I found this book in a small radical bookshop in Saskatoon this summer, just as the invasion of Lebanon ended with a ceasefire after incredible death and damage had been wreaked in a few days. I know little about this country and even less about Lebanese women so I bought it with interest. And I learned a lot about Lebanon and its political history. What I also found was a very intimate story of a bright young woman from happy Lebanese family with a Christian mother and a Communist father and how she became a member of a secret resistance group, eager to assassinate for the cause; a cause which she saw as the independence of Lebanon.
This is a very personal memoir, like no other that I have read. This idealist woman, with a love of friends and family, a dedicated athlete, became a member of a secret resistance group opposing the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, including her home village, Deir Mimas, near the market town of Khiam where she was later jailed. Israel, the foreign occupying power, was fronted from 1978–2000 by The South Lebanese Army. The Israelis finally withdrew in the face of Hezbollah, and its efforts to re–occupy Lebanon this year were repelled by this same militant group.
A seemingly unconnected local event helped me understand the passion of Soha and her comrades who were willing to die and kill for Lebanon. I attend, in Victoria, a poetry evening with an “open mike”. One middle aged woman often reads poems about her Israeli–Hebrew culture. Recently the theme for the reading was “summer” and she introduced her poem as being about a friend”;s summer camp. It was about camping in empty homes, the campers wore flak jackets and boots…the poem finally reveals that these happy campers were actually an invading army; the Israeli army occupying Lebanon using empty homes whose residents had fled before their invasion. That is a summer camp? Invading soldiers are campers? No wonder Lebanese people feel so passionate about the freedom of their country. No wonder a young woman would consider killing someone she considered a traitor to her country.
When the Israelis and their allies reached Beirut in 1982 and Palestinians were massacred in refugee camps by the Israeli forces, Soha was already immersed in the politics of her country; she saw the internal conflicts as well as the foreign aggression. She writes about her pacifism and abhorrence of violence throughout the conflicts and invasions, but began to believe that violent resistance was the only response. Her family had fled from the south, moved to Beirut and then had to leave their home again. She writes, “;My apprenticeship in politics sped up dramatically during 1982, that terrible year. The Israeli invasion gave me a bitter strength in my beliefs. I was fifteen, and I was ready to move into action.”
She sought out and joined the secret resistance force. She saw herself first and foremost as a Lebanese, a fighter for the freedom of her country. In 1986 she was sent to gather information in the occupied territory of South Lebanon which was being considered for separation and independence – while occupied by Israel aided by the South Lebanon Army under its leader, Antoine Lahad. She was soon in his home as an aerobics instructor for his wife. Then she decided and convinced her comrades in the resistance that she would be his assassin. After one failure of resolve, she succeeds and shoots him in his home.
She is taken away, beaten, tortured and imprisoned in Khiam. She learns eventually that she had not killed him. She had injured Lahad and he eventually recovered, with slight paralysis. At the age of twenty-one she is incarcerated in the infamous jail, controlled by the Israelis while their Lebanese mercenaries did the dirty work.
Most of the book is her personal story of survival and endurance during her years of abuse, torture and constant uncertainty. She works hard at staying fit and healthy so she can endure the beatings. She sets a goal for her release from detention as she calls it – because she is never tried for her attempt to kill Lahad. She wrote a journal on toilet paper. She endured, made friends, and helped others to keep strong. This account of her time in Khiam is an amazing record of determination and conviction.
Meanwhile, unknown to her, an international campaign for her release had been launched. Ten years after her incarceration, in 1998, Soha was released. She was thirty-one and had spent one-third of her life in prison. Two years later, South Lebanon was liberated and Soha returned to see Khiam, stripped of its terrible power. But she reminds us that, “there are dozens of Khiams around the world. Let us never forget them and finally, tear down those walls, once and for all.”
She remembers her experience and her commitment and maintains her spirit of resistance, “Because what I did, I did for tomorrow’s children, for that fragile time when they will play in the shade of trees, and the air will echo with their shouts of joy.”