This post is about my decision to write Tragedy in South Lebanon and why, in spite of possible blow back, I felt it was an important book to write.
Israel is a difficult and dangerous subject to write about; difficult because most Americans do not understand the complexities of the region, in particular the politics of the Levant; and dangerous because it is assumed in the US that any criticism of Israel is not only biased in favor of Israel’s enemies but is also anti-Semitic. No one who undertakes to tell the story of this small geographic hot spot enjoys such a label. This author is no exception.
I undertook to write Tragedy in South Lebanon to stress that all wrongs, whether committed by the US or its allies, must be evaluated with the same criteria used to judge Hezbollah, Hamas and others. International law applies to not just a few powerless nations and resistance movements. If left unchecked the actions of powerful nations will eventually erode a global mechanism that strives to maintain stability and security through a balance of power that is based on legitimacy and responsible behavior.
I focused this book on ordinary people from both sides of the border who are overlooked by politicians and military leaders and who become victims of poor decisions made by the governments of both Israel and Lebanon. This is not biased reporting. This is honest reporting.
As one Goodreads reviewer wrote, “The title of the book is Tragedy in South Lebanon. It is not Tragedy in Israel. The author lived with her family in Lebanon, not Israel. Her family and friends and the innocent in her book were under attack in Lebanon, not in Israel, during the Lebanese civil war and during the four Israeli-Lebanese wars. I’m a former New Yorker who resides in Nevada. If New York were bombing Nevada where I now live, I would hold some degree of anger and prejudice against New York. So it is only natural that the author has some degree of resentment against Israeli aggression due to her personal experience with its bombs, missiles and rockets that had fallen on her community. She lost friends from those weapons of war. Considering her losses I think she was diplomatic in the way she viewed Israel and tried to balance her point of view.”
The summer war of 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah produced a human catastrophe in Lebanon that killed 1, 109 civilians and wounded an additional 4, 399. To a smaller but no less tragic extent, Israelis in the Galilee feared for their lives as Hezbollah lobbed some four thousand rockets on their towns and villages, eight hundred of which landed in residential or commercial areas. These attacks killed thirty-nine civilians, eighteen of whom were Palestinian-Israeli.
In documenting this tragic event I combine vital history and vivid personal interviews from both Israelis and Lebanese to relate the lives of the oft-ignored civilians of south Lebanon and northern Israel during that war. I chronicle how thousands of area residents have been victimized by the hawkish, shortsighted policy decisions of Israel, Lebanon and the United States.
I also take great pains to empathize with Israel’s paranoia and sense of insecurity, particularly with its still vivid memories of the Holocaust. I empathize also with the people of south Lebanon who feel incredibly burdened by the constant threat emanating from Israel. They still reel from the injustices inflicted on them by Israel’s twenty-two-year occupation and three previous invasions when they saw their lives, their freedom and basic human rights trampled on without so much as a yawn from the international community.
The Hezbollah leadership is equally criticized. It showed a callous disregard for its constituents in south Lebanon when it provoked a border incident that led to the July 2006 war. Did they stop to think that such a provocation could spell death and destruction for its people? Did it care or did it assume that it could ride the wave of broad support it enjoyed, thus taking advantage of an already disenfranchised people for its own political gain?
As if the senseless wars and tragic loss of life that has affected so many on both sides of the border were not enough, the Lebanese and Israelis also lack true statesmen capable of reversing this tragic trend. In their 2005 elections, both people thought they were voting in new leaders but got, instead, a rehash of the same old cast of characters, albeit in some cases sporting new clothes. These current leaders pursue the same failed policies of manufacturing wars for territorial gains and regional hegemony. Both Israel and Hezbollah willingly participate in a dangerous proxy war for the United States and Iran. The losers in this high-stakes game of warfare are, of course, the Lebanese and Israeli people.
Why did I try to document this tragedy? I wrote about these horrors so that our collective national and international memory can never say, “We didn’t know.” I tried to bring to light voices of ordinary people in Haifa, in Jaffa, in Bint Jbeil, in Beirut, Tel Aviv, in Gaza and the West Bank who scream, “Stop the horrors. We want to live in peace.”
In ancient times indigenous Arabs and Jews shared this tiny speck of land along the Levant. Together they worked the lands, reaping equally in its rich bounty. They were besieged by invading armies. They were slaughtered, driven into exile or subjugated under foreign powers. Yet, in spite of these challenges, they managed to live amicably as neighbors, often as close relatives through intermarriage. In large part, the success of their fellowship can be ascribed to leaders who recognized the need for solidarity over divisiveness and inter-communal conflicts, and knew how to encourage and nurture it. In their rush to instill modernity along the Levant, the new leaders have forgotten the most important tool of governance—diplomacy.
My Goodreads reviewer agreed. “In one word, diplomacy is Cathy Sultan’s message and I give her book five stars.”
This blog discusses Tragedy in South Lebanon. The book is available for purchase here.