Surviving the Dahieh War: Rami Zurayk’s ‘War Diary: Lebanon 2006′

Israel/Palestine
on 6 Comments

War Diary front cover of 7 22Thirty months before there was Cast Lead, there was the Dahieh War, a sustained assault against Lebanon during which the Israeli military flattened an entire neighborhood of tightly packed high-rises in southern Beirut called simply “the Dahieh” (the suburb.) The vast majority of the 300,000 people who lived until then in the Dahieh had fled before the flattening began, finding shelter in other parts of Lebanon or in neighboring Syria. The inhabitants of Qana, in South Lebanon’s mountainous Jabal ‘Amel region, were not so “lucky”. On July 30, 2006, the Israeli military bombed a house in Qana in which scores of civilians had sought refuge: Some 60 of them were killed, including at least 19 children. 

We are now approaching the fifth anniversary of that massacre in Qana. (Tragically, the village had suffered an eerily similar tragedy during a precursor Israeli assault, ten years earlier.) 

In 2006, the Israeli military continued its mega-lethal campaign against Lebanon for 33 days, July 12 through August 14. They killed 1,200 Lebanese citizens, the vast majority of them civilians. They also destroyed several extensive residential neighborhoods, including the Dahieh, along with bridges, power plants, factories, and numerous other civilian facilities throughout the whole country. (43 Israeli civilians and 121 Israeli military were also killed in the war.) But as with the assault against Gaza 30 months later, even that level of destruction failed to achieve the Israeli government’s goals of bending the targeted population to Israel’s political will.  

The Dahieh War was a turning point for activists from throughout the region, demonstrating that even an institution that enjoys chrystal-clear  military supremacy can be resisted and showing that when Islamist and secular social activists combine forces they can withstand even the fiercest onslaught. 

But what was it like to live in Lebanon and South Lebanon under such a fierce Israeli assault? My company, Just World Books, is proud to be publishing a unique account of those days written by the Lebanese social activist Rami Zurayk. Zurayk’s short work War Diary: Lebanon 2006 will be available as an ebook and a paperback within the coming days– certainly long before the fifth anniversary of the ceasefire.  Click on the ‘Buy’ button button there to place advance orders for this moving and very important 60-page work. 

Here, exclusively for Mondoweiss, are two excerpts from War Diary: those covering July 30 and July 31, 2006:  

    July 30, 2006 

    I waited till the end of this day to write in my journal. I usually purposely delay the daily task of fishing back the memories of my day, at least the most marking of them, from the troubled swamp that is my short-term memory, and then polish them, observe them before laying them on the computer screen. Today I am just afraid of what I have to write. 

    Last night the Israeli air force destroyed a shelter where more than sixty women, children, and handicapped people had sought refuge in the village of Qana in South Lebanon. They all died, buried under the rubble. I saw on TV their families, their relatives and their friends, those who remained and who looked deader than the deceased, pull them from under the chunks of broken walls and arrange them next to each other, in an infinite line of dusty but intact bodies. If it wasn’t for the way they were being carried, held by their limbs as if they were sheep, one could have thought they were sleeping. From time to time, a press photographer or a journalist extended a helpful hand. From time to time, a man would drop his burden, so light in his arms but so heavy in his soul, and collapse in tears. The women were wailing, the men were shouting their anger, and all, all, even the foreign journalists were expressing loudly their indignation of a massacre they knew would remain unpunished. The Chosen People do not pay debts. And they never give IOUs. 

    In Tel Aviv, Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, expressed her sadness, but she went on, these are things that happen in wars. 

    The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, blamed Hizbullah. To convince us, he constructed a very simple argument: If there was no Hizbullah, Israel wouldn’t have needed to bomb Lebanon, and all these innocent deaths could have been avoided. The whole world listened to him. Many people believed him, especially in the West. The black sheep like us knew he was lying, but they were scared of saying anything, so they just moved their heads up and down and sideways so that the world could read in it both negation and acquiescence, and they went baaa baaa. 

    The families of the victims promised to keep fighting Israel till their last breath. 

    July 31, 2006 

    I woke up very early this morning, as I do everyday. I made coffee and switched the TV on. The morning news was full of war and death. There were mostly images of children lying next to each other as if they were peacefully sleeping, eyes wide open. We could tell they were dead because their parents, hysterical with pain, were moving them around to show them to the press photographers without the care usually reserved to the living. 

    A voice over was informing us that the UN Security Council, which had convened a special session last night, had expressed its profound sadness for the death of the 60 women and children of Qana, buried in their shelter by an Israeli mega bomb. The Security Council had not found it necessary to con- demn this attack or to impose an immediate ceasefire, but there were talks of a 24-hours truce to bury the dead. 

    The job of the palace eunuchs has always been to counsel the monarch and to take care of his dirty work, without ever antagonizing him. 

    This is when I decided to go to Sinay, my village in the South. I’d had enough of my daily routine and of my self-inflicted isolation. I had to see with own eyes my country and the state in which the enemies put it. I wanted to surprise Suhayla and my other cousins and tell them my love. I had at least ten other perfectly valid reasons when I only needed one: I needed air, emotions, danger. In my house in Beirut I was starting to get moldy. 

    I took the road on my brother Tarek’s bike, a 250cc Kawasaki Ninja, stylish in spite of its small engine. I had barely joined the airport road when a speeding truck flashed its lights and overtook me. It was filled with large badly sealed sacks from which emanated the vilest stench, a smell of carrion macerated in rotten fruits. The vehicle was leaving behind it a trail of solid matter of various sizes that collided with my face, my chest, my helmet, and filled my lungs. When a flattened metal can skimmed my helmet, I understood that this was the solid waste hearse of Beirut delivering its load to the burial grounds of Na`meh. 

    I exited the highway and waited for a few minutes. I knew this trip would be dangerous, but if I had to die, I would rather it be at the hands of the Israelis. 

    There were very few people on the Khaldeh road, and traffic thinned further towards Na`meh, which stank of badly buried waste. I was riding fast, easily passing all the cars. It was more interesting to ride than I had thought, and I quickly rediscovered my reflexes. A good thing too, because right after the bend at the entrance to Na`meh, the road was blocked with a mountain of metal scrap and cement blocks. This is all that was left of the bridge that once crossed over the highway. A temporary diversion towards a side road had been opened. I took it and found myself in the center of the village. It was swarming with Lebanese army troops. The shop fronts that had been blown out by the explosions were open, and the activity was surprising. I stayed on the small road till Damour where all the cars took the mountain road. I asked the Lebanese army checkpoint if there was another way. The soldiers told me to rejoin the highway, as I would be able to pass with the bike. 

    I rode alone for a while on the deserted road. Soon, I saw in the distance a mound of debris similar to the one I had encountered in Na`meh. There were many cars parked around it, and a man seemed to be doing some work in the distance. I went towards him. 

    The crater must have been 30 meters in diameter. It was partly filled with its own rubble, but I could also see a number of destroyed cars. As to the ones I thought were parked, they were all burned and torn. The man was busy filing one of the sides of the gaping hole with stones and sand, in order to make a passage wide enough for cars to wade through on this river of wreckage. I was able to pass easily and stopped to ask him if the road to Saida was clear. 

    At this moment, a minivan bursting with women and children arrived from the south. To pass the improvised bridge, they had to step out of the bus and walk to the other side. They were coming from Nabatiyeh where they had spent the last 3 days in a dark and stinky shelter where they had to defecate and urinate on the floor, right in front of each others, like beasts in a stable. They had tried their luck at dawn, and had safely reached Saida where they had waited several hours before finding a driver who had accepted to take them to Beirut in exchange for their last savings. The women stood stoically with their long veils twirling in the breeze. They were looking incredulously at the horizon and the sea, without seeming to understand where they were. They breathed deeply, to fill their lungs with the smell of seaweed, thyme and the perfumes of the land as if to eliminate the dirty air of the shelter. The children were catatonic, their heads filled with sleep and with images of noisy death. The families had no idea where to go after reaching Beirut. 

    I took the old coastal road, as I was told. There were columns of smoke in the distance. I knew it was the Jiyyeh power plant, where the fuel tanks had been burning for over15 days. I reached Sa`adiyat, where my uncle Ziad had taught me how to gather sea urchins way before the wars started. There wasn’t a single car in sight, and I was in Jiyyeh very quickly. This is where the ‘hottest’ beaches of Lebanon are located. They have evocative names : Janna, Pangea, Jonas, Bamboo Bay. Luxurious places where the customers are care- fully filtered at the entrance. I remembered that I had promised myself never to set foot there again. Five or six years ago, my family and that of my friend Tuha had decided to spend the day at the beach. We went to the place called Jonas. The fat man at the gate wanted to take our names in order to book a beach umbrella and I answered him in Arabic. I gave my name as well as Tuha’s, which in reality is Abdul-Fattah Amhaz: you can’t get more Shi`a than that. The man looked at me as if he was regretting to have told us that there were vacancies. He then said: “you know this is a classy beach, you can’t grill meat or prepare a narguileh.” To this day, I feel pain in the stomach and in the nape of my neck when I think about the incident. I know I should have broken his teeth and gone home instead of following my wife’s advice and avoid spoiling the day. But that was a long time ago when I was young and stupid and without rancor. 

    The stench of burning fuel was infernal, and the carcinogenic cloud had spread over more than a kilometer. I crossed it literally blindly. When I exited this Gahanna, the sea in Rmeileh was turquoise, and the waves were languor- ously dying on the black sticky sand. 

    The great bridge at the entrance to Saida had disappeared. All that remained were two powerless stumps trying in vain to grasp each other. I took the small road towards the temple of Eshmun, the Phoenician War God. The smell of orange blossoms impregnated the humid and motionless air. Suddenly there was nothing other than this palpable smell that seemed to emanate from the pores of the earth, from the wood of the trees and from the leafy shadows. It intoxicated me and I dissolved myself in it, thinking about death. 

    At the Saida [Sidon] exit, there were Lebanese army soldiers, slouching at the tables in front of a mana’ish bakery. I made the mistake of asking them if the highway was open. They immediately became suspicious and asked me for my identity papers. I obeyed while remarking sarcastically about the absurdity of their request and about the imbecility of an Israeli spy who would stop to ask directions from the army. They told me to take the old road and to watch out for the Israeli helicopters that were hunting Resistance bikers riding on the southern roads. 

    The traffic on the road to Sour [Tyre] was moving pretty well and could have almost been ‘normal’, if it weren’t for the absence of trucks, which were also being specifically hunted by the enemy air force. The passing cars were car- rying whole families with mattresses and blankets on the roof. They all had white flags hanging from the windows or tied to the radio antennas. 

    I reached Ghazieh, which had been bombed several times. In front of the restaurants-butcheries aligned on the main road, men were lighting up large barbecues. The smell of the grilled meat stopped me for a minute and took me back a few months, to a lunch stop we made, a friend and I, on our way back from Sinay. I didn’t stay long. There is nothing worse than the stench of cold barbecue, the sickening stench of which sticks to the hair and to the clothes, and which can only be eliminated with a complete scrubbing. 

    A few kilometers later, I left the coastal road and rode towards the ochre hills of the Jabal `Amel in its summer attire. 

    The narrow and sinuous road that links my village to the coast passes by Bissariyeh, Ghassaniyeh, Kawtarieh, then through the isolated valley of Khartoum. There wasn’t any traffic; I had fun carving the bends. The bike was well balanced, and its handling excellent. I would have liked it to have more power, but it was good enough, and it almost made me forget the danger of driving on this road, where the ‘Apache’ helicopters could appear at any time. Lost in my thoughts, I realized the absurdity of being shot by a war machine to which the Americans had given the name of one of the tribes they had exterminated. When it comes to money, the Americans are capable of doing anything, even of recycling the glory of their victims. Will the next generation of U.S. planes be called ‘Hizbullah’? 

    A few minutes later, I passed the large flamboyant bougainvillea hedge and took the small road to Sinay. Suddenly I was in my cousin’s old house. We kissed without letting anyone see us, because it is not done in the vil- lage, then we cried together for her daughter who had died two months before. We drank the very dark and very sweet tea we make in my region. Sitting on the couch, I let peace penetrate me while my cousins talked about the war. 

Please consider buying this wonderful, very human document. The ebook is $4.00 and the papwrback is $7.00. Tell your friends about it, too! Rami Zurayk is also the author of our new bookFood, Farming, and Freedom: Sowing the Arab Spring, which explains a lot about how the aid and trade policies imposed on Lebanon and other Arab countries over the past 25 years wrecked rural livelihoods and did so much to help prepare fertile ground for the democrats of the Arab Spring. 

If you want to find out more about Zurayk and his work, watch this great 6-minute video of him discussing his work and his activism.

About Helena Cobban

Helena Cobban is the owner of Just World Books. She’s been blogging since 2003 at JustWorldNews.org. Her 1984 book The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power, and Politics, was published by Cambridge University Press and is still in print. Her early-1990 study “The PLO and the Intifada” was published in The Middle East Journal (Spring 1990).

Other posts by .


Posted In:

6 Responses

  1. Taxi
    July 29, 2011, 10:45 am

    Maybe that fake Lebanese poster Robert Werdine would like to share with us his usual one million words in defense of the Apartheid rogue state of israel and it’s long list of crimes against the Lebanese people and their sovereign lands.

    Go on Robert Werdine, oh exemplary shia citizen of Bint Jbail, go on and share with us how every Lebanese should be just like you: unpatriotic, spineless, immoral and treacherous, subservient to european colonialism and to every criminal israeli whim: COWARDLY, CORRUPTIBLE, and HONORLESS!

    Like when you say, Robert Werdine, that your grandmother is a Shia from Bint Jbail and in the same breath support the murder of her village folk by israeli terrorists invaders, all you do man is demonstrate to us that you’re even willing to sell your OWN GRANDMOTHER to the devil for the calf-love of Apartheid israel.

    Fact is, the 2006 war has made Lebanese resistance against the israeli brutes even mightier and mightier still. And a few days ago, Nasrallah made a speech and reminded the israelis that they should keep their thieving blood-soaked hands OFF LEBANON PEOPLE, LAND, WATER AND GAS! Oh yeah he promised that if israel starts yet another war, they will LOSE and be humiliated again but this time much much much worse/fatal: humpty dumpty WILL HAVE a great fall and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men etc. etc. etc…

    Simply put, israeli vital institutions, both civilian and military, are already reachable targets and in plain site of the Lebanese resistance – and for the first time ever, may I add. The Lebanese are known for their smarts and the israelis for their thuggery. We saw this played out in ground battle of Bint Jbail for example where in 2006 the ‘smart’ won over the ‘thug’. And ever since then the defeated thug has been ‘hesitating’, but not quite yet FULLY detoxed from thug behavior, thug lurks in the shadows seeking an opportunity for bloody revenge. But being thug and therefore dumb, thug will touch the burning coals and get burned again.

    If you google ‘battle of Bint Jbail’ and read up, you’ll see how brains win over brawn on the dramatic battlefields. Here’s a couple of passing links just to save you guys time:
    link to informationclearinghouse.info
    link to en.wikipedia.org

    One day too late, the isrealis will realize that a single smartly glowing brain cell can actually be more powerful than the combo of some 200+ nukes.

    On planet earth we call this power ‘the human potential fully realized’. A concept impossible for oppression-loving israeli to understand.

  2. merlot
    July 29, 2011, 10:47 am

    I’m glad this is being published and hope it will raise awareness of the ever increasing Israeli violence in the region and the need to end Israeli war crimes by holding Israel accountable.

    I remember the first time Ramallah was bombed during the second Intifada in October 2000. Then during 2001 there was an incursion into Beit Rima breaking the prohibition on Israel entering Area A. That was followed by incursions into Betunia, El Tira and other areas across the West Bank. Finally Defensive Shield happened in 2002. Jenin was atrocious and the death and destruction in Nablus (under reported) was even worse. I remember visiting both places after the curfew was lifted in Ramallah and we were allowed to move. Seeing those places I again said, it can’t get worse.

    I was in Lebanon three weeks after the end of the 2006 war as part of a humanitarian response assessment team. The stories I was told by friends in Lebanon at that time were heartbreaking. I remember realizing then that things could have been much worse in 2002. At the same time, I also thought that Palestine was not Lebanon and that Israel wouldn’t think of using similar force in the OPT. You would think that after so many years of witnessing Israeli atrocities I would have been a bit more realistic.

    Of course I was wrong again. Cast Lead burned away any illusions I had about limits on Israel’s use of force in Palestine. Nothing you can read will do justice to the reality of the destruction and suffering caused by Cast Lead in Gaza. There is no way to adequately express the reality of what it is like to stand in a neighborhood of flattened buildings where block after block is simply rubble. There is no way that in writing you can convey the trauma and anguish of the people who lived through those actions.

    If a book like this one can get across to people even a fraction of this reality then I say thank you. Thank you to Rami for sharing his life and thto Helena for publishing a book that shares with the world the reality of what Israel’s actions have cost people.

    I no longer say that it can’t get worse. I now expect more atrocities. My only hope is that raised awareness via books like this and sites like Mondoweiss together with the activism that many of us are engaged in will lead to changes that prove my expectations wrong.

  3. Citizen
    July 29, 2011, 11:12 am

    Last night I watched The Battle Of Algiers and a 2002 Palestinian movie called Rayna’s Wedding, if memory serves. The Turner Classic Channel’s last week was devoted to the images of Arabs in cinema. Algiers is amazing, very contemporary.

    • Citizen
      July 29, 2011, 11:22 am

      Sorry: Rana’s Wedding. Although the film makes you identify with one day in the life of young Rayna trying to get married to her lover, the physical occupation itself carries every scene like a giant shadow come to life, the camera guards, the IDF soldiers, the roadbocks, the barriers, the walls, etc. link to rottentomatoes.com

  4. Cliff
    July 29, 2011, 11:14 am

    Great post.

    And yet another reason why Mondoweiss, Phil and Adam and our community, is important.

  5. annie
    July 29, 2011, 11:30 am

    The Chosen People do not pay debts. And they never give IOUs.

    ….

    yesterday i was visiting your website via someone’s twitter ..to Food, Farming, and Freedom: Sowing the Arab Spring…i see it leads to amazon..will order it at my local bookstore. just ordered rami’s war diary ( amazingly cheap) @ O/R books.. thank you helena

Leave a Reply