It was July 16, four days into the latest Middle East conflict and Salman, an editor at Lebanon’s As-Safir Arabic-language daily, was appealing for help in the best way she knew how – by writing of life in Beirut.
Her near daily war accounts were quickly forwarded from one person to another until they soon appeared on hundreds of blogs, news websites and journals.
Aljazeera.net: When you first started writing your diaries of war, did you intend to have them published on the internet?
Hanady Salman: I wrote my first letter on July 16 as a call for help and I sent pictures of the people of Marwaheen [near the southern Lebanese port of Tyre] who were killed on the road in Teir Hafra while they were trying to reach Beirut. It was a pickup full with men, women and children. The pictures were terrible and as I expected they were never published in the West. I only wanted the pictures to reach the outside world, through my friends and colleagues who were on my mailing list.
Then, the next day there were more sad stories and I sent them, the people on my list would forward them to the people on their mailing lists and that’s how it started. I never posted any of these on the web, my friends did. What I did was send letters to friends and colleagues.
They were not intended to be diaries. Most of them were not my diaries. Some days I would write about what I experienced, but only as an example of what we all went through, and most days I’d write about what other people are experiencing in their villages or in the southern suburb [of Beirut].
These were some of the stories we published in As-Safir. I’d also send pictures every day. The only message I wanted to convey? I wanted people I care about and colleagues to know what “a war” means, its daily details and how people who “live” a war feel.
“This morning, I tried to get some cheese and tomatoes for breakfast for a friend who’s staying over after his house in the southern suburb was destroyed. I got the cheese, but the grocery shop has no vegetables. Beirut is under siege, Beirut will have nothing to eat or drink soon.”
Were you surprised that many blogs and online journals picked up your diary entries? Did you receive any feedback?
Yes, I was surprised [at] first. But later, some of the blogs that posted my writings asked permission first. My mailing list was growing daily. Each day, my friends would ask me to add some of their friends, and people who read my writings on blogs would ask to be added on the list. By the end, there were some 200 names on the list, including friends, fellow journalists, academics, and people active in civil society in the US , Europe, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Some were in Lebanon too.
The kind of feedback I received was mostly positive; some of it was very touching and brought tears to my eyes. Very few were vicious, but did not write directly to me; they posted their comments on various blogs, mostly on The Angry Arab’s blog.
This is one of the most touching messages I got:
My name is Jacob Rosenblum, I’m an American Jew living in Washington state. My friend Lora Gordon has been sending me your writings, which are very powerful.
Today is “Tisha B’av”, a Jewish day of commemoration of the destruction of the ancient temples, a day of mourning and fasting.
At our service here, we read stories of destruction that have happened, and are happening, all over the world. We read “Beirut, July 21, 2006” as part of our service. People were very moved by it.
I’m just writing to you to let you know that people are reading your writings here.
May we all be blessed with peace. Stay strong! You are an inspiration.
Did your newspaper – As-Safir – publish your writings?
No, I did not publish the letters in As-Safir. First, these were written in English and As-Safir is published in Arabic. I had no time to translate them, but most important, we were doing only 16 to 18 pages a day in our attempt to save paper, just in case the embargo would last too long. The priority in these pages was to tell people’s stories, not mine.
You wrote on 7 August: “One suggestion I need any of you to transmit to the Israelis: I offer you all of us. Our flesh, our scalps, our inner parts to exhibit live on TV screens, our bare feet eaten by wolves during the night in ex- villages, our blood flooding in the streets, our kids, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, sisters, grandparents, every single one of us. KILL US ALL.” What did you mean by that?
I wrote this in answer to some of the comments by Israelis. For them, Arabs had no feelings and were using the bodies of their killed children only to get sympathy.
“I know you think I’ve gone mad. Well, you’re right. We all did. We burst into laughter while looking at pictures of the dead. We burst into laughter when we’re told someone was killed, we all laughed hysterically when Zeinab was telling us about the doctors she saw in Tyre hospitals yesterday. The doctor in Tyre was smiling while pointing at a door and telling her: I keep here 200 corpses, I don’t have coffins to bury them, I don’t have names for them, I don’t know where their relatives are …”
Did you think we will see an end to this conflict?
No. I still don’t think it’s over yet. This conflict will never end if Israeli actions stay unchecked in Palestine, in Lebanon or anywhere else in the Arab world. The aggression on Lebanon stopped for the time being, but I believe it will take other forms soon: Israeli soldiers are still in the south, and some Israeli politicians already started talking about the necessity of political assassinations inside Lebanon.
What’s the next step for Lebanon?
Rebuilding, rebuilding, rebuilding. As it’s always been; no matter if they will destroy it all again. We’ll keep rebuilding each time; we’ll live on our land, and we will keep telling our children Israel is an enemy, beware of it. And we will tell our children the stories of those who were killed, how they were killed, and we will tell them not to forget and not to forgive.
And on a political scope, there are voiced fears of civil war, do you think this likely? Could the Lebanese endure yet another conflict?
I don’t think any country can endure civil war, let alone a country that’s already been through one before. Some political parties in Lebanon, those who were responsible for the civil war in the past and whose leaders, the war lords, are now ministers and deputies, talking about building a state, do not mind destroying the country again.
But I think they do not have the military power to do it. Not yet, that is. If I were to trust that no civil war will take place in Lebanon, it would only be because I trust the wisdom and national beliefs of Hezbollah and its leaders.
Are we witnessing the birth of a new Middle East?
I believe our part of the world is the Arab World, including a Mashrek (East) and a Maghreb (West). Since 1948 there have been attempts that took various forms to force us to give up to the fact that Israel will run our lives the way it suits it and the way that suits US interests. All these attempts have failed, and they will keep failing.
We are human beings, educated and we can run our own lives, make our own judgments and we know where our real interests lie. Thus, I believe the struggle will never stop until we get to live the way we see fit on our land.
Who are the victors/losers in this war?
It is still too soon to name victors and losers. This is only one episode of a long painful struggle.
(For all letters, http://beirutjournal.blogspot.com/)