Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 12, 1985, Page 10

Personality

Jerry and Sis Levin

A fellow was being tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. He said, "If it weren't for the honor of the thing, I'd rather walk." Thus Jeremy Levin refers to his kidnapping in Beirut on March 7, 1984 and being held hostage. His eventual escape and safe return to the United States constituted high personal drama. On another level, the activities of Levin and his wife Lucille (Sis) since his return home have unusual political overtones.

The day of Levin's kidnapping began like any other. Middle East Bureau Chief of Cable News Network, with headquarters in Beirut, he left his apartment by foot for his office. He never arrived. A soft invitation to enter a car that had pulled alongside his was reinforced by a gun barrel in his belly. Jerry Levin entered the car and left the normal world. For nearly a year he saw only dreary rooms while chained to walls or radiators. Blindfolded much of the time, told almost nothing by his captors, he worried about Sis and wondered what was going on. Upon release he first learned that President Reagan had been re-elected and that his hometown Detroit Tigers had won the World Series.

Feared Being Shot as an Infiltrator

Levin's escape reflected high personal courage. He stealthily slipped his bonds, tied blankets together and lowered himself to the ground. He slipped through the night to Syrian Army lines where, bearded and disheveled, he feared being shot as an infiltrator. But when the Syrians realized his identity, he received kind support on his homeward journey.

Upon returning to freedom, Levin learned that Sis, an intensely dedicated activist from a distinguished Alabama family, had worked long months to draw public attention to the fate of Jerry and other American hostages in the Middle East. He was amazed and gratified to learn that Sis and a distinguished Quaker educator and Middle East expert, Dr. Landrum Bolling, had talked in Damascus to the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs about Jerry's plight. She had lost faith in the State Department's quiet efforts to gain her husband's release, and taken matters into her own hands. Now both Jerry and Sis believe that her trip to Damascus was successful and that Jerry's captors, under Syrian urging, permitted him to escape.

Upon his return to the U.S., Levin's eloquence deeply moved millions of TV viewers. He praised the Syrians, and thanked Sis, Bolling and Jesse Jackson. He called for release of the other American hostages in the name of one God worshipped by both the captives and their captors. He assured his captors that he harbored no bitterness against them, and credited his release to the prayers of Jews, Moslems and Christians. Jerry gave polite credit to the U.S. government, although in private it is clear he believes more publicity should be focused on the plight of the American hostages.

Credits Role of Prayer in his Release

Jeremy and Lucille Levin are an unusual and fascinating couple. It is the second marriage for both of them. Together they have six children. Jerry is a Yankee of Jewish heritage, Sis a Christian. Jerry has written, produced and directed in TV and radio for 25 years. Sis has taught school, been a producer/writer/anchor on public TV, and also a television actress. Sis is an intriguing combination of Melanie and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind: ladylike as a traditional Southern woman, but driven by restless spirits. Relative newcomers to Middle East affairs, both have become deeply immersed.

The Levins advocate at every opportunity an improved climate between Americans and Arabs as the only way to avert further violence. They see quiet diplomacy as ineffective, speaking out and approaching Arabs personally as more effective. They intensely feel that Americans must be shown the connections between actions and reactions in the Middle East.

The Levins faith is that a better informed American public will speed the tempo of Middle East events. Early release of 39 American TWA passengers resulted, in their view, from intense TV coverage linking the passengers' plight to 700 Lebanese hostages held in Israel. The U.S. government will act with greater urgency to free seven U.S. citizen hostages still in Lebanon if the public understands their plight is connected to that of 17 mostly Shiite prisoners convicted in Kuwait of bombings that included the U.S. and French embassies, and caused several deaths.

Jerry's and Sis' efforts on behalf of the seven remaining hostages are inspiringly selfless. Their call for U.S. reconciliation with the Arabs holds both political and human promise. Tough talk and violent actions have brought tragedy both to Americans and to our former friends and admirers in the Middle East. Is the Levins' vision not worth a trial?

—By Andrew I. Killgore

 

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