Toledoans affected by Middle East violenceWritten by Nabil Shaheen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For Toledoan Jamele Jarouche, the second bombing of her area was less of a shock and more of a reminder of reality in Lebanon.
“It does come as a shock, but yet it’s not a surprise,” Jarouche said during a telephone interview July 23. “You hear this big explosion and you look around and you don’t know where it’s coming from. And then you feel this pressure; if it’s close by, you feel pressure coming through your ears. And then suddenly you see the smoke.”
An urgency to leave Lebanon has finally hit Jarouche. She is looking for a way out, after feeling safe in the small mountain town of Sultan Yaqoub.
The village was bombed twice. The first round destroyed a factory nearby, killing one of Jarouche’s acquaintances. As villagers rushed to bury his charred body that morning, Jarouche said she heard shelling start again while her mother was at the funeral.
Jarouche’s stunned mother told her that those at the funeral scrambled into pre-dug graves in the cemetary or to nearby homes.
“In the graves, can you imagine?” Jarouche said.
She is planning to leave as soon as she finds a place for her and her mother on a flight departing from Syria or Jordan. She said the trip to Beirut where the U.S. Embassy organized the evacuation is “impossible” because no one would drive her there.
“I’m not scared,” Jarouche said. “I feel sad for the country and for the people. And I’m thinking about the people, when we leave, what will happen to them — I have a way out.”
Glad to be home
The Israeli Defense Forces’ operation under way in Lebanon, a response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by the guerrilla group Hezbollah, cut many Toledoans’ vacations in Lebanon short. In its efforts to secure the northern border of Israel permanently, the IDF bombed most of Lebanon’s infrastructure in the past two weeks. Its international airport, roadways and neighborhoods believed to be Hezbollah strongholds have been destroyed, as Hezbollah steadily launches rockets into northern Israeli cities.
Instead of planning evening outings, Lebanese-Americans in Toledo began looking for a way out. Some are still in the Middle East waiting to grab seats on return flights from Syria and Jordan, while others, such as Ali Zrien, get reacquainted with the quiet of Northwest Ohio.
“I’m glad to be home,” Zrien said. “We were fortunate.”
He estimates it cost his family $7,000 to leave. They decided to attempt to get out without the help of the American Embassy by hiring a taxi to take them through Syria to Amman, Jordan.
“We were desperate,” Zrien said. “We thought it was not safe, and I did not want to expose my kids to a war zone.”
Some Toledoans who evacuated, such as Rabha Eidi, left Beirut to Cyprus through the U.S. evacuation of Americans.
Eidi said she paid for her own plane ticket out of Cyprus because she wanted to leave immediately, after rushing to the evacuation in Beirut. At first she said she was not so afraid, but as the military campaign against Lebanon progressed, she saw she must leave.
“During the bombing, I was once with my chauffeur, I was 200 feet from where a bomb went,” Eidi said. “And the window of the car all turned to pieces … this time I thought I would never make it.”
‘You feel guilty leaving them’
Those who have managed to escape the conflict still feel in many ways planted in the middle of it. Though now geographically far-removed from the war, they are torn watching on television what their relatives are witnessing first-hand.
“[I feel] guilty that I’m here and they’re there,” said Eman Jarouche, a UT student who was visiting Lebanon with her mother for the summer. “[It’s] unfair that just because I have an American passport … ” She paused. “You just feel guilty leaving them.”
Jarouche returned to Toledo one week ago. She and several other Toledoans found a driver to take them to the Jordanian border, and from there they called for a taxi to take them to Amman, Jordan’s capital. They’d booked new departure tickets while in Lebanon.
After learning only what a bombing sounds like, she got to see the aftermath herself. Driving into the Lebanese city of Zahle to change their flight plans, Jarouche saw where a shelling had ended only 20 or 30 minutes before they drove through.
“It looked like a really bad car accident,” Jarouche said. “It’s not a pretty sight.”
Rana Haddad, a recent UT graduate who was raised in Lebanon, is glued to the television watching the destruction unfold in the country she grew up in. Her father, visiting relatives in his hometown just outside Beirut, made the decision to stay in the country.
Her mother, Suha, said she raised her children in and out of bomb shelters in Beirut and later hotels and homes in other countries, throughout the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990. Both expressed fears Lebanon would enter into another religious conflict between its Christian, Druze, Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim sects.
“I just want my country to be safe,” Rana Haddad said. “It was once known as the Paris of the Middle East, and it had endured a lot of wars for the past five years. It’s been awesome, everything’s rebuilt, it’s like Europe now.”
“I hope this is not the end of our dream.”