BEIRUT - Kirsten Scheid has braved tear gas, water cannons and anti-U.S. sentiment to march openly through the streets of Beirut denouncing "American terrorism" in the Middle East.
The 32-year-old American has carried banners reading "One American against U.S. policy in the Middle East" and "Americans against American terrorism."
Since the start of a Palestinian uprising for independence and throughout the U.S.-led war on Iraq, she has marched against U.S. policy she sees as pro-Israel and anti-Arab. Some protests, including one to the U.S. Embassy, turned violent.
American Kirsten Scheid, from Cleveland, Ohio, who lives in Lebanon, clinks traditional Arab coffee cups next to a painting as she urges people to boycott Starbucks, during a protest outside a Starbucks coffee shop in Beirut's Hamra street, June 21, 2002. (Reuters/Jamal Saidi)
"I walked to the front of the demonstration ... It was getting more and more ferocious and they all just stopped and said: 'Oh my God, there's the American,"' said Scheid, who comes from Cleveland.
"The police were saying: 'Please leave, please go, please don't be here. It's dangerous.' I said: 'It's dangerous for all of us. Think of what you're defending."'
But Scheid, who has also appeared as a guest on Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah's al-Manar television, is no longer marching alone.
During the Iraq war 20 to 25 Americans have regularly marched against U.S. policy alongside Lebanese leftists and Hizbollah backers. They say they have never felt unsafe although their signs identify them as Americans and the U.S. Embassy has advised citizens to avoid crowds.
"Americans in the Arab world must speak out. Hands off Iraq," one banner read at a recent protest.
SMILES FROM SOLDIERS
Scheid, who has lived in Lebanon for 10 years, is married to a Lebanese man and has two children. She is working on completing a doctoral degree from Princeton University.
U.S. graduate student Joy Farmer, 37, from Minneapolis, has been in Lebanon two years and has participated in protests. Asked about the response to the protests, she said: "We get lots of smiles from soldiers."
Lebanon and political master Syria, now facing charges it is harboring Iraqi officials and developing chemical weapons, is opposed to the U.S. action in Iraq. It is also hostile to Israel, which Hizbollah helped expel from south Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation.
Some Lebanese media have described the Iraq war as an "aggression" and U.S.-led troops as "occupiers," and the views of Americans in Beirut often reflect that.
"I just couldn't stay at home anymore ... The U.S. pro-Israeli stance was just too strong," said Scheid, who first marched in 2000 to protest U.S. ally Israel's attempts to quell a Palestinian uprising by force. She also works on a campaign to boycott companies that support Israel.
"I carried a sign. I looked for other Americans to join me, but they wouldn't." The war on Iraq changed that. Like many Lebanese, some Americans in Beirut say the war is about oil, domination and power -- not democracy.
"When you look at the reasons they launched this war, it had nothing to do with ... liberating Iraq," said Laurie Brand, an American professor from the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California on sabbatical in Beirut.
"I was happy to see the statues of Saddam fall. I wish the people that had pulled all of them down were Iraqis."
The activists say they will take their cue from Iraqis on how to respond to a U.S. troop presence now that fighting is largely over, but they feared U.S. troops would outstay their welcome.
The U.S. Embassy warned Americans to consider leaving Lebanon after a string of bombings on Western businesses that escalated since the start of the war.
Washington blames Hizbollah for a 1983 suicide bomb attack that blew up the previous U.S. Embassy and barred Americans from traveling to Lebanon until 1997.
But some Americans living in Lebanon -- a tiny community of just a few thousand -- say they feel more angry at Washington than afraid of the Lebanese and dismiss the embassy warnings.
A few have left, but others question why they should take advice from the embassy, whose staff live in a fortified complex and are accompanied outside by armed bodyguards.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said relations with Americans in Beirut were "pretty good" but that some did disagree.
Asked whether they know U.S. citizens in Beirut who support the war on Iraq, Americans in Lebanon say there are not many.
"They can't exactly do demonstrations," Scheid said.
© 2003 Reuters Limited