American Bombs Fell on my Husband

Lianne & Ex husband 1983I’ve never before shared this piece of my personal history on social media, but current headlines about Israel’s war of vengeance on Gaza has pressed me to break my silence.

In 1980, I married an American citizen who was born in Beirut. We lived in San Francisco, enjoying a terrifically fun, loving, and educational life. Educational for me, because I grew up in the Midwest, where Arab exchange students were a thing to be feared while I walked the campus at Michigan State. Or so I’d been told.

“If you look them in the eye and you’re an American girl, they think that means ‘yes,’” advised an older female friend. “So never do that!”

When I met my future Lebanese-American husband years later, he agreed.

“Most of those guys at that time were Saudi, fresh off the desert. She was probably right.” And he, too, was likely biased in this over-generalization.

But he told me that he, on the other hand, came from a cosmopolitan city, once known as the Paris of the Middle East, where the former French rule had influenced their cuisine and their lives, whether Christian or Muslim, and where sadly enough, civil war in the mid-1970s had now divided and demolished much of their beautiful city. (He didn’t go into the deeper political influences behind that conflict.)

When we were married at his mother’s Beirut apartment, my mother-in-law embraced me, figuratively and literally, and tried to fatten me up. (She asked her son, didn’t he want a wife with big breasts? Although she treated me as if I were her own.) She planted a special jar of baklava in our room for me to nibble on at will, and did her best in two weeks to teach me how to cook those amazing Lebanese dishes, coveted throughout the world for their excellence.

The rest of his family welcomed me just as warmly, even as the tanks of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLO) paraded through the streets below the family’s high-rise apartments, which were spread around West Beirut.

The little nieces and nephews, I learned through translations, thought at first that I must be one of the “Charlie’s Angels” they’d seen on TV and asked shyly if they could touch my long, straight hair. They giggled at me through all the shared family meals. Most of all I remember the gargling of Arabic and laughter, the warmth and joy and welcome, and the springtime ritual of carpet beating echoing rhythmically from the walls of this populous city.

Meanwhile, husband-to-be and I waded over rubble to secure a marriage certificate from another part of the city, and passed through countless militia checkpoints where AK47s were thrust into my brother-in-law’s cab windows. Yet the locals took it all in stride, never losing their sense of humor or hope that one day, all would go back to the beauty they’d enjoyed in prior decades. What choice did they have? The political quests for power were beyond their reach to influence, the people used as pawns in one war or another, and as shields for the radicalized fighters who lived in their neighborhoods, next door to their children, their families, their ordinary lives.

Back in San Francisco, my husband and I partied with friends of all beliefs, cultures, countries, many of whom told me that they could never have enjoyed this friendship if they were “back home.” Our friends were Persians and Arabs and Brazilians, Christians and Muslims and Jews, some of them traditional enemies from “You killed my brother” ancient feuds who now met up for coffee on Sundays.

A friend who called herself a “Jewish American princess” married my husband’s best friend, a Christian Lebanese-American architect. A Muslim Lebanese friend married an American Christian girl with whom he shared a business. We danced at the disco together, hosted parties at our various abodes, and I pummeled them with questions. I learned a few words of Arabic and shifted from ballet classes to belly dancing at a famous San Francisco studio to surprise my husband when he returned from a solo visit to Lebanon.

It was a lovely multi-cultural existence, one that I dearly wished could spread to the rest of the world. Our microcosm proved what was possible! Demonstrated how similar we all are to one another, how closely linked were the traditions and cuisines.

But I also learned about the bias in American media, disabusing me of idealistic notions I’d been taught in my college journalism classes. For the first time, I saw a comparison of coverage—and in those days we did not have instant Internet connections exposing us to global media, to more universal perspectives. I learned from people of all countries that the United States was not the do-good, liberty-for-all utopia I’d been brought up to believe in.

Regarding Lebanon, I saw that every conflict described in American media listed Israeli casualties, and left out the much larger numbers suffered by Arab citizens in southern Lebanon, or in Israeli occupied territories. In the U.S. in those days, we rarely heard the other side’s story. When I begged to know why, my husband pointed to the names on the newspaper’s masthead. Our media was largely Jewish owned, he said, our politicians Jewish supported, and allegiance to Israel was voted into our system every year. My college-trained eyes were opened to a new way of seeing the world.

In the 1980s, the United States was a country using Israel as its political and military arm in the region, keeping a window open to maintain our dependence on oil-rich reserves in the area. Is that true today? I’ll leave that for you to decide. But please do recall how Israel came into being, and whose land was taken to create it. All of us are still paying for that egregious, post-WWII mishandling—all of the people who live now in the area, behind whichever border, and all of the U.S. citizens whose taxes are paying for a horrific attack on oppressed families and children today. (Nearly half of the people in Gaza are children, I’ve read, if that source can be trusted. Although many of them are now deceased or soon will be.)

But I digress from my story.

In 1982, my husband’s dear mother died of a sudden heart attack. Husband flew to Beirut to mourn with the family while I stayed behind working at my job in San Francisco’s design district. Within days, it seemed, Israel was suddenly flying planes over his mother’s neighborhood, dropping bombs in a surprise attack. Their excuse, as I understood it at the time? To ferret out the Palestine Liberation Army, known as the PLO. I thought it was because the organization had been firing rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel, so the Israelis flew their American weapons further north, to the heart of civilian Beirut, to blow up apartment buildings full of families. Because that’s where the PLO kept its headquarters, they said.

I heard this news the old-fashioned way, via whatever newspaper or television coverage we had. Then I heard it in a desperate phone call from husband. His mother’s apartment, where he’d been staying with his brother and young niece, was hit and demolished. They’d run for safety in the middle of the night to his sister’s apartment, where she lived with her husband and children. (The sister who’d taught me how to use boiled sugar, water, and lemon to “wax” my legs.)

Within days or hours, I can’t recall—it seemed immediate—her building was also targeted and destroyed by American jets flown by Israeli pilots. Again, they were forced to flee in the night—this time with crying children in arms, terrified and forever traumatized. The same ones who’d giggled and fondled my American tresses. Their only silver lining, he told me, was that his mother died two weeks before it happened.

“She would not have been able to run like we are doing.”

My heart broke for them all.

The next time I heard from him, the whole family was sleeping in a public park, all of their apartments destroyed. The family begged him to leave. He had a life elsewhere, they pleaded. This was not his war. He needed to go home to his wife in America. He was a citizen there!

But although he carried his American passport, the embassy couldn’t help him because he was officially (though not in practice) Muslim. The only way out of the city was by boat—the airport taken over, the Muslim West Beirut ports cordoned off by Israeli troops (in what would become a months-long siege of the city). Christian-militia controlled ports were still open but would block his exit, my husband said. They would stop him at the gate. I couldn’t understand how they would know but he assured me they would.

Beirut at that time was still divided by so-called “religious” boundaries, although I now understand that “religion” is often a disguise for some leaders’ political desires, a way to manipulate masses of people into doing their bidding by twisting their innate spiritual longings into obedience to a political agenda. Sure enough, history now tells me that Israel trained and used Christian militias to try to turn Lebanon into a country they could control, instigating fights with Muslim militia groups. Oh yes, it’s a long and ugly history. But in 1982, I knew nothing of this.

No country is immune to this political manipulation of spiritual aspirations, by the way.

In desperation, my husband sought help from the French embassy which was in the process of evacuating its own personnel. They were more accommodating. He joined their exodus and passed unnoticed through the port and onto a boat that took him to Cypress.

He and all members of his family survived Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. At least physically. They were fortunate.

The numbers are still disputed but modern Internet access gave me these figures from the Arab Summit Conference in September, 1982: 49,600 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians killed and wounded; 5,300 fighters killed; 6,000 missing. Israel called these figures inflated.

I also learned that the surprise bombing preceded a full-on invasion of Lebanon by the Israeli military, and did specifically target “high-rise buildings” in Beirut, supposedly to eliminate PLO leadership. This invasion was undertaken in retaliation for an attempt on the life of an Israeli ambassador in London “by a terrorist group.” And so the citizens of Lebanon were punished as Israel used this to justify its actions. The horrible truth is that the assassination attempt was carried out by an Iraqi group, Abu Nidal, that was in fact at war with the PLO, whose leaders were also on its London hit list. But leaders in Israel, in contradiction with the wishes of their own government, used the attempt as an excuse to go after Palestinians in Lebanon, many of whom had migrated there when war forced their exodus from land Israel took over.

In 1982, a Washington Post story began, “There were 17,825 persons killed and another 30,203 wounded during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, according to a detailed survey of police and hospital records conducted by the independent Beirut newspaper An Hahar.” It went on to say that within Beirut and its suburbs, 5,515 people were killed, and they were unable to separate military and civilian numbers.

What killed me then and kills me now is that Israel pursues its own power-based agendas using weapons, money, and diplomatic support provided by the United States. Today, it’s an ill-advised attempt by Hamas to draw the world’s attention to Israel’s long-lasting punishment of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank that has given Israel’s current government an excuse to attempt genocide against the Palestinians—again.

And what will be the “estimated and disputed” death totals this time? The difference is that given today’s Internet, we are all watching the civilian deaths unfold.

As an American taxpayer, and as a human being, I cannot support Israeli military actions, and I should not be required to do so.

If you can find a citizen’s petition to halt that support, I urge you to sign it! I posted a link on my Facebook profile, an Avaaz petition, that will let your leadership know how you feel about supporting the current genocide attempt. Facebook did not share this post widely, although stopped short of censoring it altogether. Please contact your leaders in whatever way you can to let them know you do not support the wholesale slaughter of innocent bystanders in Gaza or elsewhere. We must speak up against this current, overwhelming atrocity.

As for my ex-husband, we parted amicably in 1983. Despite our otherwise excellent personal relationship, we discovered that we’d naively failed to discuss our life ambitions—or perhaps did not realize how they diverged. We both went on to find our separate happily-ever-afters. I will forever be grateful for the upgrading of my knowledge and the simple human joys I experienced during our years together! Priceless.
Although information is hard to find in English online, here’s a brief history of Israel and Palestine in maps provided by the BBC. You’ll note that it omits any mention of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and siege of Beirut, and soft-peddles other aggressive actions taken over the decades.