American Women and Children First

There were an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, and an estimated 30,000 Canadians. But when the cruise ship Orient Queen departed the port of Beirut towards the safety of the island of Cyprus it was U.S.A. all the way. Anywhere from 1,100 to 1,800 Canadians, all told to assemble for evacuation on Wednesday morning, remained in beautiful downtown Beirut with nothing to do but wait in fear.

An article in the Daily Star, Beirut's English language newspaper, details the response, both from Canadians and Americans.

Some Canadians accused the US of stealing spots on their boats. “The Americans have already left. No surprise there,” one woman complained.

“It's terrible. There were no phone calls, no e-mails,” complained Ali Chokr, a Canadian citizen born in Lebanon. He and his cousins drove three and a half hours from the South in hopes of evacuating.

The Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry's position is that there was a “slight delay” to the Canadian evacuation due to “security issues”. According to spokeswoman Ambra Dickie (speaking from the relative safety of Ottawa),”We're not going to put any Canadians at risk by forcing any ships through while there were still security issues.” Security issues? In a war zone? Enjoy the wait, Canadians. Wyclef Jean's soulful tune Gone 'til November comes to mind.

Some Americans were none too grateful. “It's been hell. They said we'll call you and they didn't. They treated us like dogs, like we were begging for something,” said unappreciative evacuee Helen Kasfy, traveling with her five now-safe children. In response to complaints about the quality of both the evacuation and the Orient Queen's quarters, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeff Feltman was rather blunt: “We're an embassy, not a transport company.”

The Daily Star story was written by one Iman Azzi, my former boarding school classmate. Recently, Iman sent out a mass email to friends explaining her decision not to evacuate, but to remain in Beirut providing coverage. She also detailed her new rules for the drinking game Beirut:

I'm thinking to be accurate the Israeli side starts with 10 beers while the Lebanon (Hizbullah) side starts with 6. Oh, and for every two shots Israel gets, the other side only gets one shot. Israel can throw, blow or bounce, or walk over and dunk the ball in the cup if it fancies. Hizbullah must shoot with their eyes shut. And there should be a cup in the middle both sides can hit constantly and a third party must drink. Let me know how it works out, maybe it will help solve the conflict.

One of Iman's classmates, Alex Marin, happens to be in Jerusalem working with The Israel Project, translating BBC news releases into Spanish and such. Most of her work is done in bomb shelters these days, but there's something to be said for the excitement. Last week I asked her about the controversy involving the Hezbollah rocket attack on an Israeli warship, and how the Israelis were so sure the rocket involved was an Iranian-supplied C-802; she replied, “I think the IDF does forensic tests on the missiles to detect their origin. Of course, we never know the complete truth but I have to accept what they say because it is really my only source and I trust them more than Hezbollah.”

Today Alex contacted me to see if I'd heard from Iman. For two days I haven't. Still, the aforementioned Daily Star article was published earlier this afternoon. My best estimate of whether or not Iman is safe depends upon her paper's website's cache size and refresh rate.

I'm starting to feel a bit self-indulgent about being an Orange County journalist. Still, Iman didn't want anyone to worry; she concluded her email with calming words…

Israel has completely shifted gears and is crippling Lebanon. The airport is losing 5 million dollars a day not counting the cost it will take to rebuild. They have hit the airport at least 4 separate times, fuel tanks, runways, terminal. And with hundreds of miles of borders with Syria, it seems unlikely that the airport was the arms capital for Hizbullah. They have destroyed Hizbullah neighborhoods but also dozens of bridges and all the ports and really destroyed the hope Lebanon had of reconstruction after the civil war. It's a mess. They hit a Red Cross ambulance and a hospital.

Unlike the states, the media here has no problem showing heart wrenching images, burned corpse, mangled children, bloody masses. It's really disturbing and I see no defense in any of their action. How do they justify sonic booms over the city as defense? How do they justify murdering civilians, whole families. I guess I tell you this because I may have said it before but it comes from someplace different when I am living the news I spent so much time studying.

It's 11:30 and I am exhausted. I am half waiting to hear the sound of rockets tonight. I don't know where I started to ramble but I did. I am sad because of what is happening but I do want to stress that I am calm about my safety.

She may not be safe – but at least she's calm about it.

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