Crisis In Lebanon: An Eyewitness Account of War
The bombs are falling less than a kilometer away. The Action Against Hunger (ACF) office in Beirut is in the Shiyeh neighborhood, a frequent target of Israeli attacks. On Sunday, August 13, at noon, a powerful blast shook the windows of the Aoun supermarket where Arantxa, the director, Seigmond, the logistician, and I were shopping for emergency. In war, uncertainty becomes an emergency, so we needed to be prepared. Five hundred meters from the supermarket entrance, we saw a column of thick, black smoke that cleared in the sun within a few minutes.
That was the first upsetting thing that happened to us that day, and we weren't accustomed to it. Since our arrival in Beirut a day and a half earlier, we had heard only the echo of bombs in the distance. It was so early in the morning, that it seemed dreamlike to some of us. We even started to ask ourselves whether the war was here, like a joke. But on Sunday, the storm broke. On the night before an announced cease fire, the noise got louder, and we heard bombs coming closer and closer each time.
All of our plans to continue work in progress and to go into the field were suspended. We had no choice but to follow the bombing from the bedrooms and two terraces at the house, two floors above the office, to see where the bombs had fallen, as if this would make us safer when actually it did not.
Bombs fell less than a kilometer away, four or five blocks from us at the border between Shiyah (a Shiite area) and Forn El Chebbak, where we are located. The attacks are in a perfect semi-circle, as if made by a compass, over a time period that seemed like eternity. There was no continuity between the explosions (we would have wanted that, to get it over with). Two by two at most, the strikes hit, and it was like the beginning of the end of the world. No one knows when—or where—the next strike will hit.
A telecommunications tower antennas on the roof next to the main office increases our fear.This is the type of target that always ends up falling in a war. If that happens, we said, it would be like the flash of an enormous automatic camera, which is blinding and stunning and distorts everything. We are upset by these thoughts, so we change the subject. Forn El Chebbak is a Christian area where it is impossible to hear a muezzin's call to prayer in a mosque, so we can't imagine that they might...we can't finish the thought. A huge blast shakes the house. Our operations are immediately suspended: accounting, distribution of provisions or writing a report as explosive as this one. It is time to run to the windows to seal the glass with tape. It's going to be a long, busy night.
How We Found a Warehouse
Between the bombings, Segimond Garcia-Prades, the logistician, spoke by telephone with Mr. Nabil, a Sunni from Saida (Sidon), where ACF is distributing hygiene kits for adults and children, blankets, pillows, and water in 31 refugee centers, for a total of almost 9,000 beneficiaries. Like every good logistician, Segimond is a go-getter, like a genie who always anticipates and meets needs. Two weeks ago, he and Mr. Nabil negotiated the rental of a place from Mr. Nabil, which was needed to store the aid that continues to arrive in Lebanon. (The last delivery will be made in a few days on a French cargo vessel). The conversation that was interrupted by the bombs was the next-to-last in a series of attempts to close the rental contract, which has been agreed to but was aborted by a series of strange coincidences last Thursday. The cause for delay shows how the Lebanese are living through this crisis.
Segimond states: "It is impossible to find a warehouse in Saida. The warehouses that exist have been converted into refugee shelters. We have to consider that, in addition to the 60,000 city inhabitants, there more than 120,000 displaced persons from the south of the country. So, the possibility of finding a warehouse is slim. A few days ago, after visiting a couple of them, I found one that had the right conditions. I went over the city's papers, found a rental contract in Arabic and French, and gave a $100 deposit to the owner. A few hours later, they informed us from Beirut that a shipment of blankets and mattresses was en route. We waited for the truck in front of City Hall, which is the city's meeting place and where many temporary workers gather. Jamal, the local logistics assistant, made an agreement with three men there to unload the truck. Everything was going well. But when the shipment had already entered the warehouse, one of the men from the neighborhood came down and stood looking at the packages from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). There was terror on his face: The labels were in Arabic and the packages came from Iran!!! On top of that, the four men who unloaded the truck turned out to be Iranian. The people in the neighborhood started screaming to the heavens and many of them went to stay with friends to sleep that night. The trucks make them very afraid, because they are Israeli targets, and if in addition the cargo is packed in Iran and the team members are Iranian...?! The next day, Mr. Nabil asked us to leave the warehouse."