Dr Hany El Banna, President of Islamic Relief travelled to Lebanon during the conflict to join the aid effort. Returning on the 7th of August, he spoke to UK staff about his experiences in the region.
Having recently returned from Lebanon, could you describe the impact of
the ongoing conflict on the lives of ordinary people?
It has had a shattering impact on the lives of ordinary people. They
are living in fear and horror because of the bombardment. They feel
unsafe and uncertain of what is happening, not knowing if they’ll live
another day or even an hour.
Around a quarter of the
entire population has been displaced. Those people who had the means
have fled abroad. We met some of them in Damascus, Syria, where 180,000
refugees have arrived. They’re living in schools and government
Almost a million people have been displaced
within Lebanon. Perhaps more worryingly there are some vulnerable
people, the elderly and the disabled who have no money and have had to
stay in their deserted villages and towns, facing extreme danger and
Q: There has been particular concern about the welfare of children, who have disproportionately been the victims of this conflict. Why do you think this is?
you have indiscriminate bombing, it can kill anyone. The little ones
are some of the most vulnerable as they cannot run very fast. The
children I met when I was in Lebanon were bewildered by what was
happening – the bombing, shelling and shooting. I think these
experiences will have a traumatic effect on the future generation.
Can you describe some of the difficulties that aid agencies have faced
in providing humanitarian relief to the people of Lebanon?
only entrance to Lebanon is via Syria. There used to be 3 roads, but 2
are closed due to bombings. It takes 3 to 4 hours for a car to get to
the Lebanon border - imagine how long it would take for a heavy
truckload of relief aid?
Because of the destruction, we
had to unload the lorries onto smaller trucks to take the aid as far as
Tripoli. Then we unloaded the trucks onto smaller vehicles in order to
get across the bombed-out roads towards the south. Even finding drivers
willing to risk their lives by taking the aid was difficult.
There is no such thing as a safe route, not even for ambulances or relief aid. Every vehicle is a potential target.
Q: How would you describe the morale of the people you met in Lebanon, in the face of this conflict?
by the people I met, there was a strong spirit amongst them. There is a
spirit of self-help and a strong sense of community and co-operation.
Although the Lebanese are very diverse, Muslims – Druze, Sunni, Shia,
and Christians, all had united in the face of this conflict and were
helping those in need to the best of their ability, regardless of their
background. They weren’t waiting for outside help, they were hard at
work doing as much as they could.
Q: Tell us about some of the people you met on your travels. Is there anyone who stands out in your mind?
Sidon, I met some of Islamic Relief’s sponsored orphans. One was a
young boy named Bilal. Although he was only eight years old, he spoke
confidently and passionately about his expectations of life. He told
us, “I have the right to live, nobody can deny me. I have the right to
be heard, the right to play, the right to education. I am going to
live!” He gave me hope.
In Nabatiyya we met some women
who had fled their villages near the southern border with Israel and
were now living in a community centre. They displayed such strength of
spirit. They told us, “We don’t want your food. What we want is an end
to the war.” They wanted peace and safety for themselves and their
families, and a return to normality so that they could feed themselves
without anyone’s help.
Islamic Relief is part of a UK campaign backed by many humanitarian
agencies which called for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. What
message do you have from the people of Lebanon to the international
The message from the people of
Lebanon is that the international community has failed them. There is
an increasing sense amongst them of anger and abandonment by the world
community. How can you talk about peace tomorrow if you don’t call for
To the world’s leaders I would simply say this, see the agony of these people as if they were your own people.
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