An aunt's living room
L, Li, N, H (sisters), A, Y, R (husbands), M, K and G (grand/children)
(Words spoken in Arabic in italics)
L: Once upon a time hahaha
K: Once upon a time hahaha
H: Come on L and Li are both here so if one forgets something the other can remind her
L: We were studying at university, me and Li, at the AUB in Beirut, Lebanon
M: Don't feel you have to change the way you speak
L Yes. I went to university in 79 and Li followed in 80. The whole time there were problems in Beirut at that time but in 82 the - what's ishtiyah in English so they understand?
H: Israeli invasion
L: The Israeli invasion started in the south of Lebanon, in no time like this *clicks fingers* no resistance at all *clicks fingers* it was reading period at that time we had a week for you know, we were studying at university for our exams. There was no resistance at all ok, they got in from the south, from Tyre and Sidon, in no time, in less than an hour they'd say they've reached this place and that place and that place, till they came to be very very near Beirut. On the spot the university...
K: How did your parents let you go in 79 and 80 there were so many problems
L: Yes there were lots of problems but on and off and internal things issues in the militias themselves it wasn't anything like Lebanon against Israel or another country, since 75 there were problems in Lebanon all because of you you know sectors, religious sectors. So in 82 we're studying in reading period and all of a sudden they told us they'd cancelled the exams and they'd work it out from our midterm papers and so on and everybody started to leave Beirut because it's very risky and the Israelis were very near the capital. So what happened, you know, you visited the AUB right?
L: In the greenfields down there, it's the football pitch, it's near the sea, near the American embassy, so all the helicopters would come to the greenfields, British citizens, American citizens all the important people, would take the students from the greenfields and take them in the helicopters and move them (garbled) … they were safe ... but us, the other nationalities, us and the Palestinians Syrians and the Maldives and the Kuwaitis and the other countries, nobody, we'd call our embassies to say please can you provide, like, help us somehow, we'd ask and ask and no one would listen. So we decided we should leave Beirut. At that time east Beirut which was Jounieh, il Ashrafieyeh, and those, because they were mostly Christians, were on good terms with the Bashīr al-Jimayyel family and that lot, they were on good terms with the Israelis so there was no worry about east Beirut so what happened is that we made a big convoy, we decided we should leave Beirut ok, so it was all the Jordanians, the Maldives with us, there some foreigners, some Arabs from Kuwait and Palestinians and that. There was a group called Group 16, they were a Lebanese army group -
L: Ai ai don't bite me, they walked with us, we left in groups, in buses, buses that were open at the back, all the students got on with our baggage and everything, they dropped us off so we were safe in Jounieh. The idea being that from there we'd make contact so they'd take us by sea to the closest place, which was Cyprus ok?
M: Why didn't you go back to Jordan, you couldn't go back inland?
L: We couldn't, we couldn't. The only solution was to go from Jounieh via Mina, the port, and go from there to Cyprus which was very close
N: Hello Frostie!
L: So ok we decided, we moved from Beirut to the east, we stayed in one hotel, the Holiday Beach Hotel in Jounieh, for one night till we made connections and agreements and affirmations that we were students, not political activists, not involved, blah blah blah so they'd let us leave Lebanon. So we were…obliged? to stay in the hotel and sleep in the lobby. They used to you know step over us until they took they took their ok...
Y: If I didn't invite anyone we'd never meet up!
L: They found a cargo ship, imagine, a cargo ship, remember the crew were Egyptians
N: Sharing party, everyone 20 dinars!
L: On one side its a cargo ship, big one, one half of it were us on the other half was our stuff, we were supposed to cross from Jounieh, to Cyprus in less than 16 hours
R: 20 dinars is enough!
L: Because it was a cargo ship so it was slow, it would take 16 hours from Jouneieh to Limasoll, Cyprus. So at the last minute some people started saying we had to buy sleeping bags and things, other people said it didn't matter, so some people bought and others didn't
L: Exactly. So after we left Jounieh at 6pm. At 8pm, after the ship had been going for 2 hours, in the middle of nowhere in the sea and its dark, all of a sudden we heard loud speakers, big speakers, are you listening?
L: No I spoke to him, I'm telling them the story, I'm telling them the story, she's recording it
L: Yes no, we got out into international waters and saw these big speakers, like in the movies, you know, they turned these huge lights on us
L: And you cannot see but they can see us, the speakers loudly saying 'stop where you are don't move' ok, so the crew they stop the ship, the engine and that. Then came these rubber boats, the light is on us, and its very dark, the water's black, only these lights and these rubber boats full of Israeli soldiers holding guns... it's like a scary movie, seriously, they stopped nearby, they told us to
Li: You guys go into the kitchen, none of this is going to be recorded, now when she presses rewind you'll see there'll be nothing there
H: There'll be nothing there
A: It's ok it's ok it's just water
H: It's just water, go and get a towel, hurry up
R: That's not what we're talking about I'm trying to tell you
L: Why are you playing with the water? Why are you playing with the water?
G: I didn't play with water
L: I saw you
G: I didn't play with it
L: I saw you!
G: I didn't!
L: You cutie I saw you
H: This isn't going to work
M: Why not it's a towel?
R: What kind of water is that
A: Water, it's just water, normal water
N: It's pee hahaha
Li: - when the priest came here and he blessed the house the first day and he sat and
K: In normal times you know these people are psychotic enough but in wartime just off a war zone when they're catching a boat full of random people it must have been horrible it must have been absolutely terrifying
L: Yes, we were kids, students you know, but the way they treated us
K: ...what's going on to such a degree that you're leaving the country in a cargo ship
L: But you know what happened, you know what happened, when they stopped us we decided that one person should talk on our behalf. It was a mistake, one guy he volunteered to talk to them on behalf of all the students, his name was OA, A is a Palestinian family, well known, so it was a mistake. He assumed that because he had an American passport he was in a better position to negotiate with them with the Israelis. They stopped us, they came on board, one of the students, OA, he said I have an American passport… but once he started, they said stop and they came on board. What they did is there were three small rooms for the crew, what they did is they took the small rooms, put desks in each room soldiers took the rooms and they told us one by one to go by the three rooms, they started to investigate us, they asked us questions, you won't believe how much they know about Jordan, about Amman, each street, the name of the street, the name of the house, we were amazed from the information they had. Anyway they checked us all, now most of the students were so afraid when they came aboard that they started to you know, if they have letters or pictures or something to throw them in the sea...
L: ...because they were very skeptical about three or four guys while they investigated us... after 3 or 4 hours after they'd finished they said come with us, they took the three guys with them and one girl. We, we assumed they'd randomly chosen the name, her name was S, maybe they thought 's', then we thought her mother was very active in small communities...
K: They took them on the rubber boats?
L: Yes, till the morning they brought them back. When we checked with them what happened the girl said they treated me very good they brought some food and they gave me a guitar, something like that… as for the guys... pffft... I think they beat them or something like that, they were unable to tell the story, I guess they mistreated them or tried to take information from them, they didn't talk about it, they didn't want to say what happened
K: Nobody challenged them? These were international waters (garbled)
L: They were armed! We couldn't, we were terrified. In the morning when they brought back the guys and the girl, the helicopters… you won't believe. During the night, we didn't have sleeping bags, you know how cold it gets, from the morning the sun shines, me, when I reached Amman, I had second degree burns, the blood was coming out of my face, vessels, for one week I couldn't see anybody.
Anyway when they brought back the kids, the helicopters started taking movies, pictures
M: Helicopters from where?
L: From their side, definitely. Why? Because they came on the ship on board and brought with them food on silver trays imagine they started to give us food you know propaganda like they're treating us in a good way and they're taking movies. Me, they gave me one tomato, so I threw it back and he took it and he threw it at me and yelled eat the tomato! he said. Anyway instead of taking us 16 hours to reach from Jounieh to Limassol it took us 36 hours in the sea, 36 hours. There was 1 bathroom, it was loaded with water, we used to go, my friend R, 3 days she didn't go to the toilet, me I used to take my jeans off and go inside, the guys have no problem, they go in the sea. So after 3 days we reach Limassol we found the Red Cross there giving anyone who wants help or food and we found a plane coming from another place, they ordered it to stop in Limassol to take the Jordanians and we came back. But what really happened, it was really frightening for our parents why? because the last thing they heard from us, the students, was when we left Jouneih and all of a sudden in the middle of the sea the contact was lost *claps hands* they were checking with the foreign ministries, what happened to our kids you know, we couldn't reach each other and we were kidnapped in the sea and we were supposed to reach Limassol in 16 hours max, we didn't reach there and nobody knew where we are
M: Do you think they tortured them?
L: Now nobody knows the true story
M: Was it in the news?
L: And our parents – yes yes that one – but I mean imagine your families they're waiting to hear news from their kids and all of a sudden no connection at all they didn't know anything about us for 36 hours... because it seems the Egyptian crew one or two of the guys were Americans so after 2 hours when we left from Jounieh they said, we heard them, they said, they were standing on the the you know on the the
M: Speak Arabic
L: On the edge of the ship we heard them saying that we’re not heading towards Cyprus because the route should be across the... it should go straight forward, it’s a very small distance, but we went deep in the sea, we weren’t heading towards Cyprus, they knew, they took us to Haifa, that’s why we stayed for a longer time, they took us to Haifa, but we didn’t...
M: Did they know?
K: Did you get the names of the crew?
M: Was it planned?
L: Not planned but they ordered them and they could do nothing you know
M: What was their point?
K: The point is that they took you into Israeli waters so that if anything happened, if the story came out, the army can say or the navy can say that this ship is in sovereign Israeli territory so we can have the right to...
M: What was their point, to check these students weren’t radicals? To...?
L: Their point was to check if there are if we have some Palestinian terrorists among us
L: But they checked us all and knew that we were students, nothing else
K: (garbled)...poor students exiting a war zone and they do a whole PR exercise with the emphasis on the Israeli army and the
M: To say look we’re helping these poor Arabic students
K: How was Li?
L: Oh my goodness she was cryyyying
Li: I was crying because I’d left my boyfriend there, he was a Syrian guy and he could not leave with us, Syrians were not allowed. And then we found a wasta... we got him and another 3 guys, they took him with the Maronite church who hid them so we met only for 10 minutes before we left Jounieh and we cried and then we said goodbye and then they stayed in Jounieh for 3 days and the church, the Maronite church they took them back to Syria, they sent them back to Syria. And we came back to Amman (garbled)...
K: Did you throw a tomato too?
Li: L threw the tomato, he’d have shot her
H: He’d have shot you
Li: He told her eat a tomato and she said I don’t want to eat a tomato!
Li: I thought to myself 'he’s shot her!'
N to L: And you're there winding them up?
H: Well of course he’s a pig
N: Well we went to Israel and we talked to them, I didn’t feel a thing, not a difference
H: Welcome to Israel
N: Come on Y come on, she's tired, come on G
Li: M is it still recording? Remind me to find the picture and