Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat-The arrival of summer in Lebanon heralded happiness and delight. Soon, however, July brought with it a ferocious Israeli onslaught and continuing death and destruction across the country. International festivals were canceled, tourists have left in their thousands and the Lebanese spend their days watching television, anxious to learn about the latest developments.
Amid the ongoing violence, it is no surprise to hear Lebanese artists and intellectuals tell Asharq al Awsat that their anger and sadness and the events unfolding before their eyes have precluded them from converting the tragedy into creative works. Images of the bodies of strewn in the rubble, destroyed bridges and roads and collapsed buildings have frozen their minds and reawakened the painful memories of the civil war, which many had fought very hard to forget. Will war, once again, have a hold over Lebanon’s culture?
The Lebanese painter and poet Laure Ghorayeb has kept a diary of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon since 12 July and has posted her drawings on the internet, to tell people of the daily tragedies unfolding in the country. “This is a testimony of the barbarity taking place in Lebanon. They laugh at us with slogans of national unity and, in the end, massacres are committed and hundreds of victims die,” she wrote on her site: www.laureghorayeb.blogspot.com.
With more than one million displaced from southern Lebanon and the capital’s southern suburbs, Ghorayeb drew pictures asking their mothers were they are going. In another drawing, children and the elderly are silent, as they are wrapped in body bags, following the 2nd Qana massacre, which Israel committed on 30 July. “I drew women offering their children as sacrifice in the massacre in Tyre. Amid all this destruction, I ask myself what is our fate? Where are we going to? Where do they want us to go? How much can we bear? Everyday we get up because we will not succumb. I feel scared and constantly anxious. We don’t want to emigrate. We wait for Madam Condoleezza to achieve a ceasefire… After everything that is happening to us, they meet at the United Nations and smile to the cameras and laugh. I don’t feel sorry for the developing societies but for the civilized societies which have done nothing to stop what is happening to us, while they call for values and claim to protect heritage and culture. They have returned us to the Middle Ages.”
Ghorayeb also expressed her disappointment at the behavior of some artists who “consider the country as a hotel they leave if the level of service declines.”
For his part, the Lebanese painter Wahij Nahle, has embarked on a tour along with the actor Ihasan Sadeq and the artist Abdel Halim Caracalla “to discuss the issue of Lebanon in Algeria, Morocco, France and Persian Gulf countries”, he told Asharq al Awsat before leaving Lebanon. Nahle appeared very emotional and was unable to speak. “It is a shock. They have taken away from us all the hopes and effort… we have entered a dark tunnel without end. I fear things will develop into a regional war.”
“I feel paralyzed with fear for the fate of the displaced if they run out of patience. I visited one school and saw hundreds of children waiting in turn to go to the bathroom. What can I offer to help?”
Mona Tayeh, a television scriptwriter, feels “bitter and angry but also proud at the role of the resistance. We are the victims of a country that despises us and doesn’t consider us human.”
The violence being perpetrated across Lebanon has left her unable to “focus or work. I hope this experience ends and I will be able to write, as I did before, during the Lebanese civil war.”
“Artists and intellectuals are unable to do anything, unless the songs of Fairouz, Majida Roumi and Marcel Khalife are exploited” to mobilize people.
“We are tired of fighting Israel for all the Arabs. We are tired and our people are tired. Our children are paying the price and vengeance is growing in their hearts and will destroy them. Our country deserves to live.”
Fearing for Lebanon’s future, the actor Jihad al Andari criticized “those who appear in the media asking for humanitarian aid. This is an affront to our country. The war has hurt me but I have been upset by the behavior of some artists who transformed themselves into goodwill ambassadors…this doesn’t help. “
“Existential questions are presenting themselves once again during this period; they have destroyed us. I don’t think there will be plays or cultural events where pessimism will reign; who will attend them?”
The singer Jahida Wehbi attacked “the empty words” of condemnation at the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. “Perhaps silence, at this stage, is stronger than words. We are a people who still do not realize the horror of the disaster inflicted on us. I think we need to analyze ourselves to know where we have gone wrong….we do not want to be the stage for the wars of others.”
“We are people and we deserve to live. We are not as they picture us. I think I will move to somewhere where I can address a message of people because here I feel nonsensical.”
As for the artist Ghassan al Rahbani, he summarized his feelings with the word “depressed”. “I have already lived the war. Usually, the person goes through the experience once and learns from it. I am fed up. I am not ready to relive it as I suffered enough in the past. If I was 18, I would have resisted, but today I want to leave and look for a way to take care of my family. I don’t feel I am an artist. In times like this, only the instinct of survival remains.”
“If they left us alone, I do not fear for Lebanon as the Lebanese are able to overcome difficulties and become joyful again.”
Despite fearing for the future of his country, as it faces the specter of death on a daily basis, the poet Henri Zoghaib sounded a note of optimism. “I believe my people won’t die. This war has crystallized my pen with anger toward what is happening. This is reflected in my work for the Voice of Lebanon radio station and in my weekly column for An Nahar newspaper.”
“Sections of my people are now without homes, houses or shelter; children are searching for a piece of bread or some milk in shelters and schools.”
“Lebanon did not witness a civil war but the war of others on its soil, even if under local pretexts, sometimes.” He called on the Lebanese to “believe in Lebanon as an entity for one united people.”
“During war, intellectuals play the role of torch for their people. During peace, their role is to be a voice for their people. Intellectuals don’t consider their country as a hotel. We leave the hotel as soon as we are inconvenienced from it. But we remain in our country and serve it.”