Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Update on family in Lebanon


In today's paper I wrote about a Charlotte family that was visiting Lebanon and got caught in the fighting there. (The story is here.) Julia Blevins-Mercabi; her husband, Mazen; and their daughter, Mona-Kate, have been trying to get out of the country.

This morning at 11:30 (about 6:30 p.m. Lebanon time) I got an e-mail from Julia Blevins-Mercabi. I'm just going to reprint it here. Add comments below.

OK -- today was pure HELL! At 1:30 AM the Embassy called us and told us to report to the Northern Beruit port at 11:00AM because we were going to take a ship to Cyprus. We took a taxi to Beirut and went to the assigned area as scheduled. It was chaos. People were told to show up and their names were not on the list so they were turned away after waiting hours in the heat.

Our names were on the list so we went to a holding area where we went through a security check, a processing station, and we were assigned a bus which would take us to the ship. At 3:00 PM our bus arrived. We boarded the bus and a representative from the embassy said "Sorry. You all are not going to Cyprus today. We had some medical emergencies and we had to take them to the ship. We will drive you back to the highway and you will have to find your way home. But tomorrow you can go to Cyprus by helicopter". The ship had not even left yet! If there were medical emergencies why didn't they use the helicopters for those people? People were livid. Some had traveled 3 hours on dangerous roads just to get to Beirut and paid jacked-up taxi cab fares -- only to hear "Sorry, come back tomorrow" like it was nothing to get there.

Everyone was on an emotional rollercoaster. First hope and relief that they were going home and then pain, anger, frustration. Do you know what it is like to get dropped off on the highway in and out of Beirut? That is like getting dropped off on I-85 with everyone speeding and being told to fend for yourself. I mean, how were they going to do that? People had babies, luggage, and no cell phones. Did they expect everyone to hitchhike or walk? The people on the bus started screaming at the embassy staff. Eventually the embassy staff took us to a hotel next to the embassy. They promised us that tomorrow they will take us on a helicopter to Cyprus at 8:00 AM. They told us to report to the embassy at 6:00 AM. Everyone started screaming at the embassy staff and they gave us all promissary notes that we will be the first to go tomorrow.

At the hotel we waited an hour and they still did not have room for us, so we came back to Tripoli. Now tomorrow I have to go through the whole thing again. Can you even imagine what that is like? So tomorrow we will trek back to Beruit at 4:30 AM and hope that luck is on our side.

I do, however, want to say how fantastic the Marines were. They were so kind. They brought us water and food, had a shaded area for us to sit, and helped people load their luggage onto the buses.

Now I am going to call my mom because more than anything I worry about the emotional toll this whole ordeal has had on her. Then I will go to bed because I have a big day ahead.

Hopefully I will see you all soon!

Julia

11 comments:

Heather P. said...

This is awful. Our government cannot get anything done properly. Its like the Katrina evacuations all over again. I am so sorry for this womans family and pray that the 3 of them will be safely home soon.

Anonymous said...

Duh. Should've stayed in the US in the first place. I am not feeling her pain.

Anonymous said...

Typical U.S Government bullshit bureaucracy...and playing with fellow Americans lives in a war zone.

Bush continues to show what a jerk ass he really is when his leadership is urgently needed at a desparate time.

Anonymous said...

Her situation is unfortunate, but it is a situation of her own making. They traveled to an area that is extraordinarily unstable. There is risk associated with that, and that risk is a personal responsibility and not one that can be laid at the feet of government.

American embassies abroad do not exist as emergency assistance centers for travelling Americans. They have a limited potential to deal with such things that does not include plans that can be implemented on a moment's notice to respond to the outbreak of violence.

That the situation is chaotic is predicatable. That chaos is to some degree irreduceable, given that the embassy staffers are largely office workers in areas such as trade, visa issuance and so forth. They simply are not "emergency travel agents". Even the Marine guards who she mentions as being helpful are going above and beyond for these people: their function is to protect the Embassy itself and the people who work within the embassy. It is not to protect or assist American citizens traqvelling abroad.

Quite frankly I believe she should be pleased that they are recieving assistance in evacuating an unsafe area, and grateful that the embassy staffers -who would probably themselves prefer to be leaving the country- are doing what they can in the midst of the chaos to assist them. That it isn't going as smoothly as a fall foliage tour of the Blue Ridge is hardly something that she should be bitching about as though those clerks and researchers that are attempting to help her are doing anything other than attempting to make the best of a bad situation for her.

Oh, and Heather P: I agree. Government is almost never the most efficient means of accomplishing something. But in this case it's a little hard to argue that the embassy staff should be able to pull this off smoothly. They have no more expertise in mass evacuations that do you.

Edie G. said...

Anonymous is horribly crass and a bit ignorant - perhaps because he's not travelled to the region?

One function of the embassy is to aid Americans in that foreign country and given Lebanon's and Israel's history and the government's instability should have had a contingency plan for just this event.

During the 80's Israeli occupation the embassy was caught off guard and the PLO played a major role in getting Americans out of Beirut, now obviously the ambassador must not trust Hezbollah with the same task. This earlier experience should have acted as a prompt to the embassy to get prepared.

Europeans were being bussed out to Damascus, flown to Cyprus and flown home by Day 3. The U.S. was still 'assessing the situation'.

Also, since Israel is suppose to be such a close friend and ally, the evacuation of our citizens should have taken priority. Even a simple, short cease fire so American citizens could make it to Beirut would have helped. Or, the Israelis could have let U.S. ships into the port cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Tripoli so Americans didn't/don't have to make the dangerous trip to Beirut.

Pres. Bush's refusal to get involved or call for a ceasefire is ridiculous. We play a central role in this conflict, without the USSR, we ARE the superpower in the world, Israel is using U.S. made weapons in this offensive and they are the largest recipient of our foreign aid. If Israel doesn't listen to us, who will they listen to?

Anonymous said...

NEWS FLASH:

There's violence in the Middle East! Seems to have started, oh, I dunno, a few thousand years ago?

I learned very early that when my mom said, "don't put your hand on the stove; it's hot" NOT to put my hand on the stove. When the government issues warnings saying "don't go there; it's dangerous...."

Oh, but that's right; no way anyone should be held accountable or responsible for their own actions anymore. I forgot.

Never mind.

Monkeydarts said...

edie g-- Lebanon has been on the State Department's list of countries to avoid since at least 2004. Why in the world should the American taxpayer be responsible for getting people out of any country let alone one that's on the warning list? I travel worldwide extensively and this all looks like ignorance topped with ingratitude to me. I wish them luck along with all the rest but what so many Americans thought they were doing in Lebanon is beyond me.

edie g. said...

Anonymous: The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not 'thousands of years old'. (Neither is the conflict between Israel and Lebanon for that matter.) The Palestinian-Israeli conflict began back in the late 1800's with the increasing immigration of European Jews to Palestine. The immigration was spurred by European Christian persecution of Jews. After the tragedy of the holocaust (another European Chrisian atrocity), the Jews fled in larger numbers to Palestine. The indigenous Palestinians were (and are now) expected to pay for the actions of European Christians.

The conflict was only made worse by the British and the U.N. The conflict started 100-150 years ago as a secular, political conflict and can be resolved as such. Americans have been lead to believe it's impossible and therefore not worth our consideration. This keeps us from pressing our elected officials for a just peace and frees up lobbyists to influence them, even if it goes against America's best self interest in the long run.

Monkeydarts: No, it's not ignorance. My sister-in-law's mother was dying. Family was travelling to Lebanon from Denmark, Abu Dhabi and other places to say good-bye to their mother and care for their father. She was aware of the warning, but also realized that to live or have relatives in the middle east means to live with uncertainty.

Just because I know downtown Charlotte, or parts, are dangerous at night should not keep me from travelling through there. What if my car breaks down and I'm mugged or raped. Would your attitude be - 'Well, she shouldn't have been there in the first place. Why waste our tax dollars to pay police to help extract her?'

It's not ignorant or ungrateful to expect our government to take care of it's citizens. I'd rather have my tax money go towards saving a fellow citizen in Liberia, Venezuala or the middle east than towards a lot of other pork barrel projects we waste money on
(or Haliburton).

Anonymous said...

I'm neiother crass nor ignorant of the situation.

Consular offiers provide assistance of all sorts. But there are no means by which the consular section of an embassy can instantly, let alone efficiently provide for the physical safety and comfort of more than 20,000 Americans, almost half of whom suddenly wish to leave. They do what they can, and their efforts are quite frankly impressive.

You appear to have a perosnal and empotional involvement in this particular case, and I suppose that would account for your thinking that it is crass to point out that it is ill mannered to complain about those who re helping one get out of a situation that they did not put you in. In reality what is crass is the content of that e-mail to the press. A more dignified approach might point out the difficulties of the situation without the whining complaints about personal inconvenience as though the woman were being inconvenienced through no fault of her own.

Whatever the reason for her travel, we all assume the risks for the situations in which we place ourselves. That e-mail comes across as though it were written by a spoiled child -particularly the apparent inability to consider that those medical emergencies should take precedence over others.

ziggy said...

It's all Bush's fault! It's his fault the missiles are falling on Israel! If he had not stolen the election and Gore had of won Hezbollah and Hamas would not have kidnapped those soldiers. Israel would not need to be protecting its citizens from future attacks and the whining Americans stuck in Lebanon would not be whining.

ziggy said...
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