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Leila Buck: From Damascus
I have so many things to say and share I don't know where to start.
I feel very helpless, especially when we see how this is becoming increasingly treated as a two-sided conflict. I don't support Hezbollah's actions at all and as I think I've said a hundred times, neither do 90% of the Lebanese. But it is unbelievably unfair to target, and I do mean target, and attack, an entire nation for what one militia group inside it has done. Israel's attacks are described as "retaliation", "response", "defense" and my favorite, "justified". Yet Lebanon is supposed to just sit and be decimated and anything Hezbollah does is not a response but a terrorist act. I do not condone violence in any form. But I am tired of watching the two sides painted as equal when the toll of death and destruction wreaked on Lebanon is in numbers and lasting impact so indisputably greater.
For every time you hear that Israel is "minimizing civilian casualties" with "surgical strikes", know that the south of Lebanon and everyone in it as well as the southern suburbs of Beirut are decimated and continue to be bombed many times daily. Also know that Lebanon is the size of Rhode Island, or Connecticut, I forget - it's small. So while bombing every bridge and road in and out of the country plus every port may seem to be better than targeting civilians, it is a slower and more insidious kind of targeting - a complete and knowing crippling of an entire nation's ability to get help to those wounded, supplies to people who need them, not to mention travel to safety or sustain what was a vibrant and growing tourist industry on which the country depends. And people are dying.
I haven't even seen the death toll today in Lebanon but I know it's climbed above 200, with 400-some injuries. Today my cousin told me they bombed Achrafiyeh, for those who care a historically Christian neighborhood with beautiful old buildings that managed to survive the last war, now housing streets with lots of trendy restaurants that remind me of Williamsburg.
Yesterday on our way over the border from Lebanon to Syria we were moved to see a convoy of ambulances heading the other way, presumably coming from Syria, whose relations with Lebanon we all know to be tense at best, to help deal with the mounting toll of death created by Israel's unending assault. Half an hour later we found out that Israel bombed those ambulances and the road other innocent people like us were fleeing on. Of course many will say they feared they were carrying weapons. Honestly, I am tired of that excuse. Perhaps a small percentage of the time that is true. However given our own government's use of the mythical weapons to justify another senseless war, I think we should all question each time that same excuse is used to justify attacks on civilians. Whether there might have been weapons underneath a home or truck, all I know are there are the bodies of innocent men, women and children.
Human life is human life. Losing one is a terrible thing, no matter who or where. But that does not make the means and reasons for taking that life equal. Israel has weaponry supplied and paid for by the most powerful nation in the world, namely the US, and the Israelis who carry out the attacks on Lebanon are knowing citizens of the country doing the bombing since every Israeli must serve in their country's military, unless they are brave enough to join the many who refuse to do so. Hezbollah on the other hand, does not represent Lebanon or the Lebanese, something Bush and the Israeli representatives are so fond of saying. Why then does Israel continue to target the Lebanese people, terrify them and decimate the hope of rebuilding they have worked so long and hard for? And why does the US say nothing of this except that Israel has a right to do so?? Please, those of you seeing this as a "complicated" thing started by Hezbollah, just remember that in Kindergarten we learned it doesn't matter who started it - and if you must pick on someone, try someone your own size.
How do I even start this? How do I write about my Beirut? My heartbreak, my home, my safety, my loss. Again.
I suppose I just start.
I have experienced true terror a handful of times. The first was in 1983 - the first time I evacuated Beirut. We had gone to visit my jiddo (grandfather) Emile and my teta (grandmother) Hilda, as we did every summer. Just after we arrived, the airport was shut down, Israeli soldiers were everywhere, the mountains were filling with smoke. We spent the next week in the staircase of our building as shells fell around us. Wadie was almost hit by shrapnel. Daddy was in Switzerland. He knew we were in danger. I had no idea he wasn't with us because he was Palestinian. I didn't understand. Although I was born in 1974, I never knew about the war until the summer of '82 - the first summer we didnt go; the summer we spent in Illinois. I did cartwheels in the living room trying to get mommy and daddy's attention, but all they did was watch the news and eat nuts and look worried. I wish I'd known how my mommy's heart was breaking. I know now.
We got on the boat and fled to Cyprus, leaving my family behind. The boat was filled with pilgrims going to Mecca. I didn't know who they were. I didn't understand. I didn't know Muslim or Christian or Jew. I didn't know anything. I knew fear and I knew confusion. I knew the sound of bombs - an inexplicable sound if you haven't experienced it before, for it is a sound you feel and not a sound you hear. It is terrifying - your body shakes. You feel helpless and you cry - that's what happens. No sound effect can really replicate what it feels like when they're real. I never thought I'd hear that sound again.
I went into my mommy's bed the night before we left. I was scared. The balcony door was open because there was no air conditioning, no electricity. As the curtains fluttered behind me I shivered and shook in my non-existent sleep. I felt the breeze behind my back and knew for certain the bombs would get me as I lay there, vulnerable. But I was frozen in terror, shivering and shaking, teeth chattering. I wanted to move to the other side, switch places with mommy, have her wrap her arms around me and keep me safe - but then she would feel the bombs on her back, I reasoned, and she would die. I can't lose mommy, I thought. I'd rather die than lose mommy. I'm so, so, so scared.
I wrote about that experience and it got me into Princeton. Wadie, my brother, did too. I didn't see Beirut again 'til 1992.
I was 18. It was awful, destroyed. Where were the beaches, the fruit, the vegetables, the clean water, the fun, the bikinis, the people, the joy? I remember feeling like I had walked into a cobweb-ridden home, frozen in time. I cried.
Each year after, though, I went back. It got better and better. It became home again. All the things I loved: the cucumbers, apricots, watermelon, sunshine, beaches, laughter, love, warmth, family, perseverance, resilience, strength, beauty and joy. They were there, and they continued to come back, along with the people who had fled - stronger than ever, year after year.
The most wonderful summer ever was twenty years after the scary escape. In 2003, mommy, daddy, Wadie, his wife Jennifer and myself were all in Beirut - laughing, playing, fighting, eating, drinking, beaching - being a family. Back home.
My parents orginally fell in love in Beirut. In the late '60s/early '70s. In fact, daddy, who is so revered as a "great Arab," actually rediscovered the Middle East he had lost as a child through Lebanon, through mommy - who is, as I love to say, 3,000 percent Lebanese.
And so we buried daddy there, four months later. In Brummana, in the mountains next to jiddo's home. In the Quaker family cemetary.