His panicked father grabbed him and fled with his mother, who was just one year old. This was 46 years ago, the day that Lebanon’s civil war began. The frontline was his family’s Beirut apartment building.
Bahij Dagna, now 47, did the exact same thing last week. As gun battles raged outside for hours, he evacuated his wife and the two children. His mother and father, who were trapped on the lower floors, were saved by civil defense rescuers.
Dana stated, “History is repeating its self.”
The five-hour battle between two Shiite militias in Lebanon and gunmen who believed they were supporters of a Christian party lasted Thursday. It was at the border of Beirut’s Chiyah neighborhood and Ain el-Rumaneh neighborhood, the same frontline that divided the capital into warring parts during Lebanon’s dark civil war era.
The scenes of schoolchildren hiding under desks and gunmen on the streets triggered memories of the war. Seven people were killed in the battles. This also sparked sectarian passions that Lebanese had grown to ignore, but never dealt with.
The country of six million faces a crisis with a bankrupt government and hyperinflation.
As the political elite tried to stop the probe into the massive port blast last year, clashes broke out.
Despite repeated calls for calm, Shiite Hezbollah leaders and the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces rivals continued to rage despite these pleas. They used civil war jargon to talk about “frontlines” or “neighborhood defenses,” intensifying the feeling that the peace pact that had kept society at peace during the war is now over.
Camille Hobeika (51-year-old mechanic, Christian resident of Ain el-Rumaneh) said, “We made up and now they want us to pit ourselves against each other again.”
The sectarian-based warlords that fought the war have divided up political power since then, signing a pact with the government in 1989, and issuing amnesty to themselves. Although they were rivals, they shared an interest in maintaining the system. The system is rife by corruption and patronage, so they generally maintain a fragile peace.
Lebanese must deal with their legacy in a way that is respectful of their past. This was highlighted by the new fighting.
For those who witnessed the horrors of communal fighting between 1975-1990, the country is fated to this system. There are occasional acts of violence when the established political leadership attempts to rebalance the power balance.
Dana believes that the leaders use violence to their advantage. When in trouble, they create fear and encourage civil war. Each sect rallies around its chief, who is their only protection.
This is his view of how things work. He believes in the “zaim,” Arabic word for leader. His community receives jobs and services in exchange for his unquestioning loyalty.
“We are used it. Dana stated that we were raised in a war-like environment. We aren’t accepting war. But I accept my country and my cedar tree, as well as my family members and friends. “Where else can I find this?”
Many of the younger generation refuse to be used by the political elite. They protested with rallies across the country in 2019, but it was not enough to shake the foundations.
Vanda, Dana’s 22 year-old daughter and a student at university, sees no benefit from her father’s leadership and there is no reason to stay in Lebanon.
Over 70% of the country’s middle-income status has been lost in the past three years. Many skilled workers have also left Lebanon. The printing business her father started 25 years ago has been destroyed and the family’s money is now locked away in the bank.
Her bedroom windows are now strewn with bullets.
“We only learned and attended the top universities, only for this to be our experience!” Why? Why am I scared when the door opens? Why must I run to my dad crying every time there is a sound? She sobbed, saying that she didn’t want to live like this.
“My parents still believe in hope,” Dana said. The younger Dana stated that there was nothing left. “Why should I plan my family here and have them go through this?” It will be the same in 10 or 20 years. It will continue to be this way forever.”
Many people hope that next spring’s elections will be able to break the grip of the leadership. However, Lebanon’s politics tend to be sectarian. The majority of the party’s supporters come from the same sect and electoral districts are gerrymandered according to sectarian lines.
Many residents have not returned home in the days following the violence. The streets are lined with apartment buildings that have been ravaged by bullets.
Barbed wire and army vehicles separate the predominantly Christian Ain el-Rumaneh from the mainly Shiite Muslim Chiyah. This brings back the image of a West Beirut or an East Beirut that Lebanese have avoided since the war.
The neighborhood of Chiyah is currently in mourning. All of those who were killed were Shiite supporters of Amal and Hezbollah. Between buildings hang posters for a mother of five who was killed by flying bullets from her balcony.
Ali Haidar (23-year-old Chiyah resident) stated that “Hezbollah was always targeted.”
Each sect brings out its own sectarian violence.
Haidar stated that Hezbollah had defended Lebanon against Israel’s terrorism and was met with hostility by internal foes such as the Lebanese Forces. He said that life was “normal” in his neighbor’s neighborhood when Israel bombed them and other Hezbollah locations in 2006.
Sami Nakkad, an electronics store owner in Ain el-Rumaneh blamed Thursday’s violence on the Shiites. His apartment was above the store when bullets from Chiyah struck. He demanded that Ain el-Rumaneh residents carry only sticks when they were defending their territory.
Nakkad was asked how he explained the deaths of the other side. He said that they killed themselves because it is easier to manipulate things.
Nakkad, in his 70s and hiding with his wife, for hours in a staircase during Thursday’s gunbattles.
Shadi Nicola (45 years old), left the scene when bullets began to fly and was not involved in the fight. The clashes were called “theatrics” because leaders are losing their popularity in a severe economic crisis.
“Elections will bring them home. Those people… were born through blood. He said, “They will only go with blood.”
Elie, a 28 year-old trainer, has been sleeping at his friends’ houses away from the area since the clashes. He is ready to leave Lebanon and has an interview for a job overseas.
He said, “This (fighting), is not our decision.” The country is in trouble and leaders are not making even 1% of the effort to fix it. They are pushing us further.”