The death toll from Israel’s attack on Lebanon is approaching four hundred — almost all civilians. More than one thousand have been wounded and an estimated 900,000 have been displaced from their homes. This weekend, ground troops seized the Lebanese town of Marun al-Ras. Israeli officials believe they have approval from the United States to keep attacking Lebanon for at least another week. We go to Lebanon to speak with independent journalist Dahr Jamail. [includes rush transcript]
The death toll from Israel’s attack on Lebanon is approaching four hundred — almost all civilians. More than one thousand have been wounded and an estimated 900,000 have been displaced from their homes. Reports indicate Israel is widening its assault. This weekend, ground troops seized the Lebanese town of Marun al-Ras. Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes knocked down telecommunications towers handling cell phone, television and radio broadcasts. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Israeli officials believe they have approval from the United States to keep attacking Lebanon for at least another week. However Britain has broken ranks with Washington. In an interview with CNN, British Foreign Minister Kim Howells criticized Israel’s military tactics and urged the US to understand the price being paid by ordinary Lebanese civilians.
Meanwhile Sunday the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland toured Beirut and condemned Israel’s actions as violations of humanitarian law. On Sunday, Democracy Now spoke to independent journalist Dahr Jamail. He arrived in Beirut this weekend after spending the last week interviewing refugees on the Syria-Lebanon border.
- Dahr Jamail-Independent journalist who spent the last week on the Syria-Lebanon border and recently arrived in Beirut
AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to an independent journalist, Dahr Jamail. He arrived in Beirut this weekend after spending the last week interviewing refugees on the Syria-Lebanon border. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dahr Jamail.
DAHR JAMAIL: In Beirut, it’s a very tense atmosphere here. The roar of Israeli war planes is nearly constant at times, down to the south, both over Southern Beirut and particularly over the southern part of the country. Earlier I was standing on the balcony of my hotel, and the echoes of bombings from the south were rolling over Beirut like distant claps of thunder, followed by a roaring after-burn of war planes, which had dropped the bombs. I would say on average about every half-hour there are very loud explosions from the south that we can hear very clearly here in Beirut.
And, of course, the sentiment here, people are very anxious, very tense. The evacuation of foreign nationals continues from the Port of Beirut. As I drove in, I saw at least half a dozen warships from different countries out in the blue water of the Mediterranean, waiting to come pick up people from the Port of Beirut and take them away.
And this is being viewed by people here in Beirut with great anger. One man told me earlier in the Hamra district here in Beirut, he said, "You know, this shows us very clearly how we’re seen in Western eyes, that Lebanese — just leave us here for the Israeli bombs, take the Westerners away. It’s clear that we just have the wrong passport, so we don’t matter." And that so far has been a quite widespread sentiment that I’ve seen while the bombing continues in the south.
Also I can report that in Southern Lebanon today, the city Sidon has been very, very heavily bombed. A mosque there was destroyed. There were already at least 42,000 refugees there. Also a minibus carrying refugees was fleeing a southern city right on the border that was recently taken by Israeli forces, Marun a-Ras, and that minibus carrying refugees was hit, killing three people and wounding another 13. So, really the crisis continues to escalate.
There doesn’t really seem to be real much of a letup in the bombing, and right here in Beirut it’s very, very evident, and I’m waiting to see what happens tonight, because everyone I’ve spoke with said that nighttimes are the worst time in Beirut, that it’s quite widespread bombing. The Israelis are tending to wait until the middle of the night before they start bombing, so we’re waiting for that to happen now. But without a doubt, public opinion is that of very, very much anger. People are extremely anxious. People are very concerned that once the last of these foreign nationals that are being evacuated from Beirut are gone, people here very much expect things to get much, much worse. So that is the mood, that along with widespread anger.
I spoke with one student earlier from the American University of Beirut, which is nearby my hotel, and he said that he is very much against Hezbollah and always has been and is more now than ever because of what this has caused his country. But he said he’s very much opposed to this Israeli reaction to what happened, and he said — he told me that he very much hates the fact that the U.S. is supporting Israel 100% in everything that they do here now, and even though his dream was to go to the United States, as he’s a business student at the university here, now he said that he hates the United States, and so it’s very easy to say — not just after talking with this man, but several other people today, as well — that the level of anti-American sentiment is really through the roof, because people are extremely — they’re acutely aware of the U.S. green-lighting this ongoing Israeli aggression against their country.
Over the last week, I interviewed dozens of refugees on both the western border of Syria with Lebanon, as well as the northern border of Lebanon with Syria. They were reporting atrocities. They were reporting war crimes carried out by the Israeli military in Southern Lebanon and in Southern Beirut, which is where naturally most of these refugees came from. There are hoards of these refugees. Right now, there’s at least over a quarter of a million of them that have come into Syria thus far.
And most of those that I spoke with were all saying the same thing, and that was that it was widespread indiscriminate bombing in villages. Cars full of people fleeing those villages were being attacked by warplanes as they tried to leave. One man told me of a hospital that he saw with his own eyes being bombed by warplanes in South Beirut. Another spoke of seeing an ambulance being targeted by air strikes itself. It’s really a catastrophic situation as far as the refugees go. People have left, many of them literally with nothing but the clothes on their backs and what they had in their pockets at the time. So, they are really left with nothing and nowhere to go. And so, there’s a burgeoning crisis not just within Lebanon, but it is, of course, spilling over into Syria at a very large level.
In Damascus, as well, I interviewed many people, and they were extremely angry at what was happening. I was at the Red Crescent headquarters in Damascus, and I interviewed a man from a village in South Lebanon, and I asked him how he felt about what was happening there, and he just stood up and I almost felt he was going to attack me. He was so angry he was defending Hezbollah to the end. He said that no matter what Israel does, this is going to backfire on them and really come out so negatively for them, as far as their security situation. And that has been a very common sentiment among really most of the refugees that I have interviewed, whether they be Lebanese or people who weren’t necessarily very pro-Hezbollah, but also people who, of course, were from the south who most of which were very pro-Hezbollah. The overall sentiment is really a deep seething anger amongst the refugees toward what’s going on in Lebanon.
AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, independent journalist who spent last week on the Syria-Lebanon border and has just arrived in Beirut.