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Dahr Jamail: "Aren't People Seeing All of This?"

"Aren't People Seeing All of This?"


By Dahr Jamail
Iraq Dispatches & Truthout.org
Monday 24 July 2006

Hundreds of Lebanese refugees languish in a city park in downtown Beirut. Fleeing southern Lebanon, as well as south Beirut, thousands have already made their way through this camp as they are farmed out to schools, abandoned buildings and anyone willing to take them in.

"Aren't people seeing all of this," asked Supinesh, a 50 year-old woman sitting with her family while children collected water from a nearby UNESCO water tank, "They should see the massacres, then they can decide who is just in this conflict."

After spending about an hour there, we decided to go see some of the damage in southern Beirut. Not wanting to go too deep into the demolished area, our driver said he could show us some of it without taking much risk. It still wasn't in the Dahaya district of Beirut, which is the area which has, according to many observers, been 75% destroyed. Thus, I felt reasonably settled inside about having a look.

The roads were mostly empty, as we drove past bomb craters and several overpasses which had been bombed. Some of them, still on the outskirts of the areas most heavily bombed, lay shattered with metal bars and chunks of blasted concrete hanging listlessly in the tense air. A hospital, blasted by shrapnel, sat empty near one of the blasted bridges.

Several building fronts were blasted by bomb shrapnel, and as we drove a little further several Hezbollah fighters were buzzing by us on scooters with M-16 assault rifles slung over their backs.

After passing by another blasted bridge we came upon several journalists running towards their cars in an area heavily damaged by bombs. Smoke languidly drifted down the street towards us from a smoldering building as journalists and their Lebanese fixers, in a panic, jumped in their cars as tires began to squeal.

"One of our spotters just told us he has seen Israeli jets coming," a panicked Hezbollah fighter on a scooter told our driver, "Get out of here now!"

We wheeled around and drove straight out of the area, managing our way through a couple of bottlenecks of cars as we all fled.

Once clear, my colleague, our driver and I decide to go have lunch and catch our breath. After a falafel sandwich and sharing a Nargeela pipe, we decided to go visit one of the main hospitals in the area.

Astoundingly, the assistant director of the Beirut Government University Hospital, Bilal Masri, told me today that there was a 30% casualty rate thus far-meaning that of all the people struck by bombs, 30% of them are killed.

"This is a higher percentage than we had during the civil war," the haggard assistant director told me while patients shuffled through the lobby of the busy hospital, one of the largest in Beirut, "And 55% of the casualties are children under 15 years of age."

So far, the official count of dead Lebanese civilians is nearing 400, with over 1,200 wounded.

Masri, himself holding US citizenship told me that his hospital was now operating with only 25% of its staff, as the rest of the employees had either been unable or unwilling to return to work.

"The Israelis are bombing everything that moves, along with cutting so many bridges and roads, so people have been unable or too scared to come back to work," he said, "So those of us who have stayed are eating, sleeping and working here 24 hours a day. I myself have barely slept in the last 13 days."

It was still sinking in that the casualty rate was so incredibly high, so I asked him how that could be.

"The Israelis are using new kinds of bombs, and these bombs can penetrate bomb shelters," he explained sternly, "They are bombing the refugees in the bomb shelters!"

Just then an irate man was yelling maniacally nearby. Several security guards went and began to escort him from the lobby of the hospital.

"My son who was wounded, was treated and now discharged, but where are we to go," he yelled, "Our home has been pulverized! We do not want to go to a city park, or a school to sleep on the ground!"

He continued pleading to anyone who would listen as he was walked outside.

Masri shook his head, not wishing to comment, as he turned back to me.

"We have kid here who don't know their parents are dead yet," he said while shaking his head. "And recently the Ministry of Interior has confirmed that the Israelis have used white phosphorous in the south."

I showed my surprise at this confirmation. Seeing this, he added, "We also have unconfirmed reports that they are dropping cluster bombs as well, along with other types of illegal weapons."

Before leaving he explained that his hospital was already beginning to run short of medicine and supplies, and thus far had had no help from any international organization.

"We are ok today, but soon we will face big problems if this situation continues," he said tiredly, "We're already going to the Ministry of Health to get extra supplies we are running out of. We hope the UN manages to convince the Israelis to open a safe passage to the south, but at the same time, when that happens, we will be deluged with patients and I don't know how we'll be able to handle all of them."

*************

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has reported for the Guardian, the Independent, and the Sunday Herald. He now writes regularly for Inter Press Service and Truthout. He maintains a web site at dahrjamailiraq.com.

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