The Lebanon-Israel Tragedy

July 18, 2008 at 4:19 pm | Posted in Peace Process, Security | Leave a comment

Growing up in the 1970’s, Israel was like an island, nowhere to go without flying or sailing over the sea. The four bordering countries – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt – were sealed off to anyone of the wrong faith or loyalty.

The first time I set foot outside my country, I was about 10 years old. On a particularly boring day, some other local children and I decided to stick our feet beneath a fence that marked the border between Israel and Lebanon. I remember our anxiety and amazement as we felt the warm foreign soil between our toes. In retrospect, the act of setting foot across that border should never have been filled with suck apprehension.

Three times Israeli forces entered Lebanon and fought on that country’s soil, but never against its people. In the 1970’s it was Yassir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization who built a country within a country and chose Lebanon to be the frontline in their war of terror against Israel. In the 1980’s, Syria came to Lebanon claiming an attempt to keep the peace and chose instead to keep the country. Of late it is Iran that has chosen to make Lebanon its sacrificial lamb, with Hezbollah the executioner.

Of the many tragedies that can be found in the Middle East, the Lebanese-Israeli saga is one of the most unfortunate. We have never had any border dispute or insurmountable ideological conflict, yet for 30 years the border between Lebanon and Israel has been drenched in the blood of our youngest and bravest. A whole generation of those living in Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon has grown up knowing the horrors of wars designed not in Beirut or Jerusalem but rather in Tehran, Damascus, and Gaza.

During the one opportunity I had in my life to visit my family in Lebanon, I understood why Israel and her northern neighbor had been chose to play out this Middle Eastern version of a Greek tragedy. We were chosen because of the openness of our societies and the vibrance of our democratic systems.

Tel Aviv and Beirut are like sister cities of the Mediterranean. They welcome visitors from across the work with rich cultures and a firm embrace of diversity, while tediously working to give their guests and inhabitants a sense of normality shielded from the surrounding conflicts.

In the Middle East the struggle has always been between those who wanted to spread freedom and democracy and those who feel threatened by it. For decades Islamic-extremists have tried to destroy both Lebanon and Israel because of our way of life offers an alternative to their dark and oppressive existence.

What I saw in that trip to Lebanon I have also seen in places as distance as Buenos Aires and Los Angeles. In these communities Lebanese and Israeli immigrants work and flourish together. Lebanese families send their children to Jewish schools and befriend Jewish neighbors. Lebanese businesses even employ young Israeli men and women as security advisors. It was no coincidence that Iran chose to react to Israeli military success against Hezbollah in the early ‘90’s by bombing a Jewish Community Center and Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

When I was growing up, the elders of my community would tell stories of the days when they used to eat their breakfast in their homes outside Haifa, have lunch with their friends in Beirut and be back home again before dark. My hope is that the coastal road between Haifa and Beirut will one day be reopened and the old tracks will see new trains. My prayer is that we will end this vicious war, Israel’s kidnapped sons will be returned to their families and Lebanon will be returned to its people. If we allow the warmongers in our region to control our actions or hijack our right to self-determination, this tragic saga will only drag on.

Article appeared in the Charlotte Observer on April 6th, 2007

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