Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July the 4th a special day

It was 30 years ago today that my family and I left Beirut for the last time in a road convoy to Damascus.

We were told that this was the last chance to get out of war torn Beirut. We left in a taxi, with 6 suitcases for 6 people. Everything else we had including our family pets were left behind. I was 8 years old at the time.

The convoy was protected by the PLO as far as the Syrian border as it was the only large cohesive military force available to do the job.

I remember the very long winding journey up through the mountains, in the summer heat in a convoy that stretched for miles in front of us. Every time we came to a village or town with a few side roads our driver would try to get ahead a few places in the column. It did not work.

We waited in a queue at the Syrian border for hours whilst papers were checked, until my father spoke to the border guards and pointed out that all the cars in the convoy had an identifying sticker. Then the rest of us were waved through.

When we got to Damascus, there was no longer any room left in any hotels, so we were put up in the ambassadors residence for the 3 days it took to get a flight. (I suppose we all have to slum it from time to time!)

Damascus is an interesting city. On the outside very un Arabic Soviet style concrete buildings, but much of the ancient center remained and I have even been to the street where St.Paul was taken after he saw the light.

After 3 days we caught a flight to Heathrow, paid for by the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Our passports were with held from us until we paid them back.

So today is a day to remember for my family and I.

I understand Americans have a national holiday today, though I can't see why they would want to celebrate us leaving Beirut!

As a footnote, I would like to than the Lebanese people for their outstanding hospitality even at the toughest of times.

Also I note this story from the BBC about the evacuation by sea on the 20th of June 1976.

I would like the thank the PLO for providing the necessary security to get so many people out by land.

As a bizarre footnote in history, at the same time members of the PFLP and Bader Meinhof gangs were holding about 100 Isreali and Jewish hostages in Entebbe which were freed by the famous raid on Entebbe.


Ted said...

Did visit earlier but another visit for your stats :-)

Your post reminded me of flying into Beirut Airport from the Gulf and remarking to my brother as we came in "look there are some buildings on fire - you don't often see that". It was April 1975 and the beginning of the civil war. We were met on landing by soldiers and escorted into the terminal.

I haven't transitted Beirut since but my brother twice flew in in the early days of civil war before flights stopped and the general manager of MEA arranged from him to have bodyguards through transit.

Beirut was definitely one of the most beautiful cities to fly into - the bay, corniche and Mt Lebanon - and before 75 a wonderful place to visit.

Benedict White said...

"You don't often see that" Depends on where you live. :)

It amazes me how people can think that destroying things helps. But they did anyway.

It was a very nice place to grow up until the war started.

Did you ever stop there?