Friday, July 21, 2006

'Why is there not a murmur of protest from Washington?'

Kim Sengupta
The Independent
July 21, 2006

Outside the cavernous US government-run holding centre in Nicosia, Mohammed Shami shook his head. "I feel embarrassed to be an American. They have given Israel the green light to destroy Lebanon. What they are doing is wrong; it is immoral."

Mr Shami, who is of Lebanese-American descent, arrived here with 1,000 fellow Americans early yesterday, part of the exodus to Cyprus expected to reach more than 80,000 people fleeing the ferocity of the conflict in Lebanon.

For Mr Shami and others from the successful and settled Lebanese community in the US the relief at escaping the violence is mixed with deep feelings of anger and guilt at the actions of their government.

"My father is of Lebanese birth and my mother is American", said Mr Shami, a 21-year-old student from Michigan. " I am very proud of my mother and the American people. All I can say is that most American people are not like Condoleezza Rice, they are not like George Bush; they have a sense of decency."

There are 25,000 US nationals in Lebanon and they will arrive in Cyprus at 2,000 a day. The 2,300-strong 24th Marine Expeditionary Force is offshore with assault ships and destroyers. The purported reason for such a heavy military presence is to "help the civic powers" in the evacuation. But US diplomats privately acknowledge fear of an attack by Hizbollah. The first batch of Americans who came, on chartered ferry, the Orient Queen, are staying at the International State Fair complex in Nicosia, two huge halls with 1,152 orange camp-beds.

For many, the 10-hour journey out was fraught. More than 100 had forced their way out of the ship at the port of Larnaca after waiting more than an hour in stifling heat. Some objected to the barrack-like accommodation and the basic facilities. "I was hungry and when I tried to get food at four in the morning they stopped me," said a tearful woman. "Now I am told I am not on the list to go out tonight. We have to put up with more of this."

Mona al-Makki, 48, from Chicago, holding her three-year-old niece, Samira, on her knees, added: "I know they are having to look after a huge number of people, but this is not a place you want to spend any amount of time.

"I guess our attitudes are coloured because while we are sitting here, good homes belonging to our relations in Beirut have been destroyed by the Israelis without a murmur of protest from our President. I was asking, 'Why the hell is no one in Washington doing anything about this?' "

Gabriel Mansouraty left Beirut in 1981 during fierce fighting that led to an Israeli invasion. He settled in El Paso, Texas, as a manager of a plastics company, and took his American wife and two sons to Lebanon to show how the land of his birth had made a success of itself after years of strife.

"None of my family had seen Lebanon and I have not been back for 25 years," said 53-year-old Mr Mansouraty. "I was amazed by what has been achieved, the new buildings, the restaurants, the roads the great lifestyle. One only really appreciates that if one knew how devastated the place was. And now this.

"The Israelis have destroyed the buildings, the roads and that lifestyle. They have put the country back 30 years. I cannot believe this all happened because of the capture of two soldiers. This must have been months in planning.

Story Link