Jackie Northam produced a powerful and tragic story (hear audio) for NPR today about a single Lebanese family from the southern Lebanese village of Srifa and their displacement and the town’s wholesale destruction. She interviewed the family at a Beirut school which housed many other families seeking refuge from the fighting. The mother, Zaineb, tells how the fighting began in the first days of the war:
We were still sleeping at 4 in the morning when we heard very loud bombs. The house shook. The children were screaming [she has two young daughters] and they were scared. I told them: “Don’t be scared. It’s just firecrackers.”
Zaineb’s husband Mohammed continues the story:
The three houses around us were all destroyed. Our neighbor’s house was on fire. Everyone was still inside but they were dead.
Northam: Mohammed says he ran down his road and saw there was even more destruction. And the bombs were still coming down.
Zaineb’s close friend telephoned her saying her house had been hit. She couldn’t get to her children: a seven year old boy and a nine year old girl.
Zaineb: She was asking help to rescue her children. They did. But by the time they got them to hospital they had died of internal bleeding. Her husband had also died. I was talking to her on the phone when another bomb hit the house and she died.
Northam: Zaineb packed whatever she could and she, her children, a cousin and others got a taxi and headed to Beirut. Mohammed stayed behind. He thought the Israeli air attacks would not last long. The day after his wife and children fled his house was hit by a bomb reducing half of it to rubble. It was time to get out. Mohammed and several of his friends drove away from the village dodging more bombs along the roadway. He remembers looking back at Srifa.
Mohammed: I can’t describe it. It was too horrible. The village–there’s no houses. The people under the rubble. If they’d just hit Hezbollah, the people of the village would’ve just said OK, it’s just something between the Israelis and Hezbollah. But they didn’t. They hit every house belonging to civilians.
Northam: Mohammed said he saw cars along the way that’d been hit by bombs. The families inside were dead. Some abandoned children were along the highway. They picked them up and handed them to the Lebanese military.
The family eventually finds shelter in Beirut, but Mohammed’s worries about what he and his family will do in the future:
Later, what are we going to do for the kids? We had a house, it’s no longer there. How long will it take to rebuild.
Northam: Zaineb knows they will be able to go back home sometime.
Zaineb: Once there’s peace in Lebanon, then you can rebuild. Whatever has been destroyed can be rebuilt. What’s important is that you don’t lose the people you love. I’ve lost all my neighbors. They’re all dead.
Northam: Zaineb says if you live in south Lebanon you get used to being a target. But the bombing of his village and his home has had a profound effect on Mohammed
Mohammed: Before, we weren’t part of the resistance. We weren’t necessarily Hezbollah. We were willing to sign peace with Israel so that everyone can have peace. We were neutral. But after what we’ve seen from Israel and its war in Lebanon, the next chance we get we’re going to fight.
This is precisely why this war is such a tragedy. Israel has added exponentially to the pool of those who hate it and are willing to fight it to the death (precisely what the U.S. has done in Iraq as well). Mohammed tells you that he was not a supporter of Hezbollah. But Israel’s indiscriminate targeting of all Lebanese has made him a supporter of Hezbollah. This is what I’d call a war of unintended consequences. Israel acts militarily under a certain set of assumptions about its own interests. But it is obtuse to the consequences which those actions have for the future. The Mohammeds of this world will eventually take their anger out on Israel. They could become the Zarqawis of Israel’s future. And it didn’t have to be this way.
The Guardian had an earlier and equally compelling article about survivors of Srifa who weren’t as lucky as Mohammed’s family in their flight to Beirut.