Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 18, 2007
I am back in the states for a few days, nursing my jet lag (its 2:06 am in Beirut) but happy to be back in my native land for a little while.
Meanwhile I saw at the gym this morning the breaking news that a few rockets have gotten loose in south Lebanon … which reminded me of the travel warning put out by the state department last Thursday, the day after the Manara bombing.
Mind you, I didn’t hear about the travel warning from the embassy. I heard about it last Friday, from friends who were reading the Daily Star, which faithfully covers State Department travel warnings as if they were breaking news.
Has your embassy called you yet? one asked.
Did you get this travel warning in your email? another wondered.
No, and no – despite my having carefully registered with the embassy here when I returned in January, the embassy has not seen fit to communicate this particular warning to me.
When I checked my email after reaching the US, I found that one of the many other regional embassies that keep in touch with me had sent me a copy of the travel warning. Thank you, American Embassy in Kuwait – and shame on you, American Embassy in Aoukar.
The warning for the most part contains largely unsurprising information: there has been violence at various places in the country recently, and American should be cautious, particularly when going to Palestinian refugee camps or large demonstrations. The warning does include the useful reminder that Conditions in Lebanon can change quickly and dramatically, including with regard to access to Beirut International Airport and the ports. The airport bombing last summer and the port blockade were certainly quick and dramatic changes in Lebanon’s entry/exit options.
Another note from last summer surfaces in the warning’s caution that Americans and their family members should ensure that their passports and U.S. travel documents are up-to-date. The lack of valid travel documents will delay the ability of the U.S. Embassy to provide assistance. Apparently numerous Americans (and Canadians, and Australians, and no doubt numerous other hyphenated Lebanese) turned up at the evacuation points last summer with expired passports, and reacted with anger rather than embarrassment when told that they could not be evacuated on a passport that expired in, say, 1991.
Having just checked the US Embassy in Lebanon’s website, I can see why I did not receive this latest travel warning: the site’s last posted warden message is dated June 1, while its most recent travel warning is the December 22, 2006 one. This too reminds me of last summer, listening to my father’s fury at the website, which while the war heated up was still posting notices from early 2006.
The June 14 travel warning posted on travel.state.gov is a different one yet. Curiouser and curiouser – this warning mentions the Nahr al-Bared fighting and the five bombs that exploded between May 20 and June 7 – but not the one that exploded on June 13.
Moreover, this travel warning includes a rather pointed reminder to anyone anticipating another compliments-of-the-United-States gratis evacuation in case the situation does deteriorate:
In a crisis situation, U.S. citizens are responsible for arranging commercial or private means of transportation to depart Lebanon . If evacuation is warranted, only when all other transportation options are unavailable will the U.S. government assist U.S. citizens in leaving a country. This service will be provided on a cost-recovery basis.
Well then. On the one hand, I think this is a good thing, that the government lays out its obligations and expectations clearly, so there can be no confusion or misunderstanding. On the other hand, … does this mean that the state department anticipates another evacuation in the near future?