New Internationalist

Seen, killed and unheard

Issue 393

Blood-stained rescue workers, crumbling bombed-out buildings and human misery have become an everyday scene for children in Beirut, who had normal teenage lives before the war began. But how often do we hear their voices? Despite resistance from officials of Amal (a Shi’a movement that is distinct from Hizbullah), two young reporters, Fayyaz and Becky (both 17 years old) from the news agency Children’s Express, managed to speak to five young people under siege in July. This is their story…

Ali

Ali, 16, lived with his parents in Nabatieh, just outside Beirut. He was forced to move as his home was bombed by Israelis. He now lives in an old cinema with his family and hundreds of others taking refuge there. It’s being used as a temporary refugee centre.

‘Before the bombings, during summer the beaches were full. I really enjoyed going out and swimming in the sea. Now it is chaos with bombs going off everywhere. We got in a car and put a white flag on it to indicate we were trying to leave the area. We tried to go to my aunt’s house which is in a safer area; however, there were just too many refugees heading the same way, we couldn’t get in. So we found the only place that would take us – the cinema. Everyone in my family who couldn’t escape has come together in two houses. My friend now lives in a house with 50 people.

‘Yesterday there were planes flying so low they scared people. They are supposed to be targeting military sites, but they are targeting civilians. I don’t feel safe here. The area we fled from seems safer. Yesterday was the worst day. It was really scary. My neighbour’s building got bombed. Rescue workers and the Red Cross came to save people but the bombing continued and killed the people who were trying to help. My neighbour got killed. We are not military targets, so why bomb us?

‘I spend all day in the cinema and half an hour outside to get fresh air. NGOs bring food once or twice a day. The only thing we can do is sit and wait for food. I have no control over my life. When you have seen relatives lose their homes or die, and their cars, their lives and their possessions go, the memory stays with you. I can’t forget or go back to normal.

‘I blame the Israelis; they were planning to do it anyway, they just needed an excuse. Israel has attacked Lebanon, but at least with Hezbollah there is resistance to protect our dignity. If Israel are going to fight, they should make it military against military and stop bombing civilians and civilian areas, because in Lebanon now it’s only civilians who suffer.’ *

Zainab and Fatma

Zainab, 15, and Fatma, 13, are cousins, forced to flee the bombs falling on their village in South Lebanon. They used to study and meet friends at internet cafés, but now they live in an old cinema and spend hours driving around dodging Israeli bombs.

‘We had to move to a neighbouring village when the Israelis were bombing ours. My uncle, who lives in Beirut, told us all to leave because Israel could target any southern village at any time. He came in his car and took us to Beirut. As we left we heard the bombings, and saw the village destroyed.

‘My friends and family have all been separated because of the bombings. Some of my friends went to the mountains and some went to another neighbourhood.

‘Every day it’s the same thing. We wake up, have breakfast, and watch cartoons because it’s the only thing to do in the cinema. We watch for an hour or two, but we get bored. We can’t leave the building, but we sit outside for a while and go back in. We find it very difficult living in the cinema. We live in rooms with dozens of other people, and have to take turns to have showers. There’s one bathroom for each room. We feel locked up inside, because we can’t leave. We don’t get to go out like we used to.

‘Our lives have changed. We don’t know if we will see all our friends again. It’s the first time we’ve seen so many Lebanese kids on the news; they are injured and dying. We weren’t exposed to such things before. Now we see the reality of Israel’s power.’ *

Kadeem

Kadeem, 17, is Catholic and fled Beirut for the mountains when the bombings started. He was studying to get into Lebanon’s International University, but for him and his friends that dream has now been jeopardized.

‘I feel angry seeing people in my country having to flee. I have friends who used to live in the south but fled and came here. I had to help them find a house. I felt very bad for them.

‘You cannot blame anybody, because both sides are as culpable as each other. They should both be blamed. I think Hezbollah is wrong because they’re launching missiles on Israel, but this does not justify Israel bombarding houses, people and children. Most of the deaths now are children.

‘I think it would be better if Britain and other Western countries would do more to resolve the conflict, because this is not a conflict for Lebanon, but a conflict of the world that’s happening in Lebanon. There must be a ceasefire, at all costs. They have to stop, even if they don’t agree on the points, they have to stop, and then the conversation should begin between the two countries. This is hurting Lebanon, hurting our country and Israel. Nobody can win this war. War is wrong.’ *

‘Our lives have changed, we don’t know if we will see all our friends again. It’s the first time we’ve seen so many Lebanese kids on the news; they are injured and dying. We weren’t exposed to such things before. Now we see the reality of Israel’s power’

Wasim

Wasim, 14, still lives in West Beirut but now in overcrowded conditions. Six families are living in his family’s one-bedroom house. Wasim now helps the injured and displaced and works 16 hours a day as a volunteer at the many refugee centres.

‘I have seen bloodshed, injuries and suffering. It’s hard to see people from my country like this. I’ve got used to the day-to-day bombings, but it is not good. After all I’ve seen, other people’s lives may go back to normal, but not mine. I must do something to help the refugees, it would be wrong not to. I deliver and cook food for the refugee centres. I spend most of my day trying to help.

‘I don’t go out. I can’t think about tomorrow. My outlook and ambitions have changed because of the war. I can’t think about my life at all now. We have been torn apart. Some of my family support Hezbollah and some support Amal. The community are joined because we are all Shi’a, but there are differences over politics.

‘I would do anything to stop the bombing.’ *

The lives of Zainab, Fatma, Ali, Wasim and Kadeem were turned upside down. As teenagers in Britain we can visualize what we hope to do tomorrow, next week and next month. For the young people in Lebanon the next hour was the only hour that mattered.

This story was produced by Rebecca Bridges and Fayyaz Muneer. Children’s Express is a programme of learning through journalism for young people aged 8 to 18. http://www.childrens-express.org

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