As the daughter of a peacekeeper I learned the power of words over guns
I had two young children and I was pregnant with the third when my husband called to tell me that a Boeing 767 had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. We were still trying to figure out when another plane hit the south tower. My kids built castles in their sandbox as the world rocked sideways and slid off its axis.
Almost 3,000 people have died; 6,000 were injured. The President of the United States has launched a war on terrorism. Suddenly the Middle East – where I spent a year with my family when I was 12 – became enemy territory.
My mind returned to Israel and Lebanon in 1982-83 and my father’s mission as a United Nations peacekeeper. In the 20 years since my return, I hadn’t written a word about it. The story was too ugly.
But in the aftermath of September 11, memories surfaced – as vivid as if they had just happened – and refused to be pushed back.
Until then, in my family mythology, our year in the Middle East had been my father’s story. He was the hero, with the rest of us – my mom, my brother and I – circling him as his dependent. I had never dared to betray the traditional narrative and make history my own. But in those haunting days after 9/11, I wrote in my 12-year-old voice about the far-reaching effects of war.
It became the scaffolding for my memoir, “The Peacekeeper’s Daughter”. Unable to name myself or my 14-year-old brother, I wrote in compressed, impressionistic lines – barely a paragraph for each main event. It was transgressive and frightening; both an exorcism and a catharsis.
Years later, I learned that this was a common approach to writing about trauma. We can’t go deeper into it – it threatens to crush us – but we can go in and out of the story as if we were leaping through fire.
In the summer of 1982, my family left Yellowknife, where we had lived for three years, and settled in Tiberius, in northern Israel.
It had been decided months before, in the darkness of an arctic winter, during a time of relative peace in the Middle East. But Israel was now at war with Lebanon and Syria. After repeated attacks between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israel Defense Forces, Israel’s goal was to expel the PLO from Beirut. The Israelis called the war Operation Peace for the Galilee. In Lebanon, it was called the “invasion”.
Shortly after our arrival in Israel, the President of Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated. In retaliation, thousands of Palestinians were murdered in the Sabra / Shatila refugee camps in Israeli-occupied south Beirut. The conflict between Israel and Lebanon has intensified, as has the Lebanese civil war.
The United Nations has called for more peacekeepers in Beirut. My father volunteered. He assumed we would return to Canada or stay in Israel, but my mother refused to be separated from him. “We’ve followed you this far,” she said. “We are not backing down. “
Over the next seven months the city crumbled around us. My brother and I were students at the American Community School of Beirut, on the American University and Embassy campus, when a man with 2,000 pounds of explosives drove a delivery truck through the gates. of the embassy, killing 63 people. 120 others were injured. It is the deadliest attack on a US diplomatic mission since World War II and the first suicide bombing in the Middle East.
Walking home from school that day, my brother and I took a detour through the red Danger tape, making our way through the rubble.
“The daughter of the peacekeeper: a memoir in the Middle East” took me 20 years to complete. It is fortunate that its release coincides with the 20th anniversary of September 11, when the world takes a courageous look back to count its losses and celebrate its heroes.
As Margaret Atwood says in “The Robber Bride”, “War is what happens when language fails.” With the increase in violence in Afghanistan and the uncontrollable threat to women and children, it is crucial to bear witness; to chronicle darkness and every point of redemptive light, however weak; to use words instead of weapons.