Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The slaughter continues...

It's very hard for me to comment on what's going on in Lebanon with any kind of equanimity at this point. Clearly the neocons running Bush Adminstration foreign policy see Israel's incursion into Lebanon as a chance to get their war on — as if the ones we've got going in Iraq and Afghanistan weren't enough already.

There are so many commenters out there in the blogosphere who are more knowledgable and eloquent on these topics than I am. Here are a few: Billmon, Larry Johnson and Susan Hu at No Quarter, and of course, Juan Cole. Salon has also been doing consistently solid reporting.

But here is a story that broke my heart.

From the Los Angeles Times, an account of the Lebanese ambulance drivers who in spite of incredible dangers continue to bring comfort to the wounded:
In the burning haze of the missile strike, Qasim Chaalan thought he had died. But piece by piece, he noticed that he was still there, inside the ambulance. He could still feel his body. He opened his eyes, and discovered he could see.

He and the other medics were lucky: They had survived the blow of an Israeli missile. Dazed and slow, one of the men fumbled for the radio and began, "We have an accident…. " He didn't finish the sentence. A second missile smashed with a roar into the ambulance behind them.

Six Red Cross volunteers were wounded in the Sunday attack, and the injured family they were ferrying to safety suffered fresh agonies. A middle-age man lost his leg from the knee down. His mother was partially paralyzed. A little boy's head was hammered by shrapnel.

Perhaps most dangerous of all, the attack blunted the zeal of the band of gonzo ambulance drivers who have doggedly plugged away as Red Cross volunteers. Young men and women with easy grins and a breezy disregard for their own safety, they have remained as the last visible strand of social structure intact after days of Israeli bombardment.
See, this is the thing. I know it's somehow wrong of me to think this way, but I can't help it. Here's a society with a strong cosmopolitan streak, where women are participating alongside men, and I'm rooting for them. My emotions run more strongly because I can identify to a greater degree with these people and what they are trying to achieve. The whole Islamic fundamentalist program? Not so much. As a confirmed secular humanist liberal pinko, I find Islamic extremism frightening and incomprehensible, and as are most fundamentalist religions, based on the oppression of women. So believe me, all historical justifications for these movements aside, I'm not in their corner.

All civilian deaths are a tragedy, but how is it that the American government stands mutely by, supporting the dismemberment of a multi-cultural democracy, weak as it might be, but one where different religious groups, where traditional and modern people are trying to make a go of it, in spite of the weight of history against their success. Isn't that what our government claims to want in the Middle East?

And yet our leadership — and not just the White House, our Congressional leadership as well — stands by while the government of Israel destroys Lebanon, targets a United Nations observation post and continues its project of dismantling the Palestinian Authority on the one hand and punishing the Palestinians when they are unable to bring order to their Bantustan-like territories on the other.

Yeah, I know. I'm an "anti-Semite." And un-American to boot.

Here's more of the LA Times article, because even as it breaks your heart, it moves you to celebrate the incredible bravery and resiliency of the ambulance corps:
They came to a stop on a stretch of battle-pocked roadway in Qana.

The medics favor that spot because the ambulances, with their trademark red crosses emblazoned on the roofs, can be seen clearly from above. They thought it was safe.

They climbed down, removed the patients from the other ambulance and slid them into place. They moved fast; everybody was nervous.

Then the roar and smash of the missiles shattered the summer night. Both ambulances were hit, directly and systematically, by Israeli bombs, the medics said.

Everybody else must be dead, Chaalan remembered thinking as he slowly came to his senses. He called out his first medic's name, and got an answer. He called out the second man's name. Silence. "We lost one man," he thought.

The grandmother had crawled out of the ambulance after the first missile strike, but the medics didn't realize that. There was no way the adults could have survived, the medics decided.

So they grabbed the little boy and took shelter in a nearby basement.

Most of the houses on the street stood empty, abandoned by families who'd heeded Israeli evacuation orders and fled north. More bombings continued to puncture the night.

Huddled in the darkness of the basement, they ran their hands over their own bodies, checking for injuries. The boy's head, full of shrapnel, was bleeding badly. They used T-shirts to bandage his wounds.

Then they waited in the darkness. They managed to get through to the Red Cross station from their cellphones. An hour and a half dragged past.

Finally, Hillal and the other medics made it to the scene. "It was a disaster," he said.

"The cars had exploded all over the place. There was one man so badly injured we didn't know what to do for him."

At first, the Red Cross had considered whether to stop making ambulance runs altogether, he said. Then the organization thought better of it and recommended that the teams only stop driving south. Hillal didn't know what would happen. He only knew that the ground rules had been blasted away — the medics had been stripped of their sense of safety.

"When we were driving in the ambulance before, we did not feel we are safe 100%," Chaalan said. "But now it's direct on us."

On Monday, medics and the wounded family were all in the hospital. The grandmother lay on her side in a hospital bed, face turned to the sky outside her window.

"Give me something for the pain," she groaned. "I'm going to vomit." A son and grandson were unconscious in the intensive care unit. Her son, whose leg had been struck by the missile, lay under a tangle of tubes. The sheet reached just below the knee. His calf wasn't there anymore.

Chaalan was bleeding from the ear, and stitches bound his chin and a leg. He needed a few more days to recover, but he insisted on going home.

He peeled off his bandages before stopping by to kiss his mother.

And then he was back at the Red Cross station, padding around in a Las Vegas T-shirt, insisting that he was ready to get back to work.

"I prefer to die when I'm helping people," he said. "Not when I'm hiding."
Here is a link to the International Red Cross' efforts in Lebanon. You can find a link to donate, as well as a link to the Lebanese Red Cross Society. The Lebanese Red Cross posts a bank account number for donations but isn't clear about how to actually donate. You can however donate through the ICRC and earmark your donation for Lebanon, if you are moved to do so.

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