Thursday, July 27, 2006

Out of Beirut: A war story comes home

Ramona and Sousan Ataya of Beaumont, Texas, had only been vacationing two days in Beirut -- mother Sousan's native country -- when the war between Israel and Hezbollah spilled over into Lebanon. Joined by several cousins, they were caught up in the tense days of waiting to be rescued by the American government, fleeing by taxi to a safer refuge in the mountains near Beirut, and hours of pushing through anxious crowds to clamber aboard a U.S. Navy ship that would take them to Cyprus.

What was to be a five-week holiday before 22-year-old Ramona (in photo with father Dr. Raja Ataya, also Lebanese-born) started medical school in the fall turned frighteningly dangerous. They landed safely in Houston Wednesday night and their story is told today by Writer Beth Gallaspy in the Beaumont Enterprise. It says, in part:

"In the mountains, we knew we were safe, but you're constantly hearing bombs," Ramona said about 12 hours after returning to her Beaumont home. "You see the planes outside your window dropping bombs. We weren't really worried for our lives that much, but we were worried about what's to come, what's going to happen, what if it does get worse." ...

Two days of rest in a luxury hotel there preceded a marathon of travel home: a five-hour flight to Germany, a 10-hour flight to Newark, an eight-hour layover, then on to Houston. Their commercial flight had a two-hour delay, but by then the women were too tired to care.

"We didn't even have the energy to complain anymore," Ramona said.
ABOVE: Beaumont Enterprise photo by Mark M. Hancock

14 comments:

Patty said...

I was with them until the (We didn't even have the energy to complain anymore," Ramona said)

Then I thought what the hell is she complaining about? The free ride to safety? Cutting the vacation short. Good ole Uncle Sam is not lugging me anywhere this summer.

Michael Gillespie said...

So, Beaumonters Ramona and Sousan Ataya were two of the Americans you were ragging on in your Wednesday, July 19, 2006, Under the News blog entry titled
"I fled Lebanon and all I got was this T-shirt", Ron?

Ron Franscell said...

Yep.

Doesn't mean I think they shouldn't have been rescued. Doesn't mean they're not worthy of concern. Doesn't mean they should have to pay for their evacuation. Doesn't make their story any less compelling.

Just means I think, as I posted, lots of people made some bad vacation choices. Luckily, every single one of the evacuees was plucked safely from Lebanon.

The Atayas do represent one of the few more-justifiable situations: Lebanese-Americans returning home for family/heritage reasons.

Michael Gillespie said...

And how would you feel now about your previous comments if Ramona and Sousan had been blasted to bloody bits by the bombing and artillery campaign that is part of the grossly disproportionate Israeli reaction to Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers that were caught on Lebanese soil? By the way, the article Beth wrote says Ramona and Sousan were vacationing in Lebanon. Do you now mean to imply that it's OK to vacation in Lebanon if you have family there, but any other Americans who might do so deserve whatever fate the Israeli military might arbitrarily decree with its U.S.-supplied ordnance?

StationX said...

No shit. If a bunch of American tourists bopped into Iraq right now, should the taxpayers be responsible for their return flights? I don't care if they are Iraqis, Sunnis or Shiites getting in touch with their roots, they should take responsibility for their own action! If they choose to go someplace dangerous, they shouldn't bank on the taxpayers to bail them out when the going gets rough. Let the libs take up a collection next time.

ariellives said...

MG, where the hell do you get that the Israeli soldiers were "captured on Lebanese soil"?? When I read your post I googled for any information about it and all I can find is that the soldiers were abducted "in a raid on an IDF military base in northern Israel." Your panties get in a bunch if other peoples facts don't suit you, so prove up. You want to make it sound like an Israel invasion but there's no substantiation of that anywhere I can find. Or are you now just making up facts to suit your terrorist-loving and anti-semitic agenda?

Michael Gillespie said...

Here is the initial AP story from the Forbes site URL below:

http://www.forbes.com/technology/
feeds/ap/2006/07/12/ap2873051.html

Associated Press
Hezbollah Captures 2 Israeli Soldiers
By JOSEPH PANOSSIAN , 07.12.2006, 05:41 AM

The militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers during clashes Wednesday across the border in southern Lebanon, prompting a swift reaction from Israel, which sent ground forces into its neighbor to look for them.

The forces were trying to keep the soldiers' captors from moving them deeper into Lebanon, Israeli government officials said on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli military would not confirm the report.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called an emergency Cabinet meeting and said Lebanese guerrillas would pay a "heavy price" for Wednesday's attacks.

"These are difficult days for the state of Israel and its citizens," Olmert said. "There are people ... who are trying to test our resolve. They will fail and they will pay a heavy price for their actions."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press.

Any other questions?

Does this mean that AP, Forbes, and a dozen other Western news organizations have a "terrorist-loving anti-Semitic agenda", too? Or does it mean that they got it right for once? LOL!

By the way, AP and Forbes were not the only news organizations to report that the two Israeli soldiers were "captured" by Hezbollah on Lebanese soil. Many others did also. In fact, all the early reports agreed that the Israelis were "captured" inside Lebanon. Only later did the Israelis deny that and change their story saying that the soldiers had been "kidnapped" in a cross-border raid into Israel. How convenient that, as usual, most Western news organizations bought the Israeli line and changed their later reports to reflect Israel's version of events.

That Cleaning Lady said...

I agree with Patty, get a free ride away from the bombs, and she complains about having to wait. Boohoo. Next time I'll bet they ask grandmother to come to Beaumont! Come see somewhere where there isn't a bomber in the neighborhood. I stand by my conviction that leaving U.S. soil is a BAD idea. Stay home, visit America (and ignore Michael Gillespie).

Ron Franscell said...

On this one, Michael, I think you are wrong. I suspect it's because you are citing a very early -- maybe first -- report on the incident.

The next day, an equal or better source, the Washington Post, places the attack more directly and quotes Hezbollah as saying it crossed into Israel to abduct the soldiers.

Washington Post, July 13

"Hezbollah said it carried out the attack about 9:05 a.m., when its fighters managed to cross the heavily fortified border near Shtula, an Israeli farming town of about 350 people. Hezbollah guerrillas fired on two Israeli army Humvees, killing three soldiers and capturing two others."

The BBC -- certainly not an untrustworthy American media outlet and touted by The Left post-9/11 as the best, most accurate source in the world -- says the same thing.

And as icing on the cake, the San Francisco Bay Independent Media Center, an active crusader against the corporate media scourge in America, says:

Wednesday July 12th

"At 9:05 AM, Hezbollah's military wing launched a barrage of rockets and mortars on Israeli towns and military positions along the Lebanese border. A force of infiltrators then moved 200 meters into Israel, attacked two armoured IDF Humvees with anti-tank rockets, killing three soldiers and taking the remaining two in captivity to Lebanon's territory. An Israeli tank attempted to pursue Hezbollah into Lebanon but was damaged by a explosive device and all four of the crew members were killed. In all, 8 soldiers were killed, 2 captured and 5 wounded. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said that a prisoner exchange was the only way to secure the release of the soldiers."

So, the best evidence -- if Hezbollah's quoted admissions can be believed -- is that Hezbollah crossed into Israel to abduct the soldiers.

Michael Gillespie said...

And I suspect you are wrong, Ron. Early on, Hezbollah propagandists would probably have seen it to be to their advantage to be portrayed as having taking the initiative. All the later press reports, including those you've cited, are reliable only in that they consistently parrot the line the Israelis decided upon.

As for the BBC, the shake-up there following the apparent suicide of WMF expert David Kelly, who had been interviewed by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, and the infamous Hutton Report, which was severely criticial of the BBC, limited the ability of the world's most trusted news organization to report the news in an unbiased manner, especially with regard to the crisis in the Middle East. Sadly, since 2004 the BBC has been as much the toothless lap-dog as the other major Western media organizations where coverage of the Middle East is concerned. See: http://www.cjr.org/issues/2004/2/comment-crime.asp and http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/
news/iraq/2004/01/iraq-040130-irna04.htm

I'm inclined to trust the early reports, rather than the re-writes.

joeseo said...

From Huffington Post comments:

Are you freaking kidding me? I'm so sick of hearing about how our government doesn't do anything for it's citizens. Please, someone show me where it says that the federal government is required to assist hurricane victoms, or those traveling abroad when something like the current conflict occurs.
Everyone expects the feds to take care of all of their problems, regardless of who or what caused them. In my opinion (which I'm sure isn't highly regarded here) this is just another example of the American people thinking that the government owes them a helping hand. Guess what folks? They don't. The government is here to take care of basic needs and infrastructure.
Should the government be rebuilding levees and roads wiped out by Katrina? Of course. Should they be giving away millions of dollars in relief to those that wouldn't/couldn't leave New Orleans? Hell no. It's just not their responsibility, that is why we have insurance companies. People like to think that it is, but it isn't. A lot of my "far left" liberal friends think that the feds should be ashamed of the way they've handled the Katrina victoms. I say that they've already got more than the government owed them.
I live in Texas, where we see people everyday that have been displaced by Katrina. When you ask them if they plan on returning home someday, their answer is: If the government ever gets it cleaned up down there. This completely blows my mind. Why does the government have to clean it up for you? If the feds want to help, then great, it is just one more case of the government doing more than it has to, but you should be down there doing your part as well. That means getting dirty and actually making a difference.
The same holds true for Americans trapped in Lebanon. It is not the government's responsibility to make sure you get home from vacation. I apologize if that is too blunt for some of you, but it is a simple matter of fact. The feds don't owe you holiday insurance. The same goes for Americans working in Lebanon (with the exception of government employees).
That the feds are actually taking steps to see to that Americans are evacuated is again, going a step beyond what is required. But what do we hear? That it isn't happening fast enough, or that they aren't doing a good enough job.
Has anyone ever heard the phrase 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth'? Un-f*ck*ng-believable.

Plainspeaking said...

Column by Mike Gallagher of TownHall.com

The reporters crowded around the American evacuees from Lebanon, thrusting their microphones and cameras into their faces, eager to hear what they had to say. It’s been estimated that there were as many as 25,000 Americans in Lebanon when the bombing erupted, so clearly there was a story to tell. It certainly couldn’t be easy to airlift 25,000 people out of a country ravaged by war and violence in a short period of time, but these Americans would undoubtedly have a gracious message for their country, right?

No, that’s not the way it is anymore. Grace and humility are traits that seem to be in short supply, particularly when being applied to the big, bad United States of America.

The first interview I saw was with a man who was livid with the U.S. Embassy. “Every time we made it to the Embassy, they told us ‘we can’t help you, wait for a phone call.’ I mean, it’s a joke!”

Another American complained, “A week of nothing but misery and traveling from one town to town to find safety for me, for my pregnant wife, for my child...and for what? I don’t think it’s about the two kidnaped soldiers anymore. I think it’s more political. They’re trying to get political gains at this point.”

Yet another grateful American, this time, a woman: “It is positively ridiculous that it took the U.S. so long to come and get us. We were very scared and I blame George Bush and the government for dragging it’s feet in helping us get out!”

Here we go again. Another catastrophic event, another wave of “blame the United States.” Sounds familiar, no? Only this time the event wasn’t a hurricane or a flood, but ruthless terrorists in Lebanon attacking Israel and Israel fighting back.

First of all, it’s pretty difficult for me to wrap my brain around the idea of taking a summertime vacation to Beirut. Personally, I prefer Disneyworld. Or maybe a nice Caribbean cruise. But Lebanon? You take your pregnant wife into war-torn Lebanon?

Okay, so for whatever reason, a bunch of Americans decide to explore all the vacation benefits of Lebanon. Suddenly, bombs start flying and they want to leave. Immediately. Well, the world doesn’t quite work that way. Evacuating thousands of people from a country that is home to Hezbollah terrorists who are firing rockets into Israel is just as complicated and difficult as it sounds.

Amazingly, we’re not even going to charge these ungrateful evacuees for the free trip home. Despite a federal law that mandates reimbursement to the government if an American has to be evacuated from a foreign country, the State Department backed off after a big firestorm of objections were heard from critics of the Bush Administration. It’s estimated that a plane ticket from Lebanon to Cypress, where many were taken, costs about $200.00. Thanks to the stench of political correctness and cowering bureaucrats in Washington, we taxpayers now get the honor of buying the Lebanon evacuees their trip home.

Once more, we’re confronted with the ugly image of people shirking their personal responsibility and wanting to blame everyone else for their decisions. If you make the choice to take a holiday in a place like Beirut, it sure seems like there’s a possibility that you might not enjoy it when the terrorists get antsy. At the very least, you might want to hold your tongue and not complain, gripe and moan about your country when it comes and rescues you.

These people likely learned a thing or two from the reaction to flooded New Orleans. Sure, there were some people who couldn’t leave when Katrina was on its way. But let’s face it, there were many people who became victims because they made a choice to stay in New Orleans despite being warned to get out of town. Their bad decision became the government’s fault.

Just once, I’d like to see an American on TV express some appreciation for their country during times like these. What a joy it would have been to turn on the television and see an evacuee from Lebanon say something like, “Boy, was I ever dumb for deciding to take a vacation in Lebanon. But thanks to the United States, I’m now safely sitting in the Baltimore airport and am I ever grateful. Thanks to the brave men and women who helped rescue my family and me, and God bless America. It sure feels great to be home.”

No, that wasn’t what these people said. Not even close. Their sense of outrage and entitlement is slowly but surely becoming the American way. And it’s positively disgusting.

Next time these folks want to take a trip, may I respectfully suggest they consider Six Flags. Then again, if the roller coaster is shut down for repairs, I guess it’ll be President Bush’s fault...

Anonymous said...

Hezbollah was using UN post as 'shield'
Canadian wrote of militia's presence, 'necessity' of bombing

(A story by Joel Kom of the Ottawa, Canada, Citizen, with files from Steven Edwards, CanWest News Service / Thursday, July 27, 2006

The words of a Canadian United Nations observer written just days before he was killed in an Israeli bombing of a UN post in Lebanon are evidence Hezbollah was using the post as a "shield" to fire rockets into Israel, says a former UN commander in Bosnia.

Those words, written in an e-mail dated just nine days ago, offer a possible explanation as to why the post -- which according to UN officials was clearly marked and known to Israeli forces -- was hit by Israel on Tuesday night, said retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie yesterday.

The strike hit the UN observation post in the southern Lebanese village of El Khiam, killing Canadian Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three others serving as unarmed UN military observers in the area.

Just last week, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener wrote an e-mail about his experiences after nine months in the area, words Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie said are an obvious allusion to Hezbollah tactics.

"What I can tell you is this," he wrote in an e-mail to CTV dated July 18. "We have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both (Israeli) artillery and aerial bombing.

"The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters (sic) of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters (sic) from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity."

Those words, particularly the last sentence, are not-so-veiled language indicating Israeli strikes were aimed at Hezbollah targets near the post, said Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie.

"What that means is, in plain English, 'We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the (Israeli Defence Forces)," he said.

That would mean Hezbollah was purposely setting up near the UN post, he added. It's a tactic Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie, who was the first UN commander in Sarajevo during the Bosnia civil war, said he's seen in past international missions: Aside from UN posts, fighters would set up near hospitals, mosques and orphanages.

A Canadian Forces infantry officer with the Edmonton-based Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the only Canadian serving as a UN military observer in Lebanon, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener was no stranger to fighting nearby.

The UN post, he wrote in the e-mail, afforded a view of the "Hezbollah static positions in and around our patrol Base."

"It appears that the lion's share of fighting between the IDF and Hezbollah has taken place in our area," he wrote, noting later it was too dangerous to venture out on patrols.

The e-mail appears to contradict the UN's claim there had been no Hezbollah activity in the vicinity of the strike.

The question of Hezbollah's infiltration of the area is significant because UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking Tuesday just hours after the bombing, accused the Israelis of the "apparently deliberate targeting" of the base near Khiam in southern Lebanon.

A senior UN official, asked about the information contained in Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's e-mail concerning Hezbollah presence in the vicinity of the Khiam base, denied the world body had been caught in a contradiction.

"At the time, there had been no Hezbollah activity reported in the area," he said. "So it was quite clear they were not going after other targets; that, for whatever reason, our position was being fired upon.

"Whether or not they thought they were going after something else, we don't know. The fact was, we told them where we were. They knew where we were. The position was clearly marked, and they pounded the hell out of us."

Even if Hezbollah was not firing rockets at the time of the bombing, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's e-mail indicates they were using a terrorist tactic of purposely drawing out enemy forces near a neutral site, said retired Capt. Peter Forsberg, who did two UN tours between 1993 and 1995 during the Bosnian war.

The UN's limited mandate, meaning that its observers are unarmed and have few options, put the observers in a poor position, he said.

If indeed Israel was attempting to hit Hezbollah fighters in the area, it hasn't yet used the excuse to explain its actions because it wouldn't make it any less guilty in the world's eyes, Capt. Forsberg said.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006

Gin said...

Thanks, joeseo - my thoughts exactly! I live in SE Tx. When Rita hit, we didn't sit around and wait for the government to come clean up. We got out our chainsaws and trucks and started moving trees, we lived without electricity or running water (we have a well, not city) while we were cleaning up, we were immensely grateful to the National Guard for the water and food they gave us. And as soon as the first grocery store opened up, we bought our own. We loaded our trucks with ice, water, and food, and fed our neighbors. We freakin' took responsibility for ourselves. We choose to live in a coastal area, so we live with the consequences. It's just that simple in my world.

BTW, I did get $2000 from FEMA for evacuating, and appreciated it. I don't feel I was entitled to it - I'm grateful it was available.

Call me hick, but I still believe that *we* are supposed to take care of ourselves and our neighbors - not the government.