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"Most Lebanese brace themselves and hope"
Life under Israeli siege

August 11, 2006 | Page 8

ASMA is a student in Beirut. After the Israeli assault began, she participated in the refugee relief effort. She recently left Lebanon, arriving with her family in New York City. Here, she describes life under Israeli siege.

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ISRAEL IS saying that this is an attack on Hezbollah, but in reality, it is the civilians and the infrastructure of Lebanon that are taking the beating. The airport, highways, ports, bridges and roads have all been heavily targeted. The attacks have not spared the Christian parts of the country, where Hezbollah has neither a presence nor support.

Every attack makes it even clearer that Israeli "smart" bombs are being used to collectively punish the entire Lebanese population for allowing the resistance to exist.

The inhabitants of Southern Lebanon have two options: stay or leave. If they choose to leave, they have two problems: where to go and how to get there. The roads and bridges linking the South to the rest of the country have been targeted and almost completely destroyed by Israeli air raids, making escape almost impossible in some cases.

The same Air Force that releases leaflets warning people to flee their homes has destroyed the roads and bridges that link these dangerous areas to the safer ones. Even worse, it has destroyed whole convoys carrying families that were heeding the advice to leave.

The location of remaining functional roads isn't broadcast or made public, as that would make these roads the next target in the Israeli army's attempt to isolate the South. Only the natives of each town along the path to Beirut know the functional side-roads and dirt paths remaining, and they point them out to the travelers as they arrive.

The travelers rarely arrive to these towns in private cars, as most of the inhabitants of the South are rural people. Those who do arrive in their cars must make large detours to avoid the destroyed bridges and areas under heavy Israeli bombardment. They may arrive in pick-up trucks, families and belongings loaded in the back.

Still others arrive on foot, either because destroyed roads allow for no other form of travel, or because they were unable to find any private van to transport them. Private vans shuttle people from one destroyed bridge to the next, where travelers cross the bomb craters to the next shuttle.

Once they arrive to safe regions, mainly north of Dahiyah (the predominantly Shia suburb of Beirut that also housed Hezbollah's headquarters) along the coast and in the central mountain range of Lebanon, they may either seek refuge in a relative's house, a public school, a park or an abandoned house.

Public schools across Lebanon have been opened to house the refugees, each managed by a local organization. They provide the refugees with basic food, shelter and medical care, if needed. Most refugees are staying in the schools, as they are more spacious and get more attention from groups and organizations than the parks, where the refugees must sleep without cover.

As for the refugees who choose to stay with relatives or in an abandoned house, they must provide for themselves, as the relief effort faces much difficulty just in providing for the schools and parks.

The relief organizations are not only operating at full capacity with their members and resources, but they have also taken in volunteers and contributions from inside and outside Lebanon to help deal with the magnitude of the refugee dilemma. University and school clubs, as well as individuals, have mobilized, either in coordination with the organizations or independently in order to assist the displaced people.

Despite this national display of solidarity, there is a serious lack of resources to sustain the work being performed. Due to the air, land and sea blockade imposed by the Israeli army, dwindling supplies cannot be replenished. The distribution of goods internally has been brought to a standstill due to the destruction of vital roads and Israeli targeting of trucks.

Medicines, sanitation products and fuel are scarce; doctors have started prescribing alternate medication as the main ones run out. Space is also running out as the number of refugees increases. Some private schools have been opened, and hospitals have also begun sheltering refugees. Sheets have been put up as makeshift walls in the classrooms to provide families with some privacy.

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OUTSIDE THE schools and parks, activity in the capital of Beirut is normal during the day. Shops are open, and people are busy buying food, candles and water, as well as filling up their cars with gas in preparation for the day when fuel runs out, which will inevitably come.

Some businesses, however, have become useless, as they do not sell necessities, and the owners and workers can be seen spending most of their time on the sidewalks outside. Many workers aren't being paid this month, making money only off commission or tips.

In the evening, activity comes to an almost complete halt, and the streets that are usually choking with bumper-to-bumper traffic become empty. People huddle around their television for the evening news, which has been extended to one hour instead of the usual half hour in order to cover all attacks, casualties and political developments.

Day and night, the whole of Beirut and other areas near Dahiyah are rocked by the loud explosions of missiles being fired out of the Israeli warships docked off the Lebanese coast.

Some Lebanese are fortunate enough to have the option to leave the country, as it descends deeper and deeper into a war that Israel has unleashed on it.

The right amount of money and connections can get a person to Syria, and a Western passport can get a person to Cyprus or Turkey, by way of embassy-organized mass evacuations. These evacuations are almost all very uncomfortable, uncontrollable and lengthy, as the enormous number of evacuees in the countries surrounding Lebanon has exhausted hotel and airplane capacities.

But while some people have escaped the hellish terror of Israeli phosphorous bombs, bunker-busters and cluster bombs, most Lebanese are forced to brace themselves and hope that the next U.S.-made Israeli precision bomb doesn't land on them.

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