Letter from Lebanon

A local Lebanese student reports from the danger zone

An oil tank burns after the second Israeli air attack on Rafic Hariri International Airport, Beirut.<br><span style=Photo By Sarah Hunter/ZUMA press">

An oil tank burns after the second Israeli air attack on Rafic Hariri International Airport, Beirut.
Photo By Sarah Hunter/ZUMA press

For harrowing home-video footage of the attack on Lebanon, go to www.salon.com/ent/video_dog.

Last week, SN&R was forwarded an e-mail from Rita Maalouf, a Lebanese student who lives in Sacramento and plans to attend classes at UC Davis this fall on a Regents Scholarship. Maalouf was visiting her parents in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, when fighting broke out between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamic group, two weeks ago. Although obviously concerned with ensuring the safety of her family first, Maalouf took the time to answer a number of questions from SN&R via e-mail.

Where do your parents live in Lebanon?

My parents live in the suburbs of Beirut, in a city called Fanar on the mountain of Lebanon. My sister lives in Haddad, but she is not living there anymore because her house is really close to the major attacks in Beirut. My mom is a homemaker, and my dad is an engineer and a teacher. Just so you know, all of Lebanon is as big as greater Los Angeles.

When did you first become aware that your country was under attack?

We have been in so many wars, the minute we hear something, we turn on the TV, and we listen to it. The capture of the two Israeli soldiers happened in the morning, and by noon the Israeli attacks had started in the south. The Israelis targeted more than 50 bridges the first day. Bridges in Lebanon are very important because rivers separate many cities from others. So, people cannot run away when bridges are blown up.

That same day, reporters from one of our TV stations were specifically targeted in their car that clearly said the name of the TV station on the top of it. Then the Beirut international airport was hit. The Israelis destroyed the runways. The next morning, the workers had fixed one runway, but the F-16s made sure to come and re-destroy it and make sure it is not easily fixed. They also hit fuel reserves at the airport.

How close is the fighting to you? What sort of damage, injuries and casualties have you observed?

There is no fighting close to me. There is only heavy bombing on bridges, factories, gas stations, cars full of people, army dormitories and stations, trucks and their drivers, pickups full of people, apartment buildings full of people, TV and cell-phone antennas, firefighter buildings, and two of six TV stations. These two stations are the only ones that would be targeted, because they are working against the Israeli media war. The only fighting is happening on the border.

The closest bombing is two miles away as the crow flies. I can see all of Beirut from where I am because I am higher than the sea level. I can see the airport and the southern suburb of Beirut, which is now completely destroyed. We could not enter it because of the horrible smell. People are dead under all the collapsed buildings. This area is high-density apartment buildings. We have no equipment left to dig under the rubble to get people out.

That city was destroyed in a way that is not believable; six-story buildings are down to the ground. Boats and aircraft are attacking the area. There have been more than 20 missiles a day for a whole week. These missiles are high-scale missiles that weigh a ton or more. Two friends of ours died (torn into pieces) next to my sister’s house. Many more have died.

We can also see the destroyers or torpedo boats that are in front of our shores. We are constantly hearing the F-16 flying over our house. The Apaches [helicopters] did not get close to our house, but they were on the shore where they destroyed all the military radars, the airport and our valley.

What services, water, food or medical care do you lack right now?

My family is fine for now. We do not need anything so far. There is no work, which means no income. But we have enough food for a few weeks. I visited only one of the schools where some refugees from south Beirut managed to escape to. I saw 250 families living in one small public school. They needed almost everything. They mostly needed milk, water, diapers and bread. Those are the essentials that they needed. Medications are also not arriving to them. I will be visiting them again today to see what I can help. The emirates sent around 35 ambulances and a big truck of medications. Israel bombed two ambulances and the truck. The people living in the cities in the south need food and water. The villages that are farther in the south are completely cut off from the outside world. They have no food at all and no water.

Is your family religious?

My family is indeed religious. We are Greek Orthodox.

Have you been able to contact the American Embassy for help?

I did try to contact the American Embassy, but the line was busy that whole day. Then I thought about my family and would rather stay here instead of evacuating. My parents are kind of old now, and I do not want them to suffer here. If something happens, I am sure I can help out. I have three other sisters here and a young brother that needs taking care of if something happens.

You grew up in Lebanon. What was life like under the last Israeli occupation?

I was personally born a day before the Israelis came all the way to Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982. They were already in the south. They stayed around six months in our city, Fanar. After that, they retreated to the south. I remember as a teenager when we could never go to the south. My friend lived in the south, and I could never go and see him because only the people that are approved could enter the south. Israel controlled everything, and they took over a lot of land to have their settlements. They took over the major roads, bridges and everything. They stayed in southern Lebanon until the year 2000, when Hezbollah, the resistance, kicked them out. The government thanked the resistance and made that day of liberation an official holiday.

How do you communicate with others? Obviously, the Internet works. Do you have TV, radio?

Internet is what we use in my city, but others do not have it. Some phone lines are still working, depending on where you are. And the cell phones are the main way of communication for the people in the south, the valley and Beirut, because the phone lines are out. People are able to report what is going on in the targeted areas through cell phones, so recent targets were the antennas that get reception for those areas.

TV is working. It would be harder to target those because some of the stations that we have here are working with Israel to scare people as a tactic to create hysteria. But the ones that are not have been targeted already. They are still working, though, which tells you a lot about Lebanese stubbornness. Radios in my city are working.

If there were one thing you wanted to communicate to people in Sacramento about what’s happening there, what would it be?

The only thing we are asking for is to hold fire without needing to sign treaties that will eventually hurt our country in the long run.

What we need here is the Western countries to stop supporting Israel. Hezbollah will give away their weapons as soon as we get our Lebanese prisoners of war in Israel and as soon as we get our land back. We as Lebanese people do not want Hezbollah to keep their weapons when our country is completely free.

Hezbollah is composed of the people that make up the south. They have been bitten constantly by Israel and cannot take it anymore. It might be very strange for Western countries to understand, but the people are supporting Hezbollah because they are the only ones that will bring their children back, and they are the only ones that are bringing them food and electricity and houses and education all these years that the Lebanese government has neglected them.

The U.N. has refused to help the civilians that were seeking help in their compounds. NATO will be entering Lebanon soon to get rid of Hezbollah. A few years back, a new computer game came out in the U.S. It was about Beirut in 2006, where the U.S. Marines are landing and cleaning up Beirut from Hezbollah. A person told me yesterday that she saw the Marines land on Lebanese shores. I am really worried that they will be hurting our people. You can never know who is Hezbollah, because they are the people who live here. Are they just going to target all Muslims? Or all Arabs? Or what?