Beirut, Lebanon – Over the past month, Israeli jets have carried out some of their largest airstrikes in Syria, apparently hitting Iranian targets. Perhaps it was the Lebanese next door, however, who was shaking more and more frightened. Some took cover under a table or a sink, others hid in their cars.
The roar of low-flying jets coming from the Mediterranean over Beirut is particularly tormenting for those who suffered the port explosion on August 4 which left nearly 200 dead, thousands injured and hundreds of thousands homeless.
Rana al-Dirani’s 10-year-old son shivers whenever he hears an Israeli plane and wraps it in his arms.
“He asks me, ‘What is it, Mom – another explosion or is Israel bombing us?’ He’s scared and so am I, but I have to be strong in front of him, ”said Rana. “I mean what do the Israelis want from us? Are we not suffering enough?
Rana’s life has not escaped one of the many crises in her country.
She is a co-owner of an Arabic language school which has become financially inoperative due to the collapse of the economy last year and the devaluation of the local currency by more than 80%.
Then came the explosion. His school was barely 200 meters from the port and was fatally damaged by the explosion. Now she and her children are infected with the coronavirus. On top of all this, Israel’s planes arouse memories of the explosion and terrify its children.
Israeli jets were also heard in Beirut days before the explosion, leading many to initially suspect that the country, which is still technically at war with Lebanon and has a deadly enemy in Hezbollah, was at the origin of the explosion.
“I was so sure the blast sounds before the port were jets, so now when I hear that sound, I’m rationalizing that this time it’s really jets,” said Niamh, who runs Aaliyah’s Books , a cafe in Gemmeyzye, which was among the areas most affected by the explosion.
“When I’m alone, especially if the sound is particularly loud, I decide to err on the safe side and stand under a sink or a table, feeling irrational, but also calmer.
‘State of panic’
Rudeynah Baalbaky was celebrating with his friends on Christmas Eve in Dahiye, a southern Beirut suburb and stronghold of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed political party and the militia in Lebanon.
When she heard the jets flying in the sky to bomb Masyaf, a town in northwestern Syria that is home to a military academy and a scientific research center, she thought the bombs were meant for Hezbollah.
“I felt the raid [on Lebanon] was very imminent, very near. I hid in the car at the time, ”Rudeynah said. “I have spent the last few days in a state of panic, very worried about finding medicine for my mother and father.”
Planes reminded her of the port explosion, but also took her back in time to 2006 when she was a teenager. She lived with her family in the western Bekaa Valley, in a village which witnessed heavy shelling by Israel. She said her entire family had been struggling with severe post-traumatic stress disorder ever since.
“I have no illusions about the sovereignty of Lebanon and I am not surprised by Israel’s criminality and its violation of international law,” Rudeynah added.
Israel has been invading Lebanese airspace for more than 10 years. But as former US President Donald Trump lost the election in November and new President Joe Biden said he would join nuclear deal with Iran, Israel has stepped up bombing in Syria to inflict maximum damage on suspected Iranian shipments, which it says are aimed at strengthening Hezbollah.
Sami Nader, a Lebanese political analyst, said that if Israel can bomb these suspected shipments through Syrian airspace, it is easier to pass through Lebanon.
“Israel does not violate any bilateral agreement with a regional power if its planes invade Lebanese airspace, while in Syria it has an agreement with Russia and it is more complicated for them,” Nader said.
“On the one hand, Israel violates Lebanese sovereignty,” he added. “But on the other hand, Lebanon has not kept its international commitments either, because according to UN resolutions, Hezbollah is supposed to be disarmed but it really has its weapons.”
Scars may never heal
Not all Lebanese are lacking in Israel. Carmin, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing her political views could get her in trouble, was at her home, also in Gemmeyzye, when 2,750 tonnes of unsafe stored ammonium nitrate exploded in the port neighbor in August.
Her house shattered around her and shards of glass cut off her head. She was drenched in blood that day when Al Jazeera first met her.
Carmin is slowly renovating her apartment, but the scars the blast left on her psyche run deeper and may never heal if the Israelis continue to fly their jets over her head.
And yet she blames Hezbollah more for dragging Lebanon down the path of conflict rather than peace with its neighbor.
“So many countries have normalized relations,” she said of the agreements signed between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan and Bahrain in recent months. “But this group will not let Lebanon sign the peace.”
Gemmeyzye is a predominantly Christian neighborhood lined with restaurants and bars and most of its residents are Lebanese or Western-leaning expats. Neither group feels much support for Hezbollah, which describes itself as “resistance” to Israel. In fact, people here often speak of a rapprochement.
But a few miles away, in places like Dahiye, Israel is seen as an enemy, and even talking about peace is treated as betrayal.
Trump’s exit from the White House has rolled back fears of all-out war. He supported Israel more than any American president before him, and supported Israeli assaults on Iranian proxies with their own military and diplomatic might. Biden, however, is expected to try to ease tensions, including joining the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
But no one in Lebanon imagines that Israel will stop flying its planes over their skies anytime soon.