"Christians in the Middle East can relate to persecution," said Brigitte Gabriel during a talk held at the Jewish Community Services Building here on Oct. 30. Her experiences growing up in Lebanon in the 1970s, she said, give her an understanding of the dangers firsthand.
The Lebanese-Christian journalist and author of Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America, discussed growing up during the Lebanese Civil War, and how her many experiences have made her a vocal opponent of Islamic extremism.
The luncheon event garnered a solid turnout, with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Israel and Overseas and the Jewish Communication Relations Council, along with the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim in Northeast Philadelphia, acting as sponsoring organizations.
In 1975, the 10-year-old Gabriel's family home was attacked because of its proximity to a military base. "They bombed my home, bringing it down, and burying me in the rubble," she said.
Bomb Shelter Becomes Home
From that point on, she lived with her family in a 8-x-10-foot bomb shelter underground. She remembered having only grass and dandelions to eat. "This is how we survived," she said.
Her mother had to crawl to a nearby spring for water — and do so under constant sniper fire. She had to strain the water through her stocking to make it more palatable to drink.
Before the war, Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Middle East for its dominance in the banking industry, and its capital, Beirut, was likened to Paris. The country had a strong economy, despite the fact that they didn't rely on oil for their revenue, and the government was a democratic republic.
Gabriel described the country's shift as the Christian population dwindled. A growing Islamic population pushed for change. Lebanon was the only Middle Eastern country that accepted third-wave Palestinian refugees, and when they entered the country, things unraveled.
In 1974, Gabriel said that Christians stopped traveling, out of fear of being killed at checkpoints. Lebanese citizens have their religion designated on their identification papers.
"No one came to our aid, except for the Jews," she said. During Israel's first Lebanon war in the early 1980s, Israeli soldiers took her wounded mother to a hospital, and she was taken aback by what she saw there: Israeli soldiers, Palestinians and Lebanese all being treated together, with no regard for what side of the fighting they were on.
"For my mother, it was a life-saving experience," she said. "For me, it was a life-changing experience."
She said she could not quell her hatred of the people who destroyed her home, even though her Christian beliefs taught her to. At the same time, she said the sight of Israeli doctors treating patients only with regard to their injuries stirred something in her. "These people had the values I wanted to adopt," she said.
At age 20, she moved to Jerusalem and became a journalist, where she said she was fortunate to be exposed to unfiltered news. "I realized that what I used to think was a regional problem has become a world problem," she said.
"The world needs to see the price of terrorism," she continued. "Burying our head in the sand is not going to make it go away on its own."
A Critic of the Media
Gabriel railed against The New York Times, CNN, NPR and other media outlets, which she sees as slaves to political correctness that refuse to acknowledge the true nature of the danger the world faces. "We have become a society that has lost its tongue to political correctness," she said.
She also challenged moderate Muslim groups to stand up to extremism in any way they can. "Talk is cheap," she said. "People need to act."