Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 1 of 11)

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I decided to try something different for my blog in November. For 11 days, I’ll post stories from the war that didn’t make it into the recently published Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.

While recovering from our evacuation experience in July 2006, I wrote a debriefing journal, while memories were still fresh. I predicted that the stress of that time in our lives would erase details that could be helpful to remember later.

I almost incorporated this added information into the email pages of the book, but decided that realism would be ruined and the urgent feeling of their brevity would be lost.

Now I offer you these details as an added-value bonus to supplement the rather sparse treatment found in the book.

Day 1
12 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

I had gone in to work at the Arizona Center for my regular 10 AM to 4 PM working hours. As I was driving to work, I noticed that many people were standing on the street, looking and pointing toward some smoke in the hills along the coast to the South. This confirmed some thumping sounds that I had heard earlier and had wanted to dismiss as not being dangerous, though I suspected they had been of bombing in the distance.

When I arrived at the center our secretary confirmed the news of the Hezbollah kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and subsequent response by the Israelis. (You should know that our family did not read the newspaper, nor did we subscribe to cable television, so we relied on “word of mouth” in our community for news.)

I called Kimarie to tell her what was going on, and to have her begin to implement our contingency plans. According to these plans, we had pre‐prepared a small bag with emergency supplies. Kimarie then added our most important documents and a change of clothes. We had decided that if there were an invasion or similar threat, we would flee to a hotel close to the airport in Beirut and catch the first available flight to Cyprus to regroup and decide what to do next.

However, at this point, we really didn’t think that it was going to go anywhere. With the knowledge that my students would be glued to the news, I went ahead and cancelled the final English exam that had been scheduled for the next evening. I told my students that they would have an extra weekend to study and that we would try again the following Tuesday.

Receiving a certificate for their English class quickly became very low on the priority list for these people.

Day 2
13 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

In the emails we didn’t mention the anti‐aircraft guns that the Lebanese army was firing in between Hoshe and Tyre. Kimarie and I had driven up to visit Denis’s family briefly and had been surprised at how close the sounds were. We couldn’t imagine that the artillery had a hope of downing the jets that we could barely hear, and wondered why they even bothered trying.

On the way home, we stopped at the new Spinney’s supermarket. I stayed in the car while Kimarie shopped for a few minutes. Employees of the store came out and walked to the far end of the parking lot for a better vantage of the shelling and anti‐aircraft fire in the direction of the Rashadieh Palestinian camp. We noticed the sign that Spinney’s had posted, informing their predominantly Muslim customers that they had responded to their requests to remove the alcoholic beverages section.

I also drove over to the Nada distilled water office to refill our three 10 liter bottles. They were doing a brisk business. One of the three owner-brothers that I talked to had a peculiar combination of expressions on his face. I could tell that he was worried about the hostilities, but he was also macho and downplayed it, telling me that he had gotten used to perennial war and it didn’t bother him. It was also clear that business had picked up quite a bit, and that he was uneasily thankful for that.

The Night I Experienced Shiite Street Justice

StreetJustice

South Lebanon, 2001

I was returning home to Tyre after an evening of visiting friends in another town called Nabatieh, which is not known for its friendly feelings toward the West. I drove my early nineties model Honda Accord hatchback.

I crested a hill, winding through streets hemmed in tightly by concrete structures. Suddenly, another car shot out from a narrow alley on the left that had been concealed from my view by the darkness. I stomped on my brakes and veered to the right, but our front ends met and the two cars abruptly came to rest in the middle of the street.

Almost instantly there was a crowd of men where a moment before there had been no one. In the darkness an assembly convened. Five young Shia men got out of the other car and at least seven more emerged from nearby homes to participate in the impending tribunal. I fearfully tried to prepare myself for the beating that my imagination told me was coming next.

Vigilante Justice

Nobody was hurt, but the other driver was understandably upset about the damage to his car. “Why didn’t you swerve more? You could have kept from hitting me!” He shouted amidst hand motions demonstrating the path I should have taken.

I got out and looked at the damage. I had a small dent and part of my rubber bumper out of place slightly; purely cosmetic. The other car’s radiator had been crushed into a 45 degree angle and had already emptied its contents into the street in a puddle. It wouldn’t be moving from that spot under its own power.

Then something amazing happened. A few of the gathered crowd pulled the other driver aside and calmed him down, asking his side of the story. A few others came to talk to me, the scared-eyed westerner who barely knew enough Arabic to communicate. A judicial process kicked in and members of the spontaneous community assumed roles as if they had rehearsed in advance.

After their interviews, the negotiators and witnesses met in the neutral ground, barring physical contact between the drivers while they sorted out the details. I was mesmerized by the flurry of activity.

The Verdict

They reasoned with the other driver. “Look, you have no insurance and the foreigner does. The damage to your car is a lot worse, but he won’t have to pay because it looks like it was your fault.”

I offered to call the insurance agent to make a claim, but he was in a tight spot because he was driving with no insurance, which would have gotten him in trouble if the accident was reported.

The counsellors continued “If the foreigner agrees to accept his own damages, it will go better for you.”

He didn’t like it. He argued that I should pay him for the damages. One of the bystanders asked me if I wanted him to pay to have my car fixed. When I said, “No.” he told me to get in my car and go. I got in and went.

Case dismissed.

A powerless American, acquitted by a God-fearing, Shiite justice mob.

If you like this story, you should read my book, Coffee & Orange Blossoms: 7 Years & 15 Days in Tyre, Lebanon.