Caught in the Middle of a War
Homer family leaves Lebanon without help from the U.S.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Ahmed and Mona Mehdi stand in the dining room of their Homer home with their three children, Mohamed, 16, Sarah, 11, and Kareem, 6, Wednesday afternoon.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Amid the chaos of war, a local family said it had to fend for itself last week while fleeing Lebanon without the help of the American government.
Five members of the Mehdi family, who live on Briar Meadow Road in Homer, traveled to Lebanon at the end of June. The trip was a vacation and to attend the wedding of a relative.
“(My wife’s) sister was getting married, but because of what happened, we never made it,” said Dr. Ahmed Mehdi of Groton Family Medical Practice at 100 Clark St. in Groton.
Like thousands of other families that were visiting the country, the Mehdis were stuck in the middle of Israeli bombs on July 16. The family watched as Israeli planes bombed the Beirut airport, Ahmed Mehdi said.
Family members sought help from the American embassy — but they say the government failed them.
After the bombings began, the family went to a safer section of eastern Beirut. Mehdi said he went to the American embassy the day after the bombings started, and when he arrived, he was given a piece of paper and told to fill out his name and phone number.
After waiting for assistance, Mehdi said he began to ask questions about the best way to get out of the country but received no help.
“I asked them, ‘Do you know if I go to Syria do I need a visa?’” said Mehdi, who was born in Kuwait and attended American University in Lebanon. “They said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t advise you to go there.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Mehdi’s wife, Mona, said her husband gave the embassy the phone number of her father’s house in Lebanon as a contact.
“They told us just fill out this application and we will call you,” she said. “We asked my father and they still haven’t called yet. That’s how much they care?”
With three children — Mohamed, 16, Sarah, 11, and Kareem, 6, — the Mehdis not only feared for their own safety but also for the safety of their children. Both parents have seen war in Lebanon in the past and knew what they were facing.
“The Israeli Army is ruthless, very ruthless,” Ahmed said. “It’s a killing machine.”
As the bombings continued and the family searched for a way out, the Medhi children were seeing and feeling the destruction of war firsthand, something most American children never witness.
“We would be watching the news and the kids would be in the room and Sarah would say, ‘I don’t want to watch this,’” Mona said. “The kids had heard bombing and they were sitting in the hallway next to each other shivering and scared. That’s when we decided that we were not staying”
“It was really scary,” Mohamed added. “You don’t know where it is going to happen.”
Quickly recognizing that they couldn’t rely on help from the American government, the Mehdis traveled to Syria on July 18 and paid their own way out of the country.
“We went to the Syrian border, paid $25 for a visa and spent the night there,” Ahmed said. “The next day we got in a cab and went to Turkey. As soon as we crossed the border there was a small airport there, and we took a flight to Istanbul, spent three nights and then took a flight with Delta (Airlines) into New York City.”
Although the travel may sound easy, Mona said crossing borders in Middle Eastern countries that are not recognized by the European Union is no small task. In addition to the cost of crossing the border and paying for places to stay, the family also had to pay for new plane tickets to come home.
“It took us a long time on the Lebanese-Syrian border,” she said. “The minute we got to the border (the Israelis) bombed the road we had come in on. They bombed Tripoli.”
Adding to the frustration from the lack of American help, the Mehdis said they watched other countries efficiently evacuate their citizens.
“This is a country that always is a threat to war so you can imagine that they have some kind of plan,” Ahmed said of the U.S. government. “They have no organization. The Saudis came and got their people, put them in huge air-conditioned buses, loaded their cars and trucks and took them back. France took very good care of its people.”
On July 20, a luxury cruise ship carrying 1,000 Americans arrived in Cyprus, a week after the Israeli bombardment began, The Associated Press reported last week.
The Americans departed two days after the first Europeans left on ships. According to AP reports, amid complaints the U.S. effort had lagged, American officials said fears about Americans traveling on roads in Beirut, especially at night, and on roads to Syria had led to some of the delays. U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman said July 18 that an orderly and safe evacuation had been a first priority.
Though Europeans faced the same difficulties, U.S. officials feared any large evacuation effort moving Americans might be targeted by Hezbollah or other hostile groups, the AP reported.
Mona Mehdi said that as American citizens since 1989, the family feels it was let down.
“We felt betrayed,” she said. “My dad has a maid and she is from Sri Lanka. (Sri Lankan officials) told her that they can pick her up and fly her out the next day. We are American and nothing. We are really disappointed.”
Since returning home Friday, the Mehdis said they haven’t tried to contact anyone from the U.S. government to complain about their treatment — and they said don’t intend to.
“Look at the news and look at all those people dying and they don’t care to do a cease-fire, what do they care about a few thousand Americans?” Ahmed Mehdi said. “What’s the point?”
The Mehdis still are concerned about family and friends who live in Lebanon. Ahmed and Mona said they are in constant phone contact with family members and as of Wednesday, everyone was safe.
In front of a large-screen TV showing satellite images from Al-Jazeera TV, Ahmed explained that the Lebanese people need one thing from the American government — “A cease fire.”
“All this death is senseless. Hezbollah cannot annihilate Israel and Israel cannot annihilate Hezbollah. Everybody knows that. It’s just a game. Like two stubborn kids fighting. At this point, the Lebanese feel they have nothing to lose. The country is destroyed. Israel has a lot to lose,” he said.
——— Cut along doted line if too long——————————
The fighting has had drastic effects on the complicated social climate of Lebanon, Mehdi said.
“You have to understand Lebanon is very diverse, so you have people who support them, people who are against them and people who are with them for their aggression but not 100 percent for them,” he explained of the Lebanese feelings about Hezbollah.
“When the aggression started, most Lebanese said, ‘Now we are going to support Hezbollah until it’s over.’ An Israeli reporter was on the news the other day saying that, ‘We started this war with the Lebanese divided and Israel together, but we are going to end the war with a united Lebanon and a divided Israel.’”
——Make sure to leave the “thanks,” they insisted———
Mona said family members want to thank all the patients and friends for their concerns and prayers while they were stuck in Lebanon, and said that, although they plan to go back to visit some day, it may take a while.
“We need time to forget,” she said.



Decision delayed on biodiesel plant

Staff Reporter

A decision on where to locate a biodiesel fuel plant has been delayed indefinitely as SUNY Morrisville and private investors further examine the costs of potential sites.
“I don’t know when a decision is going to be made,” said SUNY Morrisville President Ray Cross, who had previously been hopeful that a site could be chosen at a July 14 meeting of investors and involved agencies.
“Right now we’re investigating in greater detail each of the options,” he said.
SUNY Morrisville was looking at the former Homer Oil plant on Center Street, the 26-acre Noss Industrial Park off south Main Street, a 10-acre Polkville property next to the Suit-Kote rail facility and a site in Sangerfield, Oneida County.
“We’ve also had a couple more options laid out on the table,” said Cross, who wouldn’t say what those options are.
The cost of bringing a plant to each site is one factor the college and its investors are looking at, Cross said, as is the feasibility of eliminating the soybean crushing aspect of the Homer Oil plant.
Soybean crushing would allow the plant to produce its own oil for biodiesel production, but the process is also responsible for the potential odor issues that have drawn protests from residents who live near the Homer Oil site.




City tells public of water quality violation

Staff Reporter

Cortland residents who receive service from the city Water Department received a notice mailed Monday disclosing a violation of drinking water standards that had occurred during the June flooding. The violation is not an emergency, and residents do not need to drink bottled or boiled water.
Coliform bacteria were found in a routine water sample taken on June 28 at the Holiday Inn on River Street, said Doug Withey, superintendent of water systems. He said coliform bacteria are generally not a health hazard to humans.
“Coliform bacteria is the hardest to kill, and it’s virtually always present in water, so if you show coliform, it indicates that there was inadequate chlorine residuals,” Withey said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s the best indicator. If the coliform bacterium isn’t there, there’s no bacterium there.”
Withey said that the Water Department is required by law to take additional “repeat” sample tests throughout the city if a bad sample is found.
One of the repeat samples was taken from Kost Tire-Muffler on Clinton Avenue. Withey said that when that sample also tested positive for coliform bacteria, it put the city in violation of the drinking water standards set by the state Department of Health.
Withey said that the county Health Department was notified immediately and that a public health engineer conducted a sanitary survey in the city.