- Everywhere in Beirut I look, it seems, people are crammed
into suddenly overcrowded homes. Streets, schools and parks are overrun.
Families with relatives or friends from areas that have been ravaged by
Israeli bombs have opened up their homes. Medicine, food and other daily
necessities are in increasingly short supply. The city is bursting at the
seams, the tension thicker than the humid, stultifying Beirut air.
- More than 500 people have been killed, and the number
grows daily. In a country of just 4 million, a fifth of the population--some
800,000 humans--have been uprooted from their homes. We sympathized last
year when Hurricane Katrina displaced an estimated 1.1 million Americans.
Imagine the impact if one-fifth of the U.S. population--some 60 million
people--had streamed into other American cities.
- Lebanon's streets are filled with forlorn, bewildered
faces. People wonder what will happen to their villages and homes, and
when death will stop raining from the sky. Hundreds of families will have
neither home nor land to return to when the war ends.
- And the horrific attack on the people of Qana--where
Jesus is said to have turned water into wine--is the last straw. On Sunday,
an Israeli bomb killed more than 50 Lebanese, most of them women and children.
As we watch those small, innocent bodies pulled from the rubble, we seethe
with anger. One desperate woman lashed out at the television crew filming
the carnage. "We are terrorists?" she said. "They are the
terrorists!" she cried, pointing to the skies from where Israel is
pounding our cities.
- Even today, despite Israel's pledge of a 48-hour cease-fire,
bombs are dropping from the skies. We had no power Tuesday morning. Cars
are running out of fuel.
- And the damage to the fragile environment here is unimaginable.
Most days, our proud capital city, Beirut, is engulfed in a haze--a mixture
of dust from the rubble and massive infrastructure damage, fires that burn
endlessly and from the bombs themselves. Three weeks ago Beirut's streets
were thronged with visitors from all ends of the Earth. Today, the tourists
have fled, and everywhere I turn, it seems, people are coughing or complaining
of headaches. Every living creature is affected.
- Despite Israel's claims that arms used in Lebanon do
not breach international norms, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud has accused
Israel of dropping white phosphorus explosives on cities in the south.
The Environmental Protection Agency has listed white phosphorus as a hazardous
air pollutant. The Geneva Conventions ban white phosphorus against civilians.
However, in southern Lebanon, many victims have been treated for severe
- Anti-personnel cluster bombs have also been used against
us. Cluster bombs are designed to inflict maximum damage on human beings
by spraying smaller bomblets over a wide area. These can explode long after
they are fired. These lethal gifts will litter our land for years to come,
endangering farmers, children, animals--any living thing that, one day,
fortune steers the wrong way. There is nothing selective or smart about
such terrible weapons.
- Lebanon's shoreline is now covered in thick black oil.
An estimated 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil have spilled into the Mediterranean
Sea along our coast. The marine ecosystem is slowly suffocating under the
sludge that is creeping down the coastline.
- Young forests have gone up in flames. The damage to
the agriculturally fertile areas of the Bekaa Valley and the South is immeasurable.
Three of Lebanon's primary fuel reservoirs were hit by Israeli rockets,
creating massive plumes of thick, noxious smoke that stood still for days
under their own weight and mass. The cloud cover and stench are almost
- Everything those of us in Lebanon's environmental movement
have striven so hard to achieve has unraveled in just two weeks. We are
helpless to prevent this mutilation of our physical environment.
- Nothing is unaffected by this war. Innocent people are
dead, wounded and made refugees in their own country.
- Our land has suffered irreparable harm. And still the
airplanes invade our skies, their bombs pummeling us without relief.
- How is bombing a country senseless--devastating industries
and homes and people and the environment--going to bring us closer to peace?
What will quell the rage that is building on the Arab streets? And what
of the water Jesus turned to wine in Qana--that has now turned into blood?
- Rana El-Khatib is a Palestinian-Lebanese poet and writer
living in Beirut.
- Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune