I did not hear the sound of the explosion at the Port of Beirut, yet, it still haunts me. I was in the newsroom when the incident took place. “A massive explosion shakes the Lebanese capital,” we began guessing the name of the targeted figure. Little did we know that this incident was unlike any other that we have ever witnessed.
The first images of the scene were shocking, I thought that the city had become something of the past. I was covering the news of the explosion from behind the scenes in London. I tried checking up on my family, but there was no signal. I recall that I cursed the internet, the transmitters, distance, and London and Beirut. After almost half an hour, my mother finally picked up: “Your sister is one of the missing persons.” She choked her words out. “She was at Em Nazih café, do you know it?”
Of course, I know it. I know it by heart. At the same time, images of Gemmayze street began to air, the street where the café is located. Its features were unrecognizable. I couldn’t point out where was what. Destruction had befallen everything. People were running in the streets, crying and screaming hysterically. What happened to Beirut?
We had to wait another hour for an update about my little sister and aunt who were both transported to the hospital. They were in a stable state. The little one survived, but the city did not. A friend told me that the night of the explosion was harsher than all the wars that Beirut had previously encountered.
This took me back in memory to the Grapes of Wrath Operation. I remember my grandmother, may her soul rest in peace, who survived the Israeli bombings, returning from her targeted land in the South of Lebanon after surviving Israeli airstrikes and repeating “Allah Akbar, God is greater than you, Israel.” If she was alive today, what would she possibly say? I couldn’t, not for a minute, believe that Israel was not somehow responsible for what had happened. What could have possibly altered the balance of power for this to happen to us, perpetrated by our own?!
Today, I walk alongside the Beirut seashore. A year has passed since the grand crime, but the smell of death still lingers in the city. I still imagine that there are still people trapped in the exploded port. Everything in Beirut is at risk of vanishing, shops have closed, streets have become featureless, the scent of jasmine was replaced by the smell of rotten trash, there are endless long car queues at the gas station every morning, a young man runs from a pharmacy to pharmacy looking for missing medication, and a heartbroken mother saying goodbye to her son who, like his friends, decided to leave the city once and for all.
A completely different image you also see in Beriut today is of an Arab tourist, unaffected by the rate of the dollar, he enjoys the blessings of Beirut and the mountains of Lebanon as if nothing had happened. To him, it is the Beirut of the good old days. In the tourist season, prices become unreasonably high, Beirut becomes a city that belongs to the elite who use foreign currency. And of course, these tourists never forget to take pictures with the rubble of the destroyed port. They have visited a city that is burning and dancing, saddened in one eye, laughing in the other.
I return in the evening to my small camp, finding it weeping the big city. Now, it is densely populated with more refugees. The constant power cuts make it more bleak and sorrowful. It never gets a share of the tourist season. It only shares the city’s misery and heartbreak. Who of us doesn’t love Beirut? I remember loving it so much that I compared it to the “Isles of the Blessed” that Socrates wanted to escape to from this troubling world. Beirut makes you drunk with happiness, then, it squeezes you and throws you away.