Cleaning Lebanon’s ‘Free Gaza Beach’

By Franklin Lamb – Ramlet el Baida, Beirut

It is hard to believe that it has already been three years since July 13 and 15, 2006, when American MK 82 and MK 83,500 and 1,000 lb. bombs, and four US TOW missiles, gifted to Israel, destroyed Lebanon’s oil storage facility at Jiyeh, 30 kilometers south of Beirut.

The attack at Jiyeh was one of more than 12,000 Israeli air force bombing missions during the 33 day attack on Lebanon, as its navy fired 2,500 missiles as its Army fired over 100,000 shells. Large parts of the Lebanese civilian infrastructure were destroyed, including 400 miles of roads, 73 bridges, and dozens of other civilian targets bombed such as Beirut’s Rafic Hariri Airport, ports, water and sewage treatment plants, electrical facilities, 25 fuel stations, 900 commercial structures, up to 350 schools and two hospitals. More than 15,000 homes were destroyed and an additional 130,000 damaged.

The intentional environmental disaster at Jiyeh was the worst of its kind in Lebanese history with more than 15,000 pounds of thick oil soaking Lebanon’s beaches turning some into tar pits. According to the World Bank the bombing of the oil storage tanks produced a 50,000 sq meter “carpet” of oil sunken below the sea just off the coast of Sidon which Greenpeace claims will require decades if not centuries to recover. Efforts by UN Sec.-General Key ban Moon to collect close to a billion dollars from Israel to reimburse Lebanon for clean up and restoration costs remains stymied today by a US veto threat of any Security Council resolution that attempts to hold Israel responsible.

Why Clean a Lebanese Beach?

The Washington DC-Beirut based Sabra Shatila Foundation as well as American, European, and Lebanese co-sponsors, decided, as part of next month’s 27th Anniversary commemoration of the 1982 Massacre at Beirut’s Sabra Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, to clean nearby Ramlet el Baida Beach and develop a continuing program to keep it clean. As one of very few free Lebanese beaches, Ramlet el Baida is used daily by Palestinian refugees, poor Syrians, Lebanese, and the nearly enslaved foreign ‘guest’ workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Sudan, Bangladesh and other countries.

To its great credit, and in support of the Free Gaza Campaign’s (freegaza.org) efforts to break the siege of Gaza, Beirut’s Municipality agreed with SSF that Beirut’s main beach would be renamed “Free Gaza Beach” for 24 hours and that Ramlet el Baida would be forever ‘twinned’ with Palestine’s Gaza Beach.

Since the beginning of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, Beirut’s beaches suffer from an inordinate amount of trash, some quite heavy. According to two Lebanese environmental NGO’s, Cedars for Care, and Big Blue, part of the garbage is from the huge sea-edge mountain of trash 45 kilometers south in Saidon. The eastern Mediterranean coast current runs approximately south to north and so as Saidon’s trash mountain rubbish washes out to sea, which it does daily, some of it ends up on Lebanon’s northern beaches. The further north one goes along Lebanon’s beaches, the more washed up trash one observes. When Lebanon resolves to recycle Saidon Trash Mountain, her beaches will be in much better shape for all to enjoy.

Some conspiracy theorists claim, without compelling proof, that the large number of plastic hypodermic needles on Lebanese beaches are from Israel’s sea dumped medical waste and relatively large heroin drug addict population, among the highest in the world on a per capita basis, according to the World Health Organization and UNODC (UN Office of Drugs and Crime).

Beach cleanup volunteers were asked to be particularly careful of handling needles, especially with Hebrew markings, or to leave them in place and report to their “team leaders”.

Most studies of the growing drug use to Lebanon’s south indicate that drug abuse is spread among all social strata in Israel. The most abused drugs among Israel’s growing West Bank settlement population are anti-anxiety and anti-depressant ‘cocktails’ as well as cannabis, heroin and synthetic ‘downers’ with heroin becoming more prominent in recent years. In 2006 Israeli authorities again reported a rise in the consumption of cocaine and a sharp increase in the use of LSD and amphetamines. In addition, Israel authorities are concerned about the widespread abuse of tranquilizers; attributed to “the pressure of living surrounded by enemies” The drug-related crimes are reported to represent 75% of the total crimes committed in Israel. (See Isralowitz R; Reznik A; Spear SE; Brecht ML; Rawson RA. T

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