Harvard Evacuates Affiliates from Lebanon

Ph.D. student Esdaile misses checkpoint for evacuation, sustains injuries

Unnamed photo
Associated press

Wreckage of burnt cars parked in front of damaged buildings is seen in the town of Choueifat, at the southern edge of Beirut, Lebanon yesterday.

A Harvard graduate student was injured and stranded in Lebanon this week after Israeli military forces shelled his taxi as he made his way to an evacuation point in Beirut.

Michael J. Esdaile, a Canadian second-year PhD student in Middle Eastern History, sustained minor injuries and was forced to miss the Harvard-sponsored International SOS (ISOS) shuttle out of the Lebanese capital, according to E. Roger Owen, the director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Harvard decided last week to evacuate students and staff in Lebanon by busing them to Damascus, Syria, and then flying them to Cyprus.

The evacuations are not mandatory, though the University is recommending that its affiliates leave the country.

The recent conflict between Israel and Lebanon began last Wednesday when Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group that operates out of southern Lebanon, crossed into Israel and attacked an Israeli military patrol, killing eight soldiers and taking two as prisoners. Israel retaliated with heavy bombing, starting in the Hezbollah-controlled south and then shifting progressively north.

Esdaile is one of several University affiliates who remains in Beirut, including some who were not known to be in Lebanon when ISOS was first given a list of names by Harvard administrators.

“Esdaile was not evacuated by ISOS because he missed the meeting at the rendezvous point,” Owen, a professor of Middle Eastern history, said Thursday.

“He is fine, but his hand was hurt,” he added.

Despite the chaos in the region and Esdaile’s unsuccessful escape, Jorge I. Domínguez—Harvard’s vice provost for international affairs—said that “the evacuation of all individuals associated with Harvard, regardless of their citizenship, had been successful in general.”

Domínguez said that ISOS’ evacuation efforts have thus far been focused on College students because their contact information and whereabouts were most readily available to administrators. He added that Harvard has continued to supply ISOS with the names of other affiliates in the country as the information becomes available. 
Thus far, Harvard has evacuated 12 people from Lebanon via ISOS, Dominguez said. Another four individuals—family members of Harvard affiliates—have been evacuated as well, though it is not clear if they were evacuated under Harvard's ISOS contract. Seven more Harvard affiliates have arranged for their own transportation out of the country, two by the U.S. government.

Still, not all students in the region have been contacted directly by ISOS or Harvard administrators.

After The Crimson first reported on the evacuation last Saturday, its reporters have been contacted by several Harvard affiliates in Lebanon who were not initially informed about the details of the evacuation. Those names were forwarded to Harvard administrators.

Rima Rachid—an attending physician at Children’s Hospital who is on staff at Harvard Medical School— told The Crimson in an e-mail that she is “currently stuck in Beirut” and that she had not been informed about the ISOS busses. It is not clear if she has yet made it out of Lebanon.

One student who did manage to evacuate, Jade F. Jurdi ’07, described his dramatic departure from Lebanon in an e-mail to friends that he provided to The Crimson.

“The distant bombardment that made [our] house shake was the hitting of the Beirut to Damascus highway,” Jurdi, a Quincy House Government concentrator, wrote. “Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure and air and sea blockade had trapped us.”

Jurdi initially fled to the mountains with family, where he was later contacted by Assistant Dean of the College John L. Ellison, who is helping to coordinate the evacuation.

“I got a call on my cell phone from Dean Ellison telling us the University wanted us to evacuate and that we would be taken out by a private company that was attempting to enter the country,” Jurdi wrote.

In order to evacuate the following day, he returned to Beirut and checked into a hotel near the American University of Beirut. After finally boarding an ISOS bus and travelling to the border, Jurdi reported witnessing complete chaos, with Western embassies scrambling to evacuate their nationals from the capital city.

—Staff writer Pierpaolo Barbieri can be reached at
—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at