August 4: “We’ll Never Forget”

Shattered glass filled the streets, the buildings stained with blood. The roads lost their forms, and the silence of pain and suffering filled the neighbourhoods of the city. The people stood still; out of shock, out of confusion, out of despair. It was dusk, and the smell of death filled the atmosphere. Time had stopped at 6:07 pm, and a shiver of coldness touched us all. 

The cries of children that lost their mothers and fathers, the screams of the scared, and the mourning and grieving of the parents who lost their children reached the heavenly skies. It was the day that destroyed Beirut, the hour that killed its people, the minute that rendered all dreams and plans out of reach. Lebanon went from ”The Switzerland of the Middle East”, to a modern-day dystopia. It was the day that attracted national and international news, aligning them under one heading: “The third biggest explosion in the world”.

The Beirut Blast has been, is still, and will always be a nightmare that no one can get rid of. It was the incident that burned down all of our memories to ashes and dust. Well, you may ask what happened. The answer is simple: improperly stored ammonium nitrate at the port of Beirut exploded on August 4, 2020, killing more than 218 people and wounding around 7,000, while leaving the entirety of the Lebanese capital in ruins. The explosion affected 163 schools, both public and private, and rendered half of Beirut’s healthcare centres out of use, and it impacted 56 per cent of the private businesses in Beirut. 80,000 children were left without a home. Indeed, it was a crime against humanity.

However, we refused death! We refused this reality! Indeed, the phoenix had risen from beneath the rusty ruins that were coated with ashes and blood. Phoenix? Yes, Beirut is a phoenix; it has been destroyed and rebuilt more than seven times throughout history. The spirit of the people has begun to revive Beirut once again. The mothers who lost their children, the widows, the orphans, the injured, the scared, the youth, and the elderly; all helping one another.  

People showed proactive support for one another among the dark times. The hands that rebuilt the homes, the students that reconstructed their schools, the youth that cleaned the streets, and the expatriates that embraced any possible initiative that might repair Beirut, were the rays of hope that lit the darkness we were living in! Over the course of days and weeks, sleep was a word we didn’t believe in anymore. Over the course of months, Beirut was a beehive buzzing with active citizens never letting go of the fact that their capital needed them. 

The world has seen our pain, and they offered their hands to help restore at least some of the damages. Our friends in Rotaract Mediterranean were among them, immediately working together with Rotaract District 2452, calling out to everyone within reach.

Together, with the leadership of the Med Team, our Rotaractor and Rotarian friends have raised more than twenty-five thousand euros, to provide at least the urgent needs, yet wishing that all this darkness has never surrounded us, their friends whom they consider as a family at this point. 

Now, 2 years have passed.

It’s true that we didn’t give up, but deep inside? We’re still disoriented. The streets of Beirut were reconstructed, but all we see are the images of the people whose lives have been taken away. What did they do? Why were they killed in this way? The Lebanese deserve an answer. We miss our old Beirut! And we ask ourselves daily perhaps, will this city be our beloved one again? We are still in doubt about that. Something enormous was broken between us and Beirut.

For some, there is residual trauma that they will never part with. The ‘boom’ of the explosion still rings in their ears; they flinch whenever a door closes. For others, passing by the remaining silos at the port still leaves goosebumps. We drive by them without giving them any attention as if to show that the remaining scar has healed (while deep down, knowing that it hasn’t).

What makes it harder to survive our trauma is that the truth is still hidden out there somewhere. The ones who murdered Beirut and killed people in their houses are still outside the prison. The Lebanese investigation into the blast has faced systematic political obstruction since day one. From internal political party struggles to international affiliation in trials aiming to frame at least some of those who are at fault; our efforts have been hampered.

Adding on to that, the citizens are too caught up in trying to survive their daily life to think about getting justice. With the economic crises we have been passing through, citizens struggle to buy bread and find medicine for those in need. On average, the country only has three hours of government electricity a day, with water shortages as well as gas shortages. Believe it, despite all of our shared pain, corruption is unfortunately still everywhere to obliterate the truth and protect the murders, smudging the work of the pure-hearted.

We love Beirut, and we despise the trauma it caused us. Even though things have pretty much gone back to normal, there is always going to be a gap. That gap can be filled with the truth. The truth behind what really happened on that fateful day. The truth behind what could have prevented it. The comfort of knowing that those who caused it no longer have authority. Surely, the truth will not rebuild Beirut, but it will definitely heal it.

The years will pass, and the anniversaries of the Beirut port blast will add and gather, and we will wait on the verdict. We will wait for justice. Let the whole universe hear this: “We deserve to know the truth”.

by Anhal Kozhaya – Fouad Bou Ghader – Maya Alawar

Edited by Melis Leyal Gürel

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