for articles in
Dahr Jamail is an independent
journalist stationed in Iraq. Mr. Jamail submits his work to
various publications around the world, and also has a web site at http://dahrjamailiraq.com
Dahr Jamail is currently on assignment in
Black Beaches in
the beginning of the war, Israeli air strikes target five of the six oil storage
tanks at the electrical plant in El-Jiye city. El-Jiya is a small coastal city
roughly 20 miles south of Beirut. The prevailing winds blow towards the north,
up the coast, so this translates into most of the coast of Lebanon north of that
city now being smeared with 50,000 tons of fuel oil.
Friday my photographer friend Raoul, a British photographer named Mark and I
headed up to the coastal city of Byblos to see how the fishermen there and local
tourist economy were holding up. I'd seen some of the footage of the oil choked
boat harbor in Byblos, and wanted to see it for myself.
a nice drive up the highway north to Byblos, (there is much more traffic on the
roads now that most of the air strikes have let up in the area north of Beirut),
we arrived to find the harbor nearly completely filled with
a disaster, this is heartbreaking," muttered Raoul while Mark and I stood by and
nodded our disgust.
is a seaside city whose economy is heavily reliant on fishing and tourism. The
city dates from the 5th millennium B.C. and it is believed that the linear
alphabet originated there.
spread out and took photos of the sludge filled harbor, an odd scene as the
setting was so beautiful. Date palm fronds ruffled in the sea breeze as they
stood amongst harbor-view restaurants with flags from various Arab countries
fluttering. The salty air from the sea would have been nice, if it wasn't for
the tinged oily residue smell that by the end of our visit left me with a
bottoms of most of the boats, at water line, looked like a bad graffiti artist
with too many cans of jet-black spray paint went on a rampage during the night.
Ropes which tied the boats to the dock lifted up and down as boats shifted in
the waves. As they stretched tight, rivulets of oil dripped from them back into
the oil-covered water. It was so thick it looked like you could walk on it to
pick up the garbage which was trapped in the oil.
about an hour we decided to take a lunch at one of the empty restaurants. While
the photographers carried on their work, I went to one of these and found three
men sitting at a table smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and staring at the
Lebanese government definitely does not have the capability to clean this us,"
Nabil Baz, the restaurant owner said to me after I introduced myself as a
journalist. After ordering me a coffee, he said, "I heard we were going to get
some help from Kuwait, but I don't know how true this is or when they might
start the cleanup process."
occasional local strolled by on the sidewalk beneath us; otherwise the harbor
was empty, along with the empty fishing boats bobbing in the sludge, their tubs
of nets sitting idle.
while talking with me, would periodically look out over the harbor and shake his
head, take a drag from his cigarette, then return to our discussion. As bad as
the scene was, he believed the main problem for the fishermen, rather than the
oil spill, was the Israeli naval blockade of Lebanon which has prevented any
boat traffic to leave the coast for any reason.
fishermen are able to work at all," he said, "I have no idea how our community
will recover from this. We are going to need some serious
the bombing of El-Jiye, a huge black smoke plume has been visible even from
areas in northern Lebanon, beyond Byblos. The smoke varies between blowing up
the coast or into the nearby mountains. From Byblos it appeared as a faint grey
smudge across the sky, just off the coast. But that was only because on that day
the wind was blowing more inland-so down in Beirut the plume was going towards
Chaloub, a 55 year-old fisherman who has fished from the Byblos harbor his
entire life, sat with us. He said that his greatest concern now was the lack of
a cleanup operation.
problem is there is no cleanup, along with the Israeli blockade," he said while
pointing to the nearby Mediterranean, "Otherwise we could fish and survive. Now,
it's a catastrophe that people have lost their
addition to the fishing industry, the overall economy of Byblos, like so many
other cities in Lebanon who rely heavily on tourism for their survival, has
ground to a near standstill.
is down now, only the local markets and the refugees are keeping our economy
going," a local banker named Tony Ashar who was sitting with us added, "Also
there is no US currency in our banks to give to people when they want to make a
explained that since Israeli warplanes bombed Beirut International Airport, the
influx of US dollars to Lebanese banks, which rely on the currency for travelers
since the value of the Lebanese currency is fluid and low, has come to a
usually have US currency flown in, but now there's a big concern that we may
have to limit the amount of US dollars we can give out," he continued, "So that
makes it difficult for people to travel, which is a big problem since so many
people are leaving the country now."
should add that the Lebanese immigration authorities are working 18 hours a day
and issuing an average of 5,000 passports per day, as the flow of people out of
Lebanon continues. Foreign nationals are still being loaded onto ships from the
port of Beirut to be whisked to safety on nearby Cypress.
Yasouk, an information technology engineer who was also sitting at the table,
said that he didn't believe the already weak economy of Lebanon could survive
much longer if the war continued more than two more weeks.
the oil spill and the war, all of the tourists are gone," he said, "I came to
Byblos from south Beirut since my home was bombed." He turned and pointed a
short ways up the coast and added, "Yet even here two nights ago the Israelis
bombed an Army radar nearby. The same one they bombed two weeks ago."
while forlornly staring at the sludge filled harbor and empty sidewalks again,
said that this was what Byblos looked like in the middle of winter. "The
tourists are afraid because of the war, then the few who are left here don't
want to eat the fish, even though the fish are caught further to the north and
brought here. So our main economy is gone now."
our meal we drove back to Beirut. I'd been to the tourist beaches here a few
days ago-to take photos of the flotillas of oil washing up on the empty beaches,
which are usually jammed with tourists this time of year.
of oil sloshed up with the waves, staining the beach and rocks. A group of
Palestinian fisherman who used to fish the coast near the capital city sat
staring at the waves as the sun began to set in late afternoon.
of them were sitting around in a small beach hut with a palm frond roof. They
too were staring at the sea, as if to wish the oil away, and the Israeli naval
blockade, so they could do their work. Instead of working their nets and earning
money by selling fresh sea bass to the local markets and restaurants, the darkly
tanned men were sitting around drinking strong Arabic coffee and smoking too
tried to fish, the Israelis would kill us," said one of them who told me his
name was Hafez. "Besides, nobody would eat the fish anyway even if we could
fish. Now we wait for a miracle, something to take this oil away and stop this
Jamail. This essay is herein reprinted with the
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Posted August 05,
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