TYRE - The explosion ripped through the tiny garden in rural south Lebanon,
hurling Naemah Ghazi to the ground. The shrapnel from the bomb sliced through
her legs, and she rapidly lost consciousness. "There was a lot of blood,"
her mother Khadija recalls. "All her body was bleeding."
Naemah, 48, lived quietly with her mother in the border town Blida since her
father passed away nearly 30 years ago. She was still a teenager when she gave
up a future of marriage and kids to take care of her mother full time.
On the morning of Sept. 11, Naemah was out picking vegetables for the evening
meal when the bomb – an Israeli-made M85 cluster munition with a "self-destruct"
mechanism, buried a mere 10 meters from her back door – exploded under
Naemah was rushed to Sidon's Labib Medical Center two hours drive away. The
doctors amputated her right leg just below the knee, but saved the other within
a construct of metal rods.
A month later, Naemah is still in the hospital, small and frail on her white
metal bed. She is on painkillers and antibiotics, and she has become depressed,
says hospital supervisor, Shadi Hanouni. The wounds on her left leg are infected,
and nurses change her dressings every five hours.
Blida is a small and poor town. Most residents rely on tobacco and olive harvests,
and money sent by relatives abroad to keep financially afloat. Occupied until
2000 by Israel and its local proxy army, the SLA, it was one of the first targets
for cluster munition strikes last summer.
Cluster bombs in Blida have injured town leader Suleiman Majdi, and Naemah's
6-year-old nephew Abbas Yousef Abbas, along with three other children he was
playing with. All have survived, but barely – Majdi and Abbas bear deep
scars across their stomachs and limbs.
Lebanon has a devastating cluster bomb problem. Hit hard during the final days
of last summer's conflict with Israel, hundreds of thousands of unexploded munitions
are strewn throughout the south's rural towns and fertile fields and valleys.
Although there have been 255 civilian and de-mining casualties to date, official
requests for Israel's cluster bomb strike data have gone unanswered.
"The reality of the situation is we simply don't know how many there are,
and we will never know until the Israelis tell us how many they fired,"
says Chris Clark, the United Nations program manager for the Mine Action Coordination
Center (MACC), the official body tasked with coordinating munitions clearance
with the Lebanese army in the south.
So far the clearance teams working under the MACC have destroyed over 131,000
cluster bombs. While U.S. munitions manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s are
the majority found and destroyed, Israeli M85 cluster munition strikes have
been discovered mostly in fields and towns like Blida along the Blue Line, the
UN-demarcated border between Israel and Lebanon.
Stockpiled by the U.S., Britain, and Germany among others, the M85 cluster
bomb is shaped like a miniature tin can with a white ribbon on top that spins
to load the bomb once it's airborne. While older versions have a single fuse,
the current model is equipped with a second: a "safety" fuse that
detonates automatically if the initial one fails.
"For some years there has been a humanitarian concern about the post-conflict
problems caused by the use of cluster bombs – it goes back to Kosovo and
the use of them there," says Clark. "In an attempt to mitigate that,
the Israelis took the basic nucleus of the [U.S.-made] M77 and M42 design, smartened
it up a bit and added a self-destruct mechanism."
Its manufacturers cite the contemporary M85's failure rate at less than 1 percent
– results that countries like Britain hold up for justifying their continued
use. However, independent studies since conducted in "real" –
as opposed to laboratory – conditions have determined the figure to be
more like 5 to 10 percent.
Clark seconds this finding. "What we have established here [in Lebanon]
is that the average failure rate is at least 6 percent. So for the users of
this system to continue to use them on a basis that they have a negligible failure
rate is clearly foolish."
The push to ban cluster munitions worldwide by 2008 was kicked off in Oslo
earlier this year. Spearheaded by the Britain-based Cluster Munition Coalition
representing hundreds of civil society groups, the conferences have successfully
recruited 80 countries – including producers, users, and stockpilers –
to sign on so far.
But top weapons manufacturers and exporters – the U.S., China, and Russia
– are staying away, and Britain, although a participant, is fighting hard
for the exclusion of the M85 from the ban. "They've been arguing this for
several months now," says Thomas Nash, coordinator for the CMC, "although
it is proven they do not work and are a huge danger to the civilian population."
With the next meeting due this December in Vienna, tobacco and olive harvesters
in Blida and throughout the south of Lebanon continue to harvest their crops
in fear. "Blida was the place where the first civilians were injured,"
says Nash when told about Naemah. "The symmetry post-conflict is just tragic."
(Inter Press Service)