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Letter from a Young Lebanese-American Woman
Yasmina Kamal wrote this to an email acquaintance of mine and I am reprinting:
I now feel compelled from within to voice my own views of the recent bloody conflict. Since I have many close friends on either side of the issue, and since I grew up in a largely rural area with very little racial diversity, I understand many people may not have considered what is happening from a non-violent Lebanese-American perspective. I cannot, in good conscience, remain silent during this critical battle in my father's homeland.
My Lebanese family, entirely unaffiliated with the terrorist group of Hezbollah, lives in the southern region of Beirut, Lebanon, in neighborhoods inhabited by the Shiite, which serve as potential hideouts and headquarters for Hezbollah leaders. Their area has been shelled steadily for five days now, and we here in America watch the live footage from Beirut with dread, waiting to see members of our family racing through the crumbling streets or being carried away on ambulance stretchers.
In my opinion (and the opinion of many around the globe), the US is at fault today for not using its its powers of leadership to intervene- we are the only country who has any real influence over Israel (we sent them some $2.22 billion in military aid last year); theLebanese prime minister Fuad Siniora was in tears (as I have been, for days), appealing to the US, Israel, and the members of the G8 summit to do something to restrain the Israeli army from targeting Lebanese civilians (207 dead; more than 20 of whom are children). And yet President Bush and his administration has tried to block the G8's plan to call for a ceasefire. Of the eight countries in the G8 summit, he was the only one to oppose a peaceful resolution for both sides.
It should be known that being Lebanese does not mean that my family or I support the actions or the philosophy of the Hezbollah in any way; they are supported by Syria, using Lebanon only for its closer proximity to Israel. This terrorist group has an arm in both the military and the government, and the newborn Lebanese army (many of whom were Syrian and left the country last year when Syria withdrew from its borders) is no match for Hezbollah's money, political power and military strength. What Israel expects the Lebanese government to do is the impossible: rid its southern border of Hezbollah's influence.
With the knowledge that Hezbollah was actually born under Israeli occupancy of Lebanon to fight the Israeli Defense Forces, it is a hypocritical demand to expect the hopelessly weakened Lebanese government (now without many roads and bridges and military bases, bombed by Israel) to do in a couple of days what the Israeli government could not do in their 18-year occupation of Lebanon.
As a Lebanese-American, I oppose terrorism in all its forms. Along with most of the living and deceased civilians in Lebanon, I would like to see Hezbollah leave my father's native country. However, an anti-terrorism agenda does not give any nation the right to disregard innocent human life. We Americans do not send missiles to upstate New York to rid its southernmost cities of dangerous gangs. If military might and all-out war in the face of terrorist threats worked to end terrorism, Israel would be a peaceful country by now. Soldiers stationed in Iraq would not face the threat of violent insurgents. Afghanistan would be rid of its Taliban. These strongarm military tactics are not the most effective ways to abolish terrorism, especially in countries with weak governments and divided religious populations. Such attacks on countries ravished by extreemist groups only foster wider and more fervent support for these groups, and desire for revenge against the invading nation.
From Rasha [a young woman] in Beirut:
I am drafting this entry in this unusual diary at 11:30 pm. I have about half an hour before the generator shuts down. Most of Beirut is in the dark. I dare not imagine what the country is like. Today was a relatively calm day, but like most calm days that come immediately after tumultuous days, it was a sinister day of taking stock of damage, pulling bodies from under destroyed buildings, shuttling injured to hospitals that have the capacity to tend to their wounds more adequately. The relative calm allowed journalists to visit the sites of shelling and violence.
The images from Tyre, and villages in the south are shocking. Images from Haret Hreyk (the neighborhood in the southern suburb that received the most "focused" shelling) are also astounding. The number of deaths is yet uncertain, it increases by the hour as bodies are pulled from the landscape of destruction. In the southern suburbs, some people may be trapped in underground shelters under the vestiges of their homes and apartment buildings. And yes, there is a problem of space in morgues in the south and the Beqaa, because none of the towns and villages are equipped to handle these numbers of deaths. The IDF has destroyed almost entirely the village of 'Aytaroun. Some of the surviving wounded are Canadian citizens. Like the 8 Canadians who died in the building in Tyre (a building that housed the red cross and civil rescue), the Canadian government has had very little regard for them.
Evacuations, Privilege, Solidarity
Today was a particularly strange day for me because I was granted an opportunity to leave tomorrow morning. I hold a Canadian passport. I was born in Toronto when my parents were students there. I left at age two. I have never gone back, for lack of opportunity and occasion, no other reason. I have the choice to sign up for the evacuation, but the European and North American governments have been so despicable, so racist that I don't want to subject myself to a discrimination of that sort. The Swedes, the Danes and the Germans have evacuated their patriots with blond hair and blue eyes. The immigrants that were given shelter to their countries "out of the kindness" of their governments have been systematically left behind; and the guest workers who stayed to enliven their economies and their babies who adjust the dynamism of their demographies, were left behind to fend for shelter under the shells. But I digress. The point I set out to make is that I refuse to be evacuated as a second tier denizen. I had the opportunity to leave tomorrow by car to Syria, then to Jordan and from there by plane to wherever I am supposed to be right now.
atrick McGreevy writes from Beirut:
Hospitality or the Abyss
West Beirut seems like a different place today. Shi’ite men and black-clad women have flooded into Hamra—the neighborhood near American University of Beirut that was once known as the most secular place in the Middle East. They are sleeping in crowded and sweltering school buildings with inadequate bathroom facilities. AUB held a meeting today to coordinate volunteer support efforts for local refugees. The university will create a fund to provide food, water, cleaning supplies and medical assistance (if you are willing to contribute contact John Bernson at sbernson [at] aub.edu.lb).
When a catastrophe like this comes to any land, it can inspire crazy rumors and speculations. In a place that has recently experienced fifteen years of hellish chaos, the various ways of descending into the abyss immediately come to the surface. Is this post-traumatic stress or healthy fear? The worst fear is that the deep Arab commitment to hospitality—to any and all without a single question—will invert, that Lebanese groups will turn on each other and on the foreigners who choose to live among them. Do Israeli leaders hope for this? There is absolutely no trace of it yet, but how does one dissever 2006 from 1984?
The problem with fear is not only that it obscures the present situation, but that it paralyzes constructive action. Lebanon will be whatever its people make of it: there is no inevitable slide into an abyss. The immediate problem, like almost everywhere else in the region, is the economic plight of the most disenfranchised citizens. Recognizing this, Hezbollah has attended to the needs of these ones and created a remarkable faith-based system of support. The best way now to avoid the abyss is for the citizens of Beirut—whether Muslim, Christian or secular (and the wider world to which it is connected)--to be very attentive to the human suffering of these refugees. Hospitality must transcend all difference.
And what of those who are raining bombs on Lebanon? Today a water-drilling truck in the Christian Achrafieh neighborhood, another truck transporting medicine, civilians dying everywhere. The targeting strategy errs on the side of overkill—the tactic of terror. But what does it yield? What does the Warsaw Ghetto tell us? Both Hezbollah and the Israeli leaders, despite the asymmetry of their power, assume this is a macho game about dignity, about facing down one’s enemy. Look in the mirror habibi. Look into the abyss.