Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- For a very long time, the battlefield has been my favorite location for inspiration to write. Perhaps this comes from my inability to miss conflicts that I have witnessed since 1975. I consider myself a distinguished child of war. When the recent war broke out in Lebanon on 12 July, I was struck by a state of madness. I feared missing the event, just as somebody would fear missing an important appointment. For me, field journalism has been, and remains, a passion and covering events is not a matter of choice due to my level of enthusiasm.
However, something was different about this war. One should assert that any event is different to war. Events come and go and we usually head for the scene of action after the action is over and return to our office to report to our colleagues on what we have seen. This war erupted whilst I was outside of Lebanon and my journey began as I attempted to get to Beirut from Amman in a taxi that rushed to avoid missiles that were targeting at that time the industrial region. On our arrival, the taxi driver politely said, “Praise be to God for your safe arrival.”
“Praise be to God for your arrival,” was a popular phrase that we heard during each step that we had taken in our journey in covering the war, from our homes to the Asharq Al Awsat offices, which were moved to the edge of a southern suburb of Beirut. As we entered the office, the editor of the opinion section, Mshari al Zaydi told us, “The importance of our newspaper comes from the fact that it overlooks strategic locations in the Lebanese structure.” After July 12, we paid a heavy price for this “strategic location.” At times, we watched the bombings with our own eyes, transforming the office into one of panic and madness. Our colleague Huda Shuman would scream and run hysterically towards the entrance, as she, like others, feared the attacks would come closer.
We were all terrified, as we attempted to get on with our daily responsibilities. Thair Abbas was the expert “guard” of the bombings, as he, after every round of bombing would roam around the shelled areas to examine the situation on the ground. Maya Meshlab expressed her fear through laughter whenever a missile was launched and searched for safety. Our leader, ‘Abu-Tariq’ otherwise known as Mohammed Muhiyadeen had shown no difference in behavior except for his rather bizarre request for roasted chickpeas (kadami). During that phase, advice was the backdrop of protection. Dawood Ibrahim would call his wife at the launch of every missile, reassuring her to calm her nerves. Dawood would advise me to keep away from the windows, however I answered that this was pointless as I headed back to my desk to seek refuge beside my computer as dark smoke filled the air, changing Beirut’s summer into what resembled a bleak autumn.
Our colleagues from other publications had left during the first week of the conflict. As the severity of the military situation escalated, our technological equipment was also disrupted and damaged, forcing us to use primitive methods. Our colleague Rola Frieha could not understand why the printer had suddenly stopped working. Mobile phones were temperamental and during the initial stages of the war, no programs were broadcasted on television. Later, we were able to follow the latest news through local television channels, whereas satellite stations are still unavailable.
Fuel also posed a problem in addition to the bombing that obstructed our journey to work. It is not easy to make decisions whilst traveling in a danger-zone, especially after the Israeli army distributed leaflets telling the Lebanese to leave the south. We, however, decided to remain.
On the field, my activities began through personal initiatives rather than a set assignment. I covered the southern areas of al Dahiyeh and Baalbek. In Qana, I had to beg for fuel for my car to cross over 200km of unpaved roads that were demolished on the first day of the Israeli attacks. I was keen to return before sunset in order to reach the office to look at the page before it is printed.
The next day, the article was published and situated in the correct part of the paper after a friendly dispute across continents with my dear colleague Waleed Abu Morshid in London. Waleed understood the matter and dealt with it efficiently and advised me, proudly may I add, that an American writer had beat me to the article. He stated that the national interest is to embarrass the Americans for covering up the actions of their Israeli ally.