This is an excerpt from A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War. This particular episode takes place in 1983. Our minds are war-warped. We have lived through the Israeli invasion and bombardment of Beirut 1982; we are physically and mentally spent. Life has returned to what we considered now our new “normal.” This meant a return to our apartment and cleaning up the rubble for the 11th time, sending our children back to school after months of forced closure and patients willing to cross the Green line to see my physician-husband in his clinic.
In this particular scene I am reflecting on America’s ineptitude when it comes to their Middle East policies. Blunder after blunder, as violence and hatred toward the West found ever stronger voice, we civilians were made, once again, to pay the price. In May 1983 the American government coerced Lebanon into a treaty with Israel based, in part, on Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon, without ever consulting Syria. Furious, Assad punished the Lebanese government for agreeing to such a treaty and began bombing our neighborhood in East Beirut.
During those years there was a great deal the American government did not understand about the Middle East and Lebanon in particular. It certainly did not understand that Lebanon, due to enormous social inequities, was emerging as a place where centuries of Arab resentment of the West was beginning to find voice and direction, where the ideology of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini would take root and produce a unifying voice against America.
The peace treaty signed by Lebanon and Israel on May 17, 1983 was a perfect example of American ineptitude. Brokered by the United States, the agreement was centered on a series of clandestine understandings between Israel and Lebanon. It pledged a phased Israeli withdrawal from all of Lebanon, based upon a simultaneous withdrawal by Syria. Free of foreign intervention, the Lebanese government could then pursue a formal peace treaty with Israel. The agreement had one enormous flaw: the Americans failed to inform Syria’s President Assad of the deal. Assad enlisted the Druze in the Chouf Mountains to bomb East Beirut to punish the Lebanese government for their collusion with America and Israel.
I had just left the hairdresser, a block and a half from my apartment, when I heard explosions. The morning news had announced that the French contingent of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force would begin blowing up mines that day, ones left behind by the Palestinians during their offensive against Israel in 1982. Since the track was just two blocks from our apartment, I assumed the blasts were coming from there. I stopped at the green grocer to buy lettuce for lunch, and didn’t think anything of his curious gaze. At the baker’s I was surprised when he said he was out of French baguettes.
“Didn’t you bake today?” I asked.
“Oui, Madame,” he replied, “but you know how frantic people get when bombs start falling. They buy everything I have.”
“Those aren’t bombs,” I said, as I laughed and turned to leave. “The explosions are from the mines. Didn’t you hear the news this morning?”
I was so confident the baker was wrong that when I saw my husband’s car parked in front of our building I assumed he had returned early to see patient’s in his clinic on the second floor. When I opened the front door of our eighth floor apartment I thought it odd that neither Foxy nor Leila, my cleaning lady, greeted me. I had just finished searching the apartment when Michel burst through the door.
“Cathy, what are you doing up here?”
“Why are you so excited?” I asked. “Where are Leila and Foxy? Did something happen to them?”
“Have you lost it completely? Don’t you hear the bombs?”
“Bombs? I thought it was…” Before I could say another word, I remembered Naim and Nayla at school.
“I’ve got to get to Jamhour.” I turned to get my purse and almost bumped into Michel when he grabbed my shoulders.
“Relax. Andree has already gone to get them.”
I fell into the nearest kitchen chair and began to cry. “How can I relax when my children are dodging snipes and bombs? It should be me driving them home. Then I wouldn’t have to sit here worrying.”
“Come on, my nerves-of-steel lady,” he said, helping me up. “Let’s go down to my clinic.”
My knees hurt so badly I could hardly walk down the stairs. Leila went back to the apartment to get us some food. I swallowed my pain pills, got as comfortable as I could on the leather couch, propping my knees up on a pillow, and waited. Half an hour later Foxy suddenly leapt up. He ran to the door and started and started to sniff. When her tail began to wag, I knew my children were safely home.
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