Brigitte Gabriel, founder of Act for America, "a national security grassroots organization," spoke to a September 19th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about her formative years living under the Islamist threat from Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon and her flight to freedom, first in Israel, then in U.S.
As a member of the majority Christian country that was her native Lebanon, Gabriel recalled her upbringing in a "fair" and "tolerant" nation whose capital Beirut was often referred to "as the Paris of the Middle East." Known as the "banking capital of the Middle East," Lebanon and its strong economy afforded the family a comfortable lifestyle. She said, "all that began to change" after Lebanon became the sole country in the region willing to accept Yasser Arafat and Palestinian Arab refugees, only to have the latter's representative organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), grow stronger and use Lebanon as a "launching pad to destroy Israel."
Gabriel, whose country "refused to read the writing on the wall," experienced her own "personal 9/11" in 1975 after her family home was bombed by "radical Islamists." In response to Gabriel's bewildered question as to why they were targeted, her father replied, "They consider us infidels." Her family took refuge in an underground bomb shelter, during which her father clung to the mistaken belief that countries would come to the aid of Christian Lebanon, but "nobody came."
For the next seven years, Gabriel and her family hid to survive, eking out a subsistence level existence, in an area "where we were surrounded by Palestinians, who were majority Muslims." Gabriel lamented over the stark contrast between her early childhood memories and her traumatic adolescence. Although Lebanon had been 67 percent Christian, over the last two to three decades its Christian population has dwindled to only 15 percent, due in large part to Muslim men and their multiple wives who reproduced in far greater numbers.
In 1982, when Gabriel was a young teen, a fellow Christian serving in a militia warned the family of an impending attack by Islamists. Fearful for her safety, her parents told her, "When they come to slaughter us tonight, we will create a distraction and . . . you run toward Israel. And don't look back." Gabriel explained that, as they lived only five kilometers from Israel, they knew that "the Jews are not going to slaughter us."
Before she fled, Israel crossed into Lebanon to rid its northern border of infiltrating Palestinians who attacked Israeli civilians by establishing a security zone. "And that," she said, "is how we lived for another five years in that bomb shelter trying to survive."
During the ensuring war Gabriel's mother was seriously wounded, so she traveled with Gabriel in an ambulance supplied by Israel to an Israeli hospital. Gabriel said, "For my mother, it was a life-saving experience, but for me, it was a life-changing experience."
Gabriel noted the distinction between the Lebanese ambulance driver who transported them to the border, and the Israeli ambulance driver who delivered them to the Israeli hospital. Whereas she paid half of what little money her father had given her to the former, the latter refused to accept payment. "This is a free service from us to you," the Israeli driver said, and he wished her mother a speedy recovery. Gabriel said she was "so touched" and impressed by the "values" of the Israeli people. "That was my first lesson in the difference between the Arabic culture and the Israeli culture."
The Israeli doctors "treated everyone according to their injury. They did not see religion. They did not see political affiliation. They did not see nationality. They saw people in need, and they helped." Because her injury was severe, Gabriel said her mother was treated before a wounded Israeli soldier nearby. Moreover, Gabriel was "embarrassed" seeing Israeli soldiers "wounded because of the war with my country." A kind Israeli nurse saw her discomfort and consoled and reassured her. "I started crying. I experienced such compassion and love that ... did not exist in my society." The three weeks Gabriel spent at the hospital "changed my life." She realized "these are values I want to adopt," and she "vowed" she would return to live "amongst these people." In 1984 she moved to Israel and became a Jerusalem-based news anchor. Later, she moved to the U.S., where she established a successful television production company.
The September 11, 2001, attacks affected Gabriel profoundly. "It made me realize that the crazies I thought I left behind are now worldwide," and it drove her to found Act for America, which she said has grown to "1.7 million members with 400,000 activists nationwide in every single state." According to the organization's mission statement, Act for America's purpose is "to educate, engage, train, and mobilize citizens to ensure the safety and security of Americans against all threats foreign and domestic while preserving civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution." Gabriel is proudest of her organization's role in the passage of "138 bills on the federal [and] state level to protect the country."
Today, her principal concerns for Islamist threats to America stem from Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, which has a "sophisticated" branch set operating in the tri-border region of South America. The tunnels that bring the cartel's drugs into the U.S. from Mexico result from Hezbollah's technical prowess, perfected through its tunnel systems built to infiltrate terrorists from Lebanon into Israel. U.S. border police refer to their apprehensions of infiltrators from Middle Eastern countries under the category of "OTM's, Other Than Mexicans."
Gabriel said the Mexican embassy in Lebanon employs a Lebanese who sells visas to Mexico for "$3,000 a visa." All a Hezbollah member needs to do is "buy a visa to Mexico" and walk across the U.S. border. She said that Hezbollah is also sharing its IED (improvised explosive device) technology with the drug cartels. Act for America is actively working on legislation "to stop the hemorrhaging" at the border.
While Act for America focuses on other threats to the U.S., including "China, Iran, Russia, missile defense, [and] many other issues," the primary threat to the U.S. that Gabriel observed in the twenty years since she founded her organization are "internal, not external." U.S. Islamist groups, such as the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), "the Islamic lobby in the United States," are defended by leftist groups.
"Our enemies [are] coming together, the leftist radicals and the Islamists working together to transform the U.S." She said that the Islamists do not need to "defeat us militarily" since they use more "sophisticated" methods. Today, the "Islamic presence on Capitol Hill," led by Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, "is very concerning" because they are backed by politicians who are "bought and sold with money."
Act for America successfully lobbied elected officials to introduce bills for consideration, but Gabriel said that countering the lies of "propaganda" over truth is challenging, particularly when a lie is repeated time and again. Gabriel is eagerly looking forward to joining other broadcasters who will be "descending" on Washington, D.C., in a "media blitz" of "subject-matter experts" who intend to hold politicians accountable for the "border invasion." The title of the week-long event is "Hold Their Feet to the Fire."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.