It is an image I will never forget. A teenage girl, her gently rounded head dangling out of the car window; her long black hair swinging to the beat of the wind, caressing her young features, lifeless; her eyes slightly visible, as she gazed far ahead, at a future she could no longer dream of living. The girl and her family had been killed by Israeli shelling in South Lebanon during Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996. I revisited this image in a previous post but was unable to add the picture to the post, it hurt too much.
Today, I find myself looking at a very similar picture, this time coming out of Tripoli, North Lebanon as part of an infinitely absurd but deadly conflict between the neighborhoods of Bab el Tabaneh (predominantly Sunni) and Jabal Muhsen (predominantly Alawite). I tried to ignore this tragic image, but it just kept on appearing. And I can’t bear adding it herewith either. It just hurts too much.
The two men in the picture look young, but I do not want to know their ages. I do not want to know their names, nor whether they are from Bab el Tabaneh or Jabal Muhsen. They could be transporting something deemed dangerous to someone, and hence targeted, or were trying to escape or still trying to make a living in the midst of the conflict. What matters is that their lives are gone and if I have learned anything from recent Lebanese history, I can already say that their lives have gone in vain. What also matters is that the lives of others, and especially of the young, have also been lost too. For what hopeful future is there for children already drowning in the depths of poverty and now being raised on conflict, hatred and hopelessness. That is not to mention those that have taken an active part in the conflict, for what if any hope is their for a child that has held a gun, killed or injured neighbors or possibly friends? They are as lost as those who have died.
Today, we see Lebanese doing to themselves what our own Israeli enemy has done to us time and again. We also see Lebanese gladly being used as simple pawns, playing out the wars of others, in this case Syria, from which neither victor nor vanquished have a say or a role to play or a genuine cause to defend. Images like these would bring any other country to a halt. It would bring people to account and others to fear for their lives from the rightful tyranny of justice. But not in Lebanon, where we just await for the next terrible image to hit, where criminals and warlords are on the loose, and where we pretend to go on as if nothing ever happened.
May you regain, dear Tripoli, the scent of your orange orchards and that it may wash away the stench of death and despair…