When war erupted in the Middle East last summer, Maia Karo ’09 found herself shuttling from bunker to bunker in Northern Israel, while Amina El-Annan GRD ’10 joined a stream of refugees fleeing from Lebanon to Syria.
Seven Yalies, including Karo and El-Annan, shared their personal experiences during the crisis at a student panel held at Battell Chapel Tuesday afternoon. The event, titled “Summer Crisis in Lebanon and Israel: First-hand Perspectives from Yale Students,” drew an audience of about 30 people, and was moderated by University Chaplain Jerry Streets.
Streets introduced the event by emphasizing that it was essential to hear a nonpolitical perspective on the conflict.
“This is not meant to be a political discussion,” Streets said. “This is an opportunity for us to engage in a dialogue that will help us better understand what is happening in the region.”
The panelists had a similar message for the audience.
Karo, who lives outside Tel Aviv, said that she was amazed at the way Israelis rallied to support residents of Northern Israel, who were most affected by Hezbollah’s rockets.
“I am a singer and an actress, and so my friends and I went to the bomb shelters on the [Israeli-Lebanese] border and performed for families and children,” she said. “We wanted to contribute to the joint effort, and so did everyone else, including celebrities.”
Valeria Lopez-Fadul ’08 was studying at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, where she awoke one night to the terrifying sound of shells exploding only yards away. Lopez-Fadul, who was evacuated by boat to Cyprus and then by plane to Rome, said she was impressed with the solidarity and selflessness of the evacuees.
“The Lebanese people, the nuns on the boat, were all sharing food and banding together,” she said.
David Scales MED ’09 GRD ’09 said he still grapples with guilt over the gulf separating him and the average Lebanese citizen.
“I couldn’t escape how much privilege I felt,” Scales said. “I was white, I had an American passport, and I lived behind the Prime Minister’s residence.”
Scales said he initially believed he was well-positioned to provide medical care and aid to refugees, but quickly learned that he was largely powerless.
“What was most surprising to me was how useless I was,” Scales said. “You know, at Yale they tell us that we are future leaders, but I couldn’t really help anyone.”
Streets billed the event as explicitly apolitical. Still, several members of the audience pressed Tomer Edry ’08, an Israeli reservist who was called to duty at the time of the crisis, to accept responsibility for Israel’s wartime conduct. Streets was forced to intercede repeatedly to cut off the questioning.
After the event, Streets said he was not surprised by the heated exchange, but still felt that the event was important.
“In situations of tremendous transition, you have to be forced to entertain sometimes contradictory ideas,” he said. “This was about conveying the humanity of the people on the ground.”
Audience members agreed that the panel was informative, if sparsely attended.
“The panel was phenomenal,” Marianne Schuck ’09 said. “I feel as if the entire school should have come.”
Oyesha Shariff, who was visiting Yale from Pakistan, said she thought the panel made the conflict more relatable.
“When you hear about the war on the news, it’s not the same as hearing people your own age talk about it,” she said.
Thirty Yale students were traveling in the region when war broke out last summer, according to the Office of International Affairs.