Lebanese College Students View Conflict from U.S.

Two college students from Lebanon talk with Debbie Elliot about their feelings regarding the current crisis in their country. The two are in the U.S. as part of a student program organized by the U.S. State Department.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This weekend, we're going to hear about the impact of the fighting on young people from the Middle East.

Tomorrow, we'll hear from two Israelis. Today, we have two Lebanese students currently in the U.S. on a State Department exchange program.

Dima Zidon(ph) is from Sidon. I also spoke with a young man named Shadi(ph) from Tripoli. He asked us to refer to him by his first name only because he fears repercussions back home.

SHADI (Lebanese Student): Well, I can tell you that this is really difficult for me because my family is there.

ELLIOTT: Is your family safe, do you know?

SHADI: My family is safe, yes. But it's been now two days, I couldn't reach them.

ELLIOTT: Dima, what about you? We're talking now on Friday afternoon and I understand that Israel is actually warning civilians in southern Lebanon to leave, to get out of southern Lebanon, and ground troops have been gathering on the border.

Ms. DIMA ZIDON (Lebanese Student): Yeah, I know. I'm very, very scared, actually, because I was there in 1996 when they actually bombed Sidon.

ELLIOTT: You must have been very young, if you remember bombing...

Ms. ZIDON: Yeah. I was about 8 years.

ELLIOTT: What do you remember from that?

Ms. ZIDON: Well, I remember that we had to run away from home to go to my grandparent's house and that every time there - the walls would just go - as if this was an earthquake. And I remember that my cousin was killed. He was 13 years old only. He was coming back home, and they bombed his - the car of his friend. And when his mother saw that she was pregnant, she had an abortion. So I think that was the worst - worst experience possible.

So, every time I see the news, I just imagine that day. And I think that now, the same thing will going to happen. But this time, I'm not there to see. And now, that maybe my brother, maybe my father, maybe my family, because I have family in Beirut. I have family in Sidon. So, what if now they bomb Beirut and my family dies. What if now they bomb Sidon? So, I don't know.

ELLIOTT: Must be very hard.

Ms. ZIDON: Yeah, it is.

ELLIOTT: You know, in 2000, Israel finally withdrew from southern Lebanon after a long occupation, so the past six years have been relatively calm and peaceful in your homeland. Were you surprised at this latest?

Ms. ZIDON: I was very shocked, I know. Two weeks ago, I left there and everything was wonderful, so how now everything is being destroyed? This is my country. How can I go back and see that there is nothing in Lebanon?

ELLIOTT: Shadi, who do you blame for the current situation in Lebanon?

SHADI: I think that the international community is responsible for what is happening in Lebanon because, because they are allowing Israel to just attack Lebanon without any considerations about the innocent people over there.

ELLIOTT: What about Hezbollah's role?

SHADI: Hezbollah has been always trying to defend Lebanon and to protect Lebanon from the Israeli attacks. But I can see that the battles were in the south of Lebanon, but now they are bombing, destroying the whole nation. And this is not Lebanon. Hezbollah is just a part of Lebanon and they are not really attacking only Hezbollah. They are attacking Lebanon.

Ms. ZIDON: Actually, I have another perspective. I think they want to get rid of Hezbollah. Okay? And if they only attack Hezbollah, then nothing will happen. So they want to bomb all Lebanon to get the Lebanese against Hezbollah, to say that they started it. And look, because of them you're having war. So that they want to make everyone against Hezbollah.

ELLIOTT: You're from the southern part of Lebanon where Hezbollah has such a presence. What does Hezbollah represent to you?

Ms. ZIDON: Actually, to me, Hezbollah is the one who freed the south. It protected us from danger that we felt. Okay. As I told you, I know what happened in 1996. So in 2000, when Lebanon was freed, it was something that every day we prayed to happen. And I thought of them as the heroes who freed Lebanon.

ELLIOTT: You're saying you though of Hezbollah as the heroes.

Ms. ZIDON: Yes. I know that many people do not agree with them, even Lebanese people, they hate them. Okay. But if you see what they've really done, they have never held one army against a Lebanese person. And they've only attacked Israeli soldiers, who started the fight.

ELLIOTT: The Israelis say they're doing this because two soldiers were captured by Hezbollah.

Ms. ZIDON: Okay. Two soldiers. Does it make them destroy a whole country? Why don't they use international community to free those two soldiers? Then they would have had the right to do that. But to destroy a whole country for two people?

ELLIOTT: But now you have missiles going into Haifa and other places in Israel, where civilians are part of the population there. Does that change you view at all?

Ms. ZIDON: Innocent people should not be killed. Nowhere. Nowhere should innocent people be killed. But when I see that - you know, when I see - when I compare my family situation to what other situations - I have to be selfish and think of my family first.

ELLIOTT: You know, you all are here learning about democracy, learning leadership skills. How do you envision bringing that back home to help solve a crisis like this?

SHADI: Whenever killing is a good thing, it's not. We have to find solutions. We have to find the new solutions. But this is only when the international community is able to see what is really happening in that region.

ELLIOTT: What do you think, Dima?

Ms. ZIDON: Okay. Actually, that was the purpose why we came here. Because I thought that when we come here to the leadership program in the United States of America, that is a great opportunity. This was our chance to come back to help Lebanon become more united. Because that was the problem we were facing before we came here, Lebanon was disunited. And that was what we wanted to do. And we were on our way, because the national dialogue was actually having some sort of progress. So we came here to solve one problem, but now we have to face millions of problems.

ELLIOTT: I'd like to thank you both for coming in to speak with us.

Ms. ZIDON: Thank you.

SHADI: Sure.

ELLIOTT: Tomorrow, we hear from two young Israeli citizens.

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