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From “BALCONIES: A MEDITERRANEAN MEMOIR”
by
Mishka Mojabber Mourani

June 1982


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 remembered it...

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 palatable.

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 Israeli.

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 reality.

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 self-possessed adult.”

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 thing.

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.

I wept.
- - - -.



   

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