At the annual gathering of the American Lebanese League, a group of mostly middle- and upper-class, Lebanese American Christians, the major complaint about the Israeli invasion of their ancestral homeland was that it did not go far enough.
"It's no good, the cease-fire," said Evelyn Fadlallah, who came to America 20 years ago and now lives in Los Angeles. "If the Israelis start something, they have to finish it. If they stop here, the PLO will bounce back, will revenge themselves on the Christian community. The cancer is still there--the PLO and the Syrians."
"I do not want you to get the impression that we are happy about the invasion and the destruction," explained Lou Akoury, who owns a business outside of Boston and has been in this country 23 years. "But we understand that in order to cure a patient, at times you have to perform surgery. Many parts of the south--in the patient we call Lebanon--were very cancerous. I see the Israelis as performing major surgery to take out the cancer."
There are 2 million Americans of Lebanese descent, according to Jihad Kassis, director of the American Lebanese League. The ALL and its affiliate organizations have about 5,000 members in 32 chapters around the country. Each year, they meet in June in Washington to socialize, discuss the Middle East and lobby Congress. This year's convention, at the Mayflower Hotel, is entitled "A Free Lebanese Presidential Election"--a reference to the elections scheduled to be held in Lebanon in August--but that topic has been somewhat overshadowed by this week's invasion of southern Lebanon.
Jean-Frederic El-Alam, 19, sat in the Mayflower's lobby with members of his family, talking about the disappointment many Lebanese-Americans feel at yesterday's news that Israel may stop short of Beirut. "The cease-fire frustrates me. It doesn't do anything. If the Israelis want to break the backbone of the Palestinians, they have to get to Beirut. That's where they are." El-Alam came to this country a year ago, after leaving Lebanon with his family in April 1980. The El-Alam delegation to the convention included not only Jean-Frederic, but his two brothers, his mother, and his father, a trader.
Optimism about what the Israeli invasion might mean for the future of Lebanese independence was muted somewhat by concern for relatives still in Lebanon. "The only thing that worries me about the Israeli attack is that some Lebanese people are getting killed," said Faez El-Alam, Jean-Frederic's brother. "It's bad to say, but if you can get some more killing for two days or two weeks and that's the end of it, that would be good."
And Evelyn Fadlallah expressed confidence that the Israelis would not harm her relatives in Beirut. "I'm not worried because I know that Israel is very careful to avoid killing people not involved, to avoid killing innocent people. But war is war. You cannot be very precise."
Though ALL director Kassis conceded that Moslems make up only "a small percentage" of ALL membership, the Christians in attendance at the convention expressed surprise that Americans think Lebanese Christians and Moslems don't get along and couldn't, even if Lebanon were rid of Syrian, Palestinian and Israeli armies. "In Lebanon, the real Moslems, the good Moslems, get along with the Christians," said Fadlallah. She compared the Lebanese civil war to "a family quarrel. But the Syrians and the PLO have come in and destroyed the family for their advantage."
Last night, the Lebanese Americans took a break from listening to speeches to attend a Hafli, a sort of Lebanese dance. A five-piece combo that included a lute, a nay (a Middle Eastern flute made from bamboo), darbelcas (clay drums), and a def (a sort of tambourine) played Lebanese folk music while the conventioneers danced the debky.
Dory Chamoun, a charismatic Lebanese who heads the Christian Rightist National Liberation Party in Lebanon and whose father is a former president of Lebanon, attended the Hafli, having spoken to the delegates in the afternoon.
The NLP, he said, "thinks the Israeli invasion has been long overdue." Chamoun compared the current Mideast problems to those in 1958: "Instead of Nasser we have Khomeini, who is showing a lot of strength. The U.S. is not really worried about beating up the PLO. They are clipping the wings of Syria, which has been flying a little too high recently." Chamoun said the Israeli invasion was "certainly" proceeding with the approval of Washington. About Reagan administration calls for a cease-fire, he said, smiling: "I don't believe them."
Phyllis Moore, a third generation Lebanese American in her late thirties from Meriden, Conn., sat away from the knots of Lebanese-Americans who greeted each other like long-lost cousins. This was her second convention. She thinks Israel is the cause of Lebanon's problems rather than the solution. "I feel disgust at what is happening there and at attitudes here in this country. One attitude that really bothers me is that other points of view are not being expressed--those points of view that clash with pro-Israeli points of view.
"If you speak out on the wrongs done to the Palestinians in the 1940s, you're accused of being pro-PLO, anti-Semitic, fascistic, Nazi. That kind of smearing should have gone out with the McCarthy era.
"I think an exclusionist state is the problem. It is the creation of a Jewish state that is the crux of the problems. Israel was formed only for Jews. That's bad, because it disenfranchises those who have been living there for 15 centuries--those whom we call Palestinians."
But Fadlallah expressed the more prevalent view: "The world community should be grateful for Israel, that they are finishing off the terrorism."
"If you are drowning," Lou Akoury said, referring to the Israeli invasion, "when someone throws you a rope, you don't ask who's throwing it. You just hope you don't hang yourself with it."