Monday, July 31, 2006

On wolves and icecreams

Today we had (what I thought was) a brilliant idea of staging a little puppet show. We had all the characters: Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf, the grandma and even the hunter. Some enjoyed the show but others booed at LRRH for being so stupid and cheered the wolf for being funny and smart.

The volunteers are tired and really irritated by all the mess that the kids are doing around the school. They loose their temper and yell at the kids very often. I had another (what I thought was) a brilliant idea of discussing this issue with the volunteers. By the end of the "talk" my fellow volunteers were sure I came from lala land as the kids are too impolite to be treated differently. I'm all alone in this battle and I think I'm loosing.

But the star of today was Zainab (4) who thinks she's growing up. Zainab is from Maroun Ras and two days after the start of the attacks, he father woke up to her pacing her room and repeating: "I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die". A couple of hours later they fled to Beirut and settled at the school.

But today Zainab had a little "interview" with me: "Hello Zeina, what's your name? Now tell me, have you seen the news yesterday? There was a little boy my age and he lost his head and died. What do you think?". Truth is I froze and didn’t know what to say or do. I told her that I don’t know what she means. But she too thought I came from lala land for not hearing the news from Qana. I took Zainab aside and told her that she's safe here and that her mom, brother and sister are all here and taking care of her. But she looks at me and says: "But my father is still in Maroun Ras".

A little confession: I committed a small act of corruption. I took Zainab and her brother Hussein secretely to an ice cream shop nearby. I made them promise not to tell the other kids who got them ice cream because there would be riots around the school. Back to the school, one of the kids asks her where she got her ice cream from she looks at him with her big eyes and golden locks and says: "You'll never believe what happened! I was walking on the sidewalk; I put my hand in my pocket and guess what? I found an ice cream!"

"Zainab, her friends and the puppets"

New Update 31/07/06: Proposals

Bypassing the rhetoric on a ‘new Middle East’, ‘moments of opportunity’ or ‘calling of the 21st century’, the U.S.-U.K. position on the current crisis is gradually converging toward the more pragmatic, and comprehensive, French position. With the growing realization of the dead-end faced by an exclusive military approach to this conflict, the U.S.-U.K. have adopted the idea of an international security force to be sent to South Lebanon. Yet, voicing the Israeli position, an ambiguity remains regarding the issues of an immediate cease-fire, the status of the Shebaa Farms and the Hezbollah.
The more detailed French position has the added advantage of being ‘endorsed’ by the Lebanese government, of opening a space for the Hezbollah to negotiate and of giving a priority to the politial process over the military solution. This proposal includes an immediate cease-fire and negotiations regarding the prisoners followed by the establishment of a neutral zone, the deployment of an international force in South Lebanon, the extension of the control of the Lebanese army over its borders, the creation of a committee to oversee the cease-fire and the resolution of the issue of the Shebaa farms.
The Lebanese position follows broadly the French outline. The main points are an immediate cease-fire, a prisoners’ exchange, a UN mandate over Shebaa farms, the deployment of the Lebanese army over all of the territory and the extension of the UNIFIL mandate. After an initial reluctance by the Hezbollah regarding this proposal, preferring to restrict the negotiations to the issues of a cease-fire and exchange of prisoners, sources close to the Party saw no a priori objections to this plan, but expressed their concerns regarding the details of such a plan.

How can we stand by and allow this to go on?

Robert Fisk, The independent
Published: 31 July 2006

"...You must have a heart of stone not to feel the outrage that those of us watching this experienced yesterday. This slaughter was an obscenity, an atrocity ­ yes, if the Israeli air force truly bombs with the " pinpoint accuracy'' it claims, this was also a war crime. Israel claimed that missiles had been fired by Hizbollah gunmen from the south Lebanese town of Qana ­ as if that justified this massacre. Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, talked about "Muslim terror" threatening " western civilisation" ­ as if the Hizbollah had killed all these poor people..."
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QANA... a war crime

"(Beirut, July 30, 2006) – Responsibility for the Israeli airstrikes that killed at least 54 civilians sheltering in a home in the Lebanese village of Qana rests squarely with the Israeli military, Human Rights Watch said today. It is the latest product of an indiscriminate bombing campaign that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have waged in Lebanon over the past 18 days, leaving an estimated 750 people dead, the vast majority of them civilians..."

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

another mass grave in Tyre

The smallest of the 31 simple plywood coffins, center, containing one-day-old girl Sawsan Tajeldin, can be seen as a bulldozer pours soil to bury Lebanese victims in a mass grave at the southern port city of Tyre, Lebanon, Saturday. Tajeldin was killed along with her mother, name not available, when the car in which they were fleeing from the nearby village of Bazouriyeh was hit by an Israeli warplane missile strike.

Source: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis


The news from Qana had an unusual impact on the school. The routine went smoothly and people weren’t talking about the massacre but there was a sudden outburst of violence within families. With my arrival, Rayyan told me that Zainab's mother was hit by her husband's uncle in the absence of her husband and in front of her children. Zainab (4) and her brother Hussein (3) were doing well if a bit irritable. Their youngest 8 months old sister Mariam isn't doing very well not only because she has Measles but also because her parents still haven't registred her birth and she is deprived of an official identity.

There was also a little problem with Fatme who was caught begging for money in the school neighborhood and giving it to her mother. She was also accused of stealing some money from another school resident. The volunteers were so confused and didn't know how to deal with both stories. They tried to talk to Fatme's mom who apologized and cried and beat Fatme really hard. Fatme's father sleeps throughout the day in the school hallway.

But today I asked the children to draw their portraits. With her big eyes and golden locks, Zainab looks at me and says: "You know what? I think I've grown up since I came to this school".

"I think I've grown up since I came to this school"

The concert

Yesterday there were rumors that there was going to be a party. Around 4 PM the kids began blowing colored balloons and hanging them around the school. The playground looked so different: with laundry taken off from the wires, it looked like a school playground again. The children were so excited to have a party. They were wondering whether they were going to dance and whether they should change into a party outfit. Some of them did, others didn’t have different clothes. A couple of hours later, some people walked in and began installing microphones, amplifiers etc. It wasn't a party, it appeared, but a concert.

Minutes before the concert started, the audience disappeared as Hassan Nasrallah was giving a live TV message. I was worried that the broadcast will take over the concert, but I was wrong. The band introduced themselves as "Rabi' Beirut" (Beirut Spring) and dedicated their concert to the fallen martyrs, the wounded and the displaced. I didn't think that the kids were going to enjoy it but I was wrong again.

The band sang for Fairouz, Marcel, Julia etc. Today the school felt like a community, maybe for the first time – at least in my perception. There was a feeling of bonding between different families. Some were holding other people's kids, teenage girls were sitting together away from their parents, and adults were happy with the attention the school was getting. There were many cameras around the schoolyard: Future and Kuwait TV were there. Reporters were asking the kids about their lives at the school. Adults and children were relieved that foreigners were still interested in their stories.

By the time I was ready to leave, Zainab and Diana asked me to spend the night with them at the school and promised to find me a mattress and some food. After that cheerful evening, I think I really did want to sleep there. Outside the school, Beirut seemed empty, gloomy and desperate.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Made in the UK, bringing devastation to Lebanon - the British parts in Israel's deadly attack helicopters

Benjamin Joffe-Walt
Saturday July 29, 2006
The Guardian

"British arms companies are supplying key parts for Israel's Apache combat helicopters, F-15 and F-16 fighter jets deployed in southern Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank despite government guidelines banning the sale of weapons likely to be used "aggressively against another country" or fuel regional tensions..."
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President Bush and PM Blair agreed on an international force to be sent to Lebanon and are pressing for a U.N. resolution that aims at halting hostilities. Dismissing the calls for an immediate cease-fire as unrealistic, the two leaders altered their tone regarding the situation and offered their plan as the only viable solution to the current crisis. In line with their earlier accusations to Hezbollah, and its two regional backers, Syria and Iran, the plan aims at interposing an international force between the Hezbollah and Israel and at providing the Lebanese army with the capacity to extend its control to all of the Lebanese areas.
This plan was received with skepticisms by the international media. For some, “vague and misleading references to the causes of terror” do not replace good old-fashioned diplomatic pressures to halt the conflict. Other highlighted that this plan depends on Hezbollah’s approval and "giving up [of] its role as a resistance group and agreeing to focus solely on the political process, a stand it has previously refused to make. Many Middle East experts are doubtful this will happen, and administration officials conceded it is an obstacle”.
Bush and Blair’s understanding of the current crisis as a combination of a humanitarian tragedy coupled with a technical problem of control by the Lebanese army will fail to convince many Lebanese. Seen in conjunction with the difficulties faced by the IDF, some commentators read this British-American change in tone as an attempt to cover the current Israeli defeat. In a boastful note, as-Safir newspaper saw “Washington as covering the Israeli defeats by offering it an international protection”. The solution proposed was contrasted with the more comprehensive plan presented by the Lebanese PM Siniora, a plan endorsed by the Europeans according to al-Mustaqbal newspaper . Only such a plan might receive the support of most parties involved and serve as the basis for a long-lasting solution.

Friday, July 28, 2006

the question of the day

Yesterday M. (9) asked me if I had books in English he could read. He said the little thin books he has are too boring and that he needs" to read something thick in English". So while I was giving him the books, the younger kids insisted that they wanted to read too. I told them that they were too young to read. But they didn't agree, so I asked Z. (4) to show me how to read so she opened the first page of the book and read: "bismillah arruhman al rahim" (the first verse from the Quran or the only line she knows in classical Arabic). The funnier part is that the book was in English.

M. went with his mother to see the doctor yesterday. He's been stumbling and falling frequently and his mother thinks there's something wrong with his legs. She took him to see the doctor and asked for a prescription to help her kid. The doctor asked to see the child alone: apparently A. has been having panic attacks each time he hears the plane flying above the school which makes him loose the feel of his legs.

The kids wanted to stage a little play. But what they were interested in: Snow White? Little Red Riding Hood? Cinderella? The answer was consensual: "Muqawama!!" (The Resistance). They wanted to stage a normal day in the lives of Hizbullah fighters. Halfway through the rehearsal they realized that no one wanted to play the Israeli soldiers so the play was postponed until someone can fill the undesired roles.

But Z. her sister and brother were waiting for her father to come back to the school with a big roasted chicken that is not on the steamed-rice-and-cheese menu of the school. They awaited their father at the door of the school for a full hour. But the question of the day is:"if one of the cows in our farm gets killed, does she become a martyr?".

"Zahra, between jumping off chairs and waiting for the roasted chicken"

News Updates 28/07/06: Cease-Fire and Public Opinion

Pressures to call for an immediate cease-fire are intensifying, especially in the UK with the visit of PM Blair to President Bush. Apart from the ‘humanitarian’ mobilization against the Israeli aggressions on Lebanon, a political rationale for an immediate cease-fire is making headways. The ‘discovery’ by international medias that the Arab public is gradually shifting its support to the Hezbollah with the uneasy positions of the pro-US Arab governments renders the position of the US/UK potentially explosive in the whole Middle East.
Yet, this international pressure is faced by Israel’s determination to crush Hezbollah as the only acceptable outcome of the current crisis: “If Hezbollah does not experience defeat in this war”, wrote Ze’ev Schiff in Haaretz newspaper, “this will spell the end of Israeli deterrence against its enemies.” Despite the recent losses of the IDF, such a position is still supported by an overwhelming majority of Israelis, reaching in the last poll 82% in favour of continued fighting until the Hezbollah is driven from the border.
Faced with such a deadlock, only a full-fledge diplomatic route might succeed. Yet, this requires time and until then, the war on Lebanon will continue.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

two weeks already

The kids were calmer and happier today. Some of them were sleeping; others took advantage of the quiet skies to go to their homes and take showers and get some of their stuff. The houses of most children are still standing; others have lost their homes completely.

I looked for A. (10 yrs) who's usually very active around the school. His aunt who is staying with them had a nervous breakdown right when the war started. Her situation worsened when she settled at the school. She used to fight with almost everyone over water, noise, cigarettes and order. Today they all left to Syria after a huge fight that broke out yesterday between A. and a girl from another family. Apparently they didn't have a place to stay in Syria but decided to leave anyway.

"Diana and Fouad on a break from drawing their portraits in the school playground"

Imm H.'s family still haven't got their papers settled. Imm H.'s still waiting for her husband to send her some documents from China so she cant get visas and join him. She and her four kids will remain at the school awaiting the visas to China. Meanwhile, her older son, H. (17) found a work in a factory today. His younger brother (9) was so proud because his brother found work in "either a chocolate or a coca cola factory". His mom said that her kids who go to private schools and speak English have started to pick up other kids's bad habits. "We're really different", she whispers, "but we have to stay here until we can travel".

But the star today was Nemo. There were rumors that the kids were going to watch a movie tonight which made them really excited. The "Mouvement Social" had the brilliant idea of operating a "mobile cinema" across different schools in Beirut. Around sunset, they came to the school and installed a wall screen and played "Finding Nemo" in Arabic. The kids were mesmerized in front of the screen and didn’t blink an eye for the entire show. It was magic. Nemo was even able to overpower the small TV set around which all parents sit.

But only, K., the smallest guest at the school did not enjoy the show. He was too busy thinking about his life, half of which he already spent in this school.

News Updates 27/07/06: Rome, Bint-Jbeil and Syria

The failure of the Rome conference was expected amidst the divisions in the international community regarding the necessity and possibility of a cease-fire. Acknowledging the impossibility to reach any tangible results, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the US position by saying: “It doesn’t do anyone any good to raise false hopes about something that’s not going to happen. … The fields of the Middle East are littered with broken cease-fires".”
The Conference ended by calling for an urgent and sustainable ceasefire, albeit not an immediate one and without agreeing on the composition and mandate of the international military force.
This diplomatic dead-end came as the Israeli army faced its bloodiest day, with scepticism about the rationale of this military operation becoming increasingly vocal.
Syria emerged in the medias as the most likely winner of this diplomatic and military quagmire, with repeated calls to include it in the negotiations as “all the other choices facing the US and Israelis [are] even worse"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Documentary: Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land

Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land provides a comparison of U.S. and international media coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, zeroing in on how structural distortions in U.S. coverage have reinforced false perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ecocide in Lebanon

The 7000 year old historic port of Byblos as it appears swamped by waves of fuel oil

The only public beach in Beirut drowned under waves of oil

In addition to its devastating war on bridges, infrastructures, factories, houses, neighborhoods and its massacres of civilians and children, the Israeli army is launching another kind of war: an ecological war. Last Thursday, big spots of oil began appearing on the Lebanese coast following the attacks on energy plants. Since then, more than 10 thousand tons of Heavy Fuel Oil have fallen into the sea and have polluted more than 30% of the Lebanese seashore. For many ecological specialists, this is the worst ecological disaster that has ever hit Lebanon.

sources:,, and

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The 12th day at the school

Today the kids were irritated. As I walked into the school, we heard several bombs falling on Dahiye following IDF's promise of erasing 10 buildings for every rocket that falls on northern Israel. As soon as I entered, I found out what had happened to Z. (4 yrs.): she had spent the night crying and screaming until they realized this morning that she had broken her arm after jumping off a classroom chair.
The children were very nervous. They were convinced that there is a snake roaming around the school courtyard. Some of them saw it and others said they killed it. This afternoon, they weren’t concentrating on any game we tried to play. A. (11yrs.) told me that her grandfather's house in Tyre was hit yesterday: the roof fell on him and he was stuck under the rubble the entire night. His neighbors thought he was dead but he was rescued early morning and taken to hospital. He did survive but became paralyzed neck down. But Z.'s grandfather didn’t. He died last week under the rubbles of his house. But Z. tells the story like it was a big adventure, like he didn’t die, like she didn’t know what it meant.

Imm Haitham is waiting to renew her children's passports so they can all leave to West Africa to stay with relatives. With her husband being away, her brother-in-law thought he'd keep all important documents in his safe at home in Dahyie. A couple of days ago, her brother-in-law's apartment collapsed, the safe disappeared, and both families lost everything.

So by the time I left, Z., with her shaven hair and her broken arm was still jumping off the classroom chair and telling the story of her grandfather like it was a big adventure.

The War of Double Standards

"... But the fact that Hezbollah “initiated” this conflict by attacking and abducting Israeli soldiers across an internationally recognized border does not even start to shift the balance of morality to Israel’s side..." Read Article

Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Relations Program at the University of California, Davis. His book, Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy was published in 2006 by the University of Michigan Press.

Human Rights Watch: the use of Cluster Munitions by Israel

Israeli Cluster Munitions Hit Civilians in Lebanon
Israel Must Not Use Indiscriminate Weapons

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Monday, July 24, 2006

"a violation of humanitarian law" Jan Egeland

Blasted by a missile on the road to safety

Family ordered to flee were targeted because they were driving minivan

For the second time in eight days, the Israelis committed a war crime yesterday. They ordered the villagers of Taire, near the border, to leave their homes and then - as their convoy of cars and minibuses obediently trailed northwards - the Israeli air force fired a missile into the rear minibus, killing three refugees and seriously wounding 13 other civilians.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

the tenth day at the school

Here are some of the characters from the school and their stories. You will notice that I only talk to women and children because men seem somehow inaccessible.

Mrs. Sh.:
She has six kids, four of them are in the school. One is still working in Dahiye (Southern Suburb) and the other is fighting with Hezbollah. They havent heard from him in days and he doesnt know where they are. The mom's younger child is 3 year-old S. who is a rabbit killer. She has killed rabbits before by choking them. She enjoys squashing the heads of pigeons too. She has a 4 year old brother H. who doesnt speak much, an older brother Hu. who is 15 and super hyperactive. We tried everything with him but what finally worked is Mickey Mouse magazine.

Imm H.:
She has four boys and one girl, A. All of them are at the school. A. is 11 and she's really too mature for her age. She looks after all the other kids. Doesnt ask for anything and is always waiting to go back home to Dahiye to take a shower. Her mother doesnt leave her room. The little girl invited me to visit her mom in her (class-)room. Imm H. greeted me at the entrance of the classroom as if it was her home. Her room has 5 mattresses, one coffee table and a small TV that she watches all the time. It was a typical visit: she asked if I was married, I asked her where she was from. And like a typical visit, she told me "3idiya" ("come back").

Imm F.:
Imm f. has 9 kids. Some of them are at the school; others are working in or around Dahiye. She has two younger daughters F. (7) and Z. (4) whose heads she completely shaved because she didnt want them to catch fleas. F. is always hugging and kissing the volunteers, hugging and kissing everybody and always asking for attention from everybody etc. Later I learned that she is in a school in Beirut on a full-board system but she happened to be with her parents when they had to leave.

Imm H.:
She arrived yesterday with four kids between 9 and 17. She lives in Dahiye where her house is still standing. She obviously looks very different than the rest of the families. Her kids are bilingual, they go to a private school, her 16 year old is not veiled unlike the other teenage girls. Her husband works abroad and has only called them once and hasnt called since. She had some money to rent a flat for 200$ around Beirut but thought she'd keep the money for emergency. She's getting her family's passports and they dont know where they're going to go. She asked me to talk to her 16 year old about what she can major in when she goes to University. This family was sitting on the side. They went to take a shower in their house in Dahiye and then came back to sleep at the school.

- Now there are representatives (woufoud) from families in each school going to other schools to visit their relatives or friendcondolencesdoleances "lal ta'aziye" for those who died. This is the most surreal scene I've witnessed so far.

- Some families come from Dahyie, and some of those go regularly to their houses to get their stuff and take showers. The good news is that they may have the chance to go back to Dahyie once all this is over.

- Two or three families are staying in each room

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Mass Grave

A picture of the 80 coffins that were buried in a mass grave yesterday in the southern city of Tyre/Sour in the vicinity of a Lebanese army post. The coffins were numbered and named so that they can be removed and buried in the victims' home towns later on.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The UN and the People of Marwaheen

20 members of 2 families from the town of Marwaheen in South Lebanon were killed in an Israeli attack when fleeing their village after being refused protection by UN observers. This is the typical UN: impotent from protecting civilians but transporting them dead to the morgue.