A Cluster Bomb Killed My Father
It's time to outlaw these dangerous weapons once and for all.
As he did most days when I was home from university, my dad came into my room at six in the morning and placed a cup of Turkish coffee on my bedside table. He had been awake for a couple of hours, and he was getting ready to head back into the orchard under our house, in Bhamdoun, a picturesque town overlooking Beirut, to water the trees.
I had planned a "cleanliness campaign" that day with our Friends of Nature Club at the village. We had started the club that year as part of a fledgling environmental movement in Lebanon, but in the days following the Israeli invasion of 1982 we turned our attention to clearing up the rubble and debris of the aerial bombing of the Israel Defense Forces.
My dad was visibly worried. He said: "Baba, please be careful. There may still be unexploded bombs on the side of the streets. Be extra careful."
These were the last words I heard him say. And probably the last words he said.
Later that morning, I took a break from the cleaning campaign to buy additional brooms for the volunteers. I had to go to the next town to pick these up. Curiously, the shop did not have brooms in the showroom, and the owner gave me the key to the storage house to get them. When I got there and turned the key in the keyhole, it broke inside.
Things happened very fast after that. Before I had time to react, a speeding car came to a screeching halt next to me. Militiamen were inside. One of them called my name, with an insistently alarming tone: "We have been looking for you everywhere! Get in the car quickly." A few minutes later, the militiaman in the passenger seat turned back to me. "You have to be strong now. For the sake of your mother. Ammo Fadel was killed this morning. A cluster bomb exploded. Apparently the bomb got caught in the garden hose as he was dragging it between trees. He died instantly. It is best that you not look at him. His face is completely torn out." (Ammo Fadel was how my father was known in the village.)
I did not say much for several days after that. And I did not drink Turkish coffee for several months.
In the weeks that followed, we were on the lookout for cluster bomblets in the village. We found hundreds of these in every place imaginable — snuggled underneath car tires, on street corners, inside homes, and of course in orchards and vineyards in our valley and in the thorn and thistle fields in the rugged hills above the village. The variety used at the time by the Israel Defense Forces was a little larger than size D batteries — with a white ribbon hanging from each. We detonated as many as we could.
This was June 1982. Bhamdoun’s strategic location on Mount Lebanon, high above the Mediterranean, made it a favorite spot for "last stand" battles between warring forces trying to control the road between Beirut and Damascus.
Much has happened since then. In September 1983, after the invading Israeli army withdrew from our part of the mountains, Christians and Druze fought a fierce battle in Bhamdoun for control of the mountains. Our village was torched to the ground. Fellow Bhamdounis, along with Christians from neighboring villages, were "ethnically cleansed" and took refuge in other parts of the country. We lived in exile for 15 years.
We have since rebuilt the village, in some cases restoring the old houses one stone at a time. We redid the dilapidated terraces on our land and replaced the orchard under our house with a vineyard. My son Karim, who was born and raised in the United States, graduated from George Washington University in 2012. He is now working in Lebanon to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees — more than 50 years into their own exile.
Karim called me the other day. He told me that he and his friends spent the weekend in the village, and he proudly mentioned that he went up with them on the mountain paths above our house. I was silent for a moment. And then I said: "Karim: Please be careful.… Be extra careful.…"