Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Picking Up the Pieces

20 August, 2006

Silaa is a small village in southern Lebanon that, according to the villagers, has thus far been overlooked by all of the aid agencies except our small, inefficient grassroots group of amateurs. Nevertheless the townspeople had managed to get an earth mover and a dump truck, which were clearing the road and pushing the debris into the bomb craters and down the side of the hill.

Abu Yousef, the caretaker of the house where we are staying, across the valley in Deir Kifa, is from Silaa, and introduced us to the worst affected families. Parts of eight bodies had been recovered, a hand here, a head there, a torso with clothes still on it. The hand could be identified by the ring and the torso by the ID in the pocket. Gruesome work, and very hard on both the workers and the loved ones. The youngest was two years old, the oldest seventy. However, there were four bodies that as a practical matter would have to remain beneath the rubble, with no remnant for the funeral.

A survivor explained that two laser-guided missiles had hit his house. The first narrowly missed the main structure and struck the well underneath. The family had barely enough time to escape before the second one hit, collapsing the entire house upon itself.

Mohammed Ayoub, another survivor, was not so lucky. All of the dead were from the extended Ayoub family, and four were his immediate relatives, including his son and his son's wife. A quiet, introspective man, Mohammed had escaped to Beirut early and had returned to find much of the family dead or homeless. His voice broke as he reluctantly described his ordeal in clipped phrases, finding the words painful.

His brother, Hussein, who speaks English allowed me to record him on film:

"Let Bush come here. Let him see. Let him feel, if he has feelings. He has none. If he has feelings, he would never send his smart bombs to kill civilians. From the first moment he could have stopped the war. He could say, 'Stop! It's enough killing. It's enough blood. It's enough crime. In five minutes he can stop everything. I know he has the power of the world, but he's using it wrong.

"The United States is a great country. I love the United States. It's a freedom country. So why did the United States do like this? Why do they protect criminals? If they want to fight Hezbollah, why do they bury civilians alive while they're sleeping in their houses?

"One million refugees ran away. We came back to find our homes. That's my house right there that they're clearing away. I have my brother's son and his wife there, young people. We never found even pieces of their bodies.

"Why? Why? I want to ask the policy of the USA. This is not a new Middle East. It's a new dictatorship. To obey you is not a new Middle East. I love or hate you for what you do. We want peace, but not the way Condoleeza Rice is doing it. They're protecting criminals."

They asked if I wanted to photograph the remains of Mohammed Ayoub's son. Mohammed at first understandably objected, but others thought that the message was important. I agreed to do so. They were pitifully small. They then showed me his picture, a presentable young man in a casual V-neck and crew cut.

We met with the mayor of the town to arrange delivery of the relief supplies the following day and to see what else we might be able to do for the town. We also sent a press release and planned a media event where the survivors of each family would address a town gathering.

Following the meeting, we were taken to a home which had been struck by a spent shell. I photographed it and the hole it had made, and I viewed bullets and shells that had been collected by the young men of the town. They said that the bullets had come down like rain and their collection seemed to justify the claim, as did the many more still on the ground in some places. Most of them were high velocity 50-caliber vehicle-mounted shells about five inches long, including the cartridge, and about half were exploding projectiles, some of which had failed to detonate.

I'm finding it hard to wrap the scale of a single month's destruction into my poor brain. It's hard enough to view the damage to one town or one family. I get stuck on the multiplication times the number of places that I have seen - never mind the many more that I have not. And always, always, people are kind and respectful, even when they know that I am American. They even joke about taking some of my blood, and I argue that it's less valuable because I am diabetic. They are still able to enjoy humor amidst the grief. Perhaps it helps to keep busy with the task of putting one's life back together. There is so much to do.

Paul Larudee


Post a Comment

<< Home