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One long summer in Lebanon

“Palestine,” from which this is excerpted, is a memoir in monologue by writer and actress Najla Said, daughter of the late Palestinian American scholar Edward Said. Produced by Twilight Theatre Company in association with New York Theatre Workshop, it opens Wednesday at the 4th Street Theatre in New York and runs through March 21.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006: I am in Beirut. My friend Alex calls and asks if I want to spend the day at the beach in Tyre with him and some other friends. A day on the most beautiful beach in Lebanon -- why would I ever say no? We get down to Tyre and swim in the bluest water you can imagine.

The next day I stop in an Internet cafe. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that more than a few people have their computers on the CNN home page and are looking at “breaking news.” I ask that most common question in Lebanon -- “Fee shee?” -- which means, literally, “Is there something?” I’m told that it is no big deal; it’s in the south, near the border; Hezbollah has captured some Israeli soldiers again. This is a common occurrence down south: Israelis capture Hezbollah soldiers, Hezbollah captures Israeli soldiers, back and forth and on and on. Figuring out “who started it” is like playing the chicken-or-the-egg game.

I go home early. I wake at 6 a.m to the familiar sound of bombs. There goes the airport. I guess I’m not going home.

The Israeli invasion of 2006 has officially begun. And I am here again, totally alone. My Lebanese family members are so accustomed to the sounds of war that they aren’t much help. THEY can tell exactly how far away a bomb is and what kind of bomb it is; I can only hear that it sounds like it is downstairs.

“No, that’s an echo over the mountain; it sounds like it’s near Sidon,” my uncle might say.

But how can he tell???!!

“They’re bombing the south; they are completely destroying Tyre; they’re not bombing us.”

I think of the families I swam near the day before -- they must all be either dead . . . or at least homeless.

“OH MY GOD . . . but I was JUST THERE.”

“Good thing you went on Tuesday and not Wednesday. HA HA HA HA HA.”

(This is Lebanese humor.)

And how do my family members know that Beirut won’t be attacked??? The war logic begins to emerge:

“They won’t bomb here because there are no Shiites in this neighborhood.”

“And also we are near the American University. We can always go across the street to the campus and be safe because they won’t bomb the campus -- that would be the equivalent of bombing America and the Israelis would NEVER do that.”

But the bombs do come closer. All day and all night we are trapped inside, in front of CNN and our computers. The streets are deserted; everything is closed. Israeli drones circle overhead endlessly.

“If you can hear the plane you are safe; if you don’t hear the plane it means it’s right on top of you and you are going to die.”

EXCELLENT.

So not only is the noise of the drone harrowing in itself, but every time it falls silent, there is no relief; you have to worry about whether you are about to be killed by the silence!

There’s something I want to explain. You can spend your life being a humanist, a pacifist, a thoughtful person who does not even think about hating or does not even know what it IS to hate -- that is to say, you can truly be a human being who is tolerant, open-minded and humane. BUT when you are being attacked, when bombs are falling around you, planes are hovering over your head, when your life is in danger and you are scared, it is SO EASY to look up to the sky and scream at the top of your lungs, “I HATE YOU, YOU [EXPLETIVE] ISRAELI [EXPLETIVES]!”

When you are fearful for your life and you are being bombed by a certain group of people, you are not thinking, “Oh, but I know that not all Israelis agree with this.” There is no time for that. Just as there is no time for THEM to think that it is not all Lebanese attacking back. All you can think in these situations is, "[Expletive] everyone!!!” The summer of 2006 was the first time I ever experienced real, pure, true hate.

But it was fleeting; it passed. I calmed down and rationalized. But that was because of a few things. 1. I was able to get OUT. 2. I am lucky enough to know some good people on the “other side.” And 3. I was able to talk on the phone daily with my Jewish therapist in New York.

So imagine if you grow up trapped in a conflict region, and you are always fearful, and under constant threat of attack. Whether you are an Israeli or an Arab, you are going to continue to HATE unless you have an alternative. And many people don’t.


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