Beirut’s Southern Suburbs Witness Population ‘Exodus’

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Article Summary
Following a recent spate of bombings, many residents in Beirut’s southern suburbs are moving to different areas in search of safety.

Beirut’s southern suburbs are not accustomed to this daily fear during times of peace. The area has always been considered to be the safest [in Lebanon], even at the height of assassinations and car bombings. It hosted the capital's poor and displaced citizens from the southern villages and the Bekaa valley, and provided them with the safety that has been missing in their villages for years.

This is no longer the case since the Bir al-Abed and Ruwais bombings, or rather since the war in Syria began. Following the first explosion, many believed that Israel had entered Lebanon again, recalling the war of July 2006. An explosion in the suburbs was inconceivable. It was a real shock that quickly turned into a state of horror following the bloody scene witnessed in Ruwais.

In response to the recent threats, some recalled the rhetoric espoused by citizens during the July 2006 war: “We will not be afraid,” and, “all is done in sacrifice for [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah.” Other means were used in this confrontation with death and defeat; also, some kept silent during a period of extreme fear and numerous checkpoints. Between these two issues, individuals and families are quietly looking for alternatives for residence, work and education somewhere outside the suburbs.

A state of confusion

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Zainab can no longer bear to wait for her son to return every night, in light of potential bombings and nightmares of death. She keeps one eye on the news and another on the porch, waiting for him every day with a terrified heart. “I am constantly worried, waiting for him at home,” she noted.

Zainab and her family have been living in the Bir al-Abed neighborhood since her wedding day 22 years ago. She was terrified during Bir al-Abed and Ruwais blasts. On that day she started shouting and searching for her children who lived with her. “I had the worst scare of my life. We thought Israel was bombing,” she said.

Zainab is searching for a house in the capital, outside the suburbs. She stated, “The idea first came to my mind following the Bir al-Abed explosion, but when the Ruwais blast occurred I made up my mind. The explosion is not only affecting victims who lost their lives or homes, but also potential victims. We, and of course many like us, live in horror.” She also added that this is not an individual case. “Each person has his own circumstances. We can leave, but maybe others can’t.”

“It is a difficult decision,” she said in a tired voice.  “It is not easy to leave one’s home and neighbors. All my memories and the memories of my children are in this house. Every corner of the house carries stories,” she said in a confused tone. Zainab is afraid to move into a residential neighborhood that she is not accustomed to. For her, to leave her home is not only to leave an empty apartment. “You will be leaving your neighbors, the grocer, the butcher who is always fair with you … ” she stated. These details may seem trivial to many, but they are essential for her.

Every time she searches for a new home she enters a state of confusion. She tries to find any fault in the new home. Once the discussion with the landlord moves towards signing the lease, something inside her prevents her from leaving her home in Bir al-Abed. She goes back home with a sense of guilt. She chose her words quietly, yet not without hesitation. “I am afraid that if anything happens, God forbid, I would feel guilty.”  Zainab continued, “We will rent a house in Beirut and will keep an eye on the situation. If things get better we will return to our home.”

However, finding a home is not only hindered by psychological confusion. There are also the rent prices. “We will lease our house and pay the difference to be able to live in Beirut. We are forced to do so, since $1,000 a month is not an insignificant amount.” Zainab indicated that three families in her neighborhood are considering the same thing. She asked, “Why not? If they are financially able to do so, they would spare themselves terror. But God’s will is inevitable.”

Different classes

Farah moved with her family about a week ago to a house with a garden overlooking the sea in Jal el Dib. It's not just about the luxury of the new location, but also due to the new security situation in her former place of residence, Ruwais. “Leaving the suburbs is a first step. It is a prelude to the immigration application to Canada,” she indicated at the beginning of her interview.

“We have been thinking about it since the July 2006 war. During the 33-day war we moved to a resort in Jounieh, but we came back to Ruwais after reconstruction. Yet the current situation is more dangerous than during the war. We may have escaped the fighting fronts, but we cannot avoid booby-trapped cars,” she stated.

“I don’t want to be just another number in the victim count,” she said, adding that no one likes to become just a number. “I respect the resilient people, but I cannot be like them.” Farah believes in the resistance on several levels. However she pointed out that not everyone is supposed to be on the front lines of the confrontation. She asserted her faith in the resistance and Hezbollah’s choices by affirming that she can fulfill her part from outside the suburbs.

Yet not everyone can afford the luxury of residing in the capital or in apartments overlooking the sea. These options remain limited to the affluent classes. Some of those with limited incomes tend to migrate to the southern villages.

Reverse exodus

Mohammed is seriously considering moving back to his southern village of Jowaya. The young man lives in Ruwais and is an employee in a shoe shop near his house. He said, “The suburbs used to be safe, but today living here is like walking in a minefield. The threat is imminent. It is better to live outside.”

Mohammed confirmed that leaving the suburbs does not mean abandoning his political choices. “Honestly, I would rather be a martyr in the battle than die from a car bomb. My life and the life of my family are not a game,” he said. He stopped for a while then passionately continued, “There are calls for resilience and resistance, but even resilient people have a tolerance limit.”

Since the explosion in Ruwais, Mohammed has been thinking about establishing a modest business in Jowaya. Fortunately, he owns a house in this village. “I hope we don’t reach the point where I am forced to make this choice,” he concluded.

As for Joseph, a 20-year-old young man living in Ghbairi, he will move to his home in Deir al-Zahrani in the coming days, along with his family. He will register his 13-year-old brother at a school in the south. “Life in the suburbs has become dangerous. You say goodbye to your family not knowing if you are ever going to see them again. We don’t have to take this,” he said, justifying his choice.

But Joseph will not leave his job at a maintenance company. He will make the daily commute between Beirut and the south to get to work. He said, “I studied this option, and I found it to be cheaper. I would be saving the monthly rent in Ghbairi and I would be saving time.” He explained that going from Ghbairi to work takes more time than going from Deir al-Zahrani to Beirut, in light of the checkpoints in the southern suburbs.

Each person has his own choices according to his own capabilities. Some are not financially capable of any of those alternatives, whether in Beirut or in the villages. The families who want or hope to leave deny the existence of other classes who do not want to leave the suburbs. People are scared in the suburbs, just like others in different areas. The state of fear is spreading, regardless of the target and its political choices. Yesterday was the suburbs, followed by Tripoli, and who knows which area will be targeted tomorrow. This does not prevent some from searching for relatively safe places. Life goes on. Yesterday’s choice may change tomorrow, and tomorrow is all about staying physically safe.

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Found in: lebanon, lebanese society
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