Fog of War Fades at Eliot JCR Talk

In apolitical panel, students swap tales from both sides of Lebanon-Israel border

While many students spent their summers working on their resumes or tans, some found themselves trying to evacuate from the war in northern Israel and southern Lebanon.

Students caught on each side of the conflict shared their stories at last night in the Eliot Junior Common Room.

The panel, co-sponsored by the Progressive Jewish Alliance and Society of Arab Students, was emphatically apolitical. Students shared their personal experiences during the conflict, but the discussion was halted when it turned toward the tactics of Hezbollah and whether Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure was justifiable.

Instead, speakers focused on both the drama and drudgery of life in a war zone.

“You might think it’s exciting, but basically you sit at home, and watch the news, and call loved ones and friends and people you know and make sure everyone is safe,” said Ziad M. El-Zaatari ’09, who left Beirut for his family’s home in Sidon, a port city 40 miles south of the capital, on the first day of fighting. Two weeks later, he was evacuated by the U.S. military.

Students also remarked on the strange juxtapositions of crisis and everyday life when societies accustomed to low levels of conflict and violence find themselves in a real war.

Miriam R. Hinman ’08, who was working at an archaeological dig near Haifa in northern Israel, recalled the night after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, which spurred the conflict.

“All the Israelis said, ‘This is normal, there’s always this border stuff.’ The next morning we saw Israeli planes flying over the site, and thought it was only border violence,” she said. Later that day, she heard the Beirut airport had been bombed, and realized this wasn’t a standard skirmish.

Everyone emphasized the uncertainty about how long the conflict might last and how far it might spread.

Susan E. Maya ’08 was studying in Haifa when it was first bombed, and left to stay with relatives in a Tel Aviv suburb.

“I thought I’d stay a few days and go back, so I only brought enough stuff for a weekend,” she said.

The glamor of the situation was not completely lost on Jade F. Jurdi ’07, as he rode back to Beirut in the midst of a bombing campaign.

“I found myself thinking, if I die, at least it’ll be an international incident, and I’ll be on the news,” he said.

—Staff writer Virginia A. Fisher can be reached at vafisher@fas.harvard.edu.