Pity the Nation

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Why America Needs Hezbollah

A very thought-provoking and humorous look below at the contrast in the approach to reconstruction between the US and Hizbullah. While 5 years on the US still has a pile of rubble in New York and were incompetent at best in dealing with Hurricane Katrina, Hizbullah's reconstruction effort has been efficient, professional and humanitarian.

From what I could gather from all quarters of Lebanese society was that Hizbulah is widely accepted as a sincere and genuine body which has the interests of the people at heart and which fulfils its promises, characteristics generally lacking with the governments of this region. One man told us that Nasrallah was not a hypocrite - whatever he promised, whether it was aid, whether it was schools, whether it was victory, he delivered. He also told me that Nasrallah didnt call on others to go fight and send his own kids to the West for safety. Apparantly, when Nasrallah's own son was killed by the Israelis and they wanted to negotiate with Hizbullah to return his body, Nasrallah said words to the following effect.

"If you think I am going to compromise the safety of the people of Lebanon over what you have left of my son's body, you are sorely mistaken. You can keep the body. In fact, I am honoured that at least one of my sons will be buried in Palestine."

The article was initially published on "Information Clearing House"

Why America Needs Hezbollah

By Ted Rall

Hours after a ceasefire halted a five-week war between Israel and Iranian-backed Islamic militias in Lebanon, reported the New York Times, "hundreds of Hezbollah members spread over dozens of villages across southern Lebanon began cleaning, organizing and surveying damage. Men on bulldozers were busy cutting lanes through giant piles of rubble. Roads blocked with the remnants of buildings are now, just a day after a ceasefire began, fully passable." Who cares if Hezbollah is a State Department-designated terrorist organization? Unlike our worthless government, it gets things done!

The citizens of New Orleans desperately need Hezbollah's can-do terrorist spirit. Outside the French Quarter tourist zone, writes Jed Horne in The New Republic, what was until 2005 our nation's most charming city and cultural center remains "a disaster zone, an area five times the size of Manhattan."

One year after the routine matter of a Gulf Coast hurricane, half the city's population remains refugees--screwed over by a government that hasn't lifted a finger to pretend that it cares. Horne describes "Vast swaths of a city emptied as if by a neutron bomb, with only the fecal brown floodline up under the eaves to suggest what went so very wrong--that, and the ghostly dried brine still coating the dead lawns and landscaping."

New Orleans is a dead city. Incredibly, the politicians don't give a damn. "Now most of the water has gone," the British Daily Mirror newspaper informed readers on the storm's anniversary, "but little else has changed. Driving through the streets, it is shocking to see how much devastation remains and how little rebuilding has taken place."

Americans watched incredulously as their government responded to the desperate pleas of sick and starving Katrina victims by herding them into internment camps, and then issued them $2000 debit cards--an insulting pittance--to compensate them for losing everything they owned. Anyone could see that the federal government had failed its obligation to protect its citizens. Not only had officials refused to shore up crumbling levies, they didn't even try to send in relief after the long-predicted flood. The United States of America, however, is led by men who see things very differently from, well, everyone else. They actually think that Hurricane Katrina victims received too much.

"If you put $2,000 in someone's hands, that's a lot of money," Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison explained during a July 23 announcement. Due to Bush Administration budget cuts, the victims of future disasters will have to make do with a mere $500.

You know the U.S. has gone Third World when bombed-out Lebanese get a better deal than we do. Remember how hurricane victims couldn't get through to FEMA's perpetually busy hotline? Promising that Hezbollah personnel "in the towns and villages will turn to those whose homes are badly damaged and help rebuild them," Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah ordered Hezbollah militants to canvass damaged neighborhoods and begin repairs at once. Hezbollah gives out "decent and suitable furniture" and a year's free rent to all Lebanese who lost their homes. Unlike the racist government officials who managed the botched response along the Gulf Coast last year, where whites were rescued while blacks were shot, the Shiite terrorist group's offer also applies to Sunnis, Christians and even Jews.

"Hezbollah's reputation as an efficient grass-roots social service network," reported the Times, "was in evidence everywhere. Young men with walkie-talkies and clipboards were in the battered Shiite neighborhoods on the southern edge of Bint Jbail, taking notes on the extent of the damage. Hezbollah men also traveled door to door checking on residents and asking them what help they needed." With terrorists like that, who needs FEMA?

A year after Katrina, officials are still pulling bodies out of the rubble. Dozens of corpses remain unidentified; the president, governor and mayor continue to pass the blame for their willful inaction. George W. Bush still refuses to accept responsibility. Just one day after the Lebanese ceasefire, however, Sheikh Nasrallah had already delivered a thorough accounting of the damage caused by Israel's bombing campaign and launched a comprehensive rebuilding program. "So far," said the Hezbollah leader, "the initial count available to us on completely demolished houses exceeds 15,000 residential units. We cannot of course wait for the government and its heavy vehicles and machinery because they could be a while."

As often occurs during emergencies in the U.S., price gouging for housing, water, gasoline and other essentials was rampant during and after Katrina. Bush did nothing. Nasrallah, by contrast, warned businesses not to exploit the situation: "No one should raise prices due to a surge in demand."

Never argue with a man who buys AK-47s by the boxcar.

"Hezbollah's strength," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese American University in Beirut and an expert on the organization, in large part derives from "the gross vacuum left by the state.

"Sound familiar? It does to the people of Ladysmith, Wisconsin. The rural town, destroyed by a tornado in 2002, has been abandoned by the government to whom its people paid taxes all their lives.

Maybe we can commission Hezbollah to rebuild the World Trade Center.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Remembering the Children

I think it appropriate to finish with an image of those young lives who have paid the highest price in this war; some as young as 1 day old. This is a shrine in downtown Beirut in memory of those who were so ruthlessly killed. There is nothing more to say – what can you say? We let them down, we allowed them to die and unless we begin to strive for justice for all people, in the future we will see the same pictures but with different children.

To be modest in speaking truth is hypocracy - Khalil Gibran

Time Up for Now

We leave for London in just a few hours now. I must say I do feel quite sad to leave after such a short stay. There is so much history in this land, so much culture, yet due to the purpose of our visit, we barely saw any of this. While many visit the rocky ruins of many historic monuments and structures in this country and look in awe and wonder, we examined the pathetic remains of people’s homes, schools and hospitals in shock and horror. I will miss the spirit of the people, who despite their tragedy, continue to smile and are some of the friendliest and most welcoming I have met. It has been an emotional trip no doubt and definitely my most memorable.

I do intend to return in the future. By then hopefully, I will have a little more Arabic - must start going over ibn Jabal notes, I got stuck quite a bit here. My desire to travel throughout the Middle East has also increased exponentially. Started off by finding out how the experts went about it and got myself a copy of 'The Travels of Ibn Batuta'. Amazing character. Mind you, that kind of travelling would have you hauled in for terror connections today. We can but try. Take the first step and let Allah guide you the rest of the way.

Khiam: Burying the Past

These are the remains of the Khiam Prison Museum, built to remember the horrors committed in the notorious Khiam Prison in Lebanon during the Israeli occupation.

Khiam prison was a detention and interrogation camp during the years of the Israeli occupation in Southern Lebanon. From 1985 until the Israeli defeat in May 2000, thousands of Lebanese were held in Khiam without trial. Most of them were brutally tortured - some of them died.

The prisoners included members of the resistance, their relatives, civilians by the dozen whose crime was innocence, who would not collaborate with the Israelis or the SLA, who refused to join the murderous little militia, who declined to give the Israelis information about the Lebanese resistance.

Israel ran the prison using the militia they had created from the Maronite Christian community - the SLA. The SLA provided Khiams guards and interrogators whilst israelis held the top positions. They provided the training for the torturers and lead the torture sessions. They paid the salaries and provided all the equipment. They commanded, the SLA followed.

Men women and even several children were locked up without trail, some spent decades here.

Khiam Prison Museum appears to have been directly targeted and destroyed. If it was, it is every bit as condemnable as if the Germans decided to destroy Auschwitz Camp Museum.

For more information on Khiam Prison, click here

Khiam: UN Hit Again

Meanwhile, in the South the guys were busy examining further devastation. Khiam was as expected pretty much destroyed – it’s a scene that we had seen in almost every other village we visited. It was here also that the UN base was attacked by Israeli strikes. Israel fired 15 missiles at the base despite UN personnel making 8 calls beforehand to Israel calling upon them to stop firing. There was no stop and 4 UN personnel were killed in what Israel claims was a “tragic error”. The severe limitations of the UN is visible in that it found itself unable to actually “condemn” the strike, arguably because the US would have vetoed any such resolution.
The 'U' from 'UN' is visible in the rubble.

Reflection in the al-Omari Mosque

On my way back, I stopped by the al-Omari mosque, somewhere that I had been intending to pray since I arrived in Beirut. A magnificent beautiful building. Originally a pagan Roman temple and later a Crusader church, in 1291 the Mamlukes turned it into a mosque. In the 20th century the civil war nearly turned it into dust. However the mosque has now been rebuilt/renovated, and it is still used as a place of prayer. Tourist brochures say that it was built during the conquest under the rule of the second Caliph, Umar (ra) but that cant make sense if this was built in the 13th century.

One of the sad things about Beirut despite downtown Beirut being full of huge historic and beautiful mosques and churches, during prayer time, they remain virtually empty with people preferring to chill for hours in the cafes in the area. The call to prayer goes by and large unanswered.

Cluster Bombs: Killings Beyond the War

As luck would have it, my translator was tied up so they sent some other Lebanese gentleman to bring me to the National Demining Office for the meeting. As I established in the car, my translator knew as much English as I do Arabic which to me seemed like it may cause some difficulty, especially when discussing unexploded cluster munitions. Due to traffic congestion, we were running about 20 minutes late as well. Not knowing what to do really on my own, I thought, ‘what would Jack Burton do at a time like this?’. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with that cult 80s classic Big Trouble in Little China, the answer is ‘Old Jack Burton would say ‘what the hell’’ and so I did (metaphorically speaking). We managed to have a great conversation along the way alternating between English, Arabic, French and hand gestures and I am sure I sneaked in some Urdu here and there. Communication was the key and we had that. But alhumdulillah, when I arrived at the NDO, it turned out that the Director was fluent in English and proved to be extremely helpful. You take the step and Allah creates a way for you.

Anyways quite shocking information from the NDO. Prior to the recent war, there were already 130 land mines and 156 booby traps in Nabatiyah as well as 370,000 mines along the Blue Line consisting of anti-tank mines and anti-personnel mines. These were remnants of the previous Israeli invasion. In the last 3 days of the recent war, tens of thousands of cluster bombs were dropped by Israel, leaving almost 4 million cluster bomblets around the south of Lebanon. To put this in perspective, a single cluster bomb will carpet bomb an area the size of 3 football fields. The failure rate of these is 35% which translates as almost 1.2 million unexploded cluster munitions spread across the whole of south Lebanon. Casualties as a result of these munitions going off since the ceasefire have been 87 killed and 73 wounded, all civilians with the exception of a handful of Lebanese soldiers who were killed while trying to remove the bombs. What would really be helpful is if Israel at least handed over a map of where they dropped the bombs to avoid more casualties.

Just to give you an idea, the picture above is of an unexploded munition which the guys came upon on route to Khiam in the South. Osama reckons it was the same size as him. Apparantly tehse things go off with simple vibrations.

Day 7: The Final Push

Early start to the morning – with time running out, we had to split the team up. Osama and Kevin had a meeting with the Lebanon Bar Human Council, I left to meet the Director of the National Demining Office of the Lebanese Army. Meanwhile Alistair hooked up with Kevin and Osama for a trip south again, this time to Khiam. The evening was spent in trying to come to some conclusions, more writing up, transcribing, etc and then just packing up to leave.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Day 6: Sifiting through the Information

After three exhausting days, we spent the greater part of day 6 in the hotel putting together our information, reading over the testimonies, listening to the recordings, watching the footage, sorting the photographs, and trying to come to some conclusions. We held a meeting with some governmental departments and with the British consul for some local information. All in all, quite a dull and quiet day in an otherwise hectic week.
No interesting pictures of today so here in an earlier one. The photo is of some destruction in Rmaich, a town in deep south Lebanon.

Liban Lait: Dairy Bombing leaves Sour Taste

Our last stop before returning home was Liban Lait – the scene of a brutal airstrike. The most advanced dairy in the region and owned by a Christian, this factory produced dairy products for the whole country. Last year, the UN gave it the contract to supply UNIFIL with dairy products. Previously, the contract was with an Israeli company. 320 people are now without a job.

This was blatant deliberate targeting – the factory and all its machinery were completely destroyed. In a 15 minute attack, 4 missiles struck, causing 35 million dollars worth of damage. Bunker buster munitions seemed to have been used judging by the size of the craters left in the ground – about 7 metres deep, 10-15 metres wide. Thankfully, there were no casualties as it was a Sunday and nobody worked overnight.

It wasn’t the only factory that was attacked in Balabak; there were other economic targets in the area including the glass factory, chewing gum factory, metal hanger factory, and tissue factory, among others.

There appears to be no reason whatsoever to attack this factory. A purely economic infrastructure of no military significance, owned by a Maronite Christian with no support or linkage to Hizbullah. The dairy workers speculated that the factory was attacked because last year the UN gave it the contract to supply UNIFIL with dairy products. For the previous few years, that contract had been given to an Israeli company.

Mind you as one man speculated, maybe the Israelis had intelligence that there was a crack squad of suicide cows with poisonous liquid in their udders being sheltered in the dairy, and ready to storm the frontline!!

Rais al Ayn: Masjid of Imam Hussain (ra)

This is the masjid of Imam Hussain (ra) built 1400 years ago. An earthquake destroyed most of it.

Heliopolis: City of the Sun

Passed by the ruins of the ancient Roman temple of Jupiter going back to the very first century CE.

Baalbek: Trusting the People

We stopped for lunch in a very pleasant area of Baalbek called "Rais al-Ayn". It was a world away from the detsruction we had seen in other areas and seemed like a very resortey area. Nice parks, streams, everyone just sitting anywhere they like and lighting up a sheesha, and generally a very positive atmosphere. Oh, and a major Hizbullah stronghold. Flags and posters of the fallen fighters line the streets of this town. What I was particularly impressed by was that charity collection boxes for orphans like the one pictured were everywhere, and untouched. There seems to be a really admirable code of honour in operation where these are inviolable. Wonder whether such a scheme could work back in London!!

Baalbek: Storming the Hospital

We visited the hospital above which had been the scene of a commando raid. According to the manager of the hospital, a helicopter landed apparently looking for possibly injured fighters inside the hospital building. They had struck missiles on the road on either side of the hospital cutting it off and then invaded. About 100 Israeli troops stormed the hospital firing guns and grenades breaking doors and windows. They completely destroyed the place firing grenades before going into every room. They blew up the safe and the staff wages amounting to 50 million Lebanese lira and 20,000 US dollars went missing. They smashed up CT scans, incubators, dental machines, everything. Bullet holes were all over the walls and doors all smashed down. The took all the hard disks of the computers which stored the medical records and history of the patients. The manager showed us a whole photo album of the damage and told us that they had been working 25 days non-stop to repair the damage. So far it has cost them almost ¾ of a million dollars.

Casualties were limited as the hospital had been evacuated because they had expected to be hit by an airstrike, primarily because the hospital was run by Hizbullah's social welfare section; they paid the running costs, the salaries, etc When they saw that other Hizbullah hospitals had not been spared and even the nearby Hizbullah school was bombed, they were expecting a similar air strike. But they definitely did not anticipate a commando raid. There was only one person killed – the male nurse there for emergency treatment. But there were no fighters here - the manager reckoned the Israeli intelligence was wrong as it just didn’t make sense to drive a fighter from the frontline 130 km to a hospital in Baalbek when there were hospitals and clinics closer to the frontline.

Clearly a hospital, irrelevant of what and who they treat, is supposed to be protected under international law. There can be no excuse for this action whatsoever. Even if Israeli intelligence turned out to be correct and there were Hizbullah fighters being treated inside, it is illegal under international law to target them as the Israelis intended to do.

Divine Intervention

A toddler's sandal among the rubble. Fortunately, after the fruit pickers heard of a bombing of the nearby village of Hirmal, they sent their children back to Syria. Otherwise, the massacre could have been even worse.

Qaa: The Farm of Death

We set out for Qaa, a town as far west in Lebanon as we could get. The drive up was very interesting, primarily due to the shoddy conditions of the roads- literally there were no lanes, no rules. That combined with drivers who all seem to drive as if the bombing is still taking place is enough to turn the most hardened atheist passenger into a believer. Incidentally, the road to the border has been dubbed by locals as the "Road of Death".

On either side of the road were vast tracks of what our guide told us was some of the most fertile land in the country. In Roman times, it used to be the breadbasket to the world. But the government had not introduced any irrigation into the land. Consequently, the farmers began growing cannabis and opium. When the UN told them to stop and that it would provide them with money for cash-crops, they stopped. The Lebanese government pocketed the money and so they went back to their old crops. Our guide told us that this was just one example of the incompetency of the Lebanese governemnt. He said it took over 100 deaths on this road before they even thought of doing something about it. He also joked that when Israel started bombing the roads, people didn't mind because they were used to bad roads.

The reason we decided to embark on this "road of death" was for a very serious reason; a massacre which took place on 4 August 2006. On that day, 25 fruit pickers on a farm were killed, 9 injured when 2 Israeli missiles struck the dormitory in which they were resting. The scene was one of devastation - just rubble and twisted metal everywhere. The farm was surrounded by trees and shrubbery which were totally disintegrated. The picture above shows the guard of the farm who survived because he was away from his post at the time. His daughter was not so lucky; she was injured and still in hospital.

We could see no justification for this attack. The farm is located over 250km from the Israeli border, well beyond the capability of any katyusha rocket. We had to travel several kilometres past the actual checkpoint for customs and border crossing on the Lebanese side, which is on Lebanese territory but beyond security control where people have to go through customs and have passports stamped. The farm is jointly owned by a Maronite Christian and a Sunni Muslim. The dead were Syrians and a Kurd here to pick peaches. This was the last place they thought would be struck.

Who would have thought that the road of death would lead to the farm of death?

Day 5: Towards the Bekaa Valley

On Tuesday, we travelled all the way to the southern border of Lebanon; on Wednesday we set off to reach the Bekaa Valley in the Eastern tip bordering Syria. Our journey brought us across numerous instances of bombings of flyovers and bridges like the one above as well as many instances of what appeared to be indiscriminate bombing of towns.

Aain Ata: Terror Manual??

I shall leave you with this found in the rubble of the orphanage/school. I am sorry for the delay in updates - as you will have noticed, I just completed day 4 blog, even though we are at the end of day 5. Please also reread all of Day 4 is some details which I added today to earlier posts. Day 5 involved a visit to Balabek and East Lebanon so will blog it tomorrow insha'Allah.

Aain Ata: Orphanage Deemed a Threat

These are the remains of an orphanage and school under the patronage of the cleric, Sheikh Fadlallah. Thank God, the building had been evacuated. It was built and opened just over a year ago.

Yaroun: Depleted Uranium?

This is the crater left by the missile strike on Yaroun. The photograph does not begin to comprehend the depth of this crater. You have to understand that there was a 2 storey house built well above the beginning of this hole. The same two words came to everyone's mind: depleted uranium.

Yaroun: Nobody Heard their Screams

We met an ex-patriate here who now lives in the US. He was in the US when the massacre happened on 14 July, the day before the ceasefire. The house next to his was targeted (nobody knew why - it was civilian) but his was also affected. This man lost his elderly parents, his sister-in-law and his 2 young nieces who were only 12 years old and 7 months old respectively. The latter's body was eaten by a dog and the bits of flesh and limbs found outside the house later. His 74-year old father died while lying on the bed pictures, the entire roof and wall falling on him. His cries went unheard until he died. The bodies were found over 3 weeks later. The stench of death was still in the air. There were no fighters here, no weapons and no sign of any military hardware whatsoever.

When asked why he didnt contact the US embassy(as he is a US citizen), he replied

"What will they say? We are sorry for your loss but there is nothing we can do for you. The only one I contacted was Allah. Nobody else can help."

Historic Palestine: So Near yet So Far

I think this could be as close as I get to Palestine - they are 2 Israeli jeeps on the border. Behind them lies the Holy Land.

The Old Village: Scenes from Gaza

In a scene from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army took over the Old Village part of Aita eik Chaab and bulldozered it to the ground. The whole village raised to the ground. The Israeli-border is visible from this village. There were Hizbullah fighters here but in an action of collective punishment, the entire village was razed by Israel.
Israel littered this area with cluster bombs. There were no explosions when they dropped so they are basically unexploded. Children are most vulnerable to get hurt or killed by these - in essence, it is a massive minefield. This fact was admitted by Israeli soldiers in Haaretz claiming that they fired over1800 cluster bombs into South Lebanon, leaving over 1.2 million cluster bomblets on the ground, the majority of which were fired during the last few days of the war.

The Battle-Hit Masjid

While in Aita ech Chaab, we were given a bit of free time. I needed to pray Dhuhr so I went to the local masjid. The masjid I prayed in seemed to have been in the heart of the battle. Huge gaps in the walls, bulle-ridden, signs of shelling, windows smashed - Hizbullah flag flying high on the minaret. In all this mess, people still came to pray. And I saw this in other mosques, far worse hit than this one - the Adhan was made and villagers flocked to pray in what was essentially rubble.

Aita eik Chaab: The Frontline

Here we witnessed a scene of utter destruction: total war. It was as expected - buildings and cars riddled with bullets, shrapnel. Some buildings levelled to the ground by aerial attacks. Windows smashed - big gaps in walls. Complete pulverization. Epic battles had taken place here between Hizbullah and the Israeli army but it was the bullet-ridden and tattered yellow and green flags which ultimately flew proudly from rooftops of what was left of homes, mosques and shops. A sense of victory seemed to rise above the debris and with it the people's spirits. Children gave us the victory sign and asked for us to take their pictures, men and women worked together to rebuild their homes. Osama made a comment later which stuck with me: he said that it was like in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when the companions would finish battle and return to rebuild their homes and livelihood. That feeling was definitely prevailing here; not fear and sorrow, but happiness and victory.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Marouahine Massacre

In the tiny village of Marouahine in the very deep south near the border, we met a very elderly lady named Maryam Abdallah. Her testimony to us is as heart-breaking and as shocking as any war-story can get and will haunt me forever.

She and her family are tobacco farmers. In mid-August 2006 at 7am, the Israelis gave the villagers 2 hours to evacuate before they would begin bombing. They left in a civilian convoy towards the nearby UN base for shelter and protection. In a manner similar to the UN refusing to protect endangered civilians in Srebrenica, the villagers were refused shelter. They decided to go in civilian convoys to the nearest village, Umm al-Tout. She and her daughter went ahead. Her husband was in one pick-up truck with Maryam's son, daughter-in-law and 6 grandchildren, the youngest being only 2 1/2 years old. On their way. Israeli helicopter gunships flew by and strafed the civilian convoy with machine guns. This was followed by 2 airstrikes. Anyone who survived and tried to flee was machine-gunned down. In total 27 innocent villagers were massacred here. The homes were also blown up in Israeli airstrikes.

I first heard of this massacre when a Lebanese man came to IHRC requesting us to bring the British government to court over the usage of British airports to transfer US bombs to Israel. I didnt realise it then but this man was Maryam's cousin.

Again, no sign of any military fortifications, structures or weapons. Hezbullah fighters had not been in the village. It was just a small tobacco farming community with extremely limited means. What is evident from the testimonies we received though is that Israel gave them specific instructions to leave the village and when they did, they were annihilated.

As Maryam reeatedly asked us "li maadha?" (why?) with anger and sadness, I could not think of an answer for her. I simply did not know. What do you say in that situation? She tells us that all she has left of her family are some pictures posted outside on what is left of her home. One by one she pointed out her relatives who had been killed in the massacre. She kept pointing at the grandchildren and crying out "ibnu ibnee" (my grandson). Even now as I type this post, I can see her wrinkled features so clearly and hear her trembling voice so vividly, "li maadha ... li maadha ... ibnu ibnee ..."

I know these words will haunt me forever. May Allah ease her pain, grant her sabr and tawakull ala'Allah and reunite her with her loved ones in the Gardens of Paradise.

Wadi al Yaum: The Launch-Sites

The above picture shows the location of the launch-pads for the Hezbullah rockets. This is very far south Lebanon along the route to Bint Jubail and Marouahine. There is no civilian infrastructure or buildings anywhere near this valley - we travelled about 5 km from Kafra before arriving here. Just a large valley full of shrubbery, trees and rocks. Bombings did take place here but they should have remained here, away from civilians.

The picture isnt great - taken from inside the car

Kafra: Freedom of Worship

One would think that the sanctity of a place of worship would be respected, even during times of war. With the Israeli army, it seems that nothing is sacred. Proof that they can be very precisie when they wish to be - direct hit to the dome of this mosque in Kafra. This is not the only mosque to have been attacked - mosques throughout Lebanon have suffered a similar fate.
We also heard how a man in this area too had been killed by an unexploded cluster munition.

Rechiknanay: No Weapons Here

The whole village was literally razed to the ground. One side had buildings (shops, cafes, hairdressers) still standing but severely damaged – the other side of the road was all rubble and debris. Wiped out completely. Carpet bombed. This was not specific targeting but indiscriminate bombing across a whole row of residential and commercial buildings. A young man told us that the flattened side of the road contained as many as 40-50 commercial units on top of which people lived. We were told that yesterday, a man was killed by an unexploded cluster munition left by the Israelis. There are over a million of these all over South Lebanon.

Again claims that Hezbullah were hiding weapons here. The issue of weapons is a complete smokescreen - there was simply no evidence of that, no evidence of secondary explosions, nothing. Every villager we spoke to in whichever village we went to said the same thing - no fighters, no weapons here.

One Hezbullah politician we met told us that weapons were not hidden in civilian areas because it is illegal, immoral and just strategically senseless. They don't want people's homes destroyed because after the war, they know they have to return to them. They learned the lessons from the Palestinians in the 80s when their homes were destroyed for that exact reason. They didnt want to give the Israelis any excuse to bomb civilians. We were later taken to the launching sites which were in massive banana fields and valleys close to the border which were at least 10 kilometres from any civilian areas.

Time for net running out - update later tonight.

Weeping for Qana

The town where according to Bibilical sources, Jesus turned water into wine, will need another miracle to recover after facing its second massacre in 10 years.

18 April 1996 – In the 8th day of Israeli aggression against Lebanon, over 105 civilians were massacred after Israeli artillery pounded a UNIFIL warehouse packed with refugees. The hundreds of men, women and children were seeking shelter from Israeli bombardment with the U.N. in the village of Qana.

A decade later, another massacre committed. 28 civilians, including 13 children below the age of 12 (including a 9 month old girl), were massacred after an Israeli air strike on a residential site at 2 in the morning. Homes and mosques completely destroyed. One man we spoke to told us how his wife, his mother, his brother and nephews were killed in the raid. Others told us of their own relatives who died. The remains of a wheelchair lay hauntingly beside the wall.

The men, women and children who were slaughtered were seeking shelter from Israeli bombardment elsewhere.

We could find no evidence whatsoever of any military equipment, weapons, launch-sites. One villager was of the opinion that they slaughtered them in frustration and anger after having completely failed on the actual battlefield. The Israelis claim to have footage of a lorry coming in the compound carrying missiles and launch pads. But after studying the terrain, we couldn't make sense of this allegation.

1. There is a huge valley behind the houses - how could they fire missiles from there?

2. The area underneath the site which was allegedly used to store the rockets has not actually been touched - it is all solid concrete.

3. We examined the road in detail and it seemed virtually impossible for a lorry to enter the compound. We were told that when the houses were being built initially, the actual chipper trucks couldnt enter the area and had to be unloaded further down and then brought to the site with wheelbarrows and smaller vehicles.

4. When ambulances and al-Jazeera arrived following the bombing , they couldnt even get their vehicles in.

5. On the 2nd and 5th days of the war, Israel bombed the nearby houses completely blocking the roads.

Lots of holes to be investigated within the Israeli story.
What was interesting was the enitre road leading out of the village was littered with debris and rubble, houses, shops, petrol stations all destroyed.

The Human Factor

We spoke to a lady called Teresa in her late 20s whose husband been killed in the el-Ghasaniya strike. Originally from Liberia, she has been living in Lebanon for 25 years. She has 2 young children and is pregnant with a third. They were simple farmers. When the war started, food supplies were low in the area she was living. Her husband used to go to the other village which was bombed to get food and was staying in the bombed house at the time. It was owned by an old generous lady who used to allow everyone stay at her home while getting food. The Liberian lady and her children stayed at home though as it was safer. She told us there was no Hezbullah fighters in the area.

One scene I dont think I will ever forget is that of this lady's daughter, about 5 years old, desparately trying to pour the last remaining drops from a canister of water into her cup. There was no water left to emerge but she kept trying regardless.

This lady is in a very vulnerable position – young herself, widowed, very young children, ethnically different from the majority community, completely lost.

El-Ghasaniya Massacre

We were brought to a house in el-Ghasaniya which had been blown up by the Israelis in an attack which took place at 3 o’clock in the morning. 8 people were killed, 4 injured. Many were teenagers. Israel had promised to clear up everything south of the Litani River. El-Ghasaniya is again well north of the Litani River. There was no evidence of any rocket launch sites, military installations, placements of munitions. This area was of no physical or military significance. A local told us that the attack took place at 3 in the morning; as they went to look for survivors, the Israelis started firing at them again.

"At least give a damn about the environment"

These are the fuel tanks in a power station hit by the Israelis which caused an environmental catastrophe. The effects of this were all too visible as far north as Byblos where we could see the oil spillages along the rocks and boats there. The people here were quite cynical with messages for the West: "we know you don't give a damn about the people here but at least give a damn about the environment".

Interestingly, the only power station not hit was one by the Zahraani river which belonged to Hezbullah. Hezbullah warned the Israelis that if they attacked this station, Hezbullah would fire rockets at the petro-chemical factory in Haifa.

Day 4: South Lebanon

A day that seemed like a week – a trip from Beirut to the Israeli border and back with stops at over 10 different villages and towns along the way, including Tyre, Qana, Siddiqine, Maraouhine, Aita Eik Chaab, Yaroun, and Ain Ata. A journey which was a sign of the depths to which humanity can sink when blind hatred and arrogant prejudice control emotions. Town after town, village after village, we heard how families were annihilated, homes obliterated and people’s lives destroyed, the evidence all too horrifyingly clear. One would have to have a heart of stone not to shed a tear after meeting these shattered people.

Above is the remains of a home struck by a missile in Yaroun.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mission Accomplished?

Well, it seems they found what they were looking for - these are the remains of Nasrallah's headquarters. Just to be sure though, the Israelis took out every building within a 5 kilometre radius.

Nasrallah escaped and is still alive and more popular than ever.

1200 innocent people are dead, thousands homeless and Lebanon annihilated.

Disproportionate or Deliberate?

Freedom of the Press

In a move which the US would be proud of, al-Manar TV was targeted by the Israelis.

We Are All Hezbullah Now

Something I found amazing today was that in all this devastation, all this carnage, the local Lebanese population were incredibly cheerful. Astonishing - they have just had their homes and possessions destroyed, their lives turned upside down, many have lost loved ones, yet they continue to smile and get back to rebuilding their shattered lives. People informing us of where their homes used to be, yet making small jokes about the destruction at the same time.

One of the brutal tactics used by armies is to deliberately target the civilian population in an effort to reduce support for the resistance which claims to represent them and eventually turn the population against the fighters. What I found here was the opposite; a resounding sense of victory, for which everything could be sacrificed. Hizbullah flags and pictures of Nasrallah flying among the rubble. Children with yellow and green Hizbullah baseball caps running about collecting rubbish; neighbours helping each other rebuild their homes; a real sense of unity and positive defiance in the face of adversity. We were told that Hizbullah's social and humanitarian section has always cared for these people, building hospitals, schools and mosques and that they didnt so easily forget these things.

It really made you think of how badly we deal with some of our own problems which are most trivial by comparison.

Sheer Carnage

Warrant a guess how many families are homeless now who used to live where that open space is now.

Monday, September 11, 2006

10 Buildings for Every Rocket

The above results may be due to yet another statement by IDF Chief of Staff, Dan Halitz that he had ordered the military to destroy 10 12-storey buildings in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa.

Hospitals not safe, "as simple as that"

This used to be a hospital.

It too fell victim to Dan Halutz's warning that "Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that"

Turning Back Time

I am currently reading "From Beirut to Jerusalem" by Dr.Ang Swee Chai which is set in 1982 Beirut and the Israeli destruction back then. Some of the photographs she uses in her book are almost identical to ones I took today. Well, we were warned; the IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz did say he would "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years" unless the soldiers were returned.

That is me above with what remains of a child's history book amidst the rubble of what was once several blocks of flats.

Beirut Blitzkrieg

Even going through these pictures now hours after coming back from the Harat Hfreik suburb of Beirut, I cannot comprehend the scale of destruction. Buildings of steel and concrete reduced to powder in an instant. Rows upon rows of civilian buildings completely wiped out. Hospitals, medical clinics, schools, supermarkets, nothing was spared. All were guilty of being situated within a 10km radius of Hezbullah's headquarters. Piles of tangled steel wires are all that remains of what were towering buildings just a few months ago.

Meeting Hezbullah

Our guide arranged a meeting for us with Rima Fakhry, the only female member of the Hebullah Political Counsel in what was left of their headquarters. We explained the mission to Ms Fakhry making it very clear that we would not be used as a party political broadcast, but wanted to investigate the true reality of what took place. She was most complying and told us we could have access to all the sites we wanted and could talk to anyone we wished. She told us that Hezbullah's political wing are responsible for building schools, hospitals, mosques and that, despite the devastation, the civilian cost wasn't as great as it could have been because Hezbullah evacuated the area as best they could, in anticipation of the Israeli bombardment.

We left to explore

Double Rubble, Toil with Trouble

Our first sign of how much devastation had been caused by the bombings was driving along the West Beirut seafront. Twenty foot high piles of rubble running alongside the coastline. We counted 46 lorries filled with rubble and debris - our driver told us up to 2000 lorries a day were involved in the clear up. 2000!!!! Bear in mind, it has been almost a month since the ceasefire.

Light in the Middle of the Tunnel

Feeling a little dejected by what we had just heard, we set out for the South Suburbs taking the road beneath the bridge, where we discovered that all hope was not lost; there was light in the middle of the tunnel.

A Fish out of Water

Our first stop today was a harbour in West Beirut which used to be the livelihood of a small multidenominaitonal fishing community. That was until the Israelis struck a few weeks ago destroying all their boats in a series of missile strikes under the pretext that Hezbullah were using the harbour to smuggle weapons. A fisherman we spoke to, Hasan, disagreed. He told us that one man was killed in the strikes - a member of the Lebanese army posted to ensure that nothing was smuggled through the port - weapons, drugs, contrband, etc. He said that unless you were a fisherman, you couldnt even get into the port. Israel didn't care - they came, they saw, they destroyed. They even struck the lighthouse.

This previously self-sufficient fishing community has lost its livelihood. It has seen none of the aid pledged to Lebanon by the world. Many are now polishing shoes just to feed their families.

Taming the "Dog of Satan"

The Lebanese turned out in their thousands today in Beirut to welcome Prime Minister Blair to Lebanon. Unfortunately, we could not attend what sounded like a very noisy welcoming reception. Personal messages for the PM such as “America is the greatest Satan, and Blair is the dog of the Satan,” and "In the name of the Lebanese people: Thank you for destroying our homes, neighbourhoods and memories", should have given him some clue as to his status among the Lebanese people. For Blair to, a) come to Beirut, and b) have the gall to justify his not calling for an immediate ceasefire, is indicative of how out of touch he is with reality. It also doesnt say a lot about the Lebanese prime minister, Mr Saniora.

I couldn't attend but I did hear that a compatriot from the Emarald Isle made all us leprachauns proud. Yes, the pride of Ireland, Caoimhe Butterly, was once again at the forefront of the struggle as she heckled Blair during the press conference. Caoimhe was not very politely asked to leave the grounds by the courageous security guards, who carried her out, but not before she ensured that her banner that read "Boycott Israeli Apartheid" was shown live on international television.

Ireland's favourite daughter had struck again.

We're proud of you Caoimhe.

Day 3: Ground Zero Beirut

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the Twin Tower bombings which killed almost 3000 people. Around the world, these deaths will be commemmorated and the world's resolve will be strengthened to fight the 'war on terror' with even more vigour. While you are lighting your candle for peace, please spare a thought for the people of Lebanon who have experienced 30 years of 9-11s, most recently imflicted on them by the Israeli army.

I am having difficulty uploading more than one photo per post (any tips would be much appreciated) so instead I will divide up the day into different posts based on where we went.

The image above shows the gap left after Israel decimated about 15 high-rise apartment blocks, which used to run parallel to the ones on the left-hand side.

Day 2: Bridge to Nowhere

Having the day off today, we decided to hire a car and embark of on a bit of sightseeing. Having Osama as our guide and translator, we couldn't go wrong.

One of the interesting things about Beirut is the amount of destruction caused over the last 30 years. For an outsider, it is quite difficult to establish whether destroyed buildings and roads were hit by the Israelis last month or remnants of the earlier Israeli invasion or Lebanese civil war. As we found out from Osama, quite a lot of the damaged buildings in Beirut were the latter although we did stumble across some recent destruction.

We started off the day with the Jeita Grotto- the biggest natural caves in the Middle East. Absolutely phenomenol - unfortunately, they do not allow any flash photography but you can see plenty of images here. When one sees the complex and intricate design, which the greatest sculptors could only dream of achieving, all one can do is say "Subhan'Allah". How after seeing these caves and the amazing finesse to detail given to stalactites and rocks which resemble human beings, animals and objects of all sorts, an individual can simply put it down to "nature" is incomprehensible. These were clearly caused by intelligent design. Truly amazing!

Next stop was Mount Lebanon via cable-car which offered breath-taking views of Beirut and Jounieh. We visited the Lady of Lebanon on Harissa Hill, a pilgrimage site for Maronite Christians with a 19th Century statue depicting the Virgin Mary. Considering it was filled with pilgrims and tourists of all denominations and sects, it was actually quite a peaceful place.

Towards the evening we departed to visit Byblos or the ancient city of Phoenicia, the oldest city in the world, now called Jbeil in Arabic. History leaping out at us. The journey to Byblos however did give us a stark reminder of the reason we are actually here in Lebanon - the Halat bridge north of Beirut utterly decimated by the Israelis. There could be no military justification for the action whatsoever - it was in the Christian heartland, no Hezbullah history of operating in the area, no accusations of rockets being fired from here, yet complete devastation. And it was one of 4 bridges destroyed that day (4 August 2006) in this area by Israel.

Unfortunately, it was quite dark so my picures didnt come out great so we will probably revisit again later in the week. I have pulled an image of the bridge from the web which I have attached above.

Tomorrow the real work begins - we will visit the southern suburbs of Beirut, which came under severe bombardment.

Pity the Nation

How apt and relevant Gibran's words of 1933 are for today.

Pity the Nation

Khalil Gibran

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.

Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press.

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting,and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.

Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.

Day 1: Arrival

Arrived an hour late on BA flight from Heathrow. Amazingly managed to get through without being "randomly selected" once. Phenomenal! The calmness of Beirut airport (panpipes playing in the background) with the smiling staff is such a contrast to the pressure cooker that is Heathrow. Very pleasant indeed, considering that the first target to be hit by Israel, following the capture of their soldiers was Beirut International Airport. I couldn't help but think what types of security measures the British Government would take if it had a massive crater on the Heathrow runway.

Didn't see much as it was quite late - just got in a taxi and headed straight for the hotel. Did see many billboards at various parts of the main road glorifying the "Divine Victory" with images of Hizbullah flags and Israeli soldiers leaving but taxi driver was going at break-neck speed so couldnt focus too long. As we discovered later that night when going to get a bite to eat, the drivers are so friendly, they spend 80% of their time looking at the passengers and giving them high fives, and 20% looking at the road.

We met our guide and translator for the trip - he told us that tomorrow (sunday) is a day off for everyone so just to relax for the day.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mission Lebanon


All praise is due to Allah and may the peace and blessings of the Almighty be upon His noble messenger Muhammad, his family, his companions, his wives and all those who follow his righteous path until the Day of Judgment.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission team, consisting of a QC, 2 barristers and myself, has arrived in Beirut. In fact, we arrived very late last night but just got internet access now. Quite a diverse team - among us we have an Englishman, an Irishman, a Lebanese and a Sierra Leonan. Should provide plenty of material for a year's worth of racist jokes. Anyways, we aren't here for fun; we are here for a very serious purpose and that is to investigate the allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli army in Lebanon.

I hope to keep everyone updated this way about our experiences, with photographs where I can. A full report will of course be written up and published after our return insha'Allah. But this will be just some tasters.

Please remember us all in your duas.