London Indymedia

A Powerful Portrayal of the Destruction of the Lebanon

Kev | 22.08.2006 22:03 | Lebanon War 2006 | Anti-militarism | London

Last Friday, at a StWC public meeting, Lebanese journalist Omar Nachabe displayed a welter of evidence of the full scale of destruction by Israeli forces. This report documents this calm presentation of horrific events.

Omar Nachabe was composed and professional as he displayed image after image of the horrific destruction of his home country. An old woman was shown cross-legged, sitting in the middle of a patch of broken concrete, a tiny clearing among the surrounding rubble. "She would not move, or talk to us, or look at us – we had to carry her in that position to the ambulance." A man in a hospital was shown standing in front of a stack of six chip-board crates, "that was his whole family in those coffins: his wife, his children." Another man was shown in hospital, who had been in the bathroom of his house when the building was destroyed - for some reason the walls of the bathroom had stood firm while the rest of the neighbourhood had been flattened. He’d also lost all of his family, including his parents and his brothers and sisters and their families. He wouldn’t speak for a long time, and when he finally did, all he would say to the doctor was ‘I want to die’.

The main hall at Friends' House was packed for last Friday's StWC public meeting. Nachabe, a Lebanese journalist, had brought a multimedia presentation with him. He explained the absolute nature of the destruction faced by the population of a number of small towns and villages in Southern Lebanon. He backed up his stories with hastily shot video, with terrifying stills and showed two short, sleek presentation designed for a UN audience.

Being a meeting organised by the coalition, the audience first sat through a restatement of the usual political messages. Lindsey German repeated claims for the value of national sovereignty, and stated that Israel had lost this battle but that the war was not over. More usefully, perhaps, she reminded us to be vigilant of the use this conflict would be put to in justifying further threats to Iran. General Secretery of the NUJ, Jeremy Dear entertainingly illustrated the value of an independent media, willing to question power. While giving some apt examples of the courage that can be found in the mainstream, he was critical of a misunderstood application of the notion of 'balance' within much of the mainstream that led it to seek 'balanced' reporting of a patently unbalanced conflict of occupier and occupied. Andew Murray, meanwhile, entreated us to attend September's Labour Party Conference to demand Blair's resignation and to put our hands in our pockets for the StWC coffers.

But it was Omar Nachabe's presentation that made the event worthwhile - an emotive statement of the vulnerable nature of humanity, a proof of the inherent injustices of violence that burst through the usual political puppetry. "I am not a speech maker or a politician, just a newspaper journalist" he began, with refreshing humility. He recounted the statistics (1,700 confirmed dead so far, over 3,000 injured). He described seven categories of targets that were repeatedly hit by Israel's bombs. They're pretty comprehensive, and bear repeating:
hospitals, medical centres, ambulances;
civilian housed and roads;
civilian infrastructure (airports, bridges, sea ports);
television and radio;
natural environment (including burning forests; polluting the sea with oil and leaving chemical factories on fire);
cultural, religious and educational sites (even major archaeological sites);
economic organisations (from factories and farms to small stores and warehouses).

Clearly, there is not much left once all of those targets have been hit, and it was clear from the images that Omar was not exaggerating. We saw evidence of the bombing of ambulances with shocking accuracy - the puncture through the roof caused by the air-to-ground missile was central. Similarly, we saw the destruction wrought by a bomb landing in a doctor's surgery - the room had no windows to break, since it was in the centre of the building. We saw the power of the explosives as nearby buildings turned to dust, and the size of the weapons used - unexploded bombs were often in evidence. Nachabe's pictures demonstrated the US markings on the weapons and when he appealed that "not only those who carry out these crimes, but those who provided the weapons must be punished" he had the full appreciation of the audience.

Much of Nachabe's rough and ready film was taken with the camera swinging from his neck, as he carried an elderly woman across the rubble that had been her village. It was clear that the only people carrying out rescue work at that time were journalists, and from shouted conversations with the red cross it was apparent that they were unwilling to go into the village because the bombing was likely to continue and the red cross had previously been targeted by the Israelis. Nachabe explained that the Israeli air force had dropped leaflets saying that any van or truck that was moving would be considered a target. This meant that the fire brigade could not put out fires, and the red cross, UN and ambulances were all unable to move without danger.

But it was the still photographs, and the accompanying stories of human tragedy that were most moving. Unlike parts of the audience (myself included) Omar stayed composed and calm throughout. He tended to skip past the most gruesome shots - showing dead limbs and faces amongst the rubble - which he displayed only for a second or less. Perhaps he’d intended these for another audience, or simply didn’t want to dwell on the more sensationalist horrors. But he did describe one horrific scene of pain. It was the pain of those who had at last found their loved ones, or evidence of them, among the ruins. He explained that people simply didn't know whether their family or friends were under their fallen homes, or had escaped. The only way to find out was to dig through twisted metal and broken concrete. This might take an hour, or a day, or a week. And finally something would be found, some sign that those being sought had not escaped. "The problem here is beyond politics", Nachabe rightly claimed, as he described the impossibility of recovering the bodies of the dead without a ceasefire.

Finally, Nachabe showed two short films. He explained that the purpose was to campaign to the UN for help for the victims of the bombing. Specifically, he said that of the 3000+ wounded, many would have sever disabilities for life. Also, so many people had now lost their homes and businesses. The films were part of an appeal for the money needed to rebuild and to care for the wounded. One responded to claims that some of the images coming from the Lebanese media were doctored by contrasting the reality of the Lebanon with the processes of Hollywood. For example, a picture of a destroyed town, with just the remains of a couple of tower blocks sticking through the rubble, was accompanied by a caption that said "in Hollywood it would take months to build a set like this, in the Lebanon it took just twenty seconds." The second film was focused on the casualties amongst children. With a childlike drawing of a house on a hill and a 'Once upon a time…' narrative which talked about the dreams of children, suddenly cut off with film of missiles landing on houses. Some statistics were given and many shots of people carrying dead children from the rubble were shown.

The presentation of horrors last weekend left me physically shaken. Reflection on the experience carries a danger that what political action I am capable of is futile. But to allow such negative evaluations of our own influence to lead to inaction carries its own injustice. The children who survived will still dream, and Nachabe's strangely hopeful photograph of a young man delighted at finding his brother's bicycle unscathed among the rubble reminds us that the future has the potential for pleasure as well as pain. It is for this reason that it is essential to strive to oppose all those for whom the human tragedy is merely a byproduct, or even a means, to larger political goals.

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Display the following 3 comments

  2. The enemy is the state — anarchist
  3. Clarification — kev


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