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Don't send your sons...

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Zuhre Dyab lives in a small village outside Tyre, Lebanon. She dresses in the strict all-black fashion of Shite women: only her face shows and, at first, it is shy and sad. She holds up a photo of her son with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and says, "I am proud that my son is a martyr for our freedom."

Her son died in the fierce fighting last summer when Israel retaliated to Hizbullah's kidnapping of two IDF soldiers by bombing southern Lebanon, including Zuhre's village. Her advice to American mothers: don't send your sons to the Middle East where they will be killed.

This is a common sentiment here. Anyone actually listening to the ordinary mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, and children (some displaced Palestinian who escaped the stultifying camps to which they've been relegated for over two generations) in Lebanon quickly understands how the region is steeped in resistance to Israel and its ally, the U.S.

Roads throughout Lebanon's rural and deprived Bekaa Valley sport billboards depicting Condi Rice shaking her index finger at unruly politicians (caption: "Tutor as much as you like but it won't do any good"). More common, though, are billboards illustrating the ten varieties of cluster bombs dropped by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in the last few days of the summer war: over one million bomblets scattered in a country with less than four million people, most dropped south of Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley. Every week young shepherds herding sheep over rocky terrain or old men pruning in placid olive groves lose life or limb to these devices. Here people mourn their dead and get on with life.

Amazingly, they still say, "Americans are good people ruled by bad governments."

Listening to stories from Qana I wonder how much longer this generous view can continue? Maryam Abdul Karem lost eleven members of her family after hunkering down in the basement of their family home for 18 days of bombing by the Israeli Defense Forces.

It was midnight and 53 people were sleeping on the floor-- children in one corner for added safety-- when the bombs came, first from one direction and then right into the corner where the children slept. It was very dark in that basement-- even brief candlelight would invite more bombs - and terrified survivors shouted out names to learn who was alright, who was wounded, and who didn't answer.

Hala was bleeding from a head wound and her left arm was pinned by debris. Her sister, Zainab helped Hala retrieve her 5-year-old daughter from the rubble but the child was already dead. While I listed to Maryam Abdul Karem's story, one of her surviving daughters brought me newspaper cuttings of the massacre and whispered, "Don't let my mother see it as there are pictures of my father's body and the torn, dust-covered bodies of her grandchildren." But she did see the cutting. For the first time since Qana was bombed last summer, she had concrete evidence that someone-- if only a reporter-- showed interest in what had happened here.

She misses Maryam Mehsin, Hussain, Ibrahim, Ali, Jaafer, Mahdi, Abbas, Fatemah, Ruqayya. She misses her husband of over forty years, Ibrahim Ahmed. Hala mourns her husband and daughter. The memorial to the dead outside is one of the few new constructions in Qana. Hizbullah's yellow and Amal's green flags flutter alongside a red sun-faded banner of condolences sent by Korea. There are no visible signs of condolence sent from America.

I visited Bent Jbail at sunset. The ambulance that was carrying wounded civilians when it was stuck by IDF missiles last summer is still parked on a main street. The missiles entered the front window right below one of the bright red crosses marking the white vehicle as a medical conveyance; the back windows are completely blown out.

In the residential section of town, what used it be large family homes are now rubble; a twisted red sofa pokes out of the shattered stone blocks piled on the roadside. The three-storey school in the valley is still standing but is beyond repair. The smell of charred material still lingers in the air.

Sarah told me, "I was here just after the Israelis departed. There were bodies-- including the bodies of many Israeli soldiers-- lying all around. One Bent Jbail resident, a devout Moslem, tried gathering these bodies together so that they could be retrieved by family or by IDF for burial. The Israelis were very upset and angry and forced him away at gun-point."

I recall how Zuhre Dyab's daughter laughed when her mother's words, "Don't send your sons" were translated into English and I repeated them. We all agreed that this was the simplest, most humane solution. I added, "But it takes education for Americans to understand what is going on here-- more than that, it takes a will to know -- and they are too busy living their lives to want to know."
Zuhre's other son (she has six sons-- no, five now-- and four daughters remaining) told me, "Next time you come here my mother will be holding a photo of me as a martyr."

When I protested he said, "What else can I do about the situation? My best friend was badly burned in the fighting in the summer. I took him on my motorcycle away from the fighting."

I asked, "Did he survive?"

The young man answered, "Actually he was mostly dead when I took him away. His skin was black from burns and falling off his body in strips. I removed him so that the dogs wouldn't eat his body."

 

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Susan Galleymore is the author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, sharing the stories of people in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and U.S. [Pluto Press 2009]. She is also host and producer of Raising Sand Radio (more...)
 
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