On Arriving Late
Date: 
August 3, 2021
blog Series: 
Commemorating the Beirut Port Explosion

It was rare for me to arrive late to the studio that I work at. During my 12-year reign in a career in television, I have never arrived late to the studio. But this time, I think I was lucky to arrive late. I might have saved myself from an embarrassing situation while live on television.

On August 4th of last year, I got ready in a hurry and entered the studio five minutes late. We were preparing on hosting two guests on the daily political show “Hadath wa Ab’ad” (an event and its dimensions) which was usually broadcasted at 6pm. Our first guest was joining from Gaza via a satellite call while the other was joining from the West Bank via Skype. While we were doing the sound checks before going live, we felt the ground shaking beneath us in the studio. I looked at the ceiling and saw the projectors shaking as well. The first thing that jumped into my mind at that moment was that Israel was launching an attack on Lebanon, and that our TV channel “Palestine Today” was located near the target. Moments later, I heard the producer shouting in my earpiece saying that we have to evacuate the building. I ran to the door.

In that moment, we didn’t know what was happening. From where I was standing, at Bir Hassan where the TV channel headquarters was located, five kilometers south from the port of Beirut, I could see black clouds filling the sky. We assumed that an important figure had been targeted. I was concerned that if that was true, Lebanon would have fallen into a conflict. I lived through what happened during 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and the tensions that took place afterwards.

Gradually, the situation became clear. There was a huge explosion at the Port of Beirut. Again, I thought, Israel might have had a hand in sabotaging the port.

We were asked to return to work and were directed to begin covering the situation. The shocking pictures and videos began to arrive from the immediate neighborhood of the port. Deaths, injuries, and destruction. We heard news about overcrowding at nearby hospitals that were already suffering because of the pandemic.

An important question was asked: what was the cause for the explosion? Breaking news informed that a large shipment of ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port and exploded. I don’t claim knowledge on explosives, but, it was very obvious from the extent of the destruction that this material was severely flammable.

Messages began to flow through WhatsApp from relatives out of Lebanon asking about how I am doing. I couldn’t answer them because we had begun our live coverage of the event.

During such events, it is difficult to reach officials from the Red Cross or the government, so we had to rely on whatever information we received through other media outlets and reporters. The scenes we broadcasted that day showed devastating destruction that reminded me of what we saw during wars on Gaza. I lived through what happened in 2008, 2012, and 2014 in Gaza, and recently what happened during the battle of “Saif al-Quds” (Sword of Jerusalem). I lived through the scenes of victims collapsing and martyrs laid to rest. Stories that broke our hearts from what the Israeli army was doing to the Palestinian people.

It appears that disasters unite us. The Palestinian civil defense brigade in the refugee camps responded to this humanitarian crisis despite their limited resources. They rapidly arrived at the area helping injured and transporting to the hospitals. Lebanese media outlets praised their efforts. Also, Palestinian youths launched community efforts helping to clean neighborhoods and provided humanitarian services for families in devastated areas.

The dust settled and government officials said they will investigate the disaster, promising to find the culprit in five days. Here I am, a year later, recording my testimony, and the truth has not yet been found. For years, Lebanon suffered because of corruption and negligence from the government. No one has ever thought that the level of disregard for human live would reach a point of neglecting a shipment of enough to neglect a shipment of highly explosive material stored in the heart of Beirut for years. Questions arose about who imported this material and who was going to benefit from it, but in conclusion, all that happened was officials throwing blame on each other.

About The Author: 

Ahmad Al-Sibahi is a Palestinian journalist and writer.

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