By Maha Zaraket
(Al-Akhbar): The twin suicide bombings yesterday in Bir Hassan, south of Beirut, were rightfully described as “an attack on the Islamic orphanage.” In fact, the two blasts shook the neighborhood surrounding al-Majad Center, part of the Social Welfare Institutions, where about 100 children were playing outside and 150 others were attending classes. All 250 children were at the building when two suicide bombers blew themselves up.
What were the bombers’ targets? Did they think they would be able to hit those targets without hurting little children, orphans and students with learning disabilities? It is hard to convince these kids that they were not on the hit list. “The explosion was just outside the wall,” they said, the same wall separating them from the main road.
Yesterday their laughter didn’t escape the concrete as they celebrated a small recreational event, instead bombs and the oncoming shrapnel hit them from the outside. They described what happened in their own childish language, “a very loud noise, the building shook, the teacher fell, my friends disappeared before we took a picture, I fell on my leg.”
As shocked children started to come back to their senses, they ran inside to hide but there was nothing left to protect them. Classroom windows shattered with shards of glass everywhere. It was as if an earthquake had just hit the area. Superintendents asked the students to gather in a room they usually use to watch TV. They swept away the glass with their small little hands and sat on chairs, waiting in silence. Some of them haven’t spoken since.
These children go to al-Majad Center every day to attend classes. It’s not just a school and orphanage, but a vocational institution for girls and boys with learning disabilities. “We were at the playground because the school was having a festival,” said Camellia, a young school girl. It was a reward “because we have been studious and polite,” she added.
It was supposed to be a beautiful day that the children have been dreaming about and preparing for, a reward for their discipline and hard work. They finished their first class and went to the playground; some started playing at once while others went to put on costumes they brought for the occasion and to put some face paint on so they fit with their characters. Camellia was dressed as a bunny and was taking a picture with her friend “when we heard the noise,” she looked around her but found no one.
Mohammed, a student in the advanced class, was holding his right leg when we met with him at the main headquarters. He was mad before the blast; he didn’t like the football team that his teacher assigned him to. He was angry saying “I don’t want to play anymore,” when the blast occurred, “the land shook and I fell on my leg.” Meanwhile, Ahmed from the preparatory class, was happy with his team and waiting for his teacher to give him the ball.
Children were almost whispering their stories which lacked the usual emotions and excitement of children talking about their games. Camellia’s picture with her friend no longer mattered, neither did Ahmed’s ball. Even Mohammed was no longer angry that he was playing with the weak team. Something happened and erased it all; it changed the color of their faces and brought tears to their eyes.
Camellia doesn’t laugh when you ask her who’s faster, her or the bunny? The children don’t want to plead for another festivital instead of the one they lost. They only want to stay where it is safe, though they are still worried about their friends who were moved to other centers after a decision by the chairman of the Social Welfare Institutions, former Minister of Education Khaled Qabbani, who rushed to the scene.
Qabbani was informed about the blast while he was at the main headquarters, he couldn’t reach the administration in Bir Hassan by phone so he went there himself. He described the scene as total chaos “no class was spared, no roofs were left, glass was all over the place, all equipment was damaged, sewing machines, computers, and teaching tools.” But most importantly, the children were safe, “100 children were out on the playground, they all survived, only 11 were hurt but they are okay.”
Qabbani reiterated what he said on TV, “this is a criminal terrorist attack, no matter what side stands behind it. The perpetrators are true criminals because they are attacking innocents and not distinguishing between mothers, elderly and people just heading to their jobs. It is a random attack that leads nowhere and doesn’t serve any cause other than criminal intent and it is denounced by everyone with a conscience.” Qabbani stressed that the center will be rehabilitated soon and promised alternative programs for the children in the meantime.
In a statement, the orphanage said that 11 children and one staff member were wounded in the twin blasts, while 250 people were inside the building at the time.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.