By: Mahmoud Al-Adawi

Witnessing the bombing of the neighbouring suburb, Mahmoud Al-Adawi explains the trauma that the post-civil war generation is experiencing and asks why people refuse to leave.

In the camp we have had a relatively calm night. I stayed up a little bit late because I was watching Nasrallah’s interview on Al-Jazeera, which ended at around 2 am. He essentially said that the only option left for the Israelis is a ground invasion. Since Safaa came with her family, I am sleeping in my cousin’s empty house, as he and his family moved down to the ground floor with the rest of his family. That’s the case in almost in all the homes – everyone is sleeping on the ground floors. My mother and sisters, as well as all the kids from upstairs sleep in our living room. In these kinds of situations, spaces seem to acquire a greater capacity than would seem possible; it defies all laws of space. The days since this military operations started have been heavy and long. There is nothing new in this for the older generations who went through calamities and many wars before, but it’s something completely different for the post-war generation – it’s hard for them to grasp and they are already traumatised. The F-16s that are bombing the neighbourhood of Haret Hreik as well as other areas close to the camp are using huge bombs, and most of them fall no more than 200 meters away. This has taken its toll on this new generation – the first signs of trauma have been etched into the record of their lives and memories. Something that they had previously heard only in stories, they are now living. Their reaction has been fear and an endless stream of questions starting with, ‘When will this end?’, ‘Will they bomb us too?’, ‘Why are they doing this?’ And you have to try and answer their questions, even if only to calm them down. In the now lifeless and silent southern suburbs of Beirut, the only remaining sign of life is Bourj Al-Barajneh. There is no sign of life beyond the edges of the camp. People gather within its boundaries, following the news, chatting, discussing and analysing. “During a blackout, men and women sit in front of their homes while the kids play around, before all of this is interrupted by a new air raid, accompanied by deafening sounds of explosions followed by the pressure shockwaves that makes the maze of homes here shake and tremble, drawing portraits of horror on faces, triggering panic among kids, and calling for an endless effort by parents to calm them down and keep them physically close and busy with something to play with. When the bombing starts, those people who can bear the scene just stand silently like statues and watch the huge bombs falls on ill-fated neighbourhoods. The nature of the camp community is that people are highly attached to each other – the evacuation of one family would trigger evacuations by neighbours and inevitably create a sense of anxiety and panic. This happened a few days ago, when there was extremely heavy bombing that lasted for almost the entire day. A woman living with her kids close to our neighbourhood came to my cousin’s shop to buy supplies as she always does. The moment she reached the door and saw us all in the small yard, she started to cry, saying, ‘You are still here! I thought you all left, my neighbours left me alone, please tell me if you want to leave, take me with you.’ We calmed her down and assured her we would not leave her, and invited her to stay with the women so as not to feel lonely. For the time being, those who can afford to rent an apartment or who have relatives outside the camp have left. But until now, the majority of the camp is still here according to yesterday’s census made by the volunteers. Some of the families who left a few days ago have returned, saying that they had the feeling that they were becoming refugees a second time at some school or shelter, or in someone else’s small home. It was humiliating and unbearable.

Why are people staying?

It’s something in the sub-consciousness and memories of people who have been made refugees again and again. It’s a simple choice between having to leave and wander aimlessly around to a place that may be more secure, yes, but that would cause more suffering in every other respect, and between staying in this horrible situation where bombs are falling all around us. It seems that at this moment, the second option is winning. There is no need to talk about courage and such things as the reason for why people are staying — we know already that there is no courage that can defy an F-16 – the God of our skies these days. Working is a good thing to do in such days and I’m lucky – it’s the one thing that no one from the camp is able to do these days – to leave the waiting prison of the camp. It’s such a weird feeling to go to work along deserted roads that only a few days ago were the busiest and most crowded in the city. I walk and the only thing I can here is my heartbeat, the birds and my footsteps on the splintered glass, sand and small concrete debris covering the asphalt, as if expelled by some volcanic eruption. On the way, you see a few cars speeding by like bullets and some people walking, surely out of necessity. The cars parked along the way look like they exploded, shops and apartments are gutted. No door or window is in its original place due to the pressure caused by the shockwaves of the huge bombs. Coming back from work finds me engulfed in a flurry of questions from the kids who are seeking some sort of answer to what has happened and what may come. Maybe it brings them some feeling of calmness inside to do so.

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