Bombings change daily routine in Beirut's southern suburbs

After being struck by several suicide bombings, the residents of Beirut's southern suburbs say that life goes on.

al-monitor Smoke rises from the site of an explosion in the Haret Hreik area, southern suburbs of Beirut, Jan. 21, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Stringer.

Topics covered

syria civil war, suicide bombing, lebanese shiites, hezbollah, beirut

Jan 24, 2014

For young Rizk Qaddurah, yesterday morning was different than the others. As soon as the sun rose, his mother called him from one the Gulf states asking him to keep his promise. Rizk kept his promise and presented his passport application to the nearest Public Security Directorate center [to obtain the documents needed to join her abroad], then he went to his work on Arid Street in Haret Hreik.

Rizk didn’t write on his Facebook page that he had survived four explosions so far, the latest of which was Jan. 21. He obeyed his mother, who was shocked by Maria Jawhiri’s martyrdom after what she wrote on her Facebook wall.

The bombings in the southern suburbs are following Rizk from place to place. First, in Bir al-Abed, where his family’s home is located, just a hundred meters from the first blast on July 9, 2013. On Aug. 15, 2013, Rizk had just left Arid Street on his way to Haret Hreik. As soon as he stepped out from al-Arz store in Ruwais, where he had bought sports shoes, the bomb in the street exploded.

On Jan. 2, he saw fragments of the first explosion on Arid Street when he was standing in front of the sports clothing store in which he works. Then, Jan. 21, he and his colleagues were buying their breakfast when a second blast struck the same location. So he rushed to help the wounded.

With the fourth explosion came the request from his parents in the Gulf, “You can’t stay there anymore. We are waiting for you.” They had gotten tired of his hesitation to join them. Rizk doesn’t want to leave the neighborhood. “My life is here. So are my friends and my entire life. I didn’t want to leave,” he said. But living in Lebanon has become a difficult dream, it seems.

Today, Rizk is fighting another battle with his parents as he awaits the completion of his paperwork and the date of his flight. “Leave your job in the [southern] suburbs and go Nabatieh. It’s safer there,” they keep telling him. Rizk wants to spend whatever time he has left in Lebanon in the southern suburbs. He doesn’t want to leave. “I can’t. I can’t. I am leaving forcibly anyway,” he said.

Rizk is not alone. Everybody is worried for the safety of their loved ones and friends. The southern suburb itself has become a concern. The life pattern in the area has changed: The time students go to and from school; the time businesses open and close; the time when students leave university; the time when mothers hold their hearts worried about their children. Mothers are worried even with everyone inside the house. Many bombing victims have died on their balconies or in their kitchens. Fast-food and hookah delivery is active because “people are cutting down on being outdoors as much as possible,” said a deliveryman. In fact, this new life pattern is why he found this new job. The customers tip him and wish him a “safe trip.”

Yes, some life patterns have changed, but life goes on, and “will go on,”  as asserted Mohammed al-Miqdad, the owner of Alwan cafe.

On the day before Miqdad opened his shop on Arid Street, the first blast happened. The glass facade shattered, the walls fractured and the new decor was ruined. Miqdad renovated the cafe, despite the many warnings. He opened his place six days before the second explosion. Yesterday, Maria was martyred, and Ali Ibrahim Bashir was martyred in Alwan cafe. The cafe was blown apart. Miqdad is back restoring his place a second time. “We belong to this place. I insist on opening [my cafe] here. ... Everything is here. I am not leaving,” he said.

Miqdad sits sadly in his cafe. He watches his friends sweep the broken glass. He didn’t want to start his business with bloody memories. He wanted it to be a place of joy, a piece of the suburbs, which is teeming with life, not a place to wait for the next explosion. “All the neighborhood is in danger, and so is all of Lebanon,” he said. For him, all places have the same risk.

Miqdad said, “The people can no longer afford Hezbollah’s patience.” He disagrees with Hezbollah’s patient approach regarding the attacks against the southern suburbs. “They should respond,” he said. “They should target the attackers, not let them kill the people and hunt us one after the other.” Miqdad gave his opinion, but those around him disagreed. “We cannot put all the people in one basket. A suicide bomber from this or that area does not represent everyone. He represents only himself,” they said.

Sami Abdullah believes that the suicide bomber is a “victim” himself. “What must be targeted is the head of the snake that is deceiving young people and pushing them to kill innocent people and themselves,” said the man in his fifties, demanding the army carry out this task. “The army commander should cut the tongue of anyone talking in a sectarian way ... and shut down the media outlets promoting incitement ... and those who are broadcasting sectarian and inciting remarks.”

Abdullah goes beyond sectarianism and connects what is happening today with what happened before. “When they targeted the suburbs in the Sfeir bombing and when the brother of martyr Imad Mughniyeh was martyred, Hezbollah was not in Syria, nor when they targeted Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah in Bir al-Abed, nor when they assassinated martyr Awali. ... And when Israel destroyed the suburbs in the July [2006] aggression, the party was not in Qusair or elsewhere.” Abdullah puts all the bombings in one basket, saying, “The beneficiary is Israel, and the aggressor is the same.”

Ali Barakat talks about the people’s lives, which have completely changed. They are worried whenever family members step out of the house. He thinks about himself, as he has started working more outside the shop than inside. “All the time we are watching the cars and those that park next to us in the street.” He thinks about the people that die around him with every explosion. He remembers his mother, who has become constantly worried, so much so that he started fearing for her. He is worried about everyone he knows and about those who gather near every explosion and who might get hit by a second blast.

Fear has taken hold of Abbas Hussein, an employee of Jawad, a restaurant in Haret Hreik. He, in turn, is afraid for his mother and his family because they are so worried about him. Abbas was in the restaurant during the first explosion. He was lightly wounded. He picked himself up and rushed to help others. He forgot about calling his family till he saw his mother in front of him. She had rushed on foot from Bir al-Abed to Haret Hreik to make sure he was okay. When she saw him, she collapsed. For yesterday’s blast, Abbas remembered his mother. He called her before doing anything, then started helping the paramedics.

Today, Abbas’s program has changed. He starts his day by inspecting the fire extinguishers. They have refilled them for the second time. He makes sure that the water hoses are in good condition and ready. Then he helps keep an eye on the street.

Three months before the July 2006 aggression, Waad bought her apartment in the suburbs. The July aggression destroyed the entire street she lived on, including her apartment. She rebuilt her house and returned to the heart of the suburbs “where life is, all life,” she said. Today she feels anguish but she has decided to resist in her own way. Yesterday, she visited the shops in Haret Hreik. She moved from one store to another and picked up a violet dress. She paid for it and put it on. She put the black dress she was wearing in her handbag. “Death is the same everywhere,” she said. “Everybody dies when they are supposed to.” She asserted that she will not let the killers harm her spirits before they get to her.

In the suburbs, everyone is resisting in their own way. Apartment residents who quickly fix their damaged homes are resisting. The vegetable vendor who went to the wholesale market in the morning and returned with fresh goods to his shop in the heart of the blast area is resisting. The owner of the supermarket that opened its doors to distribute water and coffee to the municipal workers and volunteers is doing his part to make life go on. Resistance is not only in “fighting Israel. Resistance is an act of life. And we will live in the suburbs, the mother of life,” said Waad yesterday as she was leaving the hairdresser after she had her hair fixed on that gloomy morning.

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