This kind of destruction is usually caused by a war or natural disaster. But this was Beirut this morning: no air strikes, no foreign army invasion, no earthquake. These homes were destroyed by the Lebanese government, the Lebanese police and billionaire families they work for.
The homes and small cafes that were leveled belong to some of the city’s poorest residents who have lived off the land for generations, fishing from the last natural shore in Beirut. But the Lebanese government, which is run by millionaires and billionaires has decided this land should be used for a luxury private development. Celebrity architect Rem Koolhaas has been asked to come up with a design.
“They didn’t give us any warning,” says boat-maker Bassam Chehab (above).
Chehab has been making boats since 1979 and claims to have built most of the fisherman’s boats along the coast of Beirut — “From Ain El Mrasye to Ouzai”. Now many of those are buried under the rubble:
Chehab says he spent several years as a prisoner of the regime in Syria–in a notorious jail in the Tadmur desert– but never expected to be treated this way by his own government.
He says he is not a squatter but a law-abiding citizen who obtained permits for his shack from successive governments. Chehab is eager to show off a government installed electricity meter and pole as evidence.
“The worst thing I ever did was get a parking ticket and I paid for it,” he says. Lebanese politicians could hardly claim as much. They have manipulated laws to allow for major construction in once protected seafront areas such as Dalieh, creating legislation that decreases public access to the shore and increases the value of properties they already own. Lebanese politicians have even built massive illegal private resorts up and down the coast, as an Al Jazeera documentary recently revealed. Yet the bulldozers never come for their properties.
“They are worse than the Israelis” exclaimed fisherman Mohammed Itani, (below) as he dug through the rubble for personal belongings.
“At least the Israelis give you warning before they destroy your house.”
Born and raised on the Dalieh coast, Itani said he lost thousands of dollars in fishing and scuba equipment–a massive blow for a community that barely even has plumbing.
Itani says the police came in the darkness with no warning, just before dawn–they forced the men to kneel “like the Israelis do to Palestinians”. Others said they were beaten, some put in a police van, while the destruction went on.
This afternoon, some tried to salvage a few items.
But others wondered what they would do next. Ali Itani and his family (below) claim to have lived off this land for over a century, fishing in its natural lagoons and farming on its grassy hills. Where will they go next and how will they earn a living?
You can see more pictures of the devastation here, including how the government bulldozed pieces of their homes straight into the sea:
Clarification: I interviewed at least five other fishermen and all confirmed that there was no warning for this demolition. They did however say that police had warned them a few days ago about one small shack built near the sea–which some say had been there for decades. But this doesn’t explain why the police would bulldoze all the other homes and cafes. Activists are trying to get in touch with Beirut governor to find out exactly what orders were issued. I will update this post if I get any details from them or the police on whether any warnings were issued. Feel free to comment if you have any additional information.
For more on the campaign to save this place from private development, you can follow the efforts and read the legal background at The Civil Campaign to Save Dalieh –also follow their Facebook page for updates.