[Marxism] interesting report by Kevin Sites linked to Yahoo: Lebanon Diary

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Tue Aug 22 18:36:54 MDT 2006


I'm going to forward the entire article to the list, although its long,
because I don't think Yahoo will keep it on their site, too
"pro-Hezbollah." For now, it's at:

http://hotzone.yahoo.com/b/hotzone/blogs8825
-----------------------------
Lebanon Diary: Holding a Rock

In a conflict filled with civilian casualties and muddy prospects, perhaps
the only victory is keeping anger in check.

By Kevin Sites, Mon Aug 21, 5:32 PM ET


Eye of the storm
We are on the grounds of a secondary school in Tyre, Lebanon, that has
been converted into a refugee camp for people from villages like Ras
Maroun and Bint Jbail — Hezbollah strongholds on the frontline.

My translator Ali, driver Abdullah and I are in the eye of an angry storm,
surrounded by women and children on the inner rings, adolescents on the
second and third rings and, finally, mildly bemused, but not totally
disinterested, adult men on the outside.

I've come to see the conditions here, which, I've been told, are not good:
little food, sporadic water and as many as 1,500 people, mostly families,
sleeping shoulder to shoulder in empty classrooms.

But I don't get far. While the men are initially accommodating, willing to
show me around, angry women swarm us. Ali tells me later that they say
that we're spies for America and
Israel and that as soon as we leave the bombs will begin raining down on
their heads here, just as they had in their villages.

I tell them through Ali that I'm only here to document their lives as
people displaced by war. Some of the men nod and give me a quick sweep of
the ground level of classrooms, but the angry women pursue us for the
entire three-minute tour.

As I raise my camera, the shouting becomes louder. Finally, even the men
acquiesce to the women's protests. No pictures, I'm told — unless we get a
letter from Hezbollah giving us permission.

With the sound of Israeli jets and drones overhead, I assume anyone from
Hezbollah's leadership, even if we could find them, might be little busy
at the moment.

My goal here is a bust, but the trip is not a complete waste. Just before
leaving I'm left with a moment that allows me gauge, anecdotally at least,
the depth of anger here and the cohesiveness of south Lebanon's Shiite
Muslims behind Hezbollah.

This is the moment: while we stand next to Abdullah's old 200 series blue
Mercedes, Ali makes one last, futile plea for access. In the corner of my
eye I see what appears to be a boy, about 10. I turn and give him my full
attention.

He's in a fighting stance with his left foot forward, while his eyes are
locked onto me. What I find strange is that his face shows no emotion, no
anger, no fear — nothing but intense focus. A glance down at his right
hand and I quickly understand why I am the object of his resolve.

In his hand is a rock the size of a cue ball. He is simply waiting for the
signal to hurl it, with all his force, at my head.

* * *

Worse, not better

This is a conflict I simply hoped would go away. But it hasn't. With each
passing day the Israeli-Hezbollah war seems to grow larger, while I am
haplessly out of place doing a retrospective on Vietnam.

As a part of the Hot Zone project, I had covered Lebanon in December,
including an interview with a senior Hezbollah official, and reported from
Israel and Gaza in February.

Now, after covering conflicts in 19 countries for almost a full year, I am
burnt out, feeding a residual anger at the senseless violence that plagues
the globe. Nearly all of the places that I've traveled, with the exception
of Nepal, have gotten worse rather than better. Heartbreakers like
beautiful Sri Lanka's unnecessary conflict are particularly hard to take.

But while we pledged not to chase headlines, conflict is the mandate for
this project and we can't in good conscience ignore one with so many
geopolitical complexities that could change the entire power dynamic of
the Middle East.

So in mid-July, instead of continuing east for more Asia reporting, I
board an Emirates flight for Amman, Jordan. The next day, with the help of
my fixer, Lebanese-American Jad Melki, I'm able to hire a car and driver
to go against the refugee exodus on an eight-hour, war-gouging $1,200 ride
into Beirut.

* * *

Kabuki play

The coastal city of Tyre is like a semi-safe island of refuge for the
displaced from border villages being bombed around the clock by Israeli
warplanes and artillery. It's also a haven for the Lebanese and
international journalists covering the war.

So even though there have been earlier strikes against suspected Hezbollah
offices and residences in town, this one today, in the dead center, is
both enormous and a bit of a surprise.

I'm conducting interviews with recently-displaced people outside a hotel
nearby when the concussion and sound wave of the explosion seems to pass
right through us.

A plume of gray smoke rises in the distance about a half-kilometer away.
Ali and I jump into the Mercedes. Abdullah races an ambulance to the
location, simply following the smoke trail.

At an intersection we begin to see people running out of a street covered
in blackness. I sprint toward them, my video camera rolling, and as the
smoke clears a little, I see two women outside a building next to the one
that was hit.

They are unhurt, but are screaming uncontrollably, as a bearded man
carries out an infant boy. He's not crying and there's not a scratch on
him. The only evidence of his trauma is that his face has been turned
ghost-gray from soot that filled the air after the explosion. His wide
eyes are ringed in black while he watches the commotion around him. A few
moments later the boy's mother comes running out of the building as well,
screaming, "Where is my child? Where is my child?"

Her face too is completely covered in soot. When she takes the boy in her
arms, the images are so striking that their dust-painted faces appear to
me almost like characters from a Japanese kabuki play.

I drop the video camera slung over my right shoulder, pull up my digital
still camera on the other, and begin squeezing off frames of their faces.

As more wounded are brought out of the adjacent building, the anger of
those who live in the neighborhood focuses on the media. One local man
screams at me but I continue to do my job. As painful as it may be for
him, this, I know, is not a private moment but the public spectacle of
war.

Then, as I continue filming, through the camera's display I see him charge
me. He throws a wild left hook that connects with my camera but not my
head. As far as punches go, this one is mild, but strong enough to break
off the top-mounted microphone and slam on the camera's night-shot mode,
turning the video to green for a moment.

I move to the side, adjust my gear and go back to work. As the wounded are
evacuated, my attention turns to the smoking rubble that was the target of
the missile strike. It is a seven-story apartment building that Israel
later claims held the offices of Hezbollah's south Lebanon commander,
Sheik Nabil Kaouk.

Soon, young shirtless men are swarming over the rubble, trying to put out
flames by swatting them with pillows and blankets until firemen arrive
with hoses.
Video

As I look over the rubble, I marvel at the complete destruction of this
building and the only partial damage to those directly adjacent. Twelve
people are injured in this attack, but no one killed. People on the street
say the building was completely empty — a good indication the occupants
were confident an attack would be imminent.

* * *

Drones
I'm not surprised the day is ending like this. It has been one marked by
segments of individual and collective grief, beginning at the site of
Tyre's mass graves. Here, according to the city, are only civilian victims
of air strikes. They are placed in plywood coffins and buried quickly in
adherence to Islamic tradition. They may be reburied when the fighting is
over.

Later, at the Jabal Amel Hospital, I see the victims of an Israeli air
strike on a civilian bus that left three dead and 13 injured, the majority
of them women and children trying to flee the area.

The victims include Rhonda Shaloub and her 15-year-old niece Radije. When
I see them they are mummy-wrapped in gauze bandages, with openings only
for their noses and mouths.

The little I can see of their faces is deeply disturbing. There is blood
seeping at the edges of Rhonda's bandages, while Radije's lips are
stitched with medical sutures.

When I visit the city morgue I see two bodies just recovered: one headless
and the other nearly split in two when he was hit by a rocket fired from a
helicopter.

The name of one of the dead is Hassan Brahim Said. His brother and his
widow have come to identify him and pick up his belongings.

The brother says Hassan was riding his motorbike, trying to find milk for
his eight-month-old daughter. He was, he says, not with Hezbollah. One of
the officers goes through the dead man's wallet, taking an inventory of
the items inside.

There are a few Lebanese pounds, some scraps of paper with phone numbers
and a photograph of his wife, who is now standing in the archway of the
office sobbing.

Then the officer pulls out Hassan's ID card. It's hard to reconcile this
photograph of the living man with the image I had just seen outside in the
body bag.

Late in the afternoon, there are missile strikes on another empty
residence. This one is not destroyed and the building steel feels warm
from the blast when I enter it to see the damage.

I have woven all of this material into a 2,300-word text dispatch, 22
still photos and two video clips, trying to capture the essence of what
I've witnessed this day.

Now it's 2:30 a.m. and I have to feed the text, pictures and video to my
producers in California using a satellite modem connected to my laptop. I
prepare to go to the rooftop of the small hotel where I'm staying, to try
to get a clear satellite connection.

But as I'm about to go, the hotel owner, Mohammed, warns me against it.

"You can't go up there, Kevin. You know the Apaches will be out," he says,
referring to Israel's American-made attack helicopters that circle the
Lebanese sky at night, looking for targets.

My only other option is the deserted street below. I carry my gear,
looking for an opening to the south where I can direct the signal between
the buildings. Depending on the amount of material and transmission speed,
it can be a painfully slow process. Tonight it is.

While I'm waiting I become aware of how bright the display is on my
computer in a nearly blacked-out city.

I also recall that the Apaches, whose rotor sounds seem to be getting
closer, have thermal imaging. Me sitting outside with a computer and
arrayed satellite modem would likely draw some suspicion.

The chopper passes, but then I hear another noise. This one is the
high-pitched whine of an Israeli spy drone, one that seems to be working
the coastline behind me and getting closer. I slap down the lid of my
laptop to kill the light, but this also kills the transmission.

When the sound passes, I have to reboot and start all over again.

Halfway through the second transmission attempt, I hear the sound again,
but this time it's growing really loud. I'm sure I've been located. The
whine seems lower this time, like it's almost on top of me. I push the lid
down again, put my hand over the glowing Apple logo and hold my breath.
It's so close I can almost feel it against my neck, the buzz filling my
ears, louder and louder — until it whizzes right by me.

"Godammit," I say out loud, and then start laughing at myself. It's not a
drone at all, but a late-night motorbike rider. By the time I finally get
done transmitting and climb into bed, it's 4:30 am.

* * *

Tragic, polarizing, muddled

Qana. Here, the circumstances seem a fitting representation of the
conflict: tragic, polarizing and muddled.

Some of the war's most poignant images surfaced here: the bodies of
Lebanese children being pulled from the rubble of a house hit in an
Israeli air strike.

When my fixer Jad and I arrive, one of the Red Cross attendants opens the
doors to his ambulance. In it are stacked the bodies of five little boys.

The worldwide repercussions of this event are easy to gauge — condemnation
on one side, damage control on the other.

The death of children, like rape and pillage, is a powerful mobilizing
force in times of war. This case was no different.

Hezbollah used the images, some say, maybe even staged a few of them, when
one of their own appeared in a green helmet, holding up the body of a dead
child. The same unidentified man has appeared in other photographs in
similar poses where there were heavy civilian casualties.

Israel apologized for the mistake, but blamed Hezbollah for using women
and children as human shields.

Initially, rescue workers and villagers said at least 50 people were
killed. But along with some other journalists, I stayed the entire day and
reported that no more than 25 bodies were removed from the rubble. Still,
the number of deaths reported by many news services for the next two days
ranged from 38 to 50.

Few on the Lebanese side were quick to correct the numbers, but Israel's
defenders pointed out the discrepancy as soon it became apparent.

But did the final numbers lessen the tragedy by half? Conversely, did the
initial larger numbers amplify the loss?

As a witness to the war from the frontlines in both Lebanon and Israel
these are some of the issues that I and other journalists struggled with,
in an effort to report fairly on what was happening in a war where
collateral damage became both an issue and a weapon.

* * *

Objectivity, humanity

After the incident at Qana, Israel says it will suspend air strikes in
south Lebanon to investigate what went wrong there.

For Lebanese trapped by the fighting in frontline cities, this is a chance
to dash to safety in the north. For a journalist kept on the war's
perimeter by the air campaign, this is a chance to dash south and see the
destruction.

In Bint Jbail, Hezbollah flags fly from nearly every lamp post — those
that are still standing. When we arrive, the destruction of the town
center seems nearly complete, with the exception of a few scattered
buildings, mostly stripped to their skeletons.

But as my fixer Jad and I start videotaping and shooting photographs,
people begin to emerge from the rubble. They are mostly old people, too
frail or too poor to make it far from home.

Kevin Sites and other journalists
helped the weak evacuate Bint Jbail.

They are exhausted and parched. Most cannot take one more step. So in an
unusual twist, journalists begin to help, carrying some in their arms like
babies, others in stretchers made from blankets. I carry one old woman out
on my back. She is so weak she can barely keep her arms wrapped around my
neck, so another journalist holds them there for her.

We would have done the same in Israel — or anywhere else in the world, for
that matter. This is just where the opportunity arose. Objectivity, I'm
certain, didn't suffer for our humanity.

* * *

The rock
Back at the school-turned-camp for displaced persons, I stare at the rock
in the boy's hand.

If it connects, I'm certain it will do some damage. This moment probably
should not be a revelation, but it is. The anger I see here is obviously
deep, generationally deep. And maybe I'm projecting a bit, but it appears
disciplined as well. What I am seeing here does not look like mere
anarchy.

When this war is finished, that anger almost certainly will not go away
and perhaps Hezbollah's position, at least among the Lebanese Shia, will
be solidified.

But if, at the same time, that collective anger can be disciplined not
just to unleash violence, but also to hold it back, then there is at least
as a much of a chance that a rock in a little boy's hand will be dropped
as it will be thrown. And in this case, it is dropped.

----------
Michael Friedman
Ph.D. Candidate in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior
City University of New York

Molecular Systematics Laboratory
Department of Invertebrate Zoology
American Museum of Natural History
79th Street and Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Office: 212-313-8721





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