Editor's note: The letter below is excerpted from a letter that Jehan Mullin wrote her family and friends after being evacuated from her home in Beirut, Lebanon to Cyrprus, as a result of the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Mullin graduated from Ohio University in 2000 with a degree in political science. In 1998, she received the Sara Ulman Memorial Scholarship, and from 1999-2000, she was president of OU's Amnesty International chapter.
Mullin had been in Beirut for three and a half years, completing a master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies in 2005. At the time of her evacuation, Mullin was working on a gender and development project on women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in Lebanon with funding from the Feminist Review Trust.
The numbers she uses for casualties are the count as of Aug. 14. Also, the letter was written before developments of the past two weeks, though the blockade surrounding Lebanon remained in place as of yesterday. In an addendum sent yesterday, Mullin said, 'I truly believe that what I wrote in that letter is as applicable today as it was when it was written.'
Dear Family and Friends,
Hello. I am now safely in Cyprus. As you can all imagine, it has been a rather long and emotional past few weeks. I can only describe to you my personal experience in this letter, my own impressions of events, but know that I do not write this in anger. For the most part, I am simply sad.
For the first half of the 10 days or so that I remained in Beirut during this war, I really didn't think it would get to where it has. I was expecting, along with many of my friends who have lived in Lebanon their entire lives, that it would be over by the end of the first weekend, then week, and then somewhere along the way I realized that wasn't going to happen.
I eventually left my apartment to go stay on the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB) where it was safer. The first few days at AUB, I would still hike up to my apartment to water my plants, clean up and make sure all was intact. I didn't go and pack up my world since I really didn't expect to be leaving. Eventually, I put what boxes I could pack up into an extra room along with some suitcases of things, threw the milk out and decided to leave.
I am still conflicted about having left, like most people I know who decided to do the same, or those who stayed for that matter. Many of us felt that we had a responsibility to our families in the States, many whose parents had emigrated themselves, to return safe to our parents. In a way, not doing so felt selfish. However, many of us knew how much worse it was going to get, and in light of the entire blockade surrounding the country, felt Lebanon would need as many people in aid work available as possible. Leaving also felt selfish.
On the other hand, I knew many individuals who wanted to get out, who were trapped in southern Lebanon and elsewhere who wanted to leave but could not. A part of me also felt that not going would be an insult to many of them, as if I would be flaunting privilege about. And yet all of my relatives in Lebanon told me specifically not to go. 'Stay, stay, you're fine at AUB,' they said. 'It will be over in two weeks.'
A friend told me that it would be ok, that we would return soon enough and witness the reconstruction. I told her I thought that was what we were doing already.
AFTER A BUS RIDE UP TO the American embassy, we eventually were loaded in groups onto a helicopter, which then flew out to the U.S.S. Nashville already waiting for us off the coast. It was a very surreal experience to be in a helicopter with full gear on and Marines all about and then flying out to a ship in the middle of the sea. I could never ever in a million years have imagined I would be leaving Lebanon like that.
Nothing but a helmet, safety vest and one duffle bag. I cannot describe how odd that is. It is not about the things one leaves in an apartment but the way I suppose each of us left. The things add up not to things but to years of one's life.
No proper goodbyes to family or friends was the worse part for everyone. And of course, as the ship left for Cyprus, we sat on deck watching three more bombs slam into the country where we had resided for the past few years; slam into the country where many dear friends and family still were; and slam into what we had been trying to contribute to. As we pulled away, the country was literally going up in smoke.
AFTER ALL WAS SAID AND DONE, we, the American evacuees, didn't have to pay the cost of evacuation, although I believe this was due to the resourcefulness of the Arab American Institute (AAI) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), who raised the issue of Americans safety from the beginning.
As American evacuees, we were specifically informed that we would have to pay an undisclosed amount for the evacuation, with interest, within 90 days, even before we were informed if, how and when they would be carrying out the evacuation. We were told they did not have the 'resources.'
It is not about the money, I want to make that clear. It was the principle and the irony of it too -- we were all aware that our tax dollars contribute to the very bombs that were flying over our heads and in front of our eyes, and yet there weren't enough resources for us to be evacuated? This came out at the same time that the U.S. news media kept making it a point over and over that we were predominately Lebanese-Americans and/or dual nationals and even asserted, rather incorrectly, that most wouldn't want to leave.
Journalists from U.S. media outlets, journalists who never cared to report on the reconstruction but were sure to flock to Beirut for the bloodshed, kept coming around and asking us 'what kind' of Americans were living there, 'what kind' were leaving, and 'what kind' were staying. It wasn't that they were using the term to describe us culturally or a specific part of our history, etc., to which I have no objections, but as a way of placing us in a less than-worthy-category of American.
I felt, along with many friends, that while the U.S. government was being criticized for its handling of the evacuation, it came out with these comments that 'most wouldn't want to leave.' These and other remarks seemed to differentiate us - Lebanese Americans - from other types of Americans in order to sow a seed of resentment so as to deflect criticism for their initially slow response in preparing an evacuation, and in order to garner support for having originally planned to make us pay for the costs.
Note that Arab Americans, including Lebanese Americans, are a successfully assimilated ethnic group, having first arrived over 140 years ago. Members are highly educated and successful professionals who have contributed to every aspect of American life. That being the case, it seems unacceptable that some individuals would be so careless as to play on ethnic prejudices in a post 9-11 environment, all for the sake of shielding criticism of what