A personal view of Beirut
Sunday, July 23, 2006 5:00:00 AM
by Abe F. March
|Former county resident's book tells of his escape from, and return to, Lebanon in the 1970s
By TERESA McMINN
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Jul 23, 2006 — In Abraham Firestone March's book, "To Beirut and Back: An American In The Middle East," published in May, the former Dover resident writes of his time as a naive but aggressive businessman in a place, time and culture that intrigued, irritated and sometimes terrified him: Lebanon and the Middle East during the 1970s.
The book includes his family's travels through Canada, Greece, Germany and finally to Lebanon. While there, he was robbed and kidnapped during a civil war. He left the country in 1974 because of financial trouble but returned a year later.
March's story starts with his excitement, determination and admiration for the beauty of his surroundings. But fear of the unknown was also an underlying emotion.
With Lebanon now in the crossfire of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah fighters, March, now living in Germany, agreed to a question-and-answer session via e-mail:
Q. When did you begin writing the book?
A. I started in 1976 after my return from Beirut. I was unemployed with time on my hands and began writing while things were fresh in my mind. It was originally intended as a family chronicle.
Q. How long did it take to complete?
A. I worked on it intermittently for several years and then it lay dormant. Last year my daughter Caroline asked to review my manuscript, and then suggested that I contact a publisher.
Q. Your inner drive and determination are very apparent throughout the book. Were you raised to be determined and take risks?
A. No. I was not raised that way. I had read about and studied successful people, and realized that risk and determination were necessary to succeed. And to sustain that drive, there had to be a driving force - goal oriented. I guess, maybe, I wanted to do something extraordinary.
Q. There are several emotional descriptions throughout the book. Was this a difficult book to write?
A. Yes, it was like reliving it. I felt the frustration of not being able to do anything to affect a change. And, what I wrote at that time was never intended for public consumption.
Q. Why was it important for you to write this book?
A. It was important at the time to just get everything off my mind. Later, I felt that my family would benefit from a better understanding of our emotions and the hazards that we lived through. It would also provide a record of actual events that formed our opinions/emotions of the people and of the politics of the region.
Q. "Beirut was finished and I realized that I was as well." You write of depression during this time of your life, under these circumstances. How did you get through that?
A. I got through it by going to the "end of the line" so to speak. Having lost everything I had, my depression took me to the brink of self-destruction. A realization that life is too precious to throw away and that material possessions are not the answer to happiness; that love and life itself is more important.
Q. Do you follow news reports of the conflict in the Middle East now?
A. It brings back vividly many memories. When I tried to get help from the US Embassy, none was given. I had to get help from my brother-in-law, Harry Miller of Red Lion, to wire money to me via the State Department so I could leave Lebanon. Now the US Government is evacuating American citizens without them having to pay. And, I agree with that. I empathize with the foreigners trying to leave and understand their fears and dilemma. I also feel for those who have no means to leave and must endure the hardships to come and the daily fear for their lives.
Q. Do you believe Lebanon will ever be peaceful?
A. I doubt it in the sense of lasting peace, at least not in the foreseeable future. However, within a short period of time, you will hear the Lebanese talking optimistically about getting back to normal. The Lebanese are the most optimistic people I have ever met. But what is normal for Lebanon? Keep in mind that nowhere in history has it ever been recorded that Lebanon was an aggressor in a war. They have always been defenders. Yet they have been overrun by the Egyptians, by the Greeks, by the Romans and by the Turks, just to name a few, not to speak of being occupied by the French, and the southern part most recently by the Israelis. Always having a big heart, it took in refugees: Armenians, Kurds, and more recently, Palestinians. Now once again Lebanon is being bombarded.
Q. What profession/ business are you in today?
A. I'm retired. My last job was as a procurement manager for an aircraft company. I now enjoy retirement in a small wine village on the edge of the Palatine Forest. I'm a member of the Men's Choir and the Protestant Church Choir. I keep busy helping with the grape harvest and I'm also involved as grounds keeper for the local soccer team.
Abraham Firestone March, 67, was raised in the Dover area and graduated from West York Area High School in 1957.
His son and daughter attended schools in York County, and his son Duane graduated from West York high. His sister, an aunt, an uncle and cousins still live in York County.
His book "To Beirut and Back: An American In The Middle East" is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, from PublishAmerica, and other book outlets.
Abe F. March - To Beirut and Back - Press