Brigitte Gabriel was born in the Marjeyoun District of Lebanon to a Maronite Christian couple, a first and only child after over twenty years of marriage. She recalls that during the Lebanese Civil War, Islamic militants launched an assault on a Lebanese military base near her family’s house and destroyed her home. Gabriel, who was ten years old at the time, was injured by shrapnel in the attack. She says that she and her parents were forced to live underground in all that remained, an 8-by-10-foot (2.4 by 3.0 m) bomb shelter for seven years, with only a small kerosene heater, no sanitary systems, no electricity or running water, and little food. She says she had to crawl in a roadside ditch to a spring for water to evade Muslim snipers.
According to Gabriel, at one point in the spring of 1978, a bomb explosion caused her and her parents to become trapped in the shelter for two days. They were eventually rescued by three Christian militia fighters, one of whom befriended Gabriel but was later killed by a land mine.
Gabriel wrote that in 1978 a stranger warned her family of an impending attack by the Islamic militias on all Christians. She says that her life was saved when the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in Operation Litani. Later, when her mother was seriously injured and taken to an Israeli hospital, Gabriel was surprised by the humanity shown by the Israelis, in contrast to the constant propaganda against the Jews she saw as a child. She says of the experience:
I was amazed that the Israelis were providing medical treatment to Palestinian and Muslim gunmen…These Palestinians and Muslims were sworn, mortal enemies, dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the slaughter of Jews. Yet, Israeli doctors and nurses worked feverishly to save their lives. Each patient was treated solely according to the nature of his or her injury. The doctor treated my mother before he treated an Israeli soldier lying next to her because her injury was more severe than his. The Israelis did not see religion, political affiliation, or nationality. They saw only people in need, and they helped.
Opinion editor Michael Young of NOW Lebanon and Franklin Lamb of Al-Ahram Weekly claimed that Gabriel over-simplifies the conflict in South Lebanon as a Muslim war against the Christians. Lamb alleged that she lived relatively normally during the Lebanese Civil War; Young, by contrast, described Gabriel’s account of her experiences as “overdone” and described her persona and campaign as a “con act.”