20th

Jumped out of bed at 2:00 am Thursday morning to an airstrike right here in Saida. Great explosion shaking the whole building. It was close, but we could not figure out where exactly. Another airstrike shortly after. Now it sounds a bit further. We rush out the balcony. The glass door to the balcony, like every glass window and door at home, slightly left open to prevent them from shattering due to explosion pressure. We cannot see much. We sit out for while. It is completely quiet. Even bats are too scared to fly around. Then a noisy buzzing sound in the air. This time it is an MK, a pilotless spy jet, usually smaller in size and flies low, takes photos. It is not to be feared in itself, but what usually follows it does, a new airstrike. It takes photos and explores locations to target. Twenty minutes later, an airstrike. Later we go to bed.

We wake up around 4:30, yet another attack. This time it is a gas station. Anything to deplete resources and people's will to strife. At 5:00 am, the phone rang. I raced to the phone contemplating every single possibility of who might have gotten hurt from the family and friends in the raid. I hear an automated recording, a voice speaking formal Arabic, "To the residents of south Lebanon, you have to evacuate the south. The State of Israel." I was stunned, lost my ability to move or feel anything. Of all the different kinds of direct and indirect threats I have received throughout my life from the Israelis, this is the first time I get it right in my home.

Two days ago, they threw flyers with the same text. But, do you think people care? Do you think people respond to these threats? A phone call, a very personalized terrorizing message right in my ear and in Arabic, yet insufficient to drive me out of my home. I am only one of many. But I am not a mother and I do not live further south.

According to government estimates Tuesday night, half a million Lebanese have been displaced . Most are staying with relatives or friends or rented apartment. Over 70 thousand in Beirut and north registered in government centers, particularly public schools. Over eight thousand in Saida are distributed over 30 centers. They are turning abandoned government buildings into refugee centers. They continue to destroy the country's infrastructure and cutting off villages from one another. The two biggest cheeses and Labneh factory in the Beqaa bombed to the ground. Hundreds of cows and sheep farms in Beirut attacked from the sky. with red cross signs on it or not, carrying first aid supplies and food essentials to refugees bombed by jets killing drivers and other people around. Continuous bombing of houses and residential buildings. If the war ends today, 60, 000 people will be homeless.

Yesterday we visited two refugee centers. One had 150 and the other had 310 and expecting at least 40 more. Resources are scarce, medication, infant formula food. Trucks We rang door bells looking for some an extra pillow, sheet, mattress, extra anything. There are 100 mattresses for 310 people in the center. My heart turns into a raging fist as we drive around the city. People looking for their relatives. They know they fled together, but now no word from the other car. Same stories come out of southern Beirut. People leaving their bombed homes and cannot find a mother, child, a husband. In Saida, refugees are sitting on the streets or in street roundabouts, with no where to go. No where. Barely made it safe to Saida and then no where to go. A family, a mother and four children, surviving one airstrike killing twenty five people right there in the same house they were staying, got attacked by sky shortly before reaching Saida. No where to escape; we are all targets.

More cars with white rags tied on radio antennas. Some cars had flags. Flags, of the many supporters of the German soccer teams, now come to use. They are tied to cars, huge flags, implying someone in the car carries the German nationality and hoping being German is worth something in this war. How ironically tragic, these flags were carried around by people every time Germans won a game, flying up in the air, with horns blowing and people cheering. Flags of victory and joy. So many Brazilian Lebanese around, so many supporters of the Brazilian soccer team, yet no Brazilian flags on any car to be seen. People's values vary with nationality.

At least sixty one people died yesterday in different areas in Lebanon, the biggest death toll per day since the start of this war. Only one fighter and the rest are civilians. Families all together killed. Many people believed to be still under destroyed houses. The situation is getting worse by the day. We fear that once the foreigners are evacuated, things will get even worse. According to the media, this is the biggest evacuation in the world since WWI. There are 20,000 Americans being evacuated. Not only with nationality, people's value also varies with place of birth. The US embassy is openly setting evacuation priorities of 20,000 Americans according to place of birth. There is one position lower in the hierarchy to being born in Lebanon and that is Palestine.

So many battles on so many fronts. The battle to survive, the battle to survive strong, the battle with the enemy, the battle with dispelling all the lies from the western media, the battle to stay unified, the battle to hold on to anger, the battle to stay focused and help out, the battle to get out of bed in morning not just to an airstrike. So many battles. One battle we have won so far, the battle to survive strong. You hear it in people's voices: we do not care about the destruction, we persist and we resist.

Monday, July 17th

Second day in a row, the sky in Saida is black. Dark sky, yet rain is nowhere close. The second fuel storage has been burning since bombed in the early morning. The first burned out yesterday. Yesterday the sun set 6:30, an hour earlier than when it was supposed to. The sun sat on a big dark cloud and then sank through it, quite above sea level. A scene so tragically gorgeous. A scene I hoped I would not see again. Today the scene all over again.

We scroll the TV channels, sometimes with boredom and sometimes with anticipation. Christian TV quick to highlight sectarian sentiments. Hariri TV busy showing how their organization is offering help to refuges, parasiting on people's miseries. Manar TV airs high morale to the fighters and our people and threats to our enemy. Another is a Saudi channel, where we watch with boiling anger. Aljazeera, where you hear the Israeli military spreading their lies and insults to our resistance. Aljazeera, a channel so attacked by the US, yet so watched out by us for its conspicuous propaganda. This is how most of the day is spent.

Jets roam the air, you feel them like bees biting through your skin. We hold breaths, here comes the bombing. Earth shakes, harsh piercing explosion. Two seconds later, once I realize it was close, but not close enough, I rush out to the porch to see where they hit. The times when smoke is not to be seen from east and west, we go back to the TV anxious for some news. Last night the attacks were on the hill next to our home, a sixth floor apartment, we had to run hide under the stairway. My brother, having seen the rockets hit, dragged me from my top down the stairway shouting with fear. They hit a paper factory and the area's water reservoir. Two people died.

In the morning, we think hard for something to buy. Today it was batteries. We already bought some yesterday, but we decided they were not enough. Any reason, just to leave the house and drive around. I put the window down and feel the breeze. So many possibilities and images flash in mind. A rocket landing in front of us. My brother injured. Airstrike hitting my home where my mother and sister are. What will I do? If I get hit, I will have to stay calm and make my brother feel strong. So many possibilities. It is scary where the mind can go and to how much detail. Not a bad number of people on the streets, out to buy supplies. Shelves starting to look empty. Long line at the gas station. Some stations closed. The banks are open, we decide to get some more cash. We drive around the municipality, tens of people parked their car outside. Cars with license plates indicating coming from the south. Refugees asking for locations of public schools seeking refuge. They look pale, yet they have the muscular skinny bodies farmers have, and the healthy golden tan on their faces. Some wrapped big white t-shirts on the back windshield of their cars, hoping this is enough to prevent from them being one of the
massacres of the day. Air strikes, seem close. You immediately feel the tension on the streets, people blowing their horns, driving fast and aggressively. Ambulance sirens everywhere. We go back home.

In the afternoon, we take another drive. The scene is quite different. The streets are completely empty. My brother is driving, I in the front street and my sister in the back. We drive around the public schools. You can see laundry on the classrooms' windows. The school playground filled with children from all ages. A car just arrived from the south blocking traffic just in front of us. Very old dusty car, four children jumped out of the back seat, another child jumped out of the front seat carrying a black bag and two cans of infant formula, then followed by a woman with a newborn in her hands also from the front seat. My tears rolled down my cheek. They had a Palestinian accent. But for many cities in the south, it is hard to figure out the accent, especially if they are coming from Tyr, where more than 15 people died in an airstrike on a building yesterday. Death toll is increasing while more bodies are being pulled out. Two more words, and it is confirmed they are Palestinians. Palestinians, now once again refugees, refugees in their refuge. We keep driving, so many areas to avoid. This is a Shiite mosque, a potential target. Gas station, another. They bombed 13 gas stations yesterday, one in Saida. My sister asks not to go through minor roads and stick to the main ones. Then we avoid another main road because it was hit two days ago. This one was hit today and 10 people died. They were going up north to spare their lives. Then we turn around and go back home.

Such a different Monday than the one I spent last week.

The government still does not have a count on the refugees, but they are way over 90,000, the number estimated three days ago. These are people fleeing the south or those lost their homes in Southern Beirut, a completely wiped out district.