The Proximity of Death


Death is close here. And some of us are not as close to death as others. The south of Lebanon is cut off from humanitarian aid. Here on the north side of the Litani River, the people in the south, taking the worse of the missiles and mortars of the Israel aggression, are always on our minds. There are whispers in the back of our thoughts: “How long do they have? How can we possibly get to them?” The roads and the bridges are bombed, cut and scarred. Israel has banned movement south in the south. Any car that’s on the road can be hit. UN convoys, ambulances, the BBC, the big names and those with Israeli clearances, have been hit.

Now hunger hits bellies in the south. Their thirst must fit the water. There is no more. No medication for chronic illness, or for sicknesses caused by drinking polluted tap water in desperation, sicknesses that twist your intestines and swiftly take the lives of children.

There are massacres everywhere. How many deaths at once account for a massacre? Genocide? Monday night an airstrike in Beirut in the Chiya neighborhood, a place no one expected to be hit, killed 41 people. A civil worker sorting through the rubble at the site of the strike on Thursday held in his hand a list with 3 columns: names of the people dead, the people injured, and the people missing. There are just as many people missing as dead, mute under the rubble. A single airstrike, 41 deaths. All over Lebanon there are the lips, the caresses, the words, the fingers and the histories, buried beneath concrete and metal. The missing have still not been added to the death count, which is at 1056 and rising. There are massacres, everywhere.

They are strong, the bombs. The windows tremble. You awake running. You sleep again with ghosts stalking your dreams, the children pulled from underneath cement, wire, dust. The city shakes. The politicians talk, they still talk, and people in their houses are silenced forever when metal meets flesh.

Electricity comes and goes in Beirut. We sit in darkness, wrapped in cigarette smoke, listening to explosions, feeling the dead gather in the air.

More Israeli flyers drift down from the sky. More airstrikes. If you hear the noise, you know that one was not meant for you. But the impact reaches your belly, ties you up in knots.

The gas is running out. At night people steal it from the gas stations. Even if official humanitarian aid workers risk traveling the roads, they don’t have enough gas to reach much of the south. And the hospitals — how many days until before the gas runs out? Israel blocked two gas tankers docked off of Cyprus from arriving, and also a boat with aid. If airstrikes don’t kill enough civilians, the Israelis seem to be finding other things that will.

Here in Beirut, it’s hard to tell the old ruins from the new ones. Here there is a collective memory of Israeli terror. Is this destroyed building over here from the decades before this when the Israelis attacked? This refugee here, asking for bread, eyes haunted by bombs- how many times in his life has he left his village, left his house, his family who could not make the journey, to reach the teeming refugee camps? What fear does he know?

Another explosion. Leaflets dropped from Israeli warplanes onto the Chiya neighborhood, and in parts of West Beirut. Tonight there will be more bombing.

The Israelis are stealing the stars from our nighttime gazes. The planes light the sky seconds before they strike, the birds chirp in response, a moment later life is over.

The US will soon pass a deal to sell M26 rockets with cluster ammunitions to Israel. Death is close here. Inside these rockets are hundreds of grenades which scatter over vast areas and explode. Israel wants to aim them at Hizbollah rocket launching points. These weapons were responsible for the deaths of countless civilians in the 1980s. What will people in the United States do about this? March in circles around federal buildings?

The Zionists argue that Israel is defending its right to exist. Even one of the international ceasefire conditions “Israel has a right to defensive strikes..”, the same condition not given to any Lebanese resistance. Israel’s right to exist, to defend itself: 1056 Lebanese civilians dead. Civilians dead, in defense of Israel. Lebanese civilians must cease to exist, their bodies reduced to shreds, weightless ashes, or a collective scene of decomposition — so that Israel can exist. Not only men, women, children, babies, grandparents – but gas, food, water, roads, communities, children’s toys in their bedroom’s, books, photographs, hope, electricity, art, memories, schools, playgrounds, villages, cherry trees……all in defense of Israel.

Hezbollah missiles have killed half as many Israel civilians as soldiers, and the total number of the two is barely over a hundred. Israel has killed over a thousand civilians, and barely 60 Hizbollah fighters. With such sophisticated equipment, this is deliberate killing. Because- who is Hizbollah exactly? Who are their fighters? Why do we never see the fighters on the news? And who lives in a “Hizbollah stronghold”? Are there parks in Hizbollah “strongholds”? Schools? Homes? People? Or just vast areas in which to harbor arms to hurt Israelis? The southern neighborhoods of Beirut, nightly hit with airstrikes, now crumbled rubble where homes once stood, is a poor Shia neighborhood, a “Hizbollah stronghold”. Who once lived there? Who died there? Who is it whose homes are flattened there, who now sleep in abandonded building around Beirut? Hizbollah fighters who launch rockets into Israel? The same Hizbollah fighters who captured the two Israeli soldiers?

Killing and displacing civilians, taking out their infrastructure, terrorizing their communities, is a great military strategy if you are fighting a group as grassroots as Hizbollah, when you don’t know exactly who Hizbollah is. Maybe everyone inside Lebanon is Hizbollah. As Rios Montt, the vicious dictator of Guatemala put it while strategizing on fighting the guerillas during the 36 year civil war, in order to kill the fish you must take out the water. For this, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in massacres when their villages were pillaged- the “water” that kept the “fish” alive.

An old man, a refugee sleeping in Beirut parks, says Hizbollah is in his heart. But he is not a fighter. So long as Hizbollah is the only one resisting Israel, they will remain in the hearts of those who have survived the airstrikes. And with every Israeli airstrike, support for Hizbollah grows.

In struggle we have learned that in only one moment everything can change, one moment in action can make the world a little better. And it only takes one moment for a bomb to fall, and in one moment life is lost. This is life here, the paradox of moments. Life is all we have. On Saturday August 12 a caravan made up of the civil society, Lebanese and international, will head south on the scarred, severed, and threatened roads to bring aid to the isolated and cut out southern region. They are going without permission from the Israelis (Red Cross requests to not be bombed on their missions), and without the backing of political parties. Spontaneous mutual aid is everywhere in Lebanon, some walk for hours with 80 pounds of supplies on their backs, under Israel helicopter fire, to keep each other alive.

What will people in the US do? Will they watch TV, learn about Lebanese people as correspondents stumble over the pronunciation of “Shia”?
Will they listen to speeches at protests downtown, go home, and smile at their children, grateful they are not the unfortunate Lebanese? Or will they begin to participate in mass, targeted, direct action? Will they blockade ports, roads, highways? Will they shut down universities and companies invested in Israel? Will they hold CNN accountable for its incorrect, biased journalism?

Will they allow thousands to remain here so close to death?