From “BALCONIES: A
Mishka Mojabber Mourani
It tortures me that I cannot remember the color of the apple. Is it
because this gives a dreamlike character to my remembrance? So I
checked the transcript of the recording I had made of the scene 27
years ago. The reality of the apple is there, comforting me, but I
do not mention its color anywhere. It must not have been important
at the time. Only now that I want to tell the story,does it strike
me that the symbolism of the apple is so evident that it reduces the
credibility of the tale. Funny that I cannot remember the color. It
must have been a green apple. Had it been red, I would probably have
I have been tempted to
replace the apple with an orange in the story to make it more
believable. But I will not play with the truth even to make it more
BOY WITH APPLE
The Israeli invasion of
Lebanon in June 1982, and the consequent siege of Beirut, took a
severe toll on our nerves. The population had been subjected to dire
shortages of fuel, water, fresh fruit and vegetables. Shops and
supermarkets were empty in the absence of refrigeration since
electricity was non existent and even generators could not be
fueled. The subsequent departure of the Palestinians and the
election of Bashir Gemayel to the presidency in September 1982
caused many to be apprehensive. Even in the western sector of the
capital few rejoiced when Gemayel was brutally killed. His death was
felt as a portent of catastrophes to come. The very same day Gemayel
was assassinated, the Israeli troops began to move into West Beirut.
Although resistance was limited, their entry into Beirut was met
with considerable fire power, and we descended into the basement
shelter. The local militias were completely demoralized, having lost
the support of Palestinian forces. The few acts of resistance that
took place were spontaneous - the work of individuals or small
groups that had been neglected by the various intelligence services
working with or for the Israelis.
The fighting started in our street. As was customary, everyone in
the building rushed to the basement, most taking with them plastic
grocery bags filled with bottles of water and snacks, and some
carrying personal valuables and passports.
Once settled in our usual spots in the basement we realized the
intensity of the firing was increasing considerably, with fighting
taking place around the building. Suddenly we heard the rumble of
tank engines. A resident of the building commented that these were
probably the tanks of the Mourabitoun and expressed apprehension
that the Israelis may be targeting them. Then we heard Hebrew spoken
from communication gear and knew that the tanks could only be
Minutes later, the firing stopped and the tanks came to a halt. An
eerie silence followed. We dared not move from the basement and kept
our voices low. About an hour later one of the little girls from the
second floor went up with her mother to use the bathroom in their
apartment and came back with the news that the fighting was over,
and people were in the streets.
We went up to our homes and headed for our balconies. The Israeli
troops were deployed all along Mar Elias Street and the side streets
around the building, going deep into the heavily populated Hayy el
Leja. About a dozen Israeli soldiers sat outside the entrance of our
building, while some others had set up a makeshift medical facility
in the middle of the intersection. We could see the huge merkavas ,
and the VTTs positioned in our street. The enemy troops were under
my very balcony.
There was something unreal about it all, but then the massive
presence of the tanks, the military equipment spread all over the
street, the soldiers looking tired but relaxed, and the tension of
the hours spent in the basement suddenly hit me with unyielding
I observed the population below, watching the Israeli troops and
their war machinery, with conflicting thoughts going through my
mind. Had someone dropped a grenade from a balcony, they would have
killed several of them - how could they allow themselves to be so
vulnerable? Yet no one did anything.
The population was divided in their reactions. The collaborators
were in evidence, no longer hiding their faces as they had when they
had appeared in public previously. A man brought a tray laden with
coffee that he offered the Israeli soldiers.
Members of one local militia were circulating without cover, their
Kalashnikovs strapped to their shoulders. Intermittently one of them
would confer with an Israeli officer. Another handed his weapon to a
soldier and walked away, probably to get information on possible
pockets of resistance in the neighborhood.
Most of the people, however, walked in the street trying to appear
indifferent, as if pretending not to see the Israeli soldiers.
Others, like one particular adolescent boy, appeared outright
hostile. He was the son of the neighborhood hairdresser- I think his
name was Nabil. He was sitting on a wooden crate a few meters away
from one group of soldiers, facing them, and eyeing at them
relentlessly, as if he wanted to defeat them with his stare. One of
the soldiers signaled to him to go away. Nabil did not react. The
Israeli raised his voice at the boy and waved his gun at him. The
boy sat unmoved and continued to stare. The soldier angrily
approached him, screaming and threatening to hit him with the butt
of his weapon. Nabil stood up but continued to stare. The soldier
went up and put his face to the boy’s face. Nabil took a few steps
back nonchalantly. The soldier pushed the boy. Finally Nabil walked
away, looking intently over his shoulder at the soldier.
A VTT that was parked opposite the entrance to our building had six
soldiers in it. Some were bare-chested, and others still had on
their uniforms. They appeared relaxed; two of them brought out a box
of fruit from the entrails of the vehicle and started eating. A
young boy walked by. He couldn’t have been more than ten years old,
but looked like a little man. I thought to myself, “How funny this
little boy looks - he doesn’t move like a child, but rather like a
One of the soldiers noticed him as well. He pointed him out to his
comrade and laughed. Then he took an apple from the box and called
out to the boy. The boy looked around to see if the soldier was
calling someone behind him. Seeing no one, he pointed to himself
questioningly. Yes, nodded the soldier, extending the apple to the
boy. The boy shook his head politely and continued down the street.
The soldier called out and reiterated his offer with a grin. The boy
stopped, shook his head without looking at the soldier, and started
walking away again gravely, like a mature grown-up.
By now I was gripping the balcony rail, my attention focused on the
scene below. I was strangely proud of that little boy-man.
Further on, an Israeli officer, who had been poring over a map with
one of the local informants, folded the map and turned to look at
the youth. The Israeli pinched the young man’s cheek playfully and
patted it, then ruffled his hair. He gave him a nudge and sent him
on his way.
That sight revolted me, and, in my heart, I called out to the young
boy below, “Keep walking, little man, don't stop, and don’t turn
around.” As if he heard me, the boy continued on his way, shaking
his head slightly. Unwilling to accept the boy's rejection, the
soldier with the apple called out to his friend who had been
watching the scene. As the boy approached the other soldier, the
Israeli in the VTT tossed the apple to his comrade, who caught it
easily. He then reached out and grabbed the boy by the arm and put
the apple squarely into the boy’s hand. The boy hesitated and then
gave a sober nod to the Israeli. The young boy walked away, his hand
outstretched with the apple in it, as if he was carrying a dangerous
A mound of garbage stood a few meters away. I felt the boy and I had
not yet been defeated. The boy approached the garbage dump and my
heart pounded. "Throw it away, boy, don't be tempted,” I said
silently, urgently to the boy. The boy stopped. He stared at the
garbage for a moment and then slowly took a bite of the apple.
- - - -.