Fwd: [spectre] Out of Beirut: Exit Stamp July 17 2006

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: nat muller <[email protected]>
Date: Jul 20, 2006 8:13 AM
Subject: [spectre] Out of Beirut: Exit Stamp July 17 2006
To: [email protected]

Out of Beirut: Exit Stamp July 17 2006

My Lebanese exit stamp reads July 17th; it was supposed to read August
4th. It wasn't till the next day, Tuesday July 18th that I arrived with
the second flight of the Dutch evacuation convoy via Aleppo at the
military airbase in Eindhoven. My friends and family were relieved to see
me "out of Beirut", and escaping the violence. The flurry of smses with
these 3 simple words "are you out?" keep coming in till today, July 20th.
It is strange how an exit can take on different connotations, what is
deemed a lucky escape in one context, is an artistic export product in
another: "Out of Beirut" is the name of an exhibition recently held at
the museum of Modern Art in Oxford. I had made a mental note to ask my
artist friends in Beirut to borrow the catalogue from them. There was no
time. Nor was there time to say goodbye to friends; it all happened so

I had only registered with the Dutch embassy on Friday July 14th; noone
was picking up the phone so J. and I decided to go there. Very few people
there, just one obviously distressed Dutchman of Lebanese origin. "I
haven't been back since 26 years, and now this", he tells me. The lady at
the counter copies my passport and asks me for phone numbers. She
reassures me that now we have only reached "Phase I", and that no
evacuation plans are being made. She advises me to stay in Beirut, and
not attempt to go to Syria by myself, since the embassy cannot vouch for
my safety. Fine, I wasn't thinking of leaving to Syria, despite the many
phone calls of Swiss friends urging me to join them just across the border
in Tartus.

In the meanwhile the situation keeps escalating, and bombs keep pounding
infrastructure, the South, and the Dahiyeh; the casualties mount. We move
from Qasqas to a friend's place in Achrafieh. By now electricity is on and
off. We see the first refugees wandering around bewildered in the streets
of well-to do Achrafieh. Whenever electricity is on, we are glued to the
TV. I joke that the only new Arabic word I learned this time around is
"khabar ajil" (breaking news). One wonders when news stops being news,
how long it will take the world this time to turn its head away with bored
media saturation; how many more atrocities have to be committed before
something can be viewed as "news". There's a paralysing silence on the
part of the international community, especially the EU: no official or
strong condemnation of the disproportionate use of force, absolutely

I am in the middle of an interview with Belgian national radio Sunday
night, fulminating at how biased the media coverage is, when an sms of the
Dutch embassy shows up on my phone: "Evacuation at 5.30 am at the Dutch
embassy; bring money, passport, food, one piece of luggage." I panic: to
stay/to go; how can I say goodbye to my friends? I only have hours. In
the middle of my panic someone from Foreign Affairs in The Hague calls me.
His voice is so calm and friendly, as if he rehearsed the words and tone
to perfection. He inquires whether I had received the sms, whether I was
fine and had any additional questions. "Is the crossing to Syria safe", I
ask him. It takes him a few