A Year After War, Young Lebanese Men Look Ahead

Fellows Spring 2007

By Shereen Meraji

June 01, 2009

Ali Fadlallah kneels at his mother's grave in the martyr cemetery in Ainata. His younger sister is also buried in the cemetery.

In the bombed-out village of Ainata, Lebanon, Ali Fadlallah is surveying the ruins of his family's hometown.

During last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah, Ainata – three hours from Beirut and astride the border with Israel – was almost completely destroyed. Fadlallah, 21, lost his mother, Maryam, and younger sister, Zahira.

"We looked at the bodies and we tried to identify them," Fadlallah says, standing over the rubble of the building where they died. "The heart of the son would recognize his mother … I don't know how to describe it — that was the hardest day of my life."

Like Fadlallah's, the lives of families on both sides of the border have changed irrevocably since the war ended in August. Fadlallah's mother and sister were among about 1,000 Lebanese civilians killed in Israeli air strikes. Dozens of Israelis died in Hezbollah rocket attacks in northern Israel.

When the war broke out July 12, Fadlallah, a Shiite Muslim, was living in the Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut. He had moved to the city as a teenager to study and work. After the United Nations-brokered cease-fire, he went back to Ainata to find the remains of his mother and sister. He's now devoting his life to rebuilding his family's home.

Anthony Kouymjian spends much of his time in front of his computer in Glendale, Calif. keeping in touch with friends and family in Lebanon.

"I will put all of my money into it, and I will keep working to build the most beautiful house and plant as many trees as I can," Fadlallah says. "My mother … is like a flower; she handed the flower to me so that I could go on with life."

For 17-year-old Anthony Kouymjian, the 2006 conflict was an opportunity to escape the long shadow of war in Lebanon. Kouymjian, a Christian Armenian from Antelias, a town just north of Beirut, was born in 1989 during the final months of Lebanon's 15-year civil war. The fighting was so severe that his mother went to Los Angeles, where she gave birth to him.

Though he's a U.S. citizen, Kouymjian was raised in Lebanon and helps out in his family's corner shop, "Flowers Antony." When the war broke out last summer, he decided to evacuate with other Americans, a decision that was wrenching for his mother, Maria, who stayed behind.

"They decided that the future for him was better in the U.S.," she says. "I was crying inside, but I couldn't tell him don't go, because it's very difficult here."

Today, Kouymjian attends community college in Glendale, Calif., and spends most of his free time on his computer, waiting to hear from family and friends in Lebanon.

Though he's lonely, he's not ready to go home, where he says there will always be war. And he refuses to be the third-generation owner of "Flowers Antony."

Listen to Meraji's story at NPR.org