Violence, unexploded bombs create turmoil in Lebanon

Report
from Mennonite Central Committee
Published on 21 Jun 2007
by Gladys Terichow

WINNIPEG, Man. - A somber mood prevails over Beirut as people throughout Lebanon prepare for another summer of uncertainty and instability, according to an MCC representative in the country.

Heavy fighting in North Lebanon, bombings and assassinations in Beirut and deaths and injuries from unexploded cluster bombs in South Lebanon has cast a shadow of despair over the country, says Ken Seitz.

"It casts a long shadow-Lebanon is a small country and many lives have been lost," said Seitz during an interview in mid June, the day the country mourned the death of politician Walid Eido who was killed in a powerful bomb blast in West Beirut-a blast that killed about 10 people.

"Today all the schools and universities are closed for the Eido funeral," he said. "In fact, many schools are hanging it up for the year with early exams or simply dismissing students, particularly those in elementary grades, for the year. With the situation and overall malaise in the country, kids have only prospects of having to remain indoors all summer. The streets are very empty."

MCC, he said, continues to support the efforts of partner organizations that assist people who flee their homes and seek refuge in other parts of the country.

In South Lebanon, unexploded munitions like cluster bombs still litter olive orchards, gardens and villages and continue to threaten livelihoods and lives, said Seitz.

Cluster bombs, he explained, usually consist of a large shell containing many small bomblets that can cover a wide area. In early June, the United Nations estimated that only 118,000 of about one million unexploded munitions had been cleared.

One of MCC's partner organizations in Lebanon, the Philanthropic Association for Care of the Disabled, will soon open a workshop to produce artificial limbs for victims of cluster bomb explosions and provide rehabilitation services.

MCC has provided a $7,000 grant for this project-funds that are being used to purchase an oven used in the production of the limbs, said Seitz.

In early June, MCC's Lebanon staff and Titus Peachey, director of the peace education office for MCC U.S. travelled in South Lebanon to meet individuals injured by cluster bombs, MCC partner organizations that assist victims of cluster bombs and government departments involved in the cluster bomb clean-up.

Peachey has been advocating against the use of cluster bombs since the early 1980s when he was a MCC representative in Laos. "My visits with the victims brought back memories from Laos-it's 30 years later but it is still the same story," he said. "The injustices are the same. It felt very similar to my experiences in Laos."

He is now planning a cluster bomb survivor's tour that is scheduled to take place this fall to give North Americans the opportunity to hear the stories of people from Laos and Lebanon injured and otherwise affected by cluster munitions. Summer intern, Zachary Kaufman from Strasburg, Pennsylvania is assisting him with coordinating this project.

"The bombs come from our communities, from our dollars and the structures that give our lives security and comfort," he said, emphasizing cluster bombs continue to injure and kill people long after the war has ended.

Peachey is hoping that this cluster bomb survivor's tour will strengthen support in North America for the global effort underway to ban a broad range of cluster bombs by 2008.

He wants North Americans to hear the story of Salima Barakt, a 62-year old widow, who nearly died when a cluster bomb exploded as she was sweeping debris from the steps of her house. She still suffers from her wounds and has a difficult time supporting herself and her two grown children, Ali and Maryam. Both children have mental disabilities and Maryam is blind.

Peachey said Salima and other victims of cluster bombs in Lebanon make a direct connection between U.S. militarism and the terror that has gripped their lives.

Salima had asked him to pass on a message to the U.S. government. "Please tell Condoleezza Rice to stop sending these bombs to Israel. I have to take care of my children. Tell Condoleezza Rice that we have had enough. We can't take it anymore."

Although most recent injuries and deaths are caused by cluster bombs that were dropped by Israeli forces during the 34-day war last summer, people are still being injured and impacted by the injuries caused by cluster bombs dropped by the Israeli army during conflicts between 1974-1982.

MCC visitors on the tour also met Raed Moukalled, a father who had taken his two sons to play in the park in early December 1999. Two hours later his five-year-old son, Ahmad, died from injuries he received when a cluster bomb exploded in his hand.

"The bomb that killed Ahmad was likely dropped by Israel during the 1982 war, which means it lay in wait for 17 years," explained Peachey. "As is often the case with cluster bomb tragedies, Ahmad, the person who died, was not even alive when the bomb was dropped."

For more information on cluster bombs please visit mcc.org/clusterbombs.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC.