July 13, 2011 -- Five years ago today, I was living in Beirut when Israel began its 33-day air and land assault on Lebanon, killing 1,200 civilians. The invasion was Israel's response to the killing of five soldiers by Hezbollah, a popular Shia movement which provides much of the south's social safety net.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into Beirut's Hamra district after neighbourhoods were flattened by Israeli airstrikes. They slept in parks, schools and mosques. The Lebanese army was ordered not to engage with Israeli planes and troops, their role reduced to watching helplessly by their tanks and distributing relief to roughly a million people displaced by the war. Photo: David P. Ball
For two weeks, I witnessed the impacts of the war firsthand and spoke with dozens of refugees, teachers, shopkeepers and community organizers about their hopes, fears and rage at the injustice. Although Lebanon has long been unstable -- enduring several civil wars -- the 2006 invasion set off a destabilizing chain of events which constantly threaten to plunge Lebanon into chaos.
Most of the refugees were children, many of whom had not be alive during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. "When I heard the first loud noise (of a bomb) I started trembling," 14-year-old Noor Salameh told me. "My heart was beating very much. I was so frightened." Photo: David P. Ball.
At the time, I wrote about the siege and my evacuation with thousands of other Canadians for rabble.ca: A farewell to Beirut under siege. Today, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the future is, as always, uncertain. For those of us who were impacted by the July 2006 war, the memories remain.
Activists at Zico House in west Beirut -- a hub for independent media and grassroots aid for refugees -- sort through mountains of clothes and diapers, and deliver baby formula, medications and blankets as part of the relief efforts. Photo: David P. Ball
July 13, 2006 -- The airstrike's rumble shatters Beirut's eerie midday silence -- the bombs are getting closer and closer. The airport was the first to go; the blast awoke me at the other end of Beirut. Entire apartment blocks are now rubble.
Anti-capitalist organizers set up an independent media centre in Zico House, using laptops, cellphones, internet and satellite transmitters to communicate the situation to the rest of the world. Photo: David P. Ball
I find my way through the creaky antique wrought-iron gates of Zico House in Beirut's Hamra neighbourhood. Since Israel's invasion of Lebanon began, this has become a home base for anti-capitalist activists. They are providing a space for young radicals to organize and communicate with the world and other Lebanese people, but also direct aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees who have flooded into the neighbourhood, an alternative media centre, and a pharmacy.
Several weeks into the war, Canada evacuated 14,000 citizens from Lebanon, albeit reluctantly. Here, a man at an Aug. 6, 2006 protest in Montreal holds a United Nations flag, with calls for the UN to declare a ceasefire. The invasion killed 1,200 Lebanese civilians, several hundred Hezbollah militants, 120 Israeli soldiers and 44 Israeli civilians. On July 25, four unarmed UN peacekeepers were killed in an Israeli air strike, including Canada's Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener, who were in a clearly marked UN observation post in south Lebanon. Photo David P. Ball
"Please don't look at Lebanese people as terrorists," Rania Shatila tells me. "We have children who want to play and have fun, to go to the cinema. Are we going to live to see the sun in the morning? Will we live to see the moon tonight? We are counting hours and days, living day-by-day, and hour-by-hour."
Just five months into his first term as prime minister, Stephen Harper declared Israel's response "measured." But tens of thousands, led by the large Lebanese-Canadian community, protested in Montreal and across Canada against the 34-day war, many with signs with images of those killed in airstrikes. On Aug. 14, a UN ceasefire came into effect. But the legacy of Lebanon's 2006 war continues. Photo David P. Ball
"I hope you can do something for Lebanon -- tell them about the children who have dreams."
David P. Ball is a freelance photojournalist in Vancouver, Coast Salish territories. In 2005-2006 he worked in Lebanon with Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. His website can be found here.
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