BEIRUT, Lebanon—My family and I are due to be evacuated from the American University of Beirut, where I have been teaching for the past three years. We will leave Beirut with only a knapsack each as we relocate to Columbia, where I will be assuming my new position at the University of South Carolina.
For three days in a row, we were scheduled to be evacuated by the U.S. embassy, only to have those plans canceled at the last moment. Speculation is that the embassy is evacuating American citizens who don’t have the luxury of living in the safety of the university campus. A good choice. But if the United States really cared, it would pressure Israel to stop bombing Lebanon, where more than 300 people, almost all civilians, have been killed, and much vital infrastructure has been demolished.
Conflicting rumors about security and evacuation have made things extremely tense. There is an atmosphere of panic and fear that makes us afraid to leave the confines of the neighborhood. But what has been most disturbing is to see my two sons (Shadee, 6, and Jad, 11) completely terrified. The bombing is sometimes so loud that it shakes your bones, making the kids jump to hold me as I pretend that my own heart did not skip a beat.
I am uncomfortable commenting on my personal story because I have met so many who have suffered the real brunt of this insanely inhumane and brutal offensive. I have met people who have lost their homes, who escaped carrying their possessions on their backs along mountain dirt roads, who are sleeping outside in public parks, whose young and old relatives have been killed senselessly as they slept in their beds or fled in their cars.
My elder son sums up my discomfort. He told me on a recent night: “Poppy, I used to be scared of imaginary things. Scared of the dark especially after watching scary movies and stuff. But, I know what I should really be scared of now. Real things, not imaginary.
“I know I am safe in AUB, but I am scared. But still, I have nothing to fear, not like those children in al-Dahiyah and the south who are really dying.”
As proud as I was of his wisdom, my heart also broke. What lessons he had to learn so young.
With no end in sight, Israel continues its bombing of densely populated civilian neighborhoods in major cities, towns and small villages. The Israeli Defense Forces have destroyed many roads and about 40 bridges, several commercial ports and airports, a large milk factory and gas stations. The IDF has warned residents of the south to immediately head north but not to drive trucks, which are being targeted. With American endorsement, the bombing campaign and land, sea and air blockade is displacing hundreds of thousands of people and creating a massive humanitarian and economic crisis for millions in Lebanon.
While waiting to be evacuated, I visited the relief center in the Beirut neighborhood of Sanayeh. I have been peripherally involved with a group of selfless and tireless grassroots relief volunteers who, in the absence of government action, have been organizing and distributing aid to almost 10,000 displaced people housed in 29 public schools. They are providing food, water, bedding, clothes, baby food, diapers, medicine and medical care. It is a massive operation.
Living under siege and talking to many friends throughout the city and the south has confirmed what years of study have taught me. State terror used as an instrument of foreign policy, like that being inflicted on all of Lebanon, will not succeed. It will never lead to a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Israel is using overwhelming force and collective punishment of civilians for political purposes, not out of military necessity. Israel wants to pressure the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah and further isolate Syria and Iran, who support Hezbollah. But targeting the general population has slowly turned many Lebanese, even many who were initially critical of Hezbollah, into supporters.