DESPAIR OR HOPE?

In this excerpt from Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006 I discuss the importance of looking at both sides. Too often, especially in the Western media, we hear only one side of a conflict. It takes two parties to create a conflict, therefore, there are always two sides.

Israel’s paranoia and sense of insecurity is, to some extent, justified. Given the less than desirable outcome of its with Hezbollah in 2006, the real or perceived threats from Syria and an emerging Iran, it is understandable from an Israeli point of view that the State of Israel would feel the need to attempt once again to redefine its military deterrence, to definitively crush Hezbollah and establish a permanent presence in South Lebanon.

The people of South Lebanon, for their part, feel incredibly burdened by the constant threat emanating from Israel on the other side of their border. They still reel from the injustices inflicted on them by Israel’s twenty-two year occupation when they saw their lives, their freedoms and basic human rights trampled on without so much as a yawn from the international community. In 2000, when the Israeli public finally demanded that their troops come home, the Lebanese knew that it was not because of the immorality of brutally occupying two hundred thousand of their people. The protests, led mostly by women, focused exclusively on the blood of Israeli soldiers spilled in Lebanon in vain. Nothing would have been more important, of course, to an Israeli mother, sister or wife than their loved ones’ lives, just as nothing is more important to a Lebanese mother, sister or wife from South Lebanon than the lives of their loved ones who steadfastly defend their villages.

The Israeli government casually talks of establishing a security zone in South Lebanon as though no one lives there. Such talks by their leaders leads the average Israeli to believe that South Lebanon is a land of bloodthirsty Shiite terrorists, intent on destroying Israel, and so it is justifiable to ethnically cleanse the area to safeguard Israel’s northern border. It is a modern-day version of Chaim Weizmann’s “a land without people for a people with land” theme all over again.

The 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war produced no clear winner. Lebanon is a bitterly divided between the March 18 pro-Hariri-Saudi Arabia camp and the March 8th Hezbollah-Christian coalition. Israel fares no better with its hollow extreme-right leadership itching for another war. I saw this first hand when I was in Beirut last month. Every single day Israel threatened to bomb Lebanon back to the stone-age. There was no provocation from Hezbollah on the Israeli-Lebanese board, yet Israel presumed the right to threaten to re-define, yet again, its military deterrence and destroy Hezbollah.

These sad truths stated, how difficult would it really be to promote peace as an option to war and make it work? This question prompted me to revisit something I wrote in my memoir A Beirut Heart about a real possibility of peace in the Middle East, if only its leaders would oblige. The particular scene takes place in 1976. Civil war is raging in Beirut and my family and I had just escaped on an apple boat to Syria. Upon landing in the seaport of Lattakia, my husband Michel was unexpectedly detained. During his interrogation his Syrian guards questioned him not about the supposed charges against him but about Israel. They wanted to know about Israeli technology and what kind of products they made, whether or not America supplied Israel with all its weapons or if the Israelis manufactured their own. Did Israel really have the best hospitals in the Middle East? The mother of one soldier needed open heart surgery. “How wonderful it would be,” he said, “if I could get into my car and drive my mother to Israel for treatment.”

Even after living the past thirty-one years in tranquil Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I still reflect on and appreciate how wonderful peace could be, if allowed to happen. Given that this is a very remote possibility, all I can do is write about the horrors of war so that our collective national memory can never say “We didn’t know.” I can bring to light the voices of the ordinary people in Bint Jbeil, in Beirut, in Gaza and the West Bank, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, who scream, “Stop these horrors. We want to live in peace.”

Israel has invaded South Lebanon four times. Hezbollah was a natural outgrowth of Israel’s twenty-two year illegal occupation. These details are too often left out of the discourse in American journalism. My third book Tragedy in South Lebanon gives a thorough historical overview of the relationship between the two countries. The book also includes a Timeline from Ancient Times to the Present plus a cast of characters, places and events which help the reader better understand the history of the region.

This book is available for purchase here.

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