An American Sister & Israeli Bombs

For one year from 2007-2008, Amar traveled around the world reporting on how people from all walks of life view the United States through text and video.  The following is one of a number of posts from Lebanon. For more, click here.

Beirut - The day Zeina's sister Dina returned to Lebanon from the U.S., bombs began raining down on Beirut.

By the time her sister fled Lebanon days later, Zeina found herself torn between loyalty to her Lebanese homeland, and her long-held vision of someday enjoying a peaceful, prosperous life in America.

Zeina, a twenty-three-year-old anthropology masters student at the American University of Beirut, remembers her mixed emotions during theJuly War of 2006, when Israel launched an aerial offensive in response to the seizing of two Israeli soldiers by the Islamist movement Hezbollah.

Zeina's sister Dina happened to arrive at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri airport on the first day of the war. Israeli planes bombed it the following morning. Dina, a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen, is a forty-year-old gastroenterologist at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Ohio. She's lived in the U.S. for thirteen years, and has two American daughters, eight and eleven years old, who came with her on this trip.

"Dina comes with a tornado. Everybody runs around the house talking and smiling," says Zeina who eagerly awaits Dina's annual return. Dina sister always brings lots of presents -- shoes and clothes from Macy's. But with war breaking out, "I just looked at the presents -- they were really beautiful, but I didn't feel anything,” Zeina says. “I was just worried they'd bomb the house and I'd lose them."

Dina decided that war wouldn’t dampen her visit to Lebanon. She wanted to spend time at the family's home in the south, just north of the Litani River. She had spent much of her childhood there amidst the apple orchards, swimming in the river beneath the Jabal al Rafi'a Mountain. So Zeina, Dina, the kids, and the rest of the family drove south.

But the bombing down there only got worse. The mountain flamed in the distance, struck by multiple blasts. Supersonic Israeli jets zoomed overhead, unleashing thunderous claps that frightened the children and brought back horrible memories for Zeina, who had fled the town during a previous Israeli strike when she was just ten years old. The family tried to celebrate Dina's return, refusing to turn on the TV during the day and always smiling when the children were around, despite the explosions in the distance.

But Zeina watched the news when no one was around. She turned on al-Jazeera and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation and saw flattened villages and exploded cars with children's limbs hanging out the windows. Then she switched to CNN and saw none of that. Instead, she saw Condoleezza Rice, "smiling and saying this was thebeginning of a new Middle East." Zeina was sickened, irate that America was not demanding a ceasefire. "[Rice] was not ashamed to say that! Maybe she wasn't watching the news."

Turning from the TV, Zeina watched her young nieces, who don't speak Arabic, and didn’t understand what was going on. How would they remember this event when they grew up? Would they feel the tension from being Lebanese-American one day?

After two and a half days, the family decided they had to leave because the south was too unsafe. They distributed the breadwinners into two separate cars in case one got struck and headed to Faraya, a predominantly Christian community in the Northern mountains they thought would be safe.

But even there, Dina decided she could no longer put her young children at risk. She took her girls and drove to Syria, then returned home to the U.S. Zeina remained behind with their parents.

Off they went, to "this better, safer, more prosperous place. For me, this beautiful place, The States. And I stayed behind watching these terrible conditions." They saw “peace and prosperity,” while she saw ,"America as foreign policy…like a monster…[acting] as if people are worth nothing here…just to provide security for Israel."

But she adds, "I know it is not America, as Americans. It is the administration doing it. I can separate this easily." Still, Zeina says she feels that Americans should pay more attention to the foreign policies of their government. "They have a responsibility to pay attention to what their administration does abroad. Too many people’s lives are at stake.”

“This war made many people in Lebanon angry at America." she says. But Zeina doesn’t want the experience of the war and U.S. behavior during it to affect her decision on whether or not to spend time in America. “I still want to go to the U.S., get a good education, maybe a PhD, feel satisfied," she says. With three siblings already in the U.S., spending time in America feels almost inevitable.

“But is it wrong?" she wonders. "Because if I invest my money and work [in the U.S.] and my money goes to the administration, it might be used for this [for war]. Maybe it is not right.”

LebanonAmar BakshiComment