In this scene from A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War, my husband and I have an encounter with an Israeli Merkava tank, something we are unlikely to ever forget.
I was familiar with Lebanese and Syrian Army tanks, both of which had been patrolling our streets for seven years. The Israeli battle tank was something altogether different. One day we were having lunch in Wadia’s apartment in Achrafieh when we heard a deafening noise, a harsh, rumbling sound which vibrated the French doors leading off her dining room. We were drawn irresistibly on the balcony by the noise, just as we were by every explosion and every air raid.
The size and sound of a Merkava were meant to intimidate, to instill fear, to extort unconditional surrender. I do not know how tall from the ground it was, but from my vantage point on the fifth floor it looked as though the driver could have hopped onto any second floor balcony along his path. We watched as it slithered its way down our boulevard, spewing blue-gray fumes out its rear and ripping up the hot summer asphalt like sticky glue, engraving our road with a reminder of its passage in case we might one day forget to be thankful. Daunting, and without regard for anything in its path, it paraded its might shamelessly for all to see, crushing two cars, a large garbage container, and a stop sign before coming to a halt and parking in a nearby field to ‘protect our neighborhood.’
Several days later I stood near a Merkava at a nearby gas station while waiting to refuel my car. My five-foot-six-inch frame came nowhere near the top of its wheels. It was not just the enormous height that was so unnerving; the dark dome of its turret loomed over me, watching my every move, turning with me as I walked around. It was spooky, as if there was no one in there.
That same week Michel and I had a personal encounter with a Merkava. I was driving my VW Bug on our way to our apartment in Badaro. Just past Hotel Dieu Hospital I had to maneuver the car through a one-way maze of connecting streets before I reached the main intersection of Corniche Mazra and the Justice Ministry.
Apparently the Israeli soldier and his Merkava were in a hurry, and decided to take a shortcut through this same maze of streets. It was our misfortune to encounter this speeding behemoth coming the wrong way toward us. In light of what these reckless drivers did to cars—in the south one callously drove over a car with four family members inside because it was in its way—Michel and I quickly waved our hands out our respective windows, indicating we would be happy to back up. This seemed far preferable to having our children read about the incident in the newspaper the following day: ‘A prominent physician and his American wife unwittingly found themselves in the tight corner yesterday with an Israeli Merkava. Even the amazing maneuverability of Mrs. Sultan’s VW Bug could not save them.’
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