This guest post is by By Georges Fahmy and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .
Hello guys and gals, my name is Georges Fahmy, I’m a Lebanese national, and a long time lurker of this wonderful blog. I read this blog on a weekly basis and find most of the articles to be very informative and well-written.
After reading Tom B’s accounts of his stay in Lebanon during the early days of the Lebanese Civil War (LCW), I decided to talk a bit about my own childhood experience in hopes that it can help others survive similar situations, if, God forbid, they do arise in your country/ area.
At first, it would be best if you could read some history about the political/ sectarian climate that was prevalent in Lebanon, to ensure readers understand the why and the how of the conflict (Start, sustainability, and end). The section on Wikipedia is mostly accurate (80% or so), with some minor discrepancies and biases, perfectly understandable as it was mostly written/ edited by Lebanese from diverging confessions and opinions. Read it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
For those who can understand/ read French, the best book on the topic was written by a Frenchmen called Alain Menarques. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.fr/Les-
Please note that my account of the LCW is biased, as I am a victim of my own experience, my religious affiliation (Christian), where I lived (Muslim controlled West Beirut), and my political orientation (Pro-Western way of life, Pro-Freedom, Anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-jihadist, anti- multiculturalist). I am not and never will be politically correct or sugarcoat the truth.
The focus of this article will be about how civilians survived during the civil war, in urban areas, with an emphasis on living in a hostile environment (In my case, as a Christian living with his family in a Muslim area with limited options to relocate or leave).
The article will also contain tips on violence survival, personal protection, and firearms acquisition and use. About my background: I am a member of Senshido International and specialize in teaching Personal Protection as well as firearms use in the Greater Middle East. Everything I teach has been tested in full-out Force-On-Force scenarios (Meaning full-speed, full-power, and with intent) and validated in the real-world. I firmly believe that if something doesn’t work with fully resisting opponents then it is not realistic self-defense and shouldn’t be taught. I’m not here to sell my seminars or promote my site, anyone interested just Google “Georges Fahmy Senshido” and you will find me.
A Brief History of Lebanon:
Lebanon has existed for at least 7,000 years and is very old as a country. It was listed 70 times in the Bible and was mentioned in three of the twelve tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The first alphabet, created by the Phoenicians, was drafted here. The Southern village of Cana was where Christ performed His first miracle, of turning water into wine. As a coastal country and a crossroad between the East and the West, Lebanon was invaded countless times, and ruled by all of the major empires that occupied it. Muslim jihadists conquered Lebanon in 634-636 and after a brief period of liberation under Crusader rule, the country fell back under the Islamic caliphate’s rule until after the First World War, when Ottoman Empire was defeated and the French obtained a mandate over the region.
This mandate ended on November 22, 1943, when both Maronite Christian Bechara El Khoury and Sunni Muslim Riad El Solh declared Lebanon’s independence. The National Pact, an unwritten agreement decided between the two leaders, distributed positions in government according to one’s religious affiliation: The Lebanese President will always be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the House a Shiite Muslim. The Deputies for the last two positions will be Greek Orthodox Christians. This confessional representation is still prevalent today for all sectors of government.
My Childhood recollections of life in West Beirut
I was born on September 28, 1980, in Hotel Dieu De France, a French established hospital in Christian East Beirut, where my mother used to work as a nurse.
The prevalent situation in the country was one of chaos, intense battles followed by a cease fire lasting from hours to a few days. The thing about the civil war is that it wasn’t constant conflict, but more like times of “relative” calm mixed with period of bloody skirmishes.
Being located in the Zokak El Blat neighborhood, near downtown Beirut, on the border diving West and East Beirut, meant trouble. In 1975, my father was kidnapped on Black Saturday ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Despite living in a Muslim area alternatively (As of November 2012 jointly) controlled by the Shiite Amal and Hezbollah militias, my childhood was mostly safe: Our building had taken artillery shells and a Katyusha rocket or two, but being well constructed, it withstood the hits with no issues. I used to go on the balcony when there was a lull in the fighting and pick up shrapnel pieces and collect them. Of course I got yelled at for venturing on the small veranda as you never knew when a sniper was looking and hoping to take a 7-8 year old looking to amuse himself out. (To clarify things, I did have plenty of cool toys but you all know how quickly even the best playthings become dull).
I listed down some of my childhood memories by category, making it easier for everyone to read:
- Water: Potable water was a major issue. Tap water was, of course, undrinkable, unless you were itching for the “Beirut Belly” (Dysentery at worst and severe diarrhea at best). Plus, the pressure and flow of tap water was unreliable. We were lucky to have an artesian well nearby, and water reservoirs on the top of the building. Still, that water was barely good enough for hygienic purposes. Although we had numerous filters, set in series, with the water becoming cleaner / purer after it went through each filter, we still preferred to go to a cleaner water source and fill gallons. We would then drive (If we had gas) or walk back home carrying them. I remember going with mom when I was 7 or 8, and my younger sister (5 or 6) used to help and carry with us. Not a daily thing but if I remember correctly we used to go something like twice a week. By the way, washing veggies was done twice, first with tap water and soap, then with drinking water, so you needed to have enough of both.
- Food: Everyone did their shopping when food was available. Bread, wheat, flour, sugar, coffee, meat, etc. were sometimes rationed, so we did our best to buy what we could and store it. While canned food were bought and eaten, we were lucky to have access to fresh vegetables and meat most of the time. I don’t remember ever going hungry but food access (Especially bread) was controlled by the Amal and Hezbollah militias, who snarled at you and only let you take a certain quantity of food. Sometimes, the militiamen were high on drugs or just plain assholes, and beat up / humiliated civilians (Usually males). There were a few incidents of people dying and being dragged behind jeeps for all to see but luckily I never witnessed it myself.
- Personal hygiene: When it rained or relatively clean tap water was available, we used to collect it in big buckets, or fill the bathtub with it. We would boil it to make it cleaner before using it for showering, washing dishes, doing laundry, etc. Dirty water from those activities was then used to flush the toilets. Due to the bad shape of sewers and pipes, no one ever flushed toilet paper; we mostly threw it in a garbage bin. Many people used the bidet to wash instead of wiping as you often had more water than toilet paper. This method is cleaner and prevents rashes from using coarse toilet paper. Most of the time, we couldn’t afford to showers, let alone baths. Sponge baths were taken daily, and full showers once a week or every 10 days (Depending of course on water availability and our level of cleanliness).
- Currency: The Lebanese Pound (LBP) in 1975 was worth 33 cents (3LBP = 1USD). It totally crashed and went up to 2,000LBP for 1USD. If you had cash, or jewelry, you survived. If not, you were literally fucked. Many people had a lot of real estate, literally millions in USD, saw their properties squatted by the Palestinians, used as barracks, or bombed by militias or invading armies. These people lost much of their fortune. Those who wanted to sell couldn’t do so before the end of the war, and the rent stayed the same despite inflation until 1990, where it was slightly readjusted. The currency was stabilized at 1,500LBP for 1USD, which kept rent ridiculously low, meaning property owners got maybe 400$ per year for an apartment instead of 600$ per month. (This is still prevalent nowadays but is set to change within a year or two as a new law was passed).
- Gasoline and Electricity: Gasoline was scare but when you had it, you’d fill your car and extra gallons and store them. The additional gas was used to power Jennies and other type of generators. Those were the rage back then, and they’re still available as power is still rationed as politicians steal the gas and sell it, or give power to their electoral base. For example, as of November 2012, I get maybe 21 hours of electrical power a day, and 3 hours with no power at all (Phone lines still work through and besides, everyone and his grandma has a cell phone nowadays). So, it wouldn’t be surprising to get trapped in an elevator due to power going out and have to wait for a concierge or handyman to break you out. The best thing is to write down the times when the power goes, and take the stairs when the time gets close (If for example the power is scheduled to go out at 12PM, you’d take the stairs at 11:50AM, just to be on the safe side. Electricity came back at around 2:55 or 3PM). Many buildings or neighborhoods had backup generators, and paid monthly fees to have electricity when the state-given power went out. This is still prevalent today. In our case, although we had a subscription to both a neighborhood generator as well as to the government sponsored “Electricité du Liban”, we were out of juice most of the time. This meant going up and down the stairs (The generator wasn’t powerful enough to power the elevators) while carrying foodstuff or water, lighting your home with candles. Playing board games or reading was one source of fun when the TV was out.
- Phone Lines: The telephone system operated on power, and since the power was mostly out, telephones rarely worked. Add to that the fact that telephone lines were above ground and therefore exposed to the elements and war. International calls were possible from centrals and were used to communicate with relatives living abroad. There were very few payphones available and those were mostly from inside shops.
- Shelter (Apartment buildings, shops, etc.): Everyone had steel-reinforced doors installed, those were a necessity unless you wanted to wake up to a break-in and all the shit that it entails (Rape, beatings, theft, kidnapping, etc.). all shops had metal stores and doors preventing entry and access.
- Protection: Everyone kept some sort of firearm in their home, to be used in case some shit happened. Handguns were expensive even back then, so the preferred platform was the ubiquitous AK47 or the M16 assault rifles. FALs, G3s, and VZ-58s (Nicknamed Slavia) were also quite common. In term of pistols, common handguns were CZ pistols (All types), STAR, Colt .45, Berettas, and revolvers. Sigs, HKs, and Glocks were uncommon and fetched high prices (Glocks made their appearance in 1987 among VIPs). Usually, the best protection was being “Gray”, letting no one know that you owned or had any firepower. This wasn’t so prevalent about preps or food, as many neighbors shared food/ tools/ etc. with each other. This is due to the fact that the Lebanese have a strong sense of community and helping each other in the time of need was the norm.
- Cooking and Heating: It goes without saying that there was a no diesel available for central heating. Lebanon being mildly temperate, it wasn’t that bad. The big butane bottles weighting 12 or so kilograms was used both for cooking stoves as well as for heating; Portable heaters using gas were very common. We would light them up and keep them on during winters while careful ventilating rooms to prevent CO2 poisoning.
- Hospitals and Healthcare: It was hard to get to a hospital, unless you had connections with militias members who controlled roadblocks and access to hospitals. The care was (and still is) excellent in Tier One hospitals such as Hotel Dieu de France (East Beirut), American University Hospital (West Beirut), St George Hospital (East Beirut), Trad Hospital (West Beirut), and a few others. The price tag was high, and if you didn’t have cash, you got no care or crappy care. For us living in West Beirut, the only hospital we went to was the American University Hospital (AUH). I was hospitalized on three occasions (Minor eye corrective surgery, accidental cut finger, as well as pneumonia) and the care was excellent but it was expensive. Many surgeries were performed in low light conditions, under bombing, so the experience the doctors got out of it was tremendous. Doctors who lived through the civil war became very experienced with treating traumas and often emigrated to the US, Canada, or France to work there as ER specialists. Medications were available most of the time, and in case it wasn’t, you’d get it eventually or if you paid more.
- Schooling and Universities: Schools and universities were often closed due to bullets having right of way 😉 as a result, many young teens joined militias as there was little else to do, and they couldn’t get an education. Some did both (Went to school during the day and fought during the night). As a result, there were many uneducated teens or people with just the basics. This led to issues after the war, with many of those with limited working skills enrolling in the police and army.
- Airstrikes, artillery barrages, rocket salvos, and other “fun things that go Boom”: West Beirut was mostly safe from airstrikes, artilleries, rocket salvos and similar stuff (At least to my experience and knowledge). The only time it got hairy was during 1982, when the Israel Defense Force (IDF) used airstrikes and went in West Beirut to oust the Palestinians, and in 1989 when insane General Michel Aoun decided to go all out against both the Syrians (Controlling West Beirut), and the Christian Lebanese Forces militia (Based in East Beirut and Christian areas of the country) during his war of “liberation”. The rest of the time, Christian East Beirut’s residential (Civilian) areas got the worst of it and was shelled daily by the Palestinians, their Lebanese Muslim and Druze allies (The communists, Baathists, Al Mourabitoun, Amal, Hezbollah, and other Islamist factions) as well as the Syrians, who had long range artillery as well as rocket launchers positioned all over. My maternal grandma that lives in East Beirut’s Gemmeyze district in the Achrafieh Region told me countless times when they used to run to the underground shelters and pray for a break from the shelling. My grandmother lost her balcony to a shell that totally pulverized the adjacent room (If anyone had stayed in that room, s/he would have died). Many friends and family members were lucky to escape those indiscriminate attacks.
- Car Bombs: That was the second scariest shit you could face, as the cars looked ordinary, they would just go bang when you least expected it, usually during periods of ceasefire (Can’t let those pesky civilians feel too secure doncha know?). Many of them were stolen vehicles from a different region, fitted with explosives surrounded by filling (Nails, marbles, etc.) to ensure maximum casualties. Their aim was mostly to strike fear and cripple/ maim. Grand Theft Auto was common here, certain groups specialized in stealing particular brands, others chopped them or resold them, etc. Sometimes you’d get a call saying to bring X amount of money to a certain region to get your car back (This still happens nowadays, especially to people owning fancy cars. Moral of the story? Don’t invest in a fancy car, go for function over form).
- Snipers: That was THE scariest threat to civilians. West Beirut was notorious for its high rise buildings, hotels, and plazas, offering Eagle Nests to anyone with a rifle and a scope. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that, while the Christians in East Beirut had a few snipers placed in strategic locations (Targeting mainly Syrian or Palestinian military units trying to infiltrate), the majority of snipers were from the Muslim part of town. The term sniper is used loosely here, as they were mainly drugged up pyschos holed up with gazillions of rounds, food, water, and a hunting license to kill anything that moved in their Area of Operations (AO). This most of the time meant civilians, usually women and children who ventured in the open. They were very good at targeting East Beirut civilians and often took shots in excess of 1 mile with devastating results. The most common rifle was the Dragunov SVD in 7.62x54R, a powerful round that can go through concrete and still have effect on target. One example was told by my grandma: Her building owner/ manager was shot through the wall of her kitchen (Concrete) and the round still had enough energy to shatter her spine, leaving her paralyzed for life from the waist down. Sniper alley was The Ring, a stretch of road connecting West Beirut to East Beirut. Snipers LOVED to shoot drivers, and were quite effective at taking them out, even those who drove really fast. The reason for that is that right in front of the Ring was Bourj El Murr (The Murr Tower) that was a well-known Syrian sniping position. The building was also used as a torture area, with prisoners set to be executed were dragged blindfolded to the roof, and told to run or they would be shot. The poor bastards fell from the top of a 40-story building to their deaths, to the amusement of their captors.
- Clothing: Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate, but sometimes the winters were cold. Clothing was available but you didn’t get a lot of choices fashion-wise. Layering up was a good way to deal with the cold, not that we had real cold. Temperatures never went below zero in Beirut, and if they did, it was rare and didn’t last for more than a day.
Now, I am different from the overwhelming majority of Lebanese people, this is apparent in the way I live. My philosophy has been forged by my experience of living through the War, and being a person with simple taste. I am not a materialistic individual as I always favored function over form. Many people spend a fortune on bling or evanescent and superficial activities. I always preferred building my skillset and knowledge (Firearms, tactics, Combatives, fitness, useful attributes, etc.). For me, buying a fancy car is silly; I’d rather invest that money in learning new things such as languages (I am native in Arabic and French, almost native in English, and have conversational Spanish skills), abilities, and on how to use firearms proficiently. I’m blessed with having a girlfriend that supports my insanity so it’s all good. J
Guns and related recommendation for SHTF situations:
- Lebanon and guns: There are no guns sold legally here, except for shotguns. All others, ranging from pocket pistols to fully automatic assault rifles and up to .50 caliber machine guns, are bought and sold on the black market. Be grateful that you can go to a gun store anywhere in the U.S, and, after passing the federal background checks and obtaining a CCW license, you can buy a brand new gun. In Lebanon, CCW licenses are supposedly free, but you won’t get one unless you have connections. Plus they don’t list the handgun serial number or even type; it’s just a license for “Generic Handgun”. Those with big connections can get a license for an assault rifle (Fully automatic of course) and it says “Generic Rifle”. Those with super-duper ninja connections get one saying “Generic Handgun + Generic Rifle”. Sadly, CCW licenses get suspended every time there’s an issue (Only people who get screwed and good law abiding citizens as bad guys carry without licenses anyways). The funny (or sad thing) about getting a license here is that you will never be asked where you got the gun from. Selling guns is illegal but buying them and licensing them is a gray thing. Another thing, you can have a license for both a handgun and a rifle but make no mistake, you can ONLY have one weapon type on your person at any time: Woe to you if you’re frisked and a cop finds a gun and a backup, you’d go to jail. Fucked up laws… you can own one weapon system per person (Maximum two) and have it at home, even without a license and you wouldn’t get in trouble. Store 3 per person or more and you’re begging for a conviction as a weapons dealer. Here, the term CCW is taken literally: If your gun shows, you go to jail. If you draw your gun in a self-defense situation, you HAVE to shoot, even if it is in the air, on the ground, on the bad guy. If you don’t, you get prosecuted for attempted murder. LOL I know, ridiculous. If you actually shoot someone, even if in self-defense, you will go to jail and your weapon will be confiscated. What happens if you have connections? Depends on power of connection, it can vary from being released with no charges and with your gun, to being sent to jail for a while and never seeing your gun again. Best thing? Avoidance, prevention, de-escalation, physical unarmed retaliation, only use a gun if the situation is really fucked. During the war, none of that mattered, unless you shot someone important or the member of a different militia, this would lead to trouble. Even nowadays, you don’t pick a fight with anyone as you don’t know who the dude is or what his connections are. He could be a relative of a Hezbollah commander, meaning you’d be in deep shit. Or the son of an Army General. Prevention is always better than cure.
- Gun Prices in Lebanon: I hope you’re ready for this…. Ok here goes: As of November 2012, a Glock 19 in excellent condition costs 4,500$ (Used if you find one is 3,400$), and a Glock 26 around 6,000$. The cheapest Star gun is 2,000$, Colts and 1911 variants 2,500$-4,000$, Sigs and HKs 5,000$, etc. Yep, you read right. As for rifles, a shitty used AK sells at 1,800$. With the civil war in Syria going strong, gun prices here go higher and higher. The average salary here is 600$ per month, meaning that only those who are wealthy can afford to buy handguns.
- Ammo: You guys should really be more considerate, here, a box of 50 rounds of 9mm costs 35$ AT THE RANGE and 50$ on the black market (You can’t buy ammo officially except for shotgun shells). A 5.56×45 round costs 1.5-2$ and a 7.62×39 around 2$ a piece. Load up on ammo, you should have all your mags filled to capacity as a bare minimum. Best to store 1,000 rounds per weapon system, get in the habit of buying 10 boxes at a time, shooting 10 rounds of each box of 50 to ensure that it works well in your gun, and getting some training at the same time. Don’t buy ammo and store it without testing it thoroughly, you could have a bad batch.
- Calibers: it’s a no brainer really, any caliber will kill a man, and it all depends on placement. Stay away from exotic calibers as once the shit hits the fan, those will be gone forever. I am a firm advocate of the 9mm round, as its effective, accurate, readily available, and relatively inexpensive. Focus on what’s prevalent in your area, and stock up (Around 1,000 per caliber). In Lebanon, it was mostly 9mm for handgun as well as 7.62×39 and 5.56×45 for rifles. About effect on target, people died equally from .45 and 9mm, depending on placement and quantity of lead donated. Usually, and it has been said before, 80% of people shot with handguns survive, 80% of people shot with rifles don’t. Despite that, I heard many incidents of people shot with .223 rounds that kept fighting/ running, while a hit from a 7.62×39 round got them down fast. Both hits were center mass by the way. Those are eyewitness accounts and I’m just putting this here as food for thought. An important thing I forgot to mention, militiamen were usually coked up, thus explaining their higher tolerance to pain. This doesn’t mean that the 7.62 is better than the 5.56, far from it, each has different dynamics and ballistics. I personally prefer the 7.62 as it’s more potent (Although it has less range than the 5.56), cheaper, and more available.
- Handgun recommendations: I strongly recommend choosing a striker fired handgun as I have an issue with the DA/SA, and a DAO is just ridiculous. I’m biased towards Glocks, but heard good things about the XD/ HS series. I even shot the subcompact version of the XD and liked it better than the diminutive Glock 26. I tried the S&W M&P and didn’t like its trigger at all. The Steyr pistol was uncomfortable but that’s my opinion as I shot a .40 version. If you’re not a fan of Glocks or XDs, you can’t go wrong with a CZ75 compact, either the older versions or the newer ones with Omega triggers, they’re great guns, rugged, and reliable. I also loved the Sig P225 and its modernized brother, the P229 (P226 is too big for me). HK guns are pricey, I shot the USP and didn’t like it. My final recommendation is to try shooting different guns and choose the one that not only feels good in the hand, but that you can shoot well, is comfortable, and is concealable. For me, the Glock 19 offers the best of all worlds but that’s my opinion ;).
- Rifle recommendations: I won’t go into details such as SKS vs. AK vs AR15. My advice is simple: Get a rifle that can take the abuse, isn’t finicky about ammo, works in shit environments, can survive a firefight without being lubed, and has available parts and mags. That said, I would tell people to settle for a 7.62×39 rifle. The best AK clone is the Valmet RK95, made in Finland. If you can find one, get it as it’s a wonderful platform. If money is not an issue, then shoot the Sig 556R and make an educated decision. For those of us mere and poorer mortals, I would advise to give the VZ58 a try: it’s a superb weapon system that is ignored by many as a viable alternative to the AK or AR families. This platform has numerous advantages over its two rivals, is easily upgradable/ modifiable (Fab Defense or Czech Point has polymer furniture for it), resilient, won’t jam, etc. Right now, if I had a choice between an AK and a VZ, I’d go for the VZ. Here is a cool comparison between the VZ and the AK: http://50ae.net/VZ-vs-AK/My advice? Stock up on mags as it uses a proprietary technology, and on spare parts.
- Magazines and spare parts: You never know when you will have access to a gunsmith or an armorer, so, as I said, you should load up on magazines and spare parts. I suggest at least 10 mags per platform, as well as a backup of all inner parts of each weapon. Also, learn as much as you can about the platform you have, get armorer’s guides, instructional dvds, take certification courses, etc. You may not need to custom engrave your gun, but at least know how to fix it. A very cool app that allows you to break down most handguns is Gun Disassembly by Noble Empire. Get it here: http://noble-empire.com/apps.
php?app=gunand if you can afford to, get the lifetime membership to download all models. It’s a worthy investment in my humble opinion.
Well, I guess that’s it for a first article 😉 let me know what you think of it (Likes, dislikes, etc.) either by posting a comment or by contacting me directly.
Take care, stay safe, and God bless. G.
This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:
- First Place winner will receive a Go Berkey Kit water filter valued at $150 and a copy of my book “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness ” and a copy of “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat“.
- Second Place: $150 gift certificate for Magtech Ammo.
- Third Place: $50 Cash.