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Beirut – a very personal response

My dear friends

So many of you have been reaching out in the hours and days following the tragedy in Beirut, asking about us, about what happened, and about how you can help.

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond to all of you. Here is my response now.

Before anything else, we wanted to thank you from the bottom of our hearts; I cannot begin to express what it means to have your support, prayers and offers for help. You have brought me to tears of gratitude and hope.

What can you do to help?

There is a lot you can do, and I thank you in advance for anything you can do.

Firstly, donations. As you know, we were already in the midst of a huge currency crisis and capital controls, meaning that we cannot spend abroad. As a result, our NGOs and Red Cross can’t use our donations in Lebanon to purchase imported supplies – only donations from abroad can help with that. We import 80%+ of our food, almost all of our medical supplies, much of our building material and more. The most vulnerable in Beirut, already on their kneed before this catastrophe due to the theft and corruption of our political elite, will not be able to rebuild their lives without your help.

I suggest you donate to:

  1. The Lebanese Red Cross (first aid and ambulances) https://supportlrc.app/donate/
  2. The Lebanese Food Bank (providing food for Lebanese all over the country) https://donate.lebanesefoodbank.org
  3. Impact Lebanon (I do not know them directly but have heard good things from friends) – https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/lebanon-relief?utm_term=jE4Nkrgvz

Every. single. cent. helps.

Secondly, talk to your elected representatives, send a tweet or Facebook

message to your leader, and ask them to help us, on your behalf, to get rid of our President, PM, Cabinet, Speaker of the House, Parliament and Civil Service Directors as a priority. Tell them that all aid given must flow through NGOs and/or UN agencies and other IOs, otherwise it will get stolen.

Believe me: even in the face of this strategy, they will use this money to buy a new Mercedes each.

Let your leaders know that you care about us, that you believe in the vision of a free Lebanon, haven of peace for a stricken region. Tell them it can be, and that it’s not merely a dream.

Send your leader(s) this on social media and ask your friends to do the same:

Please help #Lebanon by ensuring that aid goes directly to the people, bypasses their Government which does not represent them and which led them to this #Beirut_Explosions #thawra #freelebanon

If you are a catholic, talk to your diocese and tweet the Pope: @Pontifex your church us keeping the corrupt president of Lebanon in power and is responsible for the #beirut_explosion – withdraw your support, lead as you have done elsewhere #ActionNotPrayers

The reason for the Pope specifically is that the Vatican’s support of our president helps keep him in power, and the president in turn is providing cover for Hezbollah; he is their puppet; they are among the culprits, and there are others, but they are key pillars to what let us here. Our blood is on their hands.

Most effective at this time is to reach out to leaders in France (Macron), the UK (Boris Johnson) and usually the USA, but in that case I’d reach out to Joe Biden, maybe more effective.

What Happened?

I cannot possibly put this into words in a way that can do justice to the pain and suffering I have witnessed…

It seems that a store of 2750 Tonnes of ammonium nitrate was ignited at Warehouse 12 of Beirut Port by a separate, neighboring fire (at warehouse 9 according to some reports) whose origin is unclear (more on whether it was an attack or an accident below).

Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertilizer and to make bombs. By and large, it is inert until ignited, or so I am reading online (I almost failed high-school chemistry).

The ensuing blast ripped through Beirut and its suburbs, killing too many (over 150 at this time, but from what I saw this will climb), seriously injuring thousands (most of my friends did not report their injuries because they knew many more serious ones needed the medical care). So the injuries were in the tens of thousands. There was a giant shockwave, a huge mushroom cloud, and what followed was a scene I’ve only ever seen when aliens attack New York on The Avengers.

See attached video from an unknown person sent on social media; I can only pray they survived.

The Oklahoma bombing contained 3 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate. This was 2,750 tonnes, so 900 times more powerful.

I have no idea if it is accurate, but I have received various posts indicating that this is the largest explosion in a civilian area since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

More on the background later. The Aftermath

I drove straight to Beirut when I found out what had happened, to join my sister at the hospital. It was difficult to get there, as so many people were doing the same. We did our best to make a path for emergency vehicles coming from all over Lebanon to help.

Driving through the streets of Beirut was like driving through a war-zone. There was shattered glass everywhere, entire walls, window units and more blown out of homes. Injured people everywhere. Blood trails everywhere. By the time I arrived (the 40 minute road took me more than 2 hours) the most critically injured and the dead were already gone, thank God.

Close friends have suffered tragedies beyond words, and everyone I know who lives in Beirut, and I really mean everyone, have seen their homes destroyed, most of them beyond use.

In our own family, we were luckier than most. My sister Chadia was home with her family in Beirut when it happened. They were all thrown across their rooms and covered in rubble, but only suffered scratches and bruises except for my her husband Anthony, who was hit by two windows and part of a wall. You can read her story in the attached screenshots from BBC. He suffered a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage, but we are grateful and blessed that she was able to get him to hospital where he was diagnosed and operated on the same day. He is now recovering in hospital and will be fine. Countless others were not so lucky.

My younger sister was sitting with her daughter 50cm from her large bay windows; thankfully they had their windows open as they don’t like A/C, and as a result the shockwave went into the house damaging ceilings, breaking down doors and smashing one window; but they were physically unscathed because their window was open, which is a miracle.

Thankfully the rest of the family happened to be outside Beirut, and my parents live in Bikfaya, 30 minutes from Beirut (their house shook but thankfully there was no damage).

It is only by luck, Karma or divine intervention, believe what you will, that I did not lose half of my family last Tuesday.

Friends from all over Beirut have horror stories of being flung across their homes, massive debris flying at them, and some are enduring tragic human losses. Some of my closest friends had to run to hospital, sometimes barefoot on broken glass, their bloodied children in their arms, their own limbs broken, but running nonetheless to save their kids.

Some friends have lost relatives, parents, uncles, cousins or children. Innocent children… and for what grand cause?

No one in Beirut knew what was happening. Those of us who were far away and able to process had no way of reaching them, as lines were down, or phones blown out of hands, buried in debris… they had to do what they could.

Many tried to get to St George Hospital, not realizing that it was devastated by the explosion and was dealing with its own crisis, trying to save their existing patients.

So many were saved by Good Samaritans, passers-by who sped these bloodied people over debris to the nearest hospital. This was the case of

my sister Chadia, who was only able to save her husband thanks to a woman she doesn’t know, who took them to the American Hospital in her car.

I myself am very lucky. We were not at home in Beirut when it happened, because we are among the lucky few to have a family home in the Mountains, 45km drive away from Beirut (30km as the crow flies), and we happened to be driving there when it happened. It is also where we are now living, as we lost our home.

I was in the car at the time and didn’t realize what happened, but Reem, who was at a neighbor’s house, felt the house shake and heard the windows rattle – 30km away…

Had we been home, our story would have been as tragic as that of most other Beirutis: I attach footage of our home on the night of the explosion. We would have been on that couch, on the bed, or at my desk (not shown, and not visible, crushed under rubble). Our house was far from the front line of the blast (1.5km away); between us and the blast, there is a residential area for at least ⅔ of that distance between the blast and us, and I assure you that there are many, many people in a much worse place than us.

So many people are mourning the loss of loved ones, people who died instantly in the blast, people who died later in hospital. We are all traumatized in ways I cannot describe. I think I am numbed… walking around most of the time trying to do what I can to help and support loved ones fighting against personal tragedy, but every so often cracking and breaking into tears.

I tried to respond to all of you as much as I could, and in most cases I would start a voice note and choke up, collect myself and try again. It’s the quiet times that are the worst… when you get home from the hospitals, and it’s you and your thoughts.

Believe me when I tell you that I am blessed in comparison to most other Beirutis, so please try to imagine what they have been made to suffer.

How Could This Happen?

At this point you must be asking the question we all are: “what the actual fuck were 2750 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate doing so close to a residential area and how could it blow up like this?”

It seems the ammonium nitrate was confiscated off a Russian ship in 2014, and stored at the port. Why was it kept there, why for so long, and why, despite warnings, did successive Governments and courts do nothing about it?

Most people I spoke to, family and friends included, reported that there were two smaller explosions (some heard one), then they saw a huge fire and plume of smoke at the port, then there was the major blast. Sadly, many people were at their windows watching or filming the fire when the second blast hit, making them more vulnerable.

Some Government officials stated that a “fireworks factory” was the cause of the initial fire. However others, including an Army General, stated that this theory is childish and absurd.

Many of my friends and family report hearing low-flying planes before the blast. There have been daily overflights of Lebanon by the Israeli Air Force, as well as constant drone overflights as they search for Hezbollah weapons and operatives; needless to say, we know what military jets sound like. This is illegal, of course, but the International community doesn’t care.

One friend saved many lives in her home because, on hearing the planes, she yelled at her family and friends to step away from the windows.

Another important thing to note is that the Beirut port is under the control of Amal and Hezbollah, allied political parties known for having weapons, militias and, in the case of Hezbollah, a full-on guerrilla army with rockets etc.

Hezbollah use the port as a means of trafficking drugs, laundering money and importing weapons. Amal uses it to make illegal money. They also take a Bribe on every single container coming into the country – if you’re an importer, you can’t take possession of your container before paying the bribe. Every. single. container.

Two people who have sources in the army and in former governments have informed me that Warehouse 12 was in the zone under the most direct Hezbollah control, and that security forces were not allowed in this zone.

One thing is clear then and cannot be denied: Hezbollah controls the port, and is responsible for what is stored there.

One theory circulating is that Hezbollah orchestrated keeping the chemical with a view of using it as a weapon.

So it is possible that Israel believed there to be Hezbollah weapons at Warehouse 9, decided to strike, and the ensuing fire led to the Ammonium Nitrate in warehouse 12 igniting.

This is a scenario that everyone involved would of course deny, given the ensuing hell: Israel would deny it because it is in effect a crime against humanity; the Lebanese Government would deny it because they would not want to admit that Hezbollah traded and hid weapons (and drugs) right under their noses and ran the port like a mafia; and Hezbollah would deny it because they are already hated by much of the population, especially in the areas affected by the blast, and being the cause of this would break them irreversibly in Lebanon.

I can’t comment on any of the above, as I don’t have proof of any facts.

I have no idea if there was an Israeli strike, and though Israel has shown little regard for Lebanese civilians in the past, I cannot imagine that they would have known of the ammonium nitrate if it was indeed an Israeli strike that started the fire. In that scenario, I can believe that they would have been tipped off about a major weapon shipment which they attacked (that raises a whole lot of questions of legality with arguments on both sides, but now is not the time).

This would explain the sound of planes, and the first two explosions (missiles) and ensuing fire. That fire would have led to the final, massive and most deadly explosion.

Enough time between the start of the fire and the final explosion went by for a team of heroic firefighters to make it to the scene and start fighting the fire. This is also why so many people were at their windows filming, because they heard the blasts, saw the fire, and were watching the catastrophe unfold, not realizing that the worst was still to come.

My sister’s next-door neighbour was filming at his window and posted his video online, seconds before dying in the blast.

All I can say for sure is that in ANY scenario, there is a clear primary culprit here, though they may not be alone: the entire political elite must resign as a first step, held by the military under arrest (we are in an official state of emergency and our military is now on the ground), and face the consequences of their actions as a second step. It is because of their irrepressible thirst for money and power that our country got to the state it is in.

Each and every single one of them – Hariri, Hezbollah, Amal, Jumblat, Berri, Geagea, Aoun, Mikati, Bassil, Sanioura, Diab, Murr and more, and everyone related to them in politics and business – has OUR blood on THEIR hands. Their corruption, their incompetence, has led to these deadly chemicals being so close to our homes. Very few politicians and senior officials are not guilty of this crime, this mass-murder.

Let us not forget that, before all of this, we had been stewing in our own trash, inhaling our own shit, living through 21 hour/day power cuts, living in one of the world’s most polluted cities, and suffering the worst economic crisis our country has EVER seen, all of this prior to Covid-19 hitting us and doing to us what it did to the rest of the world, except that we were already on the floor when it struck.

What did our great leaders do to fix this? They have spent the last 9 months bickering about how to profit from the situation, and not a single reform has been enacted. Can you imagine? Nothing!

And make no mistake: they are all working together. There are reports of companies in which sworn enemies are shareholders, and of backroom deals among them, while they pit their partisans against one another. I am willing to bet that there is a terrorist or financial gain to the storage of the ammonium nitrate being kept at the port.

These people presided over the destruction of law and order and the rise of impunity, which trickled down and affected every single citizen. They sold us to the highest bidder.

At best, they are incompetent fools who were unable to achieve ANY progress in more than 30 years uncontested in power.

But make no mistake that it is much worse: they are murderers, criminals. This explosion was their latest crime, and if we leave them in place, it is not their last. As I write, they are covering their tracks.

They are no better than worms in an apple, hyenas gnawing away at the corpse, unable to see that they are killing their own source of food. Except that this is an insult worms and hyenas.

I have only one dream, which is to see them tried and hanged for what they did to us. I will be in the front row to see it happen. It is the only way to pay for these crimes.

But there is a second culprit at least. This second culprit is me. I am guilty of sitting in silence since I came back to Lebanon, of thinking that doing my work, being honest, supporting Lebanon’s economy with my honest day’s work was enough.

It isn’t.

When you see your country circling the drain while the culprits sip Champagne, you don’t continue business as usual. You drop everything and dedicate your life to saving it.

In October last year, when our economy finally collapsed under the weight of corruption, graft, incompetence and Ponzi schemes, we were all on the streets chanting “kellon yaaneh kellon”, which means “all of them means all of them”. What this means is that the entire political elite must go, and is a repudiation of the past where most people were blindly following their own leader, and asking for all the others to go, but not their own.

However, what we should have been chanting is “kellon yaaneh kellnA” – all them means all of US. We must also change our ways, we must grow empathy and no longer accept that if we are able to live a normal life while the rest of our country is barely able to put food not he table, things are not OK. When any person in Lebanon whispers “I can’t breathe” we must all rise up, whoever they are and whoever we are, because they are in Lebanon and suffering.

And to our religious leaders: the Patriarchs, the Muftis, the Sayyeds – butt out. Withdraw your support for all politicians, and from now on do what you are supposed to do: pray, and stay out of politics. We don’t want you in our public lives any more.

Lebanon will only every be able to function if we are able to come together as one nation of individuals who are Lebanese before they are anything else, who are free to live their lives as they wish so long as they are not preventing others from doing the same, all under a strong Government upholding the rule of law everywhere. Equality for all. Justice for all.

We have only one fight to fight: Lebanon’s fight.

The only way our country survives is if we make a clean sweep of everything: we cannot rebuild our lives and our homes if there are no solid foundations of justice, secular democracy and equality. This includes people paying for their crimes. If that is what comes of this tragedy, we will have honored those that we loved and that we lost.

I won’t stay another second in this country if I am not actively fighting for this.

To the crooked politicians:
I’m coming for you, at any cost, and I am not alone.

To support, to join or if you have ideas about what we can do, reach out. #ComingForYou #beirutexplosion #beirut_explosions

Ed. Since this was written, the Lebanese cabinet has resigned in the face of daily protests. Their health system is in tatters and cannot cope with the injured or the COVID pandemic. Also, the international community, led by France, has moved to assist.

Thanks to our valued partners and to all the Fellows who continue to contribute in many ways.

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