The Krehs are a dear German family that lived and served with us for three years. They told me that people congratulated them on returning on time from Lebanon before the start of the war.
Although this family is thankful to be safe in Germany, they felt much deep sorrow while watching the news of destroyed Lebanon and wondering what has happened to the roads and scenery they once enjoyed in Tyre and other parts of the country.
On the eve of Aug. 13, eight air strikes were heard close to our house. More than 2,000 Christians were fleeing from Marjayoun, a southern town. Although the convoy reportedly had “special permission” and was under surveillance since leaving Marjayoun, it was assaulted for an unknown reason as it approached Kefraya junction, two kilometers from us.
One of our staff, Radwan, was among the courageous Red Cross aides who rushed to the scene. At least seven were killed (one a Red Cross volunteer and the Christian wife of Marjayoun’s mayor) and more than 40 injured. People began to run with their children and to drive their cars crazy. Another real massacre, just several hours away from the deadline to the “cessation of hostilities.”
Aug. 14 was a great day. It was the first time to wake up for the last 34 days to hear the birds singing instead of jet fighters crossing the Lebanese sky.
I felt as if I was born anew. I could not believe that the “cessation of hostilities” scheduled to be effective at 8 a.m. was really taking place.
Outdoors the trees seemed greener, the air fresher, and the sun brighter. People were shaking hands, kissing one another, and saying hamdillah alalsalamatika (Praise God for your safety).
I also was thankful to God for the joy of survival, but during the day I began to think about the sorrow of survival that many would be experiencing.
At 7:45 a.m., just 15 minutes prior to the deadline for “cessation of hostilities,” a public car was struck from the air and five Lebanese policemen and two civilians were killed. The families of these dead surely experienced the sorrow of survival and wished their sons’ travel had been delayed for at least 15 minutes.
On Aug. 6 David Grossman, one of Israel’s most prominent writers and peace activists, wrote a public letter calling for Israel to accept a mutual cease-fire with the Lebanese. On Aug. 12 news reached David that his own 21 year-old son, Uri, was one of the causalities of the war. Had the cease-fire been effective several days earlier, Uri and his family would have experienced the joy of survival instead of experiencing now, without Uri, the sorrow of survival.
Yesterday I visited with my son and daughter the southern suburb of Beirut. I had seen images of the destruction on TV, but to be there was quite a different experience. It was shocking to smell the odor of gun powder, to have the dust of rubble covering your whole body and to walk on smashed glass.
It is such an experience to see firsthand the interior of hundreds of shattered apartments, mattresses, personal belongings, toys and books. All were in heaps of wreckage.
I wondered how those returning home to find beloved ones still buried under the rubble could have experienced the joy of survival. I wondered how the families of more than 1,300 Lebanese civilian deaths are able to find comfort in their own survival. I wondered how those who knew their homes and belongings were wiped out are able to experience the joy of survival.
In the first days of the war I wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled: The Silent Human Conscience: What Should I Tell My Daughter When Bombs Fall And The Great Nations Say Nothing?”
Finally the human conscience has been shyly awakened! Hopefully the “cessation of hostilities” will evolve into a permanent “cease-fire” in the near future.
I am still unable to comprehend why it took so long to reach a U.N. Security Council resolution. How many of these dead on both sides of the conflict would have survived if an immediate cease-fire took place?
Sadly it seems that K. Makdisi, professor of international relations at the American University of Beirut, was right to say: “America and Europe can congratulate themselves not only on the total destruction of a country, but on the de-legitimization of the international legal order (U.N. Security council).”
Are the individuals and nations who insisted on the continuation of the terrible war and those who took so long to reach an agreement for “cessation of hostilities” feeling the joy or the sorrow of survival?
The Rev. Riad Kassis, Ph.D., is executive director and chaplain at J. L. Schneller Institute in West Beqaa, Lebanon, and lecturer in Old Testament studies at Near EastSchool of Theology in Beirut.
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