Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Buildings lay in ruins, furniture strewn on the ground, electricity lines flapping in the air and children’s toys scattered everywhere, but no children were to be found… This is what Beirut’s southern suburbs have been reduced to after two weeks of sustained Israeli bombing.
As I walked amongst the rubble, I asked myself: Where is the famous mosque in Bir al Abed, where the Shiaa authority, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah used to lead prayers? Where is the neighborhood close to the mosque? Where does Bir al Abed end and Harat Hreik begin? Where did the road use to be? I walked in silence, surrounded by destroyed buildings, reduced to rubble and dust.
I met members of the Rizq family who came to look for their apartment but couldn’t find it. They didn’t even find the building it was in. They left the area as Israel launched its war on Lebanon and moved to Hadath, to the east.
Many took advantage of an unannounced 48-hour ceasefire to return to their homes. The Hajj family sought refuge in Corniche al Mazraa, in Beirut. Only half their apartment was spared. “The apartment had four rooms, now it has two,” said the father, laughing nervously. “We found some clothes for the children and other essential items,” he added, before leaving the house to its fate.
I walked on the roofs of ten-story buildings and what is left of the main road. I met another couple who have returned to see the damages. Smiling, he thanks God the apartment is still standing. “Only the glass was shattered,” he said. Standing beside him, his wife looks on with gloom.
One man kissed the walls of his apartment. He was born and brought up in that house. With tears in his eyes, he searched for the neighbor’s house but could not find it. “The important thing is that we are all safe.”
“This was the local foul (fava beans) shop”, said my guide… adjacent to it was “Shams hairdressing salon for women”. Inside, three men rummage through the debris and emerge with the ownership papers. “This is the only thing we can save; we’re scared the roof will collapse over our heads.”
“Bush is a criminal. They are all terrorists. God protect Sayyid Hassan [Nasrallah]. What’s the use of houses without dignity?” an old women clad in black could be heard screaming, her angry words reverberating around the eerily empty neighborhood. Young men heavy carrying heavy luggage made their way, laughing.
An elegantly dressed woman, carrying one shoe, said, “Yesterday, I found one in the rubble of what was my house. Today, I’ve found the other. I’m still looking for my belongings.”
Nearby by, a sign points to the former headquarters of al Manar TV, Hezbollah’s official channel. The signpost remained after the group’s offices have long been destroyed.
Wherever we went, the scene was similar. Blackened buildings, debris and bomb craters. It seems time has stopped here. A Lebanese flag blew in the hot August breeze, alone, testament to better days.
A foreign correspondent asked my guide, “Where are the fighters?” “On the front,” he answered. The roar of Israeli warplanes announced the end of this visit… we all scurried back to relative- safety, leaving the southern suburbs to suffer in silence.