Sioux City Journal, IA 07-26-06 Safe and sound

Sioux City Journal, IA
Safe and sound
Siouxland native escapes Lebanon bombing
By Nicole Paseka, Journal staff writer
Every night, Melisa Kratz-Aalem and her husband listened to two to 15 "bomb
hits" from gun boats. Israeli jets soared overhead constantly
In Lebanon, there are no bomb sirens. There are only echoes.
"When the bombs hit, it's really, really loud. It's loud to the point where it shakes
the building. You can see them flying over and dropping them, like fireworks in
the sky," said Kratz-Aalem, 31, a 1993 graduate of Sioux City North High School.
The Siouxland woman was evacuated from war-torn Beruit on Thursday, arriving
in Iowa at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.
She is safe and living with her parents, Phil and Pam Kratz, in Dakota Dunes. But
she was forced to leave her husband, Omar Aalem, 29, behind in Beruit.
"He grew up in a civil war. One thing I'm clinging to about him surviving this one
is that they grew up in a bomb shelter, pretty much," she said.
Fighting in the region exploded two weeks ago after a Hezbollah cross-border
raid left eight Israeli soldiers dead.
The U.S. government considers Hezbollah a terrorist group. Members dominate
Lebanon's southern border, which is shared with Israel.
Kratz-Aalem began to feel less safe in her neighborhood after the bombings
"I lived in a Muslim neighborhood. I didn't live in a tourist neighborhood, so it was
getting kind of dangerous for me to be anywhere, because you have 700,000
displaced Lebanese who are angry with the Israelis because they're the ones
who bombed them out, and America supports the Israeli military. They're their
number one supporter. So to walk around the streets being as American as I am,
I knew it was getting pretty dangerous," said Kratz-Aalem, who has long blond
hair and a casual, West-Coast look.
She had registered with the American embassy upon arriving in Lebanon and
was placed on the warden's list to be evacuated.
She received a call at midnight to arrive at a port at 3 a.m.
"I got there at 2:30 (a.m.), and not that many people were there. By about 9:30 or
10, they actually started moving us off this bridge. So we're sitting all night long
on this open-air bridge, just waiting. I was more nervous sitting on the bridge than
I was at home because we were just out in the middle of nowhere, waiting for
someone to pick us up. The crowd started to gather, and there was pushing and
shoving and kids getting ran over."
She boarded an amphibious vehicle and was then transferred to the USS
Trenton. She spent 15 to 16 hours in Cyprus before boarding a plane that
headed west.
Kratz-Aalem, a former social worker, first arrived in Lebanon on Dec. 29, 2005,
with plans to further her education.
"I explored changing fields because I was feeling a little burned out. The
University of Washington offers an online program -- it's a masters in strategic
planning for critical infrastructure, which is very prominent. That's why I wanted to
go to Lebanon. It's a culture that East meets West and has rebuilt itself many,
many, many times from the ground up," Kratz-Aalem said. "It will do so again."
She met Aalem while chatting on the Internet. The couple was married on June
10 in a Muslim ceremony and planned to have a Christian wedding on July 7,
But now Kratz-Aalem has her doubts that will happen. She was told it could take
a year to 18 months before her husband can get the proper visas for him to live
in the United States. They stay in touch over e-mail.
Before the bombings started, Aalem ran a successful Internet business in Saida,
Lebanon. He had $10,000 to $15,000 worth of computer equipment in his
"His business is gone, and we lost everything," Kratz-Aalem said.
She hopes to find a lawyer who works pro bono who could speed up her
husband's immigration.
She now spends her time working on a new NGO that will help displaced people
in Lebanon. UNICEF statistics indicated about 700,000 Lebanese are now
refugees. Three hundred people have been killed, one-third of whom are
Although Kratz-Aalem said she believes Israel's response was disproportionate
to the incident two weeks ago, she harbors no hate in her heart.
"My husband and I agree openly that Hezbollah needs to be disarmed because
they didn't act on the benefit of Lebanon. They acted on the benefit of their own."
Acknowledging the 'Holy Land'
Hector Avalos, associate professor of religious studies at Iowa State
University, sees no short-term solution to the violence in the Middle East.
"My fear is we're really at the start of the first global religious war in history," said
Avalos, who in 2005 published a book called "Fighting Words: The Origins of
Religious Violence."
"If you look at where Al-Qaeda is attacking and where Muslim insurgents are
active, there has been trouble in the Philippines, Canada, Indonesia, London,
Spain, the whole Middle East. It spans the globe. It's not confined to the Middle
East," Avalos said.
Avalos said he believes the world's leaders need to acknowledge the concept of
"sacred space" before there will ever be peace in the region and world.
"I think that most violence is due to scare resources. Religion can create scarcity
itself. In the case of Palestine, it is holy space. The space is limited and cannot
be shared by everyone," Avalos said.
On Monday, a Hezbollah negotiator rejected a peace proposal trumpeted by U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Diplomacy in the region continues to fail because world leaders focus only on
political and religious issues, Avalos said.
So is there a solution in sight?
"It's primarily a religious issue, and they have to address the religious issue, or
it's not going to go away," he said.