With the regular operations of local newspapers, TV stations and other media outlets either dramatically impeded or totally interrupted by the Israeli bombing campaign, Lebanese students, writers and artists have found themselves asking two questions.
The first: How to stay safe?
And then: How best to share our experiences?
The virtual world offers no good answer to the first query. But blogs and mass e-mails have proved invaluable in filling the void left by depopulated newsrooms and disrupted communications.
Those substitute communications are hurried and frustrated (and full of misspellings and bad punctuation), but they constitute some of the most interesting reportscoming from one side of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict. If at times the texts seem angry, they should also serve as a reminder of the anxiety that bunker-buster bombs create.
New blogs spring up
"Time Out Beirut" editor-in-chief Ramsay Short is now blogging over at beirutlive.blogspot.com. Short, who is also known as a local DJ and the author of "A Hedonist's Guide to Beirut," wrote the following post on July 24:
"The Lebanese as a whole may not agree with Hezbollah, or with Iran or with Syria. But many do see a point in unifying and resisting the destruction of a nation. Because that is what we are witnessing today.
"The Lebanese were working on national dialogue to find a solution and a way to implement [UN Resolution] 1559 [which calls for Hezbollah's disarmament]. Perhaps the Lebanese are weak under too many regional influences. Yes it is taking time. But as Condi says diplomacy needs time right?”
Short then insisted that any enduring solution to the question of Hezbollah would have to be authored by Lebanese themselves. "Hezbollah, the question of its arms, its holding of Lebanon to ransom, must be solved by Lebanon and Lebanon alone," he wrote. "If we are just a country being used as proxy for Syrian and Iranian battles then Israel should know better than to play into others hands. Unless this was the plan all along once a suitable pretext came about. And now Israel with the U.S. in tow wants to force a ceasefire under its terms. It will not work and can only backfire. And it is a disaster for Lebanon, the region and for Israel itself."
As always, Short is a good reference for the region's arts scene, and his blog links to some provocative stuff, including apiece of art by Nadine Touma, Sivine Ariss and Nour Saab that seems destined for controversy.
Short also links to another blog by Mazen Kerbaj, a Beirut cartoonist and musician. Pictures, not words, are what fuels his blog mazenkerblog.blogspot.com, and since one can't quote a cartoon, readers should click on the link to see the work for themselves.
Witnesses to destruction
But blogs haven't been the only tool of communication between those in Lebanon and their friends around the world. In the immediate aftermath of the first bombing runs, mass e-mails from photographers, journalists and others caught in the crossfire stuffed the inboxes of those with ties to the country.
Having lived and worked in Lebanon, I have received a number of e-mails and photos from individuals, some of whom were kind enough to give me permission to reproduce their private correspondence.
One of the most potent images (left) showed neither bodies nor bombed-out buildings, but ratherthe environmental damage done to Beirut's magnificent coastline. The photographer, Suha Mughraby, reported that the damage was due to an oil spill from an Israeli warship.
Another photo (below, right) — this time, courtesy of Christophe Katrib — shows the beauty of the country, even as it is being evacuated one helicopter at a time.
In the July 22 e-mail that accompanied the shot, Katrib wrote: "What happened today has me worried. Israel bombed at least three different broadcasting posts, where many of our local televisions, radio stations, and mobile phone companies have their antennas and electronic equipment operating.…
"Some people here are already desperate and talking about giving up on Lebanon, and saying that they can't wait another 15 years for it to get back to where it was, and that we should all leave. I'm still arguing with these people, but it breaks my heart to hear such things, and the mere idea that they might be right terrorises me."
Fleeing civilians tell their story
And it's not only journalists, of course, who have been prompted to compose something for friends and family desperate to know about the crisis.
Actress Najla Said, the daughter of the late Dr. Edward Said — a Columbia University professor and critic who was the most prominent advocate in the U.S. for Palestinian independence — remembered the last time she and her immediate family had to leave Beirut due to violence, back in 1983.
Writing a rushed account from Damascus on July 20, she noted the similarity between the two crises:
"[In 1983] we got on the boat and fled to cyprus leaving my family behind. the boat was filled with pilgrims going to mecca. i didnt know what they were. i didnt understand. i didnt know msulim or christian or jew. i didnt know anything. i knew fear and i knew confusion. i knew the sound of bombs. an inexplicable sound if you havent felt it before, for it is a sound you feel and not a sound you hear. it is TERRIFYING. your body shakes. you feel helpless and you cry, thats what happens. no sound effect can really replicate what it feels like when theyre real. i never thought id hear that sound again. …
"and now this summer. evacuated again. throwing up shaking fearing hurting crying. again. … this is what i think of when i think of arab terror. my terror. our terror. do people know how much we hurt too?"