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News: Daily Dispatches from the War-Torn Lebanese Capital
By Dahr Jamail
“I am in Hezbollah because I care,” the fighter, who agreed to the interview on condition of anonymity, told me. “I care about my people, my country, and defending them from the Zionist aggression.” I jotted furiously in my note pad while sitting in the back seat of his car. We were parked not far from Dahaya, the district in southern Beirut which is being bombed by Israeli warplanes as we talk.
The sounds of bombs echoed off the buildings of the capital city of Lebanon yesterday afternoon. Out the window, I watched several people run into the entrance of a business center, as if that would provide them any safety.
The member of Hezbollah I was interviewing—let’s call him Ahmed—has been shot three times during previous battles against Israeli forces on the southern Lebanese border. His brother was killed in one of these battles. It’s been several years since his father was killed by an air strike in a refugee camp.
“My home now in Dahaya is pulverized, so Hezbollah gave me a place to stay while this war is happening,” he said, “When this war ends, where am I to go? What am I to do? Everything in my life is destroyed now, so I will fight them.”
That explains why earlier in the day, when driving me around, he’d stopped at an apartment to change into black clothing—a black t-shirt and black combat pants, along with black combat boots.
A tall, stocky man, Ahmed seemed always exhausted and angry.
“I didn’t have a future,” he continued while the concussions of bombs continued, “But now, Hassan Nasrallah is the leader of this country and her people. My family has lived in Lebanon for 1,500 years, and now we are all with him. He has given us belief and hope that we can push the Zionists out of Lebanon, and keep them out forever. He has given me purpose.”
“Do you think this is why so many people now, probably over two million here in Lebanon alone, follow Nasrallah?” I asked.
“Hezbollah gives you dignity, it returns your dignity to you,” he replied, “Israel has put all of the Arab so-called leaders under her foot, but Nasrallah says ‘No more.'”
He paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead. The summer heat in Beirut drips with humidity. During the afternoon, my primary impulse is to find a fan and curl up for a nap under its gracious movement of the thick air here.
Earlier he’d driven me to one of the larger hospitals in Beirut where I photographed civilian casualties. All of them were tragic cases… but one really grabbed me-that of a little 8 year-old girl, lying in a large bed. She was on her side, with a huge gash down the right side of her face and her right arm wrapped in gauze. She was hiding in the basement of her home with 12 family members when they were bombed by an Israeli fighter jet.
Her father was in a room downstairs with both of his legs blown off. Her other family members were all seriously wounded. She lay there whimpering, with tears streaming down her face.
I think I won Ahmed’s trust after that. I walked out the car, got in and sat down. He asked me where I wanted to go now.
Ahmed put his hand on my shoulder and said, “This is what I’ve been seeing for my entire life. Nothing but pain and suffering.”
A photographer from Holland who was working with me was able to respond to Ahmed that maybe we could go have a look at Dahaya.
Ahmed had told me that it was currently extremely dangerous for a journalist to try to go into Dahaya. Before, Hezbollah had run tours for people to come see the wreckage generated by Israeli air strikes. All you had to do was meet under a particular bridge at 11 a.m., and you had a guided tour from “party guys” (members of Hezbollah) into what has become a post-apocalyptic ghost town.
A couple of days ago I went there, without the “party guy” tour. A friend and I were driven in by a man we hired for the day to take us around. I was shocked at the level of destruction—in some places entire city blocks lay in rubble. At one point we came upon the touring journalists, all scurrying to their vehicles. Everyone was in a panic.
“What’s going on?,” I asked our driver. “A party guy who is a spotter said he saw Israeli jets coming,” he responded, while spinning the van around and punching the gas as we sped past the journalists lugging their cameras while running back to their drivers.
While driving we were passed by several Hezbollah fighters riding scooters. Each had his M-16 assault rifle slung across his back and wore green ammunition pouches across his chest.
Ahmed told me he’d captured two Israeli spies himself. “One of them is a Lebanese Jewish woman, and she had a ring she could talk into,” he explained as new sweat beads began to form on his forehead, “Others are posing as journalists and using this type of paint to mark buildings to be bombed.”
I doubt the ring part, and also wonder about the feasibility of paint used for targeting, but there are no doubt spies crawling all over Beirut. In Iraq, mercenaries often pose as journalists, making it even more dangerous than it already was for us to work there.
Nevertheless, war always fosters paranoia. Whom can you trust? What if they are a spy? What are their motives? Why do they want to ask me this question at this time? These types of questions become constant I my mind, and so many others in this situation where normal life is now a thing of the past. I think they are some sort of twisted survival mechanism.
We drove back near my hotel and parked again. People strolled by on the sidewalks. Ahmed said, “I will never be a slave to the United States or Israel.”
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