Tuesday, July 18, 2006

War Story

This is my school -- it's been bombed.
The roof is on fire.
This is my brother -- he died.

This is my house burning down.
This is my mother --

She died.

from: Through a Child's Eyes -- Poems and Stories about War
edited by Victor Klimoski and Samuel Torvend
Plain View Press

Yesterday I posted a letter from Michael Provence in Beirut (click on "Children of Earth" post link). I wrote him and he has sent a second letter written from his vantage point in Beirut. Here is his War Story.

Hello Folks,

The university restored my computer access this morning. It was cut automatically on Saturday by HR. Sort of annoying, but they have their hands full these days. I had been using my UCSD account since, and so some of you have not received much in the way of updates-for which I am very sorry. It is time consuming to use the UCSD account over a webpage. I received a lot of much appreciated mail on the UCSD account though, and so for the first time this year I actually had things worth reading rather than the usual sexual dysfunction ads and solicitations for various kinds of fraud.

We know that it is frightening and frustrating not to know what is happening. But we are safe and surrounded by friends. The University has cancelled all summer classes. But it is still open and functioning and many people are coming to work. The foreign students and faculty may be voluntarily evacuated today or tomorrow.

We have had some friends, including Stefan Weber, who have left overland to Syria via the old Tripoli coast road. All the other roads and bridges are bombed and unsafe. The Ports including the northern ports have been bombed. Stefan arrived in Damascus safely after a journey of five hours or so. The Syrians, as is their usual tendency, have been very easy going and efficient in letting people in, apparently. Some may know that there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria already. At this rate, if the "war on terror" continues, everybody may end up in Syria!

Yesterday August and Corban had a joint birthday party. They had fun and ate some ice cream, which they both love. Corban turned two, and August will turn two next month. On Sunday evening August and I walked across campus and shared an ice cream cone from Bliss House, which is just off campus. A lot of the people who work at the University as staff had brought their families for a stroll on campus. Normally people would walk elsewhere, like along the seaside corniche, but these areas are all deserted and considered unsafe now.

Vast swathes of the city are completely deserted, but Ras Beirut is comparatively bustling. All the hotels are full, and people from the south have moved in with relatives. People who have nowhere to go and no place safe to return to, which is tens of thousands of people by now, are camping in parks, schools, and public buildings. The Israelis have hit refugee convoys in the South everyday since the weekend and yesterday they hit a public building in Saida that was full of refugees, killing everybody inside. It was claimed to be a Hizballah building or something. As I mentioned before, there are many more dead than have been reported, since communications and movement is impossible.

We haven‚t had too many big explosions in the neighborhood lately. Saturday afternoon was pretty nerve wracking. Helicopter gunships fired a missile at the light house down the street, and naval artillery fired over our heads toward the south. The f-16s are constantly above us, but we can never see them. Our situation is very good by comparison with almost everybody, but artillery fire, missiles, and roaring f-16s frazzle the nerves.

On Saturday night we all slept downstairs in the spare room of some friends. Sunday and Monday were calm and pretty quiet in this area. August seems to sleep fine. I went into the neighborhood to buy some things yesterday, and found a lot of crowds, but everybody treating one another with great kindness and patience.

The situation in the southern suburbs must be horrible beyond belief, and the areas most supportive of Hizballah have been literally flattened and totally isolated. They have been hit repeatedly over the course of several days now.

The first days of the bombardment were clear, breezy and cloudless. The first night there was a full moon and we could see everything as the f-16s flew in from offshore. The next days were clear as the smog from thousands of old taxis blew away and with streets deserted, the air became clearer. The air now is still, hot, and choked with smoke and dust from the fires, explosions and destroyed buildings. I decided not to hang up our laundry last night since the air outside was so bad. This morning I hung it up anyway, despite the fact that the air was thick and black and toxic smelling.

The politics of the war are more infuriating than anything. We have heard the President repeat that Israel has a right to defend itself as this small, fragile, and lovely country is mindlessly destroyed, its population driven from their homes and killed. No one except George Bush has the capability to end the destruction with a single phone call. He need only order John Bolton to convene the UN Security Council and endorse a ceasefire. The guns would go quiet immediately. This however, would deprive Israel of its revenge for the military humiliation of its captured soldiers, require negotiations with "terrorists," and thereby undermine the idiotic and murderous world view underlying the "war on terror." Day by day more people die as the politicians jocky for advantage.

Meanwhile, there is talk of the largest evacuation since Dunkirk. No one seems interested in helping the evacuees from the South of Lebanon, the teeming numbers of which dwarf the obscenely privileged and media friendly Euro-American tourists and foreign workers. And there is little doubt that had the crisis been confined to the South and to mostly poor Lebanese and Palestinians, it would have remained a minor international story.

The French, Italians, Germans, and Swiss have already evacuated many of their nationals. Dominique de Villepin, French prime minister, arrived here yesterday to see off the ship taking the first group of French evacuees. The civilian ferry came into the bombed harbor, and loaded passengers in the open while de Villepin actually helped people, including French-Lebanese, aboard. He was photographed waving the ship off, while Bush was taped next to a microphone in St. Petersburg musing about "Hizballah stopping this shit," and maybe sending Condi "pretty soon."

Yesterday I realized that the Americans, who seemed strangely slow in getting anything together, are not worried about Israeli airstrikes, which are devastating the country, and about which they must have full and advanced knowledge, but that they are worried about Hizballah. The Americans have assembled a huge force of heavily armed Marines to land in Lebanon before they take anyone out or allow any high-ranking diplomats to arrive. The helicopters will land Marines at the fortified embassy compound, and take evacuees out in the same helicopters. The evacuees are to be taken to the small island country of Cyprus, where they will be housed in schools and public buildings until they can be removed by chartered aircraft, as the Washington Post reported this morning.

The point of hundreds or thousands of US Marines in Beirut is not clear or widely known here in Lebanon. But the ideology and symbolism is clear: the US can only be represented in the Middle East by its military might. The memory of these kinds of gestures will linger as the Lebanese crawl out from under the wreckage of their country˜destroyed it must be pointed out again, at US taxpayer expense.

I must say that our friends in charge of the Fulbright program at the embassy and in Washington and New York are wonderful, thoughtful people and surely share my frustration with the situation. They have been extremely helpful and kind to us during the entire year. They have also gracefully been taking calls from frantic mothers, fathers, and grandparents at all hours.

Finally we have heard that there are different categories of Americans, and that the Lebanese, and Arab-Americans will have the possibility to leave last, if at all. Furthermore, the extraction cannot be publicly called an "evacuation," because this might convey criticism of Israel for the situation, and consequent humanitarian disaster. I should add that these are only rumors, but true or not, they represent common feelings. Most people have no possibility to leave Lebanon, and many among the University faculty, including non-Lebanese, have no intention of leaving.

Still we have family and friends we miss and who worry about us, and we are now on our way home. I just got off the phone with a private bus company of impeccable local reputation which has been taking people to Damascus via the northern road every morning for the last few days. Our friend Amilie Bayhum has been helping me figure out how to leave Beirut.

We will leave tomorrow morning at 9:00 or there abouts, get off the bus in Homs, catch another bus to Aleppo, and travel from there to Turkey. We hope to spend the night in Antakya, a nice, relaxed city just across the Turkish border where Arabic is widely spoken and where the kebabs are spicy. >From there we‚ll travel to Adana and fly on towards Europe.

For those of you in San Diego, I might be on KPBS-NPR at 9:00 this (Tuesday) morning. If they manage to get through and get a decent connection, it will be a miracle.

I'll keep you posted.



Child's Drawing: Sarajevo 1993
© Gayle Elen Harvey


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*art courtesy of DeanNimmer


Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for bringing us this personal tale of the situation in lebanon. MS

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haiku for today:
I hate to think it but
This is more alarming
Than global warming.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to say thank you, Susan, for including me on your list of mailings. I have enjoyed your writing and posts immensely - have been inspired on many occasions and given pause for thought on others.

Thank you for what you do!


10:18 AM  

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