Living in a High-Risk Environment

February 10, 2015Uncategorized

My childhood in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990

This article was originally posted November 13, 2012 on The Survivalist Blog (www.thesurvivalistblog.net) and updated on December 20, 2012 to include additional information requested by the readers as well as some of my comments to frequently asked questions. It has been reedited in June 2016 to reflect changes in recommendations based on rapidly altering world events and my own evolution.

Hello guys and gals, my name is Georges Fahmy; I’m a Lebanese national, and a long time lurker of this wonderful blog (www.thesurvivlaistblog.net). 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/Lebanese_civil_war

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-Secrets-guerre-Libanpalestiniens/ dp/2226121277

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 individual freedom). Despite that, I am not and never will be politically correct or sugarcoat the truth, so I will state facts and not information that makes one group look better or worse based on my preferences.

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 fullout Force-On-Force scenarios (Meaning full-speed, full-power, and with intent) and validated in the realworld. 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. For those interested in what we teach, please visit www.senshido.net and check out our promotional video on youtube.

 

Personal Philosophy

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, English, and French, and have basic conversational Spanish skills), abilities, and on how to use firearms proficiently. Being blessed with a wife that supports my insanity sure does help!

 

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. After the First World War, the 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 LCW 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/Black_Saturday_(Lebanon) ) by a pro-Palestinian Nasserite group, Al Mourabitoun, and thrown in an empty grave in a nearby cemetery. His crime: Being Christian AND an Egyptian immigrant that had escaped the socialist “paradise” of Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Egyptian Arab Republic. After finding out that my father had connections with some hotshot from Syria, as well as being a close friend of the militia leader’s brother, the group got scared. Not wanting to piss off their Syrian sponsors, they had my dad’s friend come over to get him out. The guy dragged my dad away while he was yelling at the gunmen that they were uneducated fools and should apologize for laying hands on him (An excellent example of my dad’s temper LOL!).

Despite living in a Muslim area alternatively (And 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 goods were available (Mostly imported), bought, and eaten, we were lucky to have access to fresh vegetables. Meat and chicken came from farms outside of Beirut, as well as frozen from abroad, fish was either local or imported from Egypt and Syria. I don’t remember ever going hungry but food access (Especially bread) was controlled by the militias, who taxed it (Using the money to party/ drug up), snarled at you and only let you take a certain quantity of food. Sometimes, 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. In term of gardens, it was extremely rare to see any in cities as Beirut is very urbanized and you have only a few green spaces. Having a garden in your summer home in the mountains / in your village was and still is quite common and a lot of people eat fruits and vegetables they grow there.

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 in the deep end. Many people had a lot of real estate, literally millions in USD, saw their properties taken over, used as barracks, or bombed by militias / invading forces. 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). About gold and silver, stock up as much as you can but keep a healthy reserve of US currency on you, the S didn’t hit the F yet and wont before a while, if you have no cash on hand, you will have to sell gold for it and that’s not necessary. One thing to mention, ammo and guns weren’t used like currency as there were plenty of those everywhere. Good quality firearms were given away as gifts though.

Money Supply: People always had enough cash either on them or at their homes. Banks were there only institutions that were still functioning enough but people preferred to keep money close by as you never knew when the roads would be blocked or the situation outside would be bad.

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. Electrical power was often stolen from the pylons directly, and is still prevalent today in areas without rule of law.

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. Nowadays, certain regions have parallel telecommunication systems, both mobile and landlines, operating in parallel with those of the Lebanese Government. Those systems are untouchable as they are backed by force and politicians.

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 that it entails (Rape, beatings, theft, kidnapping, executions, etc.). Most of the doors were exterior, outward opening extra doors that were installed over inside opening doors. Those were extremely hard to breach and kept bad guys out, while allowing good guys the ability to push to escape. Those doors were usually encased in the wall surrounding the door entrance, to make sure it can resist forceful entry. All shops had metal stores and doors preventing entry and access.

Protection: Everyone kept some sort of firearm in their home, just in case something happened. Handguns were expensive even back then, so the preferred platform was the ubiquitous AK47 or the M16 assault rifles. FALs, CALs, G3s, and VZ-58s (Nicknamed Slavia) were also quite common. Shotguns were and still are wildly available as many Lebanese love to hunt. At the beginning of the LCW, the Christians had no weapons other than shotguns, and they used those until they could take their dead enemies’ weapons. In term of pistols, common handguns were CZ pistols (All types), STAR (All types), Colt .45, Berettas (All types), and revolvers. Sigs, HKs, and Glocks were uncommon and fetched high prices (Glocks made their appearance in 1987 among VIPs). Some women carried small mouse guns in .22, .25, and .32 in their purses as backup. 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 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 sometimes 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 Israeli Defense Force (IDF) used airstrikes and went in West Beirut to oust the Palestinians, and in 1989 when 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 thing 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. While growing up, I never lost anyone I knew to that particular method of mayhem, but in 2007 I lost a good friend to one. Rest in peace Charlie, you are sorely missed brother…

Car Theft: Grand Theft Auto (Not the game the act itself lol) was common here, certain groups specialized in stealing particular car brands, while others chopped 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 and were as little discriminating as their Muslim counterparts, the majority of snipers were from the Western 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, but sometimes it included military units or militiamen. West Beirut snipers 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 Dragnov SVD in 7.62x54R, a powerful round that can go through concrete and still have effect on target. One example as 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 from both sides LOVED to shoot drivers, and were quite effective at taking them out, even those who drove really fast. Mom once used that highway to visit grandma living in East Beirut and got a well-deserved yelling from her mom as a reward. It was that serious. The reason for that road being so dangerous 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. Life in the mountains is cold, and people can die from it as it sometimes gets to zero (And even lower) in places like Faraya and Ouyoun El Siman.

The Psychological effects and costs of living in a High-Risk Environment:

A lot of people in their teens / early adulthood, who had experienced “Life” before the War, were stressed out and burned out from the climate of constant danger. You had (And still have from prevalent political instability) a huge dependence on anti-depressor drugs (Xanax, Lexotanin, Valium). Although these were available only by prescription, every family has a member who is a doctor so there was and is no problem obtaining those meds. Additionally, there are lots of excess, hyper sexuality, binging on alcohol, nihilistic behaviors, drug use, hysterical reactions to small events such as firecrackers going off in the distance, doors closing hard, etc…

People don’t call the Lebanese Civil War “the War”, they call it “El Hawadis” Arabic for “The Events”. This is a psychological way of distancing what they went through during the war. There is a Master’s thesis written about the psycho-emotional events of the LCW on the civilian population at the American University of Beirut, might make for an interesting read.

This type of life affected kids in a big way: Some were scared all the time, others not. Situations that were abnormal were perceived as normal by children, as they didn’t know any better. I grew up accustomed to explosions going out in the background, the sound of gunfire, hiding from windows to avoid being sniped at, being grateful to have power to watch TV and cartoons. I vaguely remember watching American war movies and think “Hey, just like home!” LOL!

Games played by children were different, an imitation of reality: I remember playing “Cowboys and Indians”, only it wasn’t cowboys or Indians, it was “Us Versus Them”. War simulation, you were with X militia VS the Y Party. Kids you met for the first time needed to make sure you were “one of them” so they used to ask you your name which told them with 70% accuracy your religion, for example any “Western” name such as Marc, George, Elias, Emil, Francois, etc. meant you were Christian, while names such as Muhammad, Ahmad, etc. meant you were Muslim. In case you had a neutral name like Bassam, Walid, Chadi, you were asked for your family name. If it was ambiguous, questions about your dad, your mom, and your siblings were asked. It became crucial to know who you were with, what you were in term of religious association, and where you came from. Once that was determined, they’d ask you your political affiliation (As for example you could be Christian but with General Aoun against the Lebanese Forces). I mean, hell, we’re talking about children aged 6-10 here, meaning early on, we developed certain Operational Security protocols as well as mindset to protect us. All this was taught either directly or indirectly by parents. Many kids had never seen or touched or played with a kid from a different confession before, either from fear/ hate (Demonization of the other) or due to geographical positioning (Living in an area protected from the outside world by same confession militias).

One must remember that Religion was everything. It was the divider and the protector from the other. You married within your religious group extremely rarely across different religions as one had to convert to that other religion before being able to marry. When I say marry within your religious group, I don’t necessarily mean from the same rite: For example a Maronite Christian would sometimes marry a Greek Orthodox Christian, but the priest would make some BS remarks such as “Couldn’t you find a nice Maronite girl instead?” but usually wasn’t an issue among Christians, unless they were of differing political affiliation of course . It was and now is even more an issue between Shia and Sunni Muslims, especially giving the political ramifications (Most Sunnis are pro-western or pro-Saudi Arabia/ Salafism, while the overwhelming majority of Shias are pro-Iran/ Hezbollah). Inter-religious marriage (Christian to Muslims or vice-versa) was and still is a huge issue, as inheritance and rights of women change drastically. There is no civil marriage in Lebanon, only religious, so you either needed to convert from Islam to Christianity or vice-versa (Except for a Christian woman marrying a Muslim, she is allowed to keep her religion but the kids would be considered Muslim and everything in terms of inheritance, divorce, etc would be done in according to Sharia Law).

Children nowadays are raised with the same mindset we were raised with, which is the same as the mindset our parents and forefathers were raised with: Be weary of the “Other” as you will be betrayed and attempts at erasing you will be made. Since both sides committed atrocities during the last 150 years, the War rages on in the hearts and souls of the Lebanese.

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, and offer “gifts” in exchange. Most licenses prior to 2015 didn’t list the handgun serial number or even type and just said “Generic Handgun License”. Nowadays, it is very hard to get one of those, as most licenses required a gun type and serial number. Those with connections can get a rifle listed as well but type and serial are also required. If you got real good connections, you can still get the “crème de la crème” of licenses: one that states “Generic Handgun + Generic Rifle” allowing its carrier to have anything with him/her. Sadly, CCW licenses get suspended every time there’s an issue (Only people who get screwed are 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’re bound to have issues (unless you make a phonecall to your connection who will quickly sort things out for you). Messed 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 using a gun if the situation is really bad. 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 trouble. 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 December 2017, a Glock 19 in excellent condition costs up to 3,800$ (Used if you find one, is 3,000$), and a Glock 26 around 4,200$. The cheapest Star gun is 1,200$, Colts and 1911 variants 2,000$, Sigs and HKs 4,000$, etc. Yep, you read right. As for rifles, a badly beaten up AK sells at 800$, with brand new ones going up for 1,200$. With the civil war in Syria still ongoing, gun prices fluctuate depending on supply and demand. The yellow party has brought in so many guns that prices went down almost by a third since 2012. Still, with an average salary of 600$ per month, many are unable to afford to buy quality firearms.

Ammo Considerations: You guys living in the US should really be more considerate, here, a box of 50 rounds of 9mm costs 40$ AT THE RANGE and 70$ on the black market (You can’t buy ammo officially except for shotgun shells). A 5.56×45 round costs 1.5$ and a 7.62×39 around 0.4$ a piece (Down from 2$ a round from its 2012 pricing). Load up on ammo; you should have all your mags filled to capacity, as well as a backup reload for all your mags as a bare minimum. Best to store 1,000-2,000 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, especially with American ammo manufactured during the gun-craze of the Obama second term.

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 during times of crisis, those will unavailable. I am a firm advocate of the 9mm round, as its effective, accurate, readily available, does everything other “larger” calibers do, and is relatively inexpensive. The .38 Special is also a good caliber to have if you own revolvers, as well as .22 for hunting small game. When I teach firearms seminars, I keep reminding people here that caliber and manhood are not related, and if someone claims a certain round is for sissies, I jokingly propose to that person stand in front of me while I shoot him in the face. No one ever volunteered.

Terminal Ballistics: Usually, and it has been said before, 80% of people shot with handguns survive, 80% of people shot with rifles don’t. About effect on target, people died equally from .45 and 9mm, depending on placement and quantity of lead donated. The 5.56/ .223 round is designed to incapacitate, and it does a very good job as it tumbles and creates in permanent wound cavity. Despite that, I heard many incidents of people shot with 5.56/.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 7.62×39 as it’s more potent at the expense of stouter recoil, delivers more energy to the target, cheaper, and more available in my country. The best terminal ballistics from an “assault rifle” have got to be the 5.45×39 caliber: Those create horrific wounds and have excellent stopping power. Sadly, the AK74 family and the ammo are not as common as AKMs in Lebanon, and while its available (although a bit more expensive) it should only be acquired as a second AK. In conclusion, the only thing that matters is shot placement: a smaller hit is better than a large caliber miss.

Handgun Recommendations: I strongly recommend choosing a striker fired handgun as I have an issue with the DA/SA trigger pull weight variation, and a DAO is just ridiculous.
– I’m biased towards Glocks, and believe in the buy-once-cry-once philosophy. I also prefer a handgun whose parts, mags, and accessories are more easily found as well as cheaper. Regarding the size, a Glock 19 is a perfect all around handgun. If you are shorter and have issues concealing it, then you’d be wise to get the Glock 26
– An excellent all-around handgun is the Baikal Viking 9mm pistol. Although a bit on the large side, it has a proven design and is utterly reliable. The metal frame version is a few hundred dollars more (1,900$) than its polymer brother (1,700$) but both will serve you well
– After shooting them for a while, I can say I enjoyed both Sig as well as CZ handguns. However, because of the high price tag and lack of available parts and mags in Lebanon, Sigs are low on my list of recommended guns. I can no longer recommend CZ guns for heavy duty use unless you are sitting on a mountain of spare parts, as they constantly break after being abused a bit.
– HK guns are pricey and heavy and cumbersome; I shot the USP and didn’t like it. However, the HK P2000 was superb in every aspect. Since HK has crappy civilian customer service in the US, I suggest you stay away from them
– No discussion about guns will be complete without mentioning the venerable Colt 1911 and its variants: I shot both standard issues 1911s (One was a Vietnam era model, the other a Gold Cup, and the third was a WWII Remington 1911A1) as well as pimped .45 (A heavily modified Gold Cup) and they were fun to shoot. The best 1911 I personally shot was the Sig 1911. What a jewel…but it cost the guy 7,000$+ here so no thanks. If you want a 1911 lookalike that shoots 9mm and is cheap, go get a Star model B or BM: they’re relatively inexpensive (1,100-1,400$ range with the BM being more expensive) but I wouldn’t trust my life to them
– If you need a simple handgun more so for home defense than concealed carry, you will be well-served by a revolver, preferably from the Smith and Wesson family, of a K or J frame type. Despite them being hard to shoot and having a limited ammo capacity, they are adequate both in caliber (.38 Special) as well as intuitive to use. While they are cheaper than other guns (Around 1,200-1,500$ for .38 Special models and 2,000-2,200$ for .357 Magnum calibers), their higher priced ammo in Lebanon (Double the price of 9mm) may discourage buyers
– If you’re low on cash and need an inexpensive yet utterly reliable handgun is to get the Makarov PM in 9×18, either Russian or Bulgarian. They are cheap (Around 1,000$ for a good condition specimen here) but their ammo is extremely expensive in Lebanon (2.5$ a round). However, it is a very rugged design that will go bang after a nuclear holocaust, will rarely have any breakages, and is almost comparable to the .38 Special in terms of stopping power, especially if using Russian surplus ammo that is steel-cored. Because of its single stack design, it is low profile and can be concealed easily. On the down side, it is fairly heavy and mag reloads are annoying unless you install the Fab Defense Mak grip
– In conclusion, try shooting different guns and choose one that not only feels good in the hand, but also feel good shooting, is reliable, is intuitive under stress, has available parts, decently price ammo, and is of a caliber of .38 Special as a bare minimum. My first choice if money isn’t an issue is the Glock 26, second choice is the Glock 19, and third choice is the Baikal Viking (if you dont mind the size of the gun) or the Makarov PM with the Fab Defense grip.

 

Rifle Recommendations: Here again my advice is simple: Get a rifle that can take the abuse, isn’t finicky about ammo, works in all environments, can survive a firefight without being lubed, and has available parts and mags.

– The AR/ M4 platform: A good weapon system that is prevalent in the US but not so much anywhere else. It is used by the Army and Police in Lebanon but its ammo is underpowered for urban fighting and is plagued with having less mags and parts here. If you can, go for the big names in the industry. Just remember that even tier one ARs will have issues and breakages. If living in Lebanon and you are stubborn about getting an AR platform, I suggest the older M16A1 or A2 with original GI mags as those are the most reliable here
– If money is not an issue, then get a Russian-made AK in 7.62×39 or in 5.45×39, or the Valmet RK95, made in Finland. Give the Sig 556R a shot and make an educated decision. That said, I would tell people living in Lebanon to settle for a 7.62×39 Russian Izmash or Tula AK as a first AK for urban fighting as well as an AK74 for longer range engagements
– Poorer mortals can get a good condition Russian SKS for around 600$ (Or 500$ for a Chinese one) also chambered in 7.62×39. Its limitations are lower magazine capacity, bulk, and age. It is however, very reliable and accurate
– The VZ58 Slavia rifle is a decent rifle and an acceptable alternative to the AK. A while ago, I wrote a more detailed article about the Slavia for www.prepper-resources.com and I was hailing it as the best thing since sliced bread. After some more experience with it, I cooled down my enthusiasm a bit because unless you stock up on proprietary mags and spare parts, you will have some issues down the line, especially with its firing pin that has a propensity to break after being abused
– In conclusion, my first and foremost recommendation based on a combination of factors (reliability, ruggedness, availability of parts and mags, and pricing), I suggest as a first choice to get a Russian Tula or Izhmash AK in 7.62×39, which you can mod with Magpul furniture. Second choice depending on budget is the AK74. Third choice is the SKS or Vz58. I don’t recommend the AR platform due to availability of ammo and parts (Unless it is indigenous to your location). Your mileage may vary.

 

Long Distance Shooting: For designated marksmen, snipers, and long-range hunters, a 7.62×51 NATO rifle like the G3 or FAL are good choices, for under 1,200$. If you can afford a SVD rifle (At only 4,000$) then go for it as it is intuitive and easy to shoot while packing a mean punch. For the super-rich in Lebanon, the Barrett .50 at a mere 25,000$ would be a fun toy to get. Just remember, those kick like a mule, are bulky and heavy, have expensive parts, rare mags and ammo, and have unusually loud reports that will make your ears bleed. They will however get the job done at range if needed. An inexpensive option is to get an AK74 and dedicate it for longer range work by afixing a good scope to it. You can quickly remove said scope and use it for closer work if needed.

 

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 (20 is always better), 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.

 

Final Recommendations

The world is getting pretty messed up, we now have a lot more chances that civil unrest, civil war, armed insurrection, terrorism, incoming economic collapse, rioting, as well as man-made or natural disasters will occur in the near-future. Depending on your geopolitical and socio-cultural environment, you may want to start preparing for the worst, which is total breakdown of society, coupled with a rise in armed gangs/ militias fighting for resources.
If you don’t own guns, get as many as you can and a lot of spare parts and ammo (Legally of course). Some countries have lots of natural resources (Forests, rivers, warm climate…) which allow you to focus on guns and ammo (The US, for example, is a super-rich country in term of natural resources, you will always be able to hunt/ forage enough to survive) while other locations will require a more minimalistic approach to weapon acquisition and a more in-depth focus on foodstuff and medications. It all depends on variables that YOU know more about (And if you don’t know enough, educate yourself, there is no excuse for being a victim of circumstances when you can do something about it).
My advice is to be skill-centric, software, not hardware, as the latter can be taken away, spoil, and become broken or unusable. Knowledge, and the proper use of this knowledge, is power, and that power will never be taken away from you, even by force, unless you die.

Take care, stay safe, God bless, and, as always, be prepared.

 

For more information about training, as well as free articles and videos, please contact the author by email (georges.fahmy@senshido.net) or phone (+961 3 499 712).

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