The anguish of Lebanese-Americans
For nearly two months - since the invasion of Lebanon began in early June - Lebanese-Americans have suffered profound grief. Anguish is not new to us. We grieved in 1970 when Lebanese were displaced from their homes by fleeing Palestinians; we grieved in 1975 when internecine disputes erupted into a full-fledged civil war; we have grieved each time the Israelis or Syrians have launched a bloody strike against the people of our ancestral homeland. Never before, however, has the Lebanese-American community felt so outraged and helpless in the face of destruction wrought in Lebanon.
Never before have we felt so forgotten a part of American society.
Appeals for help for our relatives in Lebanon seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The American government's response has been particularly disheartening. President Reagan has offered a token $65 million for disaster relief - a mere $ 17 for each person in Lebanon. While these funds have been approved, not a penny has yet been appropriated.
All the while, talk grows within the Lebanese-American community about possible US government complicity in the invasion. Suspicions were raised when we learned of the clandestine meeting - convened shortly before the invasion - between former Secretary of State Haig and Israeli Defense Minister Sharon. Rumors started to fly when Mr. Haig referred to Israeli losses in the war as ''our (American) losses.'' That our government has yet to condemn Israel for the incursion - a fact which suggests that Mr. Reagan tacitly endorses Mr. Begin's ''no invasion'' theme - has done nothing to allay fears in the Lebanese-American community.
On the whole, the US Congress's response has also been disappointing. The majority of those who have traditionally defended human rights have suddenly grown silent. Worse than silent, the Democratic Party has effectively supported the invasion because it may ''build a lasting peace for the people of Lebanon and greater security for Israel.'' Two staunch supporters of Israel have been sent on a congressional ''fact finding'' mission in Lebanon, while Lebanese-American congresspersons have been denied such a trip on the grounds that it is ''too dangerous.''
The taxes of American-Lebanese were used to pay for the US-supplied weapons - cluster bombs, phosphorous bombs, and a host of others - which killed thousands of our relatives in Lebanon. Now we are funding reparative efforts in the wake of the Israeli destruction. Soon we will probably be asked to cover Israel's war expenditures as well.
Americans, for the most part, sit in stunned silence. Anti-war groups have somehow overlooked Lebanon's devastation. Human rights organizations have apparently turned a blind eye to the crimes against humanity which continue to be committed in Lebanon. In the US, the most outspoken critics of the Israeli invasion have been thousands of Arab-Americans and a handful of sensitive American Jews. They have had little success in reaching the American public, however, because of concerted efforts to discredit them. The Arabs are portrayed as anti-Semites and the Jews are labeled ''self-haters.''
The American news media have further contributed to the angish of Lebanese-Americans. For weeks, it seems, the media could only speak of the military successes of Israel and that country's attendant efforts to ''mop up'' and ''purify'' Lebanon. Our community's ancestral homeland has been regarded not as a sovereign nation, but as a ''testing grounds'' for American-made weaponry.
American media portrayals have for years depicted Lebanese as anarchic political and religious fanatics indulging in inner-city gang wars. This stereotype has served to render insignificant the compassion, and now suffering, of the Lebanese. The news reports filtering into Americans' homes are nothing like the revealing accounts being aired in Europe and Israel. In the US, simplicity and palatability seem to count more than factuality. The media erroneously speak of ''Muslim'' West Beirut (almost half of which is inhabited by Christians) and of the ''Christian'' leader Bashir Gemayel (who has overseen some of the most horrible crimes ever committed).
It would be unfair for Lebanese-Americans to blame everything on others, however. We have been responsible for inflicting considerable pain on ourselves. Long divided between those who consider themselves Arabs and those who consider themselves non-Arabs (or frequently ''Phoenicians''), the Lebanese-American community has in effect become two communities.
One side, represented by the American Lebanese League, has effectively aligned itself with the Israelis. The other side, led by dozens of Arab-American groups, regards Israel as Lebanon's true enemy. Both sides are receptive to Lebanon without a PLO military presence, but the two factions are at odds over issues regarding Palestinian self-determination and the Palestinians' role in Lebanon, Christian and Muslim political and military power in Lebanon, and so on. Within our fractious community, there are numerous instances of parents being pitted against children, brothers against sisters.
Lebanese-Americans, in large part because of our tendency to assimilate readily into American society, have historically not been active in ethnic lobbying and power politics. With the invasion of Lebanon, this traditional passivity has in many cases been replaced by unprecedented political activity. Because we have heretofore had little experience in political organization, however, many Lebanese-Americans are finding attempts to shape US foreign policy about as effective as the efforts of their brethren in Lebanon who vainly fire assault rifles at swooping F-16s.
Lebanese-American anger and frustration mount as we watch the gradual shredding of what was once the delicate and multifarious social fabric called Lebanon. The land of our forefathers, that wonderful dream of democracy, freedom and coexistence, has gone the way of the majestic cedars that once dotted that beautiful country.