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Joined: 7/11/2006
Posts: 1091
Posted on Tuesday, August 22, 2006 9:03:59 PM
Незнаю по теме или нет, но советую почитать. Интересная статейка. Непредвзятая и даёт чувство ситуации


Lebanon Diary: Holding a Rock
In a conflict filled with civilian casualties and muddy prospects, perhaps the only victory is keeping anger in check.
By Kevin Sites, Mon Aug 21, 5:32 PM ET

Eye of the storm
We are on the grounds of a secondary school in Tyre, Lebanon, that has been converted into a refugee camp for people from villages like Ras Maroun and Bint Jbail — Hezbollah strongholds on the frontline.

My translator Ali, driver Abdullah and I are in the eye of an angry storm, surrounded by women and children on the inner rings, adolescents on the second and third rings and, finally, mildly bemused, but not totally disinterested, adult men on the outside.

I've come to see the conditions here, which, I've been told, are not good: little food, sporadic water and as many as 1,500 people, mostly families, sleeping shoulder to shoulder in empty classrooms.

But I don't get far. While the men are initially accommodating, willing to show me around, angry women swarm us. Ali tells me later that they say that we're spies for America and
Israel and that as soon as we leave the bombs will begin raining down on their heads here, just as they had in their villages.

Kevin Sites reporting in southern Lebanon
Photo: Jad Melki

I tell them through Ali that I'm only here to document their lives as people displaced by war. Some of the men nod and give me a quick sweep of the ground level of classrooms, but the angry women pursue us for the entire three-minute tour.

As I raise my camera, the shouting becomes louder. Finally, even the men acquiesce to the women's protests. No pictures, I'm told — unless we get a letter from Hezbollah giving us permission.

With the sound of Israeli jets and drones overhead, I assume anyone from Hezbollah's leadership, even if we could find them, might be little busy at the moment.

My goal here is a bust, but the trip is not a complete waste. Just before leaving I'm left with a moment that allows me gauge, anecdotally at least, the depth of anger here and the cohesiveness of south Lebanon's Shiite Muslims behind Hezbollah.

This is the moment: while we stand next to Abdullah's old 200 series blue Mercedes, Ali makes one last, futile plea for access. In the corner of my eye I see what appears to be a boy, about 10. I turn and give him my full attention.

He's in a fighting stance with his left foot forward, while his eyes are locked onto me. What I find strange is that his face shows no emotion, no anger, no fear — nothing but intense focus. A glance down at his right hand and I quickly understand why I am the object of his resolve.

In his hand is a rock the size of a cue ball. He is simply waiting for the signal to hurl it, with all his force, at my head.

* * *

Worse, not better
This is a conflict I simply hoped would go away. But it hasn't. With each passing day the Israeli-Hezbollah war seems to grow larger, while I am haplessly out of place doing a retrospective on Vietnam.

As a part of the Hot Zone project, I had covered Lebanon in December, including an interview with a senior Hezbollah official, and reported from Israel and Gaza in February.

Now, after covering conflicts in 19 countries for almost a full year, I am burnt out, feeding a residual anger at the senseless violence that plagues the globe. Nearly all of the places that I've traveled, with the exception of Nepal, have gotten worse rather than better. Heartbreakers like beautiful Sri Lanka's unnecessary conflict are particularly hard to take.

But while we pledged not to chase headlines, conflict is the mandate for this project and we can't in good conscience ignore one with so many geopolitical complexities that could change the entire power dynamic of the Middle East.

So in mid-July, instead of continuing east for more Asia reporting, I board an Emirates flight for Amman, Jordan. The next day, with the help of my fixer, Lebanese-American Jad Melki, I'm able to hire a car and driver to go against the refugee exodus on an eight-hour, war-gouging $1,200 ride into Beirut.

* * *

Kabuki play
The coastal city of Tyre is like a semi-safe island of refuge for the displaced from border villages being bombed around the clock by Israeli warplanes and artillery. It's also a haven for the Lebanese and international journalists covering the war.

So even though there have been earlier strikes against suspected Hezbollah offices and residences in town, this one today, in the dead center, is both enormous and a bit of a surprise.

Responding to the scene of a huge blast in downtown Tyre » View

I'm conducting interviews with recently-displaced people outside a hotel nearby when the concussion and sound wave of the explosion seems to pass right through us.

A plume of gray smoke rises in the distance about a half-kilometer away. Ali and I jump into the Mercedes. Abdullah races an ambulance to the location, simply following the smoke trail.

At an intersection we begin to see people running out of a street covered in blackness. I sprint toward them, my video camera rolling, and as the smoke clears a little, I see two women outside a building next to the one that was hit.

They are unhurt, but are screaming uncontrollably, as a bearded man carries out an infant boy. He's not crying and there's not a scratch on him. The only evidence of his trauma is that his face has been turned ghost-gray from soot that filled the air after the explosion. His wide eyes are ringed in black while he watches the commotion around him. A few moments later the boy's mother comes running out of the building as well, screaming, "Where is my child? Where is my child?"

Dust-covered faces, chaotic aftermath » View

Her face too is completely covered in soot. When she takes the boy in her arms, the images are so striking that their dust-painted faces appear to me almost like characters from a Japanese kabuki play.

I drop the video camera slung over my right shoulder, pull up my digital still camera on the other, and begin squeezing off frames of their faces.

As more wounded are brought out of the adjacent building, the anger of those who live in the neighborhood focuses on the media. One local man screams at me but I continue to do my job. As painful as it may be for him, this, I know, is not a private moment but the public spectacle of war.

Then, as I continue filming, through the camera's display I see him charge me. He throws a wild left hook that connects with my camera but not my head. As far as punches go, this one is mild, but strong enough to break off the top-mounted microphone and slam on the camera's night-shot mode, turning the video to green for a moment.

I move to the side, adjust my gear and go back to work. As the wounded are evacuated, my attention turns to the smoking rubble that was the target of the missile strike. It is a seven-story apartment building that Israel later claims held the offices of Hezbollah's south Lebanon commander, Sheik Nabil Kaouk.

Soon, young shirtless men are swarming over the rubble, trying to put out flames by swatting them with pillows and blankets until firemen arrive with hoses.

Kevin Sites reports from the scene immediately following a strike in downtown Tyre » View

As I look over the rubble, I marvel at the complete destruction of this building and the only partial damage to those directly adjacent. Twelve people are injured in this attack, but no one killed. People on the street say the building was completely empty — a good indication the occupants were confident an attack would be imminent.

* * *

I'm not surprised the day is ending like this. It has been one marked by segments of individual and collective grief, beginning at the site of Tyre's mass graves. Here, according to the city, are only civilian victims of air strikes. They are placed in plywood coffins and buried quickly in adherence to Islamic tradition. They may be reburied when the fighting is over.

Later, at the Jabal Amel Hospital, I see the victims of an Israeli air strike on a civilian bus that left three dead and 13 injured, the majority of them women and children trying to flee the area.

The victims include Rhonda Shaloub and her 15-year-old niece Radije. When I see them they are mummy-wrapped in gauze bandages, with openings only for their noses and mouths.

The little I can see of their faces is deeply disturbing. There is blood seeping at the edges of Rhonda's bandages, while Radije's lips are stitched with medical sutures.

When I visit the city morgue I see two bodies just recovered: one headless and the other nearly split in two when he was hit by a rocket fired from a helicopter.

The name of one of the dead is Hassan Brahim Said. His brother and his widow have come to identify him and pick up his belongings.

The brother says Hassan was riding his motorbike, trying to find milk for his eight-month-old daughter. He was, he says, not with Hezbollah. One of the officers goes through the dead man's wallet, taking an inventory of the items inside.

There are a few Lebanese pounds, some scraps of paper with phone numbers and a photograph of his wife, who is now standing in the archway of the office sobbing.

Then the officer pulls out Hassan's ID card. It's hard to reconcile this photograph of the living man with the image I had just seen outside in the body bag.

Images of hardship and death, during one long day in Tyre » View

Late in the afternoon, there are missile strikes on another empty residence. This one is not destroyed and the building steel feels warm from the blast when I enter it to see the damage.

I have woven all of this material into a 2,300-word text dispatch, 22 still photos and two video clips, trying to capture the essence of what I've witnessed this day.

Now it's 2:30 a.m. and I have to feed the text, pictures and video to my producers in California using a satellite modem connected to my laptop. I prepare to go to the rooftop of the small hotel where I'm staying, to try to get a clear satellite connection.

But as I'm about to go, the hotel owner, Mohammed, warns me against it.

"You can't go up there, Kevin. You know the Apaches will be out," he says, referring to Israel's American-made attack helicopters that circle the Lebanese sky at night, looking for targets.

My only other option is the deserted street below. I carry my gear, looking for an opening to the south where I can direct the signal between the buildings. Depending on the amount of material and transmission speed, it can be a painfully slow process. Tonight it is.

While I'm waiting I become aware of how bright the display is on my computer in a nearly blacked-out city.

I also recall that the Apaches, whose rotor sounds seem to be getting closer, have thermal imaging. Me sitting outside with a computer and arrayed satellite modem would likely draw some suspicion.

The chopper passes, but then I hear another noise. This one is the high-pitched whine of an Israeli spy drone, one that seems to be working the coastline behind me and getting closer. I slap down the lid of my laptop to kill the light, but this also kills the transmission.

When the sound passes, I have to reboot and start all over again.

Halfway through the second transmission attempt, I hear the sound again, but this time it's growing really loud. I'm sure I've been located. The whine seems lower this time, like it's almost on top of me. I push the lid down again, put my hand over the glowing Apple logo and hold my breath. It's so close I can almost feel it against my neck, the buzz filling my ears, louder and louder — until it whizzes right by me.

"Godammit," I say out loud, and then start laughing at myself. It's not a drone at all, but a late-night motorbike rider. By the time I finally get done transmitting and climb into bed, it's 4:30 am.

* * *

Tragic, polarizing, muddled
Qana. Here, the circumstances seem a fitting representation of the conflict: tragic, polarizing and muddled.

Some of the war's most poignant images surfaced here: the bodies of Lebanese children being pulled from the rubble of a house hit in an Israeli air strike.

When my fixer Jad and I arrive, one of the Red Cross attendants opens the doors to his ambulance. In it are stacked the bodies of five little boys.

The worldwide repercussions of this event are easy to gauge — condemnation on one side, damage control on the other.

Killings at Qana: a tragic, polarizing event » View

The death of children, like rape and pillage, is a powerful mobilizing force in times of war. This case was no different.

Hezbollah used the images, some say, maybe even staged a few of them, when one of their own appeared in a green helmet, holding up the body of a dead child. The same unidentified man has appeared in other photographs in similar poses where there were heavy civilian casualties.

Israel apologized for the mistake, but blamed Hezbollah for using women and children as human shields.

Initially, rescue workers and villagers said at least 50 people were killed. But along with some other journalists, I stayed the entire day and reported that no more than 25 bodies were removed from the rubble. Still, the number of deaths reported by many news services for the next two days ranged from 38 to 50.

Few on the Lebanese side were quick to correct the numbers, but Israel's defenders pointed out the discrepancy as soon it became apparent.

But did the final numbers lessen the tragedy by half? Conversely, did the initial larger numbers amplify the loss?

As a witness to the war from the frontlines in both Lebanon and Israel these are some of the issues that I and other journalists struggled with, in an effort to report fairly on what was happening in a war where collateral damage became both an issue and a weapon.

* * *

Objectivity, humanity
After the incident at Qana, Israel says it will suspend air strikes in south Lebanon to investigate what went wrong there.

For Lebanese trapped by the fighting in frontline cities, this is a chance to dash to safety in the north. For a journalist kept on the war's perimeter by the air campaign, this is a chance to dash south and see the destruction.

In Bint Jbail, Hezbollah flags fly from nearly every lamp post — those that are still standing. When we arrive, the destruction of the town center seems nearly complete, with the exception of a few scattered buildings, mostly stripped to their skeletons.

But as my fixer Jad and I start videotaping and shooting photographs, people begin to emerge from the rubble. They are mostly old people, too frail or too poor to make it far from home.

Kevin Sites and other journalists
helped the weak evacuate Bint Jbail.
Photo: Jad Melki

They are exhausted and parched. Most cannot take one more step. So in an unusual twist, journalists begin to help, carrying some in their arms like babies, others in stretchers made from blankets. I carry one old woman out on my back. She is so weak she can barely keep her arms wrapped around my neck, so another journalist holds them there for her.

We would have done the same in Israel — or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. This is just where the opportunity arose. Objectivity, I'm certain, didn't suffer for our humanity.

* * *

The rock
Back at the school-turned-camp for displaced persons, I stare at the rock in the boy's hand.

If it connects, I'm certain it will do some damage. This moment probably should not be a revelation, but it is. The anger I see here is obviously deep, generationally deep. And maybe I'm projecting a bit, but it appears disciplined as well. What I am seeing here does not look like mere anarchy.

When this war is finished, that anger almost certainly will not go away and perhaps Hezbollah's position, at least among the Lebanese Shia, will be solidified.

But if, at the same time, that collective anger can be disciplined not just to unleash violence, but also to hold it back, then there is at least as a much of a chance that a rock in a little boy's hand will be dropped as it will be thrown. And in this case, it is dropped.

Note: Be sure to check back for Kevin's Israel diary, coming later this week.
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