Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 4 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 5
16 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

My visualization of huge holes in roads and bridges had been placed in my mind by our neighbor Kamel, who had been watching the newscasts on TV. He told us that every bridge or road with sand below it was destroyed all over Lebanon.

I was to discover that the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as he thought when we were actually driving north a few days later. I was surprised that the road was in pretty good shape and that there was still a crossing over the Litani River. However, it didn’t help to have these images in mind when we were debating whether to stay or go.

In the end, these misconceptions were partially overcome by watching many cars head north and not come back. A few friends had called us to confirm that they had reached safety after only a couple of hours of scary driving.

In emails, I initially mis-reported that the bombs we heard, fell in the al-Bass Palestinian camp. I was later to learn that the hits landed beyond the al‐Bass camp, somewhere close to Bourj Shmelli, even further away. I felt bad about the inaccurate report since it caused a friend in Beirut to be very concerned for a family in the camp.

The next several days would accentuate this confusion and second‐guessing. The escalation was sending bombs nearer to Tyre than had ever occurred before.

The population of the city was swelling from people escaping the surrounding villages to take refuge. Residents of the city were changing locations based on where they thought they would be slightly better off. No one could guess where the Israelis were likely to consider targets.

On our way to the Edmond’s house we noticed a long line of men waiting for bags of bread at Tyre’s main bakery. The few people on the street were returning home on foot with the single bag of Arabic bread that they had been allowed to buy. Rationing had already gone into effect.

We arrived at Edmond’s house just a little later than we planned to. I had driven cautiously on the road that was most distant from the Palestinian camp of al‐Bass, still thinking it had been the hot area from the day before.

I circled around so that our car was facing south on the opposite side of the street. I figured that was okay since I could just pull a U-turn and drive on the wrong side of the divided street for a while if I needed to quickly go north. I wanted to be on the far side of the road because it was more distant from the building (possible falling debris) and not in the way of rapidly moving northbound traffic.

Once in the house, we nervously awaited the arrival of Denis’s family. They called and told us of bombing activity in their area at the time. The road close to the al‐Nijme hospital had been bombed and left impassible, but they were sure there were other routes they could take once it calmed down a little.

From the Sea‐facing balcony of Edmond’s apartment, we could see the neighborhood of Jelal Bahur and its massive unfinished buildings, left over from the last war.

Their construction had not been completed before the end of the war, so the government had frozen their progress because of non-compliance to building codes. Palestinian squatters had created a makeshift camp next to the skeletons of 15-story buildings lining the road.

Among these buildings, we could see that the Lebanese Army had situated armored vehicles and trucks in a pattern designed to avoid losing more than a single one in case of any shelling. We wondered if this would be considered a target for the Israeli warplanes and, if so, what danger that would pose for us, being on the far side of a rather large field.

The others arrived about an hour later, and we felt comforted being all together.

Edmond prayed for the lunch his wife had prepared for us, and predicted that it would be a meal and a day that we would never forget. He didn’t know how right he was.

In the middle of the meal, two blasts struck in quick succession. The shockwaves rocked the building with the same sensation of sitting in a car on the side of the freeway when a semi‐truck drives by at high speed. We instinctively all cringed and ducked from the mind‐numbingly loud boom.

Edmond leapt from his chair and ran to the door to direct us into the hallway in the center of the building where we would be the safest. We stood there for a few minutes, and tried to guess about where the bomb had hit and whether we were in immediate danger.

We could kind of tell that the blasts had been centered northeast of our building, but had been surprised that there had been no warning sounds at all.

None of the windows in the apartment provided a vantage of the destruction, but we believed that the only possible target could have been the Jebal Amal hospital on the other side of the block.

Denis wanted to go and see what had happened, but I didn’t think his plan to go down and walk around the corner to investigate was a good idea. I could tell that his daughters didn’t want him to go out either, but he had to check and make sure that his car was still okay.

A neighbor lady arrived to check on us and to give information. She said that it wasn’t the hospital that was hit, but a 4‐story building next to it, which had been the home of some Hezbollah official. We started wondering what other Hezbollah connections existed in this neighborhood and realized that the idea that a place could be “safe” was really questionable.

Shortly after Denis returned and confirmed the lady’s report and that his car was okay, the second two bombs hit their target. Kimarie and I scrambled to grab the kids from the floor where they had been playing with various toys. Naomi looked up fearfully with whimpering and tears as we whisked them out.

Again, there was no warning before the blasts and we still don’t have any idea whether the bombs came from planes or ships. The four hits combined to reduce the nearby concrete building to a flat pile of rubble. It was believed that there had been approximately 10 people sheltering in the building who were killed.

We saw a backhoe turn the corner to attempt to rescue people, but in this kind of destruction there is little hope of survival. Glass was blown out at the hospital next door and debris thrown everywhere. Patients were milling around the lobby, unsure if they should stay or go.

Up to this point we had thought of single apartments being targeted as in the 2000 helicopter attack. Now we understood that they were picking complete buildings to wipe out.

What followed was a hasty strategy session in which we once again debated the “safest” course of action. Edmond received two phone calls offering shelter for all of us. The first choice was the basement of a church in the presumably‐safe, Christian quarter of the city, but I pointed out that the nearby port could become a target.

A second choice was at the Evangelical school where Edmond had once been the accountant. In both of these choices we would have been sleeping on floors as refugees in makeshift bunkers, relying on what could be provided by our hosts. We also didn’t want to widen our circle of responsibility for decision‐making outside of our immediate group. We didn’t want others to be influencing or ruling our course of action.

That left us with the option of choosing one of our houses or attempting the drive to Beirut, which continued to seem unwise, though we were witnessing many cars leaving the area and chancing it.

We weren’t keen to stay at Edmond’s house, though it was actually probably safest with the nearby target already having been destroyed. The Heath’s house had a large “safe” basement, but their area was very hot at the time. That left our house, but no one was excited about being on the tenth floor of an exposed building on the seashore.

Then we remembered a couple of other options. The language center would not have been a comfortable place to sleep, but was located in a strong old building, with no known Hezbollah associations nearby.

The other fresh possibility was the vacant apartment of British friends. We went there because it was close to the ground floor and surrounded by other buildings, making it what seemed to be the most protected option.

We packed what food we could bring into two vehicles and made our way there, back into the center of the city of Tyre, which at that time had still not been struck directly by bombs.

After we arrived, Denis and I unpacked stuff and carted it up to the second floor, two‐bedroom apartment. We aroused the attention of the packed neighborhood.

The men in the street remembered seeing us around from before, so they weren’t as suspicious as the ones I had experienced previously. Edmond had once lived in this neighborhood as well, so many knew him personally. They had stories to tell of their own personal hardships.

One of the storeowners nearby listened to our story of being close to the shelling across town and then mournfully nodded as he told us that that building had belonged to his family.

The neighbor on the floor above us was a former student of Denis’ and mine. When he saw that we were casting our lot with them, he rushed to make us feel comfortable. He offered bread and vegetables from his own supply and went down to his family’s ice‐cream factory on the ground floor and returned with cones for everyone. He stayed for a while and debated with us about evacuations plans.

The neighbor told us a rumor that was circulating that foreigners were gathering at the Resthouse resort for evacuation from there, so Denis and I resolved to go and find out more. We also wanted to get some more supplies from my house, like water, fans and cushions for makeshift beds. We were going to be very crowded in this little house for who knew how long.

Off we went in my car. There was a great deal of people gathering at the Resthouse. We never actually talked to anyone inside. Denis saw a doctor friend of his who told us that the rumor was just talk, but that the Red Cross was planning some kind of convoy to head north and that the Hariri foundation was planning on doing the same thing the next day.

We saw our friend, Mustafa, getting into a overloaded car which was joining an unofficial convoy and heading for Beirut. He told us that he was going to attempt to be evacuated to Belgium since he had been granted a passport and work permit from there in the past year. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

We headed back to my house and spoke with many of my neighbors who were very concerned about our plans. They offered to drive with us and lead us out by car. These were very sincere and concerned offers, but we also realized that everyone we were with during these days had the impression that if they were in our proximity they were safe, because the Israelis wouldn’t dare to hurt Americans. We wished we were so sure of that.

We talked to Abu Omar from upstairs. I could never communicate well with him because he always spoke formal Arabic. We also saw Kamel and his son from across the hall. They said that the family was going to move back to their apartment because they changed their mind about which place was safer.

His son gave each of us a decorative chocolate that his sister had designed and wrapped with his photo and a graduation cap to commemorate his completion of college a week earlier. I wasn’t very hungry for chocolate. It went uneaten.

I left a fan and several pillows in our house, since I still wasn’t sure whether or not Kimarie, the kids and I would be staying there that night. We had reasoned that we were only a few blocks away and that the kids would sleep better in their own beds. However, what happened next changed our minds.

Denis and I had already returned to the new quarters with all the extra stuff and moved everything up to the apartment. At the time of the explosion, we had been sitting with the neighbor that had brought us ice-cream, and discussing whether or not the gas station a block away was a concern as a target. After the blast, he jumped up and ran out quickly.

Again, we couldn’t really tell how far away the bomb had landed, or what it had hit, though it sounded loud enough to have fallen right next to us. We didn’t have to wait long, however, before the news spread throughout the neighborhood that it had been a tall building in the neighborhood of the Roman Chariot Track.

This last attack was very concerning to us because prior to it, we had considered that the Israelis were not planning on targeting anything inside the actual city of Tyre. Now we realized that there was truly not going to be any “safe place,” and we began the debate again of driving to Beirut with a convoy the next day.

It was already getting dark, and much too late to consider doing it that day, especially with so much activity happening. We continued to hope that there would be a long enough break in jet activity for us to make a break for it with reasonably less risk.

The government electricity supply was cut simultaneous to the last attack, and the neighborhood generator connection had been cut when our friends had left on their trip to England, to save the expenses for a month in which they weren’t planning on being there. Also, for some reason, the water supply was not working, so we began to suffer from the humid heat with no fans to circulate the air.

On top of the distress of the day, our bodies received the additional trauma of overheating with no way of cooling down except trying to sit still. Children, however, do not understand the concept of staying still in order to avoid sweating, and we certainly couldn’t blame them for constantly wanting to be held and comforted.

Our last meeting of the day was a group discussion of whether we should stay or go the following morning. Each person was given the opportunity to share his or her impressions and ideas. Many wanted to stay put in this safer place, but some thought if the shelling was light the next day, that we should go.

There was a possible option of the two American families being evacuated directly from the Resthouse, but there were two problems with that plan. First of all, we didn’t know if we would be included in an evacuation because we hadn’t heard from the embassy to confirm that they knew we existed.

The other reason that we didn’t want to evacuate directly from Tyre was that Edmond’s family needed to get to safety in Beirut and we didn’t want to leave them in Tyre.

We had also had many emails advising us to stay put until some nebulous ceasefire happened. At the end of the meeting no decision had been made and we resolved to sleep on it and talk again in the morning. I think Kimarie had been the only one at the time to really want to leave in the morning.

I didn’t sleep well at all, partially because of the heat and partially from endlessly thinking through options for the following morning. During the meeting, I had been pretty set on staying at least one more day to take a break from the near misses we had just experienced.

The media and our friends were continuing to say, “Stay put.” However, I kept visualizing alternate possibilities for the drive to prepare myself for the eventual likelihood that we would be driving north.

What would I do if Denis’s car was bombed in front of us on the road? What if we couldn’t cross the Litani with the car? Would there be heavy shelling? Would we be dodging bombs like so many Hollywood action flicks?

But the more I thought it through, the more I became convinced that staying in this stiflingly hot, small apartment for another day would be more draining on our energy than it would be to just go and hopefully get it over and done with for better or worse. I didn’t want to think about sitting and waiting and debating. Even dangerous moving would be better than sitting still. I resolved to vote “go” in the morning.

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Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 3 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 4
15 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

We moved the bags we had packed the night before into the car so they would be already there in case the power went out and there wasn’t any elevator.

While I was putting things into the car, a couple guys I didn’t know came up to us in an animated way that put me on my guard. One of them asked me where we were from. I had no idea what his intentions were, which made me nervous and react poorly. I asked him what difference it made where I was from, and why it was his business. He started ranting that he wanted to know how we were going to get out of the country and tell him how he could too.

He was angry with me, as if I was trying to withhold a possible escape plan from him. He explained that he had a German passport and wanted to know how that would help him. I responded by telling him we had no plan for escape either. “Where can we go? The airport is bombed, the port is closed, and the road to Syria is cut. We’re just trying to find a safer place here.” His buddy finally calmed him down and they walked away.

After packing the bags into the car we struck out on foot, carrying the children, in search of Pampers. A family associated with Hezbollah owned the nearest neighborhood store. The lame proprietor received medical assistance from the social arm of Hezbollah. He had been very interested in some comments I had made about following Jesus on a previous visit. Now they were closed.

We continued around the block to a pharmacy on Abu Deeb street. They were open and had a small package, which we bought. Then we continued on to another pharmacy that we thought might have more, about three blocks down the waterfront from our house.

I couldn’t help but notice on our stroll that we were attracting more interested glances from bystanders than we would have normally. I was carrying Naomi on my shoulders, and many young men were staring me down. We must have looked as though we were completely unconcerned with the current state of affairs and just casually walking around on a shopping trip. At the time, though, I thought I also detected animosity and suspicion in their stares as well.

We made it to the pharmacy and found that they had 3 or 4 large packages of Pampers. They shamed us when we wanted to buy two of them. They didn’t want to sell both of them to us because there would be others who would need them as well as us. We reacted with exasperation, not knowing how long we would be stuck in Tyre and knowing it would be really ugly without diapers. We explained that both of the children wore the same size, so we needed them. They relented and sold them to us in the end and offered to be of any service that they could.

We struggled home under the weight of diapers and children, walking in the humid heat of midday on the corniche. People continued to follow us with their eyes, making us feel uncomfortably conspicuous.

In the end, Kimarie and I both felt guilty at having bought that second package of diapers. They came with us in the car up to Jounieh, and eventually were left in the back of the car unused. How many other children were there in the days that followed in Tyre who had to go without diapers because we hoarded them?

We were able to communicate by email so well because we had a dialup connection with a phone number that would work anywhere in Lebanon. Since there was never a break in phone communication and enough electricity to recharge the laptop, we simply needed to be somewhere where there was a phone outlet.

This was such a blessing to be able to feel like we weren’t completely cut off from the world. The gaps in time for communication corresponded with our car flight from Tyre to Jounieh and with our initial evacuation process from Beirut to the fairgrounds in Cyprus, which took about 36 hours.

Kimarie had to take care of the kids while I composed the messages, and I was very grateful to her for the breaks and a bit of solitude to reflect on the days events. It may have been one of the few things that kept me from mentally breaking down.

At this point we wrongly assumed that the embassy was contacting people who had registered with them, to update them on advice or at least to confirm that they knew where we were. Since we hadn’t received this confirmation, we believed that our registration had not been received and that we were on our own.

Scholz 33-Day War Journal (Part 2 of 11)

SquareEmail

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 3
14 July 2006
Tyre, Lebanon

Many of our neighbors had already relocated to what they thought were safer places. Kamel and Amina, across the hall had moved to another family member’s house closer to the Souk. They weren’t there on this particular evening.

Nur, from the 7th floor came up to talk to us. She was visibly shaken and very nervous about the safety of the building. She had heard that Hezbollah had hit an Israeli naval vessel in the Port of Beirut and she was worried that any building on Lebanon’s entire coast would be open for general reprisal. She told us that she and her husband Tony were planning on relocating and she was going up and down the building advising everyone else to do the same.

After she left, we called the Edmond and asked if we could go to his place. He said we were welcome. Then, after thinking about it some more, we decided that driving the couple miles to their house at night would be more dangerous than staying put. Kimarie was also worried about moving away from our own place, since we had our own resources there and better options for keeping the children (Naomi – 2 and Gideon – 3) occupied and comfortable.

In the end, we stayed, though we packed some secondary bags with clothes and food so we’d be ready in case we decided to move to Edmond’s house in the morning. These would be bags that we could ditch along the way if any flight we were making were to get desperate.

Tony visited us that night too. He was trying to find Nur in the building and stopped to chat a little. Kimarie served him juice and nuts as he chain‐smoked a couple of cigarettes in our front sitting area. You could tell he was nervous too, as he compulsively ate the entire bowl of nuts. He thought that we had made the right decision to stay and that he wanted to try to control his wife’s panic a little, if he could only catch up with her. It was his impression that there was no reason for the Israelis to choose our building out of all the others to hit. We didn’t have any Hezbollah neighbors in the building. He couldn’t decide if it was a better idea to darken our apartments or to turn on balcony lights.

Kimarie and I agreed that we should move the kids into our room for the night to minimize the risk to them. Their room was on the outside edge of the building and only had a window and a wall between them and the Sea, while our room was closer to the elevator shaft with 5 walls between it and the Sea.

A brand new propane company had opened just months earlier about half a mile south of the main Hoshe circle. It was one of the first places hit, but it wasn’t long before they hit the gas station right on the main intersection there, between the Denis’s house and ours. I had stopped at that station to top off our tank the day before on the way home. As the attendant was filling my tank he pointed to the sky to point out the tiny white arrows streaking across the sky directly above us as we both listened to the roar. I hadn’t even considered that the gas station itself might be a target for them.

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

SquareEmail

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.