Laying out the Qana calculation

Horrific bombing sows death, rage
By Rana El-Khatib
Published August 2, 2006,0,6563716.story?coll=chi-newsopinioncommentary-hed

Everywhere in Beirut I look, it seems, people are
crammed into suddenly overcrowded homes. Streets,
schools and parks are overrun. Families with relatives
or friends from areas that have been ravaged by
Israeli bombs have opened up their homes. Medicine,
food and other daily necessities are in increasingly
short supply. The city is bursting at the seams, the
tension thicker than the humid, stultifying Beirut

More than 500 people have been killed, and the number
grows daily. In a country of just 4 million, a fifth
of the population--some 800,000 humans--have been
uprooted from their homes. We sympathized last year
when Hurricane Katrina displaced an estimated 1.1
million Americans. Imagine the impact if one-fifth of
the U.S. population--some 60 million people--had
streamed into other American cities.

Lebanon's streets are filled with forlorn, bewildered
faces. People wonder what will happen to their
villages and homes, and when death will stop raining
from the sky. Hundreds of families will have neither
home nor land to return to when the war ends.

And the horrific attack on the people of Qana--where
Jesus is said to have turned water into wine--is the
last straw. On Sunday, an Israeli bomb killed more
than 50 Lebanese, most of them women and children. As
we watch those small, innocent bodies pulled from the
rubble, we seethe with anger. One desperate woman
lashed out at the television crew filming the carnage.
"We are terrorists?" she said. "They are the
terrorists!" she cried, pointing to the skies from
where Israel is pounding our cities.

Even today, despite Israel's pledge of a 48-hour
cease-fire, bombs are dropping from the skies. We had
no power Tuesday morning. Cars are running out of

And the damage to the fragile environment here is
unimaginable. Most days, our proud capital city,
Beirut, is engulfed in a haze--a mixture of dust from
the rubble and massive infrastructure damage, fires
that burn endlessly and from the bombs themselves.
Three weeks ago Beirut's streets were thronged with
visitors from all ends of the Earth. Today, the
tourists have fled, and everywhere I turn, it seems,
people are coughing or complaining of headaches. Every
living creature is affected.

Despite Israel's claims that arms used in Lebanon do
not breach international norms, Lebanese President
Emile Lahoud has accused Israel of dropping white
phosphorus explosives on cities in the south. The
Environmental Protection Agency has listed white
phosphorus as a hazardous air pollutant. The Geneva
Conventions ban white phosphorus against civilians.
However, in southern Lebanon, many victims have been
treated for severe burns.

Anti-personnel cluster bombs have also been used
against us. Cluster bombs are designed to inflict
maximum damage on human beings by spraying smaller
bomblets over a wide area. These can explode long
after they are fired. These lethal gifts will litter
our land for years to come, endangering farmers,
children, animals--any living thing that, one day,
fortune steers the wrong way. There is nothing
selective or smart about such terrible weapons.

Lebanon's shoreline is now covered in thick black oil.
An estimated 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil have
spilled into the Mediterranean Sea along our coast.
The marine ecosystem is slowly suffocating under the
sludge that is creeping down the coastline.

Young forests have gone up in flames. The damage to
the agriculturally fertile areas of the Bekaa Valley
and the South is immeasurable. Three of Lebanon's
primary fuel reservoirs were hit by Israeli rockets,
creating massive plumes of thick, noxious smoke that
stood still for days under their own weight and mass.
The cloud cover and stench are almost unbearable.

Everything those of us in Lebanon's environmental
movement have striven so hard to achieve has unraveled
in just two weeks. We are helpless to prevent this
mutilation of our physical environment.

Nothing is unaffected by this war. Innocent people are
dead, wounded and made refugees in their own country.

Our land has suffered irreparable harm. And still the
airplanes invade our skies, their bombs pummeling us
without relief.

How is bombing a country senseless--devastating
industries and homes and people and the
environment--going to bring us closer to peace? What
will quell the rage that is building on the Arab
streets? And what of the water Jesus turned to wine in
Qana--that has now turned into blood?

Rana El-Khatib is a Palestinian-Lebanese poet and
writer living in Beirut. 


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