Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Flight of the Dragonfly - Book Review

Flight of the Dragonfly
By Melissa Hawach
Harper Collins 2008
Globe and Mail Interview

In the summer of 2006, I was watching and reading in horror as Israel invaded Lebanon in response to Lebanon kidnapping two Israeli soldiers who had strayed acros the Lebanon/Israeli border. Israel bombed Lebanon back to the 18th century in just 30 days.

The Israeli military destroyed roads, bridges, houses, buildings, communications, and most of the infrastructure that allows a country to run smoothly. The world saw this is a gross over-the-top reaction to the kidnapping. Israel denied that they had overreacted.

Anyway while this war was going on, there was another little war going on as well. An Australian born Lebanese man who was married to a Canadian woman, had taken their children to Lebanon, in the middle of a war zone. WHO in the right mind would do something like this? Joseph Hawach - thats who.

Melissa Engdahl married Joseph Hawach in Sydney Australia in 1999. Melissa was a Canadian who was on a working holiday in Australia and one of the places she worked was at a restarant called Positanos. The owner of this restaurant was the Hawach family originally from Lebanon.

The marriage was going great while the family lived in Sydney. Melissa gave birth to a daughter Hannah in 2001. Then they decide to move to Canada where there were more opportunites for Joe to import asian papers for his business. Melissa gave birth to her second daughter, Cedar, in Calgary, Alberta in 2004.

By 2005 the marriage was breaking down and in June 2006 after they had formally seperated, Joe asked to take the girls to Australia for a family vacation. He promised they would return to Canada in late July of 2006. They never arrived. Two weeks into the vacation Joe took the girls and left Australia.

Melissa immeidately went to the courts in Canada and was appointed the girls legal custodian parent. She gathered an expert legal team around her and then Melissa and her team went to Australia to speak to Joes family to try and find out where joe was.

In Canada parental kidnapping is a crime and is dealt with by the criminal courts. In Australia parental kidnapping is NOT a crime and is dealt with only by the family courts. Melissa's hand were tied and she could not do anything - although she did bring a lawsuit against the Hawach family to force them to divulge Joe's location. They all refused.

Joe and the girls has first stopped in Dubai where he continued to charge items to the family credit cards - for which Melissa was now forced to pay. They had then continued on to Syria. The Canadian diplomatic service eventually tracked Joe down to Lebanon.

Melissa and her father eventually flew to Lebanon to look for and find the girls. There were numerous offers of help. Some by mercenaries, and special unit soldiers who offered to help. But Melissa refused to kidnap her children back as that would just cause more legal problems.

In Lebanon the father has all legal custody rights to the child and the mother has NO rights to the child. Traditionally the mother is allowed to keep the child until they are 8 years old, but after that the child becomes part of the fathers household if the parents have separated.

Melissa had the papers proving her right to be the childrens custodial parent in Canada. Her Lebanon lawyers spent weeks in the Lebanese courts trying to get a lebanese judge to recognize Melissa's right to have her children. If Melissa had kidnapped them back, she would be liable for arrest and possible exection under Lebanese law, because in Lebanon the father has automatic custodial rights.

Eventually the Lebanese judge agreed to grant her custodial rights. This was done mostly because Joe made a number of mistakes which Melissa's lawyers made use of.

In December 2006 Melissa was able to travel to the hotel north of Beirut where Joe and the children were staying, The hotel belonged to a relative of Joe's. Melissa walked into the compund and called to her children. They ran to her yelling Mommy, Mommy. There was no abuction. Melissa and the girls were then spirited into away hiding. They were in hiding for 3 months. The first 2 months in Lebanon while they wanted for the courts to grant custody to Melissa, and then another month in syria where they were stuck without exit visas because Joe still had the girls passports.

The Canadian government issued new passports and these were sent to the General in Lebanon who had helped them to escape. He was able to get the entry permits to Syria so that they could all safely leave. In February 2007, they were driven across the border to Amman in Jordan and from there they were flown home to Canada.

Melissa and the girls are now safe in Calgary. Melissa has a new relationship and a new baby son. Joe is now back in Australia. He keeps in touch with the girls by telephone. He asks for the girls and Melissa to come visit him in Australia, but Melissa has so far refused to do this. Joe cannot come to Canada because he still has outstanding warrents against him - for parental abduction - which is a crime in Canada.

There are also some people who say that Melissa Hawach is a liar and she only wanted her 15 minuts of fame. Why would they want to do that? This person seems to be in Australia, so maybe they are friends or relatives of the Hawach family and did not like all the negative publicity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For its details about family life and culture in lebanon and for how to deal with a parental kidnapping (if it should ever happen to someone you know). I read this book for the 2nd Canadian challenge - ABM genre.

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