BEIRUT, OCT. 14 -- Led by a group of blind men and women, about 50 disabled Lebanese, some in wheelchairs, others on crutches, made it across the Green Line dividing Beirut today in the second day of an arduous march for unity and peace.
Although Lebanon has been in conflict for more than 12 years, no antiwar movement has ever materialized, and the march by war victims was the first major organized peace protest. Police estimate that the civil war, besides killing 130,000 people, has disabled at least 30,000.
"I want to cry," said Nawaf Kabbara, as his wheelchair approached the last Army checkpoint, marking passage from Christian-controlled east Beirut to the Moslem western sector. "This is the first time since the war that I traveled through a long stretch of Lebanon without having to show my identity card."
Kabbara, an organizer of the procession of disabled Lebanese from Halba, a village in the north, to the port of Tyre in the south, said his idea was inspired by Mohandas Gandhi. "If Gandhi could go to the sea to get salt, why couldn't we cover 200 miles?" Kabbara asked, referring to Gandhi's first major nationalist protest march. Kabbara lives in Tripoli and is studying for a doctorate in London.
Singing "We Shall Overcome" and Lebanon's national anthem, those who could held up banners saying, "We don't want your pity, we want our country back."
Demonstrator George Tamer explained that the march, which included Moslems and Christians, had not been organized to evoke sympathy for the protesters' disabilities but to move more able countrymen into an active rejection of the war.
"The road is long and rough, but convalescence and recovery are certain if you can appreciate, if you can express and if you can change," Tamer said, addressing officials at Lebanon's parliament building.
A group of women met the procession with flowers at the Barbir crossing on the Green Line. White doves with little Lebanese flags attached to their legs fluttered above the crowds as children and residents, some moved to tears, clapped by the side of the road.
Two loud sonic booms were heard from Israeli planes flying overhead as the demonstration continued slowly, but undeterred.
Bassem Hamdan, 30, from the Chouf village of Chhim said, "Although I am in a wheelchair, I feel I have expressed the desire for total freedom of movement between all parts of Lebanon. I believe we have done what every Lebanese wishes he could do."
"It is so ugly to have Lebanon reach this stage and see so many people accepting it all," said Naji Abu Rjeile, 24, who walked with crutches.
Sylvana Laiis, 25, from Byblos, said the trip had been very exhausting for her. "It has been hard for us to go through with this, just so we can say one thing: there are those who have nothing but who are giving a lot," she said. "If people understand this, they will realize what our march is all about."
The group of disabled, accompanied by supporters and assisted by social workers and representatives of the U.S.-based Save the Children organization, marched along the Green Line, flanked by once-elegant buildings, now shell-pocked and gutted, and went to the Sanayeh public garden for rest and refreshments. They are to continue their journey to southern Lebanon on Thursday.