Candles, courtesy of Israel
I suppose one could look at the romantic side of being bombarded by Israel and anticipate candlelit dinners each evening. That is, if one could ignore the hassle of cooking by the feeble light of candles and battery-operated lanterns, bathing in freezing water and shivering with cold in front of a redundant electric heater.
The worst part is that people were just beginning to recover from the previous Israeli onslaught only eight months after the warplanes of our friendly neighbor bombed two power stations in Lebanon, plunging much of Beirut into darkness.
Thanks to donations, power plants had been coming back to life and homes were enjoying almost full-time electricity.
And then, on 8 February, Israel struck again. This time the excuse was that the Hezbollah fighters, who are trying to oust Israeli occupation forces from south Lebanon, killed five Israeli soldiers in the previous two weeks.
I suppose a twisted logic could justify that the Israelis injured 17 civilians, deprived around 3.5 million people of heat in the middle of winter, inflicted $40 to $50 million-worth of damage in a country still struggling to recover from a civil war – just to teach the Lebanese not to resist an occupation force in their own country.
The day after the shelling of Lebanon, the international media plastered pictures of ‘poor’ Israeli civilians huddled in bomb shelters. I couldn’t help but notice that they had televisions, lights and heaters. And I couldn’t help wishing I had a bomb shelter to hide from Israel’s bombs.
But there was one thing the Israelis did not count on. After 16 years of civil war, the Lebanese have become an amazingly resilient people.
The day after the shelling, the reaction was subdued. With a collective sigh the people just pulled out their generators – still placed on their balconies since the war days – refuelled them and continued with their business.
Those who didn’t have generators went to their local neighborhood electricity supplier. There, a huge generator operated by an entrepreneur who had the far-sighted vision to invest in these motors rented electricity lines to neighbors.
Abu Hussein, for example, in the picturesque community of Gemaizeh, provides ten amperes to nearby households for $80 a month and five amperes for $40 a month. It’s enough to power the refrigerator, heater, television and lights in an average-sized apartment.
Others, who couldn’t afford the services, shrugged their shoulders and also went about their businesses.
‘I just close down my shop as soon as it gets dark,’ said an owner of a clothing store. ‘I won’t subscribe to a generator now or ever because I simply can’t afford it.’
‘Let them bomb us all they want. We don’t care,’ said another store owner. ‘Of course, the power cuts are making life difficult but we refuse to show the Zionists that we are weakened by their terrorism.’
I am ashamed to admit that as much as I want to be stoic, I long to watch TV, take a warm bath, cuddle by the heater and see what I’m cooking. At the moment there is strict rationing of electricity, but as luck would have it my neighborhood is getting much of the rationing after midnight.
So I head towards Abu Hussein and request a power line from his generator.
‘I have no more lines to rent,’ he said. ‘In fact, I have exceeded my limit.’ I plead.
‘I just can’t,’ he says. ‘May God help you find another way to power your home.’
So far, God still hasn’t found a way for me. So I console myself by placing scented and colored candles around the house.
I have learned the secret of surviving – God forbid – future missile attacks on power plants. Abu Hussein has confided in me that as soon as the Government repairs the electricity, some of his members will stop buying electricity from him.
‘And then all you have to do is hook up a cable to my generator and pay me ten dollars a month on top of what you pay for government electricity,’ he said. ‘So when Israel bombs again, you have nothing to worry about. I’ll immediately provide you with power.’
I think I’LL do just that.
Reem Haddad is a journalist for the Daily Star in Beirut. She has just been nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage Award and won the The Nur Aleem Civilian Bravery Award for Media.