An American in Beirut: The Question of Closure

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This is the 20th installment of an ongoing blog written by American Spencer Witte, a native or New York who is studying and living in Beirut, Lebanon.

Aug. 23, 2006

The Question of Closure

This is supposed to be my final blog for

My first installment of "An American Beirut" began by explaining, "I have a stamp in my passport that reads 13 July 2006. It's valid for a single trip to Lebanon. It was supposed to be used for a short stay."

That post was written more than a month ago. The conflict that kept me in Beirut continued to escalate until it was finally slowed down — put on hold by a ceasefire on August 14. In the intervening time, 157 Israelis and 1,200 Lebanese died. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians fled south as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians fled north. And an estimated 30,000 Israeli troops made their way into Lebanon as an estimated 4,000 Hezbollah-launched Katyusha rockets made their way into Israel.

I'm not a journalist. I'm a student. Years back, I contributed to my high school newspaper, but only as a photographer. My writing over the last five weeks has therefore been the product of, and perhaps limited by, living in wartime Beirut and not wartime Haifa.

There's a whole other set of experiences on the other side of the border, where fear exists and tragedy has been visited. However, I've left detailing those experiences to the journalists and bloggers writing and living inside Israel. They can tell that story better. I'm not there to see it firsthand. From this side of the border, I've been concerned with the consequences 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah have had on the Lebanese people with whom I've come into contact as an American.

And these consequences are innumerable. Some are small and others are as big as they come. Some I've experienced up close and others at arm's length. Some can be quantified, like the estimated 35,000 Lebanese homes and businesses that have been destroyed. Others can't be counted, like the sense of comfort and security lost with the destruction of each one of those homes. Or the hours of effort and the feeling of pride that went into growing each one of those businesses. Dashed.

'Why?' is a reasonable question that brings innumerable answers.

There's a compulsion to bring things full circle — to want to tie it all up and make sense of things. Along those lines, I could talk about how the construction cranes are again moving overhead in downtown Beirut as the bulldozers are working to clear the wreckage of its suburbs. I could talk about some of the people I've met and how their opinions have been changed or hardened by the events of the last five weeks. Or perhaps how — despite a strict and continued air and sea blockade — our apartment seems to be getting 14 hours of electricity a day instead of the 10 or 12 we got during the conflict.

Unfortunately, doing so, providing people, places and their experiences with closure, may well contribute to a common delusion.

Regrettably, the war may not be over. Yes, the cease-fire took place, and JonBenet Ramsey's murder suspect seems to have used the intervening time to occupy all the headlines. But the war between Israel and Hezbollah and the renewed domestic wrestling for the character of Lebanon may only be just beginning.

The cease-fire, now in its second week, is proving just how fragile it is every single day.

Outstanding issues include the ongoing Israeli flights in Lebanese airspace, the continuing air and sea embargo, the location of mines that Israel is reported to have planted inside southern Lebanon, the ownership of the disputed Chebaa farms territory, the deployment of U.N. troops along the Lebanese-Syrian border and at Beirut's international airport, the whereabouts and well-being of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, the potentially thorny disarming of Hezbollah and, of course, competing Syrian, Iranian and American interests in the region, just to name a few.

In the last several days alone, there have been violent and deadly skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah fighters — including the use of an Israeli helicopter unit to attack the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.

Unfortunately, closure seems a long way away from that kind of situation, doesn't it?

And personally, I can't provide this blog with any sense of closure. If I could, I would talk about a potential return trip this weekend to Damascus since, at the moment, that's my plan. If that happens, it'll be by taxi on a now expired stamp in my passport. But talking about that wouldn't bring closure, either. If the conflict were to break out fresh, I'd probably hop a late-night cab back in the direction of Beirut — back in the direction of Iman — as I did on July 13, just as all this fighting was beginning.


If you've been reading these reports, I'd like to hear from you. Send your comments, suggestions and questions to

Part I: "An American in Beirut: As War Approaches"

Part II: "Much Has Changed Since That Family Photo"

Part III: "The New Beirut Nightlife, Airstrikes as a Snooze Button"

Part IV: "People Leaving War-Torn South Ask, 'Which Way is Safety?'"

Park V: "How I Got Here and Why I Haven't Left Yet"

Part VI: "Lebanon on a 'Helpless Walk Through Time'"

Part VII: "War Doesn't Stop For the Weekend"

Part VIII: "We Hurt Each Other, Then We Do it Again"

Part IX: "No 'Human Predisposition to Craziness' Found Here"

Part X: "Lebanon Readies to Run Out of Fuel"

Part XI: "Normal Moments Possible in Wartime, Normalcy is Not"

Part XII: "Trying to Be a Good Neighbor in a Time of Need"

Part XIII: "'No War' and 'Summer Sale' Posters Are Signs of the Times"

Part XIV: "The Cost of a Trip Out of Beirut Gets a Little Pricey"

Part XV: "Tour Books for War-Torn Beirut May Need Some Updating"

Part XVI: "What Effect Will the War Have on Lebanese and Israeli Children?"

Part XVII: "There's a Lot of Distance Between Misadventure and Victory"

Part XVIII: "What Kind of Home Will Many Lebanese Return To?"

Part XIX: "Personal Diplomacy is Often Easier Than State Diplomacy"