Monday, August 14, 2006

Hell on Bint Jbeil

This article, by Jihad Bazzi, sheds light on the sufferance the refugees have endured when trying to flee the bombarded cities and villages. What they have gone through is simply inhumane, and violating to every Human Right agreement on the planet. Sadly, it is nothing but the truth. Please take the time to read this translated story of Adel & Insaf, shared, I'm sure, by hundreds of other refugees.

The plane swoops down over the half-demolished house. It levels it to the ground. The gas bottles blow up; fire ravages it. There is no one inside this house in the Sakiyeh neighborhood of Bint Jbeil. Its five inhabitants have already evacuated it. They are four women and a crippled old man, called Mohammad Hussein Ahmad Bazzi, who now hides in the house next door, owned by Adel Bazzi. Adel had asked them to stay with him, as people take comfort in each others in times of war. Adel had carried the crippled man on his back, and made him feel at home since the first day of the aggression.

It's day 14 of the war. There are sixteen people in the house: Adel, his wife, his six children, his 85-year-old mother, his 79-year-old brother-in-law, Mohammad Rashed El-Hinawi, who had come to town for a visit before this war started, but couldn't leave afterwards. There are also their five neighbors, whose house the plane half-demolished yesterday, and which is being bombarded again today.

The ground shakes in Adel's house and everybody starts to scream. Adel takes a look out of the window and sees the warplane hovering about. It fires a missile at his house, destroying part of the first floor roof. Adel, on the ground floor, makes a snap decision for all those staying with him: We will leave the house. It all happens in a matter of seconds. He carries the youngest of his children, and throws him at the doorstep. The mother, too, carries a child and hurries outside. The other children rush out by themselves. Adel's sister, Alia, helps her mother make it to the entrance. As for his old brother-in-law, he goes out, leaning on his walking stick. Adel carries Hajj Mohammad on his back. Everybody starts running, some of them waving their white scarves above their heads. They have barely crossed for fifty meters when the warplane attacks Adel's house, turning it into ruins.

The Sakiya neighborhood is nothing but a pile of rubble. Adel makes sure he takes one last look at the building where he had planned to move before the war: those five stories he had built after 22 years of hard work, both in Lebanon and Dearborn, Michigan, in the United States, where he used to travel each year. Adel and his children hold a dual Lebanese-American citizenship, and it is for their sake that he has built this house in Bint Jbeil. He takes a look at the life he just had, but doesn’t see it. He just runs, runs with the old man on his back, and fifteen persons running behind them… Yet they have no idea where to go.

Bint Jbeil is not the Bint Jbeil they knew. It is nothing but scattered islands of endless ruins. People are gathered in groups inside the houses… and just wait. In another part of the town, Insaf, her mother Zeinab and her two nieces are sleeping at the home of another relative. Fifty people are hiding under that roof. When someone from the South speaks of a home, he usually means a small two-story house. The father of the family always builds one for his children. And ever since the liberation of the South, Bint Jbeil had been an ongoing workshop. No, those houses, villas and castles do not grow as mushrooms, rather like ancient dreams which emigrants and locals have always had; dreams that make this town more beautiful and prosperous.

The number of houses is increasing… those beautiful houses with red bricks on the top. Suddenly, Insaf finds herself evacuating her home, along with her diabetic mother and her two nieces, who had come to spend the summer. She runs away; the house next door has collapsed on their neighbors, killing them all at once. Her neighbor himself paid them a visit half an hour ago. He told her he was going to get his family, so that they can all stay together.

Insaf has run to another neighborhood. She has no idea what became of her house. She is surrounded by fifty people, some praying and imploring God, others are just terrified children.

Imagination can go on and on when it comes to describing the situation, but no words can really describe the cruelty of the waiting. No words can describe how those fifty people left their house, holding the white fabric up high and planning to reach Tebnine on foot… Nothing can really tell how the planes then bombarded the surrounding buildings, dispersing the small crowd and causing everyone to cry hysterically. They had no choice but to gather up again, and go those few meters back, to that same room where they had been; to go back to the waiting and the screaming at each shake of the house, and each time the nearby rocks of the destroyed houses nearly blow their room away. There are no words to describe how these days pass by: crying and reading the Koran. Above their heads, there is a half destroyed roof; above the roof, a warplane; and above the warplane, a God that sees them, with no one else for them to look at, no one else for Him to look into.

Adel and his family run for forty meters. They see a house with an open door, so they make their way in. Adel says they will hide there for a while. The roar of the raids becomes louder; the house is shaking with them inside. The warplane is chasing them from a place to another. Adel runs again. On his back, he is still carrying crippled Hajj Mohammad. Around him are still his brother-in-law, wife, children, mother, sister and neighbors. But where to this time? To the nearest house they can possibly find. The house they have just fled is now destroyed. Death is hunting them down, and images are swarming in Adel's head: the image of their limbs stuck on the walls. But the plane disappears. In the dark, the group sleeps on the floor of the third house for that day.

Tomorrow is another day… Tomorrow is day 15 of this war.

The night is gone. At dawn, Adel Bazzi gets up and decides to head to the residence of Sayyed Ali Hakim, the Imam of Bint Jbeil. Adel knows that there is a basement there. He carries the crippled neighbor on his back, and tells his brother-in-law to follow. The group reaches the place, while warplanes are roaring in the sky. They make their way through the open door and seek shelter in the old basement. In the dark, they hear the voice of the Imam, praying, while people are repeating after him. Their number has reached forty. There is a biscuit packet that is yet to be divided, as daily crumbs, among four children. One of the men has been sneaking out in the last few days, crawling to the water tank, a few meters away, to fetch some water. But the raids will get stronger and stronger; and those seeking shelter in the basement will soon know they are very close to Maroon El-Ras, under the direct threat of the Israelis.

Sayyed Hakim asks everyone to stay here, and they all obey. From now on, there shall be nothing to feed them, not a drop to drink, not a ray of light to see. Because water is unavailable, they wash with clean sand, and pray in the place where they sit. It is in this same place that they sleep and wake up. For five days, not a single soul dares leave his spot, lest they trample the person lying nearby. The voice of the praying Imam is getting louder and louder, and they all repeat his words after him. When the voice of the Imam becomes hoarse; it is Abdel Karim, Adel's son, who raises his voice and continues, with everyone repeating the prayer after the fifteen-year-old boy. At night, Adel's four-year-old son moans. He tells his mom he's hungry. She cries. It's been five days, and nothing has changed. When the warplanes attack the Imam's house, demolishing it just above the basement roof, they feel that death is sticking to their skin. They just close their eyes and wait for it to grab their souls. But the arched roof of the old basement holds out. It doesn’t fall. Sayyed Hakim tells them that the roof doesn't protect them. He says that God is their Protector, and they believe him. They have no other choice.

Before we forget: Adel's group which had left the last house consisted of 16 persons. But only 15 of them made it. Adel's brother-in-law was lost along the way. This stranger, who was unfamiliar with the alleys of Bint Jbeil, didn't even make it to the house of the honorable Sheikh… Nobody knows what ever happened to him.

On the memorable truce Monday, the twentieth day of the war, Insaf and her group get out of their shelter. They come out to the destroyed city, which is grieving for its children. What is the color of their faces in this exact moment of light?

People now are walking towards the salvation of their souls from this hell. Zeinab falls and twists her ankle; her daughter helps her up and supports her as a crutch. Insaf is scared that people will leave her behind, with her mother and the two girls. Hajjeh Zeinab, already defeated by diabetes, leans on her daughter and moves forward. Now everyone is taking care of one's closest relative. There are women crawling on their hands and knees… Old people falling down like leaves… They either are helped up by a passer-by, or simply remain where they fell when no one notices them. Out of all the days of this war, that day in particular remains deeply engraved in Insaf's mind; this path too, which have been crossed by hordes and hordes of people amidst all this destruction.

These war days have left them unprepared for the migration. When it comes to putting an end to this bumpy trip, amidst the ruins of a city with an exhumed heart, they are completely helpless. The few hundreds of meters they've crossed to reach the car of those waiting at the threshold of destruction have exhausted them. They just need a car, any car to carry them anywhere, far away from the days of Bint Jbeil. However, there are no sufficient cars to transport all these people. So he who found no car just walks.

It is only in Tebnine Hospital that refugees start telling stories to each others. But when photographers would approach them, they'd start yelling: "don’t take our pictures! Go to Bint Jbeil and help those who have stayed there. The children of the slaughtered city will tell stories about those who stayed under the rubble; the corpses eaten by dogs, the destruction… they will tell you about the woman who died in the shelter of a relative, after which he got her out and just laid her on the ground, scared for his children from the decomposing body. "My God", Insaf said, "the day we left was like Resurrection Day!"

Adel escorted his mother, children, wife, sister and all those who decided to leave. Sayyed Ali Hakim stayed in the basement with the crippled old man, which Adel had carried from one house to another. With them remained many others. Two days later, Adel heard that the Sayyed and the people in the basement have left the city, but the crippled man, whose picture had been taken, left Bint Jbeil and never arrived to Beirut. Last night, however, he was reunited with his family. As for Adel's brother-in-law, it has been said that he was found in the last house the group took refuge in. He was injured after the place was bombed. He spent days all alone, and it has been said that he left for Tebnine, but he is still missing.

Adel dug in the pile of rubble to open a door to the basement. He got out in Bint Jbeil, and his old mother collapsed. He carried her. On his way, he found a woman pushing her mother in a wheel-chair. He asked her to let him put his mother in the chair as well, for which he would take over the pushing. After putting one old woman in the lap of the other, he pushed the chair among the holes and above the hills, until reaching the Red Cross ambulance, which is large enough for twenty people… and off to Tebnine hospital. There, he shall ask for a cigarette. And from Tebnine to Saida, where his children shall eat for the first time in days.

Insaf is at her sister's place in Beirut. She sleeps at three in the morning and wakes up in tears at six. She recalls her days in Bint Jbeil. She tells stories and cries. She doesn't believe what has happened. Insaf is a tough woman. She knows that just like she survived Resurrection Day, she will go through this crisis as well. "Thank God for everything", she says, "in the next days, I'll be better". Hassan is at his relatives' in Beirut. He called the American embassy and explained that he had lost all the passports at his house. Everything was placed in one bag. The passports, the money, the gold and the papers… But he remembered his life when he ran away, and forgot the bag. Now, he's back to zero: His first house, his new building and his store in Bint Jbeil, are all gone. Israel has leveled all his lifetime efforts to the ground. And now what? "I will go and work in the States once more; I will raise money to rebuild the house". What if Israel comes back? "Let it come back!" What if it demolishes your home? "So what, I'll build it again" And what if it comes back to demolish it once again? "I will rebuild it. I will go on building my home in Bint Jbeil".

Translated by Eve.
Thank you Delirious and Archmemory for looking over my translation.


At Monday, August 14, 2006 10:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tears only.

At Tuesday, August 15, 2006 3:01:00 AM, Blogger White Wings said...

but there is something about Lebanese spirit, it survives the worst circumstances, maybe they are rooted in a civilization that refuses to and will never die, and so the spirit of each Lebanese carries this grandness
Lebanon will be back, our hearts and minds are with you

At Tuesday, August 15, 2006 11:41:00 PM, Blogger jooj said...

Just as strong as the original Arabic version.

"I will rebuild it. I will go on building my home in Bint Jbeil".

These were exactly my brother's words when I asked him whether he heard anything about the house in BintJbeil. It was a brand new house, newly furnished and ready for its first summer. I have no idea if it still stands.

just realized I never left you a comment on this blog


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