BARBARA NIMRI AZIZ
Muna, her son Mazin, and I are moving toward that beautiful occupied land, South Lebanon. We follow a potholed and dirty coastal road south in flight from our crowded West Beirut apartment.
A November day. Olive-harvest time in the hills. The sky is clear. Other young families pour out of the noisy city. Some drive northward, speeding along the coast. Then, as if slipping to a secret rendevous, their cars dart into an unmarked road and disappear into the hills—to their family homes. There they will pick olives and stroll with their cousins along the quiet lanes of their childhood.
I wait to hear my companion's comments about the recent Lebanese election, the first in such a long time; or will she discuss the Israeli shelling in the south? Nearby, less than an hour's drive away, fighting has erupted. Everyone knows; it arrives like a change in the weather—predictable and unwelcome. It destroys, then subsides. Its return is inevitable. All along that line that divides "free Lebanon" from the Israeli-occupied south, ambushes and airstrikes explode houses and skulls.
No comments are volunteered about the battles. It is pointless to discuss them. Why let them disrupt our weekend flow into family retreats where the old, silvery olive trees are heavy with their fruit?
To the hills. Beirut apartment dwellers are desperate for some respite in their countryside. They are not like other city people who moved from declining villages to become urbanites. All Lebanese remain part rural; their childhood homes are not places left behind; they keep them and make them modern and call them home. They risk venturing into these battle zones, especially at olive-harvest time. Besides, today's air-strikes are mild compared to the civil war years ago and the horrifying invasion in the burning summer of 1982. These shellings are inevitable, just as local resistance operations against the occupation forces are part of the pattern of life in the South.