Dafniya holds as frontline for Libyan clashes during the Arab summer
Dafniya, a village 40 kilometers west of Misrata, stands as a heavy conflict zone throughout several months of the Libyan revolutionary struggle. The name of the village means 'end of Misrata, land of farmers.'.
NIGHT BOAT TO MISRATA
Libya from Cairo: the donkeys carts stopped at Saloum. In the waste land to Tobruk, we took several lifts from private cars and quite a few amongst them, even if
welcoming, did not shy away from recommending tips.
That wouldn't happen in Libya: if you are a foreigner, don't try to pay for buns at the bread line in Misrata, and don't try to wait for your turn either. When the oven doors open, you are going to be the first to pick your own, then at the cash, a lifted hand, slightly pushed forward, signals that, even if you are a regular with 2 baguettes and feeling guilty, you are free to go.
The Benghazi Freedom Square had been rehearsing for months, relentlessly, the celebration of the impending mad dog's fall, 4 months before a bullet blew his head: 40 km west of Mysrata, the rebels were pushing the front line further west every day, "container by
container", proclaimed Tribute fm 92.4, the English-speaking radio operated by Libyan expats returned from London in order not to miss the inevitable.On the promenade along the sea, amongst the loads of wearable knickknacks with the Libyan
star and moon, the colors of the European creditors of the revolution were for sale as bracelets,
or waving tall on flags, together with the ones of the overseas allies of the free world.
Whoever said hello wanted to thank their favourite sponsor: "Sarkozy, Italia, Obama, myamya!" (Arabic
Some kids were passing USB keys to the journalists, containing, they said, pictures of
burned bodies from Mysratah, taken with mobile phones.
The facade of the Courthouse was completely covered by a mosaic of faces. The man requested
who they were inclined his head and shut his eyes: "They are the "shahids", the martyrs of the
regime from 1969 to the battle of the Katiba, the government garrison conquered by the rebels in February 2011."
The women in black from Freedom Square, near aging, where showing amongst those portraits,
the faces of their own children, between their twenties and thirties, victims of the Abu Salim
massacre, back in 1996, when 1200 opponents were machined-gunned in barely 137 minutes.
The hotel manager recommended to get black veils to go around, which we did at the souk, for 5 dinars, from a merchant who took 20 and forgot to give us back the change. At the ensuing riot, the Libyan men at the souk deliberated that the merchant was "No Libyan people", vindicating that national moral code which came up up again subsequently, for, amongst other reasons, the sake of the Libyan reputation abroad.
Misrata committee, Benghazi port. We were ordered to enter the ladies' waiting room for the ship
to Misrata, where women would lay down their prayer mats. The ferry fare was 70 dinar for Libyans and 150 for
foreigners (one way), a surprising double standard because "everybody must pay according to
their means". The night passage of about 450 km west was secure, the staff guaranteed, because "Nato approved"; the boat, full. The passengers were so closely packed together, that somebody's toes,
lucky enough to have found a chair, were dangling on the open mouth of a snoring man, laying on the floor. Most people were bringing back rare goods, cheese, cigarettes, coffee.
Getting out of the boat, we asked Chris Steven of The Guardian how to get to the front line.
He answered: "Just ask for Dafniya".
The magic word to reach the front line sounded like a code name: Dafniya, literally Land of Farmers, End of Mysratah, it seemed to represent the frontline itself. Just mentioning to the rebels when they stopped their pickups, guaranteed a lift to a line-up of containers, each marking subsequent gains of ground. With civilians it didn't work, we were sent back to the checkpoint.
The advance "container by container" from Tribute radio, too nebulous to figure, was finally realizable: a fresh container, marking the farthest position of the front line, was added each time a jump ahead was produced, thus leaving the preceding ones behind, a line up of parallel blocks
where the pickups would zig-zag around, a quite familiar maze for them.
Overflowing with sand to deter the impact of the bullets, the containers were an ingenious concept issued from necessity, like the UB-16 Soviet rocket launchers, effectively recycled from old choppers and mounted on pick-ups.
A distant heir, for astuteness, of the Stalingrad soldiers who would send dogs with dynamite into the nazi lines, (the rebels have actually been known for sending out reconnaissance dogs with flashlights in the outskirts of Tripoli), this army of its own kind was sharing with its precursors the strategy of arms provisioning: the 75%, affirmed a rebel, had been looted from the enemy forces. The statement seemed reliable, if we consider the often bare footed state these troops were in: the
only Nato-vehicles in sight on this side of the front were local black cars with an enormous white N painted on the hood, not a joke, as one might think, but a measure of protection from possible friendly fire from above, they said.
Mysratah was besieged on two principal frontlines: on the west side, Dafnia, 40 km from Mysratah, was facing Zlitan. On the eastern outskirts, Karareem confronted Tawergha, where the population of color was traditionally loyalist: also a civil war of black versus white, the conflict uprooted people from east to west and vice versa, out of allegiances or coercion.
Gozeelteek, a ghostly hotel with a bombed-out wing, had also been deserted by journalists: in order to encourage them, the media centre and radio Mysratah were kindly putting up the brave ones left, breakfast included. That's where we had, at 5 am in mid june, our first unconscious grad missile experience, which was not an enourmous stomp from next floor up, as we had thought.
Kahlil, a guest of the hotel originally from Zlitan, had come back from London "to help his brothers"by fighting his former city from the Dafniya front.
Those who had been deported by Gadhafi from Mysratah to Zlitan, during the Spring,
were forced to bomb their original city. Kahlil recounted, at breakfast, that when a grad missile was launched into town, massacres of large proportions were avoided thanks to them, the deported rebels, who didn't screw the self-destructor on the grad at the moment of launching.
The devices, which normally would provoke the grad explosion and were rigorously kept apart from the rocket for security, were surreptitiously hidden in the sand by the "traitors".
On the other hand, the "desaparecidos" from Mysratah were men of the opposition taken away from their family in the same period, but not for fighting. We met them when talking to the people: in one day only, two fathers claimed back their sons, and a son claimed back his father: they all wanted to have the kidnapping reported on Al Jazeera.
On the 16th of June: the pick-up driver had taken us to the path behind the last container. Our guide was the commander of the katiba Al Sumud (katiba is here Arab slang for brigade) , the non-surrenders: he explained that Katibas often included men having the same occupation
in civilian life.
Here the shababs sipped and shared their tea with us, in a moment of rest, where the barrier language was easily overcome just by repeating the inexorable "Gadhafi out". We stayed until 6 pm, when
the mortar bombs started to fall. The commander turned his face up and lifted his arms, as if
contemplating a benevolent rain, and identifying them as "hown, hown" (Arabic for mortar).
These bombs were usually responsible for the typical black halo around the breaches in the walls
of Tripoli street, Mysratah's main avenue whose video went quite viral.
In order to see the howns, since we had to live with them, we went where the Gaddafi forces left them: on Tripoli street there was a weapon's fair with exploded mortar bombs, the tail fitted with a closed crown, and not much else, the tip and body mostly blasted out.
The grad, a 3 meter long missile with a range of up to 40 km, was the main showpiece of that blasted arsenal, made of artifacts of the springtime slaughterings.
27 th of June. The access to Dafnyia was more and more often denied. A freelancer at the hotel
suggested to jump in an ambulance. We requested the lift at the Al Hikma hospital, which was
located at the beginning of the road to Dafnyia, and served quite well as an indicator of the situation
at the front: empty emergency area, Dafnia "myamya". The strategy was almost perfect, not allowing
us into Dafnia, and obliging the ambulance to drop us off at the field hospital, at approximately
4 km from the front line. This was where the wounded soldiers were first taken, said a doctor,
so they wouldn't die before being taken back to Mysratah.
A man was cleaning the floor of an ambulance with a water hose, turning the saturated red to clear.
At the gate of the driveway to the hospital, at approximately 5 pm, multiple grads hit the ground,
like craters erupting in near unison. Too close for comfort. One turns around, and around, and there
are no craters, and one is afraid to step into the next crater, or to stay and become the next crater.
The drivers coming from Dafnyia, who usually slowed down to say hello flashing the V sign for victory,
were zooming by like bullets flying into the city, and so did a car coming from the hospital, leaving us
Back at the hospital, the staff confirmed that three grads had actually hit the tomato field, which provided the main ingredient for the daily-baked pizza for the army, then ordered positively not to disclose to the media where they hit.
The 2nd of July. An empty tent at the Al Hikma hospital, Dafnia myamya, we took off. The freedom
fighter first took us for a tour along the beach to see the Chinese development binge: the construction
of the huge condo buildings, about 5 km long, was on hold for the duration of the revolution, he affirmed,
and scheduled to resume, hopefully, quite soon. Then he stopped on the way to Dafnyia to practice his machine gun. Standing up in the back of the pick up, he fired away from behind a metal plate all the way up to his neck, making the vehicle and all the kalashnikovs on it rattle like change being shaken in a pocket.
At Dafnyia, a shabab, taking advantage of the endless stalemate, was sleeping right on top of the dunes
of the last container (the last for the last 6 weeks), holding on to his AK 47 in his sleep. Another one
was preparing to launch a rpg, which they regularly describe as rgb, like an acronym of primary colors,
red, blue and green.
Dozens of pick-ups, coming from the city were carrying rajima rockets launchers, lodging 12 missiles
of 8 km range., to the southern flank of the front. The poor relative of the grad, which can reach as far 40 km, but of the same 122 mm caliber, the rajima is also shorter, and represented the most ubiquitous weapon in the rebels' mish mash of military hardware.
The 8 of july, return to safe haven Benghazi. From Mysratha on tv, a reporter showed what just yesterday
had been the furthest position for 6 weeks: the abandoned container where the mujah slept, the dunes
on the container covered by a barrage of bullets. "Not to worry" reassured the reporter, they are repeating
exactly 6 km further: after 6 weeks of impasse, a new container had been placed just 160 km west from the snake's head in Tripoli.
On the road to Ajdabia, at the last check point before the city, some kids in uniform, by then part of a regular army, posed proud for the camera with a brand new battery of their own integral "hown", made
-they said- in South Korea, and a line up of their own grads, just out of the box from Russia, some still
in their boxes marked "explosive", guarded by a sleepy soldier laying on a mattress.
The 23 of August: it's hard to sit pretty across the sea when Tripoli is being taken; Rome, Cairo, back to the deep east: at the border, the chief inspector was a member of the Abdullah Al Zanussi family, a prominent Tobruk family who was part of the Tobruk PTC (provincial Transitional Council). He recognized us from our last exit and we congratulated him for the job well done. He laughed and took us to his house, to a multiple family of a few brothers who had wildly proliferated: young toddlers were popping out on four legs from every corner of the room.
Next day, three young men stopped their Toyota pick up: "BenghazI?" We jumped in, after 15 km, they turned right towards the sea. At the beach, the man next to the driver pulled out a knife and a pair of handcuffs, so we threw the mac books, the cameras and the Euros to them, in exchange for an open car door, a deal of which they seemed quite happy. A handful of Euros, which were meant to fantastically multiply by two, once exchanged into dinari at the black market behind the hotel Dojal!
The people of Tobruk (who singularly enough, mentioned more often that "Rommel passed by here" rather than
Montgomery) picked us up barefooted from rushing out of the car; from Benghazi, the Italian ambassador let us know that "Libya is not a place to hang around without money", however, they offered to assume the costs of a 2 dinar call across the sea to say that we were well.
That did not bother the Tobruk authorities, not in the least.
The Al Zanussi family, from the Provincial Transitional Council,
put us up at the 5 stars Al Massira hotel, arabic for march, which may have been named, they said, by Mussolini, arranged interviews for radio Tobruk, and even bought
After a few days, the taxi drivers would know about us and gladly drive us around for free.
Stuck at the Hotel Al Massira waiting for the return flight, the ramadan was sweetened by all the fresh mint tea we could drink, and broken, halloween style, by neighborhood kids demanding sweets. Also, by three opulent free meals a day.
In the hall, it was Al Jazeera all the time, and that meant Libya all the time.
Two days before the flight back, Ahmed (not his real name) presented us with an envelope staffed with 1000 dinars "from the people of Tobruk", then asked where he could read the story. Which didn't make in the least the Libyan people less genuine or less generous.
The leader of the rebels in Tripoli, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, the Americans were concerned- was supposed to have ties with Al-Qaida, and the emir of Qatar, who bankrolled the revolution, is some kind of wahabist, leader of an oppressive regime.
Jamel, however, a rebel at Dafniya, had waved his index finger at us , declaring: "No bin Laden!" He had admitted that his all-time hero was Fracesco Totti, the king of Italian soccer.
In downtown Tobruk, main square, there is a tiny church, with a bell tower.
Decrepit, boarded up, untouchable, it is still standing from the Italian North Africa colonization binge, 1912 -1943.
Faraj (his real name), the policeman who was assigned to escort us at all times at city walks, said that the Tobruk people didn't take it down because, unlike Gaddafi, they don't really mind the Italians after all.