Monday, August 07, 2006

Letter from Lebanon: August 2, 2006

Below is a letter from Rosie, that took some time to reach my inbox due to some technical difficulties. I remind my readers that Rosie is an American, living in Beirut.
She is also the author of the many dispatches I have been posting on urban_memories, entitled
"Letter from Lebanon".
Rosie and her family left Lebanon to the U.S., therefore this would be the last letter she would write from Lebanon. At least for the time being.
z.

----
August 2, 2006
Damascus, Syria

Letter from Lebanon: Update August 2, 2006 Our Flight from Lebanon

Dear Family and Friends,

We had planned months ago to take our annual trek to the United States for the month of August. However, with Israel’s multiple attacks totally disabling the airport for commercial flights, our original trip was soon annulled. The question then became should we leave or not. Many of us were in constant quandary about the situation. We had our live-in housekeeper to take care of as well as sort out many other issues, not the least of which was whether we could even leave safely. On July 21st the United States official ly began evacuation procedures “for those who wished to leave.” Day after day, starting at 5:00 a.m., many waited in line up to 5 to 8 hours in the sun and heat while going through procedures before boarding a ship that nearly ten hours later would bring them to the shores of Cyprus. Each person was allowed a small carry-on bag of 15 kilograms or about 30 pounds. Even though Israel was bombarding the country, blockading the ports, destroying infrastructure left and right, we were relatively safe atop the Metn Mountain, a primarily Christian enclave. Therefore, leaving for most of us and especially under the conditions that I described was not a serious option at that time. My husband nevertheless booked new flights, out of Damascus. When he changed the original reservations, the main road to Damascus was open. Then Israel bombed the eastern border control points and that outlet was suddenly closed. So within two and half weeks, Israel blocked the airport, blocked the ports (they kindly gave permission for a certain period to allow foreigners to evacuate by b oat) and now they blocked the main road leading to Damascus. Like a checklist, one by one, the Israelis were tightening the noose on all human beings in Lebanon. Not just those of Hizbullah, not just the Shiites, but every single person, of many different religions and different nationalities, living on Lebanese territory. And all the time, the United States is not only giving Israel more time “to destroy Hizbullah,” which in reality is destroying Lebanon—illegally—but also providing additional bombs, including intelligent bombs to do so.

Then on Sunday, July 31, 2006, in Qana, Israel brutally murdered over 60 people, 37 of whom were children, holed up in a basement of an apartment building. The Israeli press, I mean the press in the United States, of course, there’s no difference, said that it was an accident, “that the Israeli Defense Forces told the people to evacuate.” Well, they probably missed a few details, such as: Did they mention that they had destroyed nearly all if not all the gas stations, so many did not have any gas to be able to leave? Or did they mention that they had bombed the roads that the fleeing families had to cross? But never mind that, the Lebanese did try to leave with the last drops of gas and over bombed out roads, but, oh, did the press forget to tell you that they targeted cars and vans of families fleeing? So you were damned to death if you stayed and damned to death if you fled. They had no chance. And it wasn’t once, or twice, it was over and over and over that cars were targeted. And for every car they hit, “it was an accident.” When they hit the United Nations observation post, “It was an accident.” When they demolished the apartment building in Qana, “It was an accident.” The United States government supports and believes everything that Israel tells them. Frankly, I don’t know how President Bush sleeps at night.

Early in the war, friends were urging me to leave. I felt safe in my home. But to tell the truth I was afraid to go on the Beirut-Damascus highway that cuts east to Syria, because the Israelis were constantly hitting it. I didn’t feel like playing Russian roulette with the Israeli military. I felt frozen in my decision-making. I never felt afraid where I was. I felt confident that the Israelis wouldn’t hit in our location. But after the closing of that main link to Syria, and the evacuations halted, I thought that if I don’t get out now my family and I would not be able to see our family in the States. I was also becoming more concerned with availability of supplies and of my daughter’s education. Would the schools and universities open on time? It was becoming clearer that I would be locked in for there was now only ONE road left to get out.

The turning point for me was after the Qana massacre on Sunday, the second in ten years. (In April of 1996, the Israelis killed over 100 people who were taking refuge in a United Nations post, “another accident.”) Belligerence was heating up on both sides. Olmert stating that it is going to be “a long war.” The United States dragging its feet. Then hearing that bombs with possibly nuclear heads, originating from Texas, capable of permeating up to 30 meters (90 feet) into the ground or 5 meters (15 feet) into c oncrete walls or slabs were on their way to help Israel, everyone was becoming afraid, even on top of our mountain. The gasoline shortage was becoming worse. The day before we decided to leave, long lines formed at gas stations. I was becoming very concerned I would no longer be able to get fuel for our generator. And hence, no electricity during black-outs. And there was only one road out. Not just one road out, but only one way out. When the United Nations, thanks to Kofi Annan, declared a “48 hour cessation of hostilities,” I knew that was an open door that we had to go through.

Monday, July 31st in the late evening we decided that we would leave. Within, 15 hours, we packed our bags, bought the tickets, sent our housekeeper with her embassy to be evacuated, closed up the house, and arranged for safekeeping of our cars. From 10:30 p.m. until we left the following day at 1:30 p.m., there had been no electricity from the state. We had to turn on our generator to complete our packing that evening and the next day to finish laundry and take our showers. We had already depleted a sixth of our supply in one day. It seemed like a good thing that we were to leave.

We took the road leading towards Tripoli, the largest city in the north of Lebanon, then continuing north taking us to a part of Lebanon that we had never ventured to before. The road was fine except for a small detour we had to make where the Israelis had targeted a Lebanese Army post, while also taking out a good portion of the main road with it. (They said they weren’t targeting Lebanese Army posts but I can’t count the number of Lebanese army posts that they have bombed.) The line at the border was long. It took only ten minutes to go through the formalities on the Lebanese side, but then we had to wait for an hour to even get to the Syrian post. People became impatient with the long line and blocked the on-coming traffic side, creating worse congestion. Once at the Syrian immigration offices, more confusion and inefficiencies caused another hour delay. Once we crossed into Syria I felt a sense of relief, but also sadness, for this was not the way I had envisioned of leaving Lebanon. Now, we had to take a road back down south to reach Damascus; it was a very long detour. The total trip took about 8 hours. Flying to California takes 24 hours minimum door to door; thanks to the Israelis we got to add 8 hours to our trip. We are now staying with some friends in Damascus until our flight on Friday to Paris then San Francisco.

I have left Lebanon with a heavy heart. I am leaving behind family and friends who are trapped in a dire situation, with a very uncertain and scary future. Despite this, they tell me, “Have a good time. And God be with you.” Our return tickets are for early September. I hope the situation settles down so we can return to resume our lives.

Keep the news going!

Rosie AKL
Rosie.akl@gmail.com

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3 Comments:

At 7:55 AM, Blogger no noise said...

hamdelah ala salametun, and once again thank rosie for her great way of expressing Lebanese fears and worries

 
At 1:40 PM, Blogger Red said...

Another eye-opening letter, another chance for me to shake my head in disbelief that this is being allowed to happen.

I was surprised to see that the Italian media present quite a pro-Israel stance... Surprised, because Italians (as a people) are vehemently anti-war. Still, I guess it goes to show that our media are still suffering after being hijacked by Berlusconi (Bush's second-best friend after Blair). God help us from the three Bs!

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger _z. said...

Thank you no noise.

Red_
Thank you for your constant support and kind words.
I think Italy and Europe in general can't but support Israel. They have to apologize constantly, and can't afford to be labelled as Anti-Semites, again.
And who controls the media?

 

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