Here follows a letter from a reader who has a friend at the American University in Beirut, so far — untouched. Notice, Americans have been told they will have to pay for these helicopter rides to Cyprus. Charlie Loving
Update – after pressure from Congress and other quarters, the State Department has dropped plans to request payment from Americans for the evacuations.
I am sorry I didn’t write to many of you yesterday. I am having internet trouble and yesterday was a tough day.
I visited the travel agency Saturday morning where I learned that flights are cancelled for the next two weeks, and that there are no flights from Damascus. We have tickets that somebody will honor eventually, but it makes no sense to try to leave the safety of our campus apartment without solid plans. I asked the poor travel agent an unkind question, by saying “what do you advise me to do?” The situation throughout the country is quite bad, and certainly worse than the news stations are reporting.
There is no doubt that the number of killed is many times what is being reported. All movement is unsafe and practically every village and neighborhood has been cut off from the outside. The Israelis have threatened to bomb traffic on the roads if anyone tries to leave. Stefan, who you probably remember, has received permission to hire a cab and follow behind a Swiss Embassy convoy to Damascus this morning. The Swiss, one assumes, received permission from the Israelis to pass.
The road is knocked out in many places and who knows how they will make the trip–it will surely take many hours. The Israelis bombed a convoy on a Southern road yesterday afternoon and killed 17 people. I just talked to one of janitors who walked to work from the other side of town where the bombing has been most intense. He said every 5 minutes for the last four nights the f-16s have dropped bombs on their neighborhood. Buildings all around him have been flattened. The obvious intention is to punish and terrorize the entire country, and there is no actual policy or goal behind the destruction. Any travel, even around the city, is impossible since the overpasses, bridges, and under city road ways have been destroyed. This represents 15 years of Lebanese post-war infrastructural reconstruction, which the Israelis have destroyed nearly totally in four days.
For the first time yesterday afternoon they really hit our side of town. The artillery barrages and the explosions are nerve wracking. Everybody in the building went downstairs. Our building, because it was built by Hariri in 1992 has a shelter and is really solid. Still, we are on a high floor and the noise is bad, even if the shells are far away, which they always are. We went downstairs and ended up eating with friends on the second floor. August was bouncing off the walls and I took him upstairs to feed him. They started again, and I moved him and his highchair into an interior hallway and fed him his dinner. He is scared more by our reactions to the explosions than anything else. Just then my father in law called from Berkeley, so here I am feeding the kid, telling my father-in-law everything is fine, and trying to get off the phone before August climbs out of his chair or another shell lands. Peter said, “Michael you sound great, so everything must be fine.” “Yep, you bet Peter, safe and sound, don’t worry about us-call your congressmen, gotta go bye.” BOOM.
Lor wouldn’t go back upstairs and we ended up sleeping-sort of-in a friends’ apartment five floors down. We learned from Igrid’s sister, a BBC reporter, that one of the explosions was a helicopter-launched missile at the lighthouse at Ras Beirut, about a kilometer away along the seaside. This morning seems quiet, but the University cut off my email and internet access to my office yesterday. So I am writing from a café right off campus. There is some talk that the Embassy may be sending an aircraft carrier from the Red Sea to evacuate us to Cyprus. The email notice they have sent out states that citizens will be required to sign a financial release and apparently pay for the helicopter ride to the ship.
This is pretty rich when you consider that as US taxpayers, we already paid for the machinery that is bombing us and killing people. (F-16s made in by GD in Fort Worth, the bombs, made by Hughes in Tucson, and the helicopters, made by Bell in Fort Worth, and 40% of the Israeli military budget in direct cash subsidies paid in a yearly lump sum to the Israeli government, 30% of the TOTAL US foreign aid budget). Furthermore, BBC reported that while Bush has continued to insist that Israel has a right to defend itself, we have also learned that the Israeli Air Force is running low on jet fuel and that the US will soon be re-supplying Israel. It is very likely then, that the aircraft carrier that comes to evacuate us will first stop, or send a fuel tender, to stop in Haifa to offload aviation fuel. It seems a bit too absurd, but this is how “terror” must be fought, apparently.
The whole business is laced with absurdity and lies. The Israelis say they want their two captured soldiers and they want to root out Hizballah. They claim the destruction of the infrastructure is designed to limit the movement of the captured soldiers. But the soldiers may be held 1.5 km from the border and the IDF would never be able to find and release them by military action. Everyone knows this. They still have not tried to move into Lebanon by land, since the political cost of another land invasion of Lebanon makes every Israeli politician piss his pants. Hizballah controls the south and represents approximately 40% of the Lebanese population and gains additional support with every Israeli bomb. Bombing from the air is cost free in domestic political terms as the Americans have shown.
Furthermore, there is, of course, a back story. In 1982 the IDF invaded Lebanon “To root out the Terrorist infrastructure,” as General Sharon said at the time, which meant the PLO in those days. The IDF killed 30,000-40,000 people, carpet bombed Beirut, and displaced most of the population of the Shiite south, who came as refugees to the Southern Suburbs where they now live and where the Israeli bombardments are heaviest. Hizballah was born in those slums as a resistance movement to Israel’s occupation and a political party representing the Shiite populations. Two Israeli governments fell as a result of the Lebanon adventure.
Since that time, and even before, the Israeli government has captured (or kidnapped if you prefer) and held thousands of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners. One of the prisoners in question, one of only three Lebanese now held, has been held since he was captured as a 17 year old in 1979. One of the others was captured only last year. Hizballah has staked its political legitimacy on its ability to challenge Israel and to secure the release of prisoners-both actions no other Arab government or party has ever been able to do.
Cross border operations have recently involved both Hizballah and Israel and last month the Lebanese Intelligence service arrested two or three Lebanese who had been part of an Israeli assassination squad in Lebanon, responsible for several recent killings and car bombs. Three or four months ago two teenaged fisherman were killed by the Israeli navy in their open fishing boat near the border.
The mindless and bleak imperatives of the “War on Terror,” shared by the Israelis and the Americans make any kind of climb-down, diplomacy, or even conditional recognition of contradictory political positions almost impossible. There is no doubt that Olmert and Bush would like a way out. For Hizballah, the argument that Israel and the US are and will remain the greatest threat to all Arabs has been proven, and the anti-Syrian, pro-Euro- American Lebanese governments has been decisively and probably fatally weakened. Still, the assault cannot continue at this level and will have to end soon-how remains the question.
We really don’t want to leave Lebanon on a US aircraft carrier, but we’ll see what happens. Since we planned to fly to France two days ago, we need to communicate with the travel agent so as not to be forced to buy a second hugely expensive airplane ticket. The Israelis are bombing the shit out of the poorest areas of the country, and the worst places are certainly where there are no reporters or television cameras, but they will not bomb the American University campus, and we will remain safe and sound, albeit a little frazzled. The pro-American Lebanese Prime Minister lives right here too, and we can see his bedroom window from our bedroom window. It is safer to wait and stay put, which is what we plan to do. It is hard to be inactive, but that, of course, is why you have a three page letter before you.
If you called congress to call for ceasefire yesterday, please call again today.