We Felt Second-class: American Lebanese

Long days after their evacuation from war-battered Lebanon, many American Lebanese still remember with bitterness not just a horrifying experience but how they were left to fall pray to the Israeli destruction machine.

We Felt Second-class: American Lebanese

Long days after their evacuation from war-battered Lebanon, many American Lebanese still remember with bitterness not just a horrifying experience but how they were left to fall pray to the Israeli destruction machine.

"Now I can tell what it feels like when you are treated unfairly and unequally for being an Arab or Muslim," 24-year-old Malak told IslamOnline.net on condition that her last name remains anonymous.

Around 25,000 American citizens were visiting Lebanon when Israel unleashed its military juggernaut against Lebanon.

While many of them got stuck there under the Israeli bombardment and were unable to get out, some others have been evacuated.

Waves of evacuees streamed back safely to the American soil after long journeys filled with frustration, fright and hardship.

"It seems odd these days to claim that I am an American-Lebanese," Sami Maalouf of Los Angeles, California said bitterly.

"Nowadays, I feel perhaps how some enlightened African Americans felt in the 1940s, helpless but hopeful," he added.

"It is sad to see that this nation takes sides in a humanitarian conflict."

The Bush administration has rushed satellite and laser-guided bombs to Israel during the conflict to be used in the war.

It has also stymied international efforts to push for an immediate ceasefire, leaving the war drags on for 33 days.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the largest Arab American civil rights organization in the country, is suing the Bush administration for putting at risk the lives of 25,000 Americans in Lebanon by rejecting an immediate ceasefire and shipping weapons to Israel.

The lawsuit also accuses the administration of violating the constitutional rights of American Lebanese to protection with the much-criticized, slow evacuation.


The long road home was riddled with hardship for most of the evacuees not only because of the Israeli bombardment, but also because of the slow response of the State Department to help facilitate their repatriation.

Many complain that other countries such as France and Japan have quickly evacuated their citizens, while Americans were left on their own to find a way out.

"I cannot label how I was treated when I called the US embassy," said Maalouf.

"The gentleman I spoke with at the US embassy was not very eager to help," added the Californian who was in Lebanon with his parents to attend a relative's wedding in Zahle, in Bekaa Valley, north of Beirut.

"Perhaps he was overwhelmed with a lot of calls, but I recalled trying to get through the jammed phone lines for about 30 minutes, only to talk to a man who did not bother to take my name and contact information," added a surprised Maalouf.

"He told me that the embassy does not have an evacuation plan as of yet and I must stay put where I am at.

"I hope America is not like India following a 'Caste' system."

The Indian caste system is the traditional hereditary social system of India, in which social classes are defined by a number of hierarchical endogamous groups. A caste is defined by the mutual interaction among its members.

In the past, individuals faced excommunication from their caste if they committed certain unpardonable offences; thus they were denied the privilege of socially interacting with members of their former caste.


Despite their different views and stories, the evacuees agree on one thing: what they have seen in Lebanon was truly horrible.

"I've seen two wars back home in 1982 and 1989," said Fadia al Soyeissi of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was visiting her family in Lebanon when the war started.

"I still remember these two wars, but nothing was like this one," added the 36-year-old mother of three.

Sunni Soyeissi, born and raised in Al Bekaa Valley, in east Lebanon, is a US citizen of Palestinian origin.

"Israel has destroyed and demolished everything. They were killing innocent civilians and destroying their homes for no crime other than being Lebanese," she said.

"They were bombing anything that moves."

For Maalouf, a civil engineer and an Orthodox Christian, what Israel has done in Lebanon was unjustified and illogical.

"After hearing the news about the ambush and the two kidnapped soldiers, I started suddenly hearing news that retaliation has started to take place," he said.

"The airport, roads, bridges, power plants, a milk farm, a construction material factory, many buildings and many lives of innocent civilians were taken.

"I am not sure how all these destruction could be related to the ambush, but it seemed deadly to live there," said Maalouf, 38.

Hard Decision

For many Lebanese evacuees, leaving their parents under bombs and explosions was a very hard option.

Many still feel the taste of guilt in their throats and wish to return back to suffer with them.

"My parents were pushing us to leave," said Soyeissi. "They were so worried that something could happen to us or our kids."

She said her parents refused even to go to Syria where her sister lives.

"It is too hard to leave your parents, so what if you leave them in this dangerous condition?" Soyeissi asked sadly.

While many evacuees were feeling so glad to return home safely, Malak was also feeling guilty.

"Despite the suffering, I shouldn't leave them alone there. I would never forgive myself for doing that."

Even the ceasefire and the good news Malak has heard about her family couldn't ease her feeling of pain and guilt.

"I would never forget this look in their eyes when I was in the bus," she said with a choking voice.


Not surprisingly, the war and hardship in Lebanon have united Sunni, Shiite and Christian Lebanese.

Soyeissi, a Sunni who wasn't sure of her feeling towards Hizbullah before the war, could easily affirm now that she supports the Shiite resistance group.

"They are defending our rights and land against Israeli aggression while all Arab presidents and kings are doing nothing."

As for Maalouf, an Orthodox Christian, he enjoyed a warm feeling of unity between him and a Shiite driver who gave him a ride to the airport.

"He took me to Syria and was praying for our safety the whole journey," he recalled.

"I thought that (the prayer) helped, as the planes and bombs swished around, en route to Syria."

Maalouf recognizes Hizbullah as a political party in Lebanon with a strong representation.

He thinks that they are fierce fighters and their military skills must be integrated into the Lebanese Army.

"This will enable Lebanon to begin having a reputable defense force that is ready, willing, and able to defend itself anytime there is a clear and present danger that threatens its sovereignty and freedom."

Like many other Muslims worldwide, Malak believes that after this victory Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah has become the knight of the Islamic nation.

"This was the longest war between Arabs or Muslims and Israel," she said.

"For the first time in many years, someone has finally succeeded to put Israel down. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is our Muslim knight who brought us victory," added Shiite Malak.

New Generations

Unlike their parents, it was the first time for most of the American evacuee children to survive a real war.

They might have seen something like this in American movies, but the Israeli war on Lebanon was much different from those they watched on movies and cartoons.

Soyeissi said her three children who accompanied her on this trip were so scared and frightened.

"They are not used to this. It is the first time for them to see something like that," she added.

Soyeissi's youngest daughter Salam, 5, was feeling better and safer to be in the shelter with other people rather than being at home.

She is still feeling afraid to see or hear any airplanes, thinking it is going to bomb them.

"My kids would never forget that they have responsibilities towards their people who were suffering back home in Lebanon and who had no place to hide other than these unsafe shelters," said Soyeissi.

"They will always remember them and think of what they could do to ease their pain and hardships."

Only time will tell whether American Muslims and Arabs will be able one day to achieve the hopes that Soyeissi's kids have of easing some of the hardships people are facing back home, not just in Lebanon, but all over the Muslim world.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16