A Personal Perspective on the Israel/Hezbollah War

Last Wednesday, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv published an article entitled: “The Destruction of a Nation” (Ma’ariv, July 26, 2006, p. 8) The writer was a Lebanese reporter who wrote about the dire circumstances in which she has been living since the war began. The article was published anonymously, according to the newspaper “in order to protect her.”

Dr. Liat Ben David, an Israeli educator and mother of three from Maccabim who writes a weekly column about life in Israel, summarized the article and provided her own perspective:

The article does not criticize Hezbollah, but does attack Israel’s harsh response which forces the anonymous Lebanese reporter and her friends to live under fire. According to the Lebanese writer:

Life for us isn’t about the future any more. It’s about today. The safest way to go to work. Will I have time to stop at home and check if everything is still intact?…

…I wonder who will stay today, will my friends leave with the thousands that are leaving…

…not all Lebanese people want the Hezbollah, so why should all Lebanese people have to pay?…

…Today I am a refugee, since I can’t return to my home. Israeli airplanes have been dropping pamphlets, warning civilians to leave their neighborhood before it is bombed, a few hours later…

…I had where to go, others didn’t. So they stayed in their homes…and they are dying. They are dying in a war that isn’t their war…

…One morning we wake up after a good night’s sleep, the airplanes were quiet. The houses didn’t shake because of an attack. The nights are worst. The sound of the airplanes is terrifying. They fly above for hours before they hit, searching for targets. No one knows where the bomb will fall, and eventually you stop caring. You just want the noise to stop…

And the world is silent.

My perspective:

July 27, 2006

To the anonymous Lebanese reporter, Shalom.

It hurts, really hurts to read your words. It hurts first and foremost because your words sound so very, very familiar.

Life in the Galilee, and generally in Israel’s North, has become a long game of Russian Roulette. It didn’t happen in a week, it happened within a few minutes two weeks ago – and hasn’t stopped since. Every time you want to get out of the shelter, even for a few minutes, is a gamble: will the Hezbollah start shelling again just as I leave the shelter to get some milk and bread for my kids, who are sitting in it with me? And if it does – where is the closest hiding place? Is the local grocery store even open? Almost everything is closed. Summer tourism, that both you and I base quite a bit of our economy on, is dead. Work is a forgotten dream, and those who still have jobs are afraid of the way back and forth.

You see, on our side of the border, no one is throwing pamphlets to let us know when the next shelling will occur, and there is no advance noise to prepare us that the rockets are about to fall. They just do, out of the not-so-blue anymore sky. Eighty, a hundred per day. I completely understand when you say–when will this noise stop?

Of course, the roads aren’t safe either, and not only because of the bombs. If you are too close to a border, any border – and Israel is so tiny that almost always you are close to some kind of border – you must stay alert so no terrorist infiltrates and kidnaps you, or shoots you, or blows himself up with you and others. Our kids, even those who are not in shelters, know that they must be alert, suspicious, connected to the news and to their parents. That is daily life, everywhere, for all ages. They have grown accustomed, since they are 3 years old, that everywhere there is a guard that checks them and everyone else, that each little bag can become a dangerous parcel, that each smiling person can turn into the big bad wolf. It isn’t exactly the way to raise normal, healthy kids, but that’s our life and has been for a very, very long time.

More than half of the population in the north has left their homes and gone south. On our side, too, thousands can’t go home. But we don’t call them refugees. You see, for us they are simply our brothers and sisters, and Israelis everywhere are embracing them, trying to give them comfort and help till they can go back home.That’s what the citizens of a state are supposed to do for each other. Not all of them could get away. Sorry to say, even we need time to get our act together sometimes, arrange safe transportation and secure places, especially when you need to do it under fire and while defending yourself.

We have many volunteers, that is true, and they are doing miracles, but many of our elderly and needy have stayed in their homes, frightened by every explosion they hear, grateful when the blast is over, dreading the next one. We will have to deal with their trauma for many years to come.

Not all Israelis want war. Actually, I can tell you that almost all Israelis want peace, or at least quiet. And yet, all Israelis are paying the price. That’s how it is in a sovereign country, and that’s probably the main difference between us: if a group of people, big or tiny, had turned our life into hell, Israeli society and the Israeli government would do everything necessary to throw that group out. To destroy it. You can’t just sit passively, fumbling your fingers and crying: “but it wasn’t me” – that is a lesson we learned in kindergarten, when we learned another lesson, one of the most important lessons: social responsibility. If a group like that would drag all of Israel into a horrific war – and every war is horrific – without us doing everything to stop them, than the consequences would be our full responsibility and we would have absolutely no right to complain that “this isn’t our war.” It is. If it comes from within my sovereign state, by my citizens, it is indeed my responsibility, just like it’s my responsibility to take care of all my citizens – you know, those who need shelter, food. I can’t sit back while this malignant cancer grows in me, and then cry that it has taken over. It’s my responsibility to get rid of this malignancy on time, and if I don’t – the price is mine to pay. Or, in the case of Hezbollah, yours.

As for the world being silent – you shouldn’t be so surprised. Too many times that is the way of the world, being silent. We know, we have many, many years of experience.

I am thankful that your letter has been published in the Israeli media and that each of us could read it, freely, during these days of turmoil, even if it has to be anonymous to protect you. In spite of what you may think, this is possible not because of who you are, but because of who we are.

I have good reason to believe that my little letter to you won’t receive the same kind of treatment, and in my case – no anonymity is necessary.

And that, I believe, is the whole difference in a nutshell.

Shabbat shalom,

Liat Ben-David, Israel

P.S. Added on Sunday, July 30, 2006

Once again we hear the world crying, as the images of dead children from Lebanese Qana village lay in front of our eyes. “Israel is guilty of a vicious war crime,” say people who are miles away from this area. “Israel’s disproportionate reaction is outrageous, after all, Israelis are not being killed by the hundreds, Jewish children are not being massacred, Israeli civilians are not being crushed to death. How dare Israel bomb innocent people”.

Indeed, Israel is guilty of a crime – but it’s not the crime we are being accused of. We are not guilty because of our actions in Lebanon. We are guilty for not paying enough in blood: not enough Israelis are being killed. Unlike Lebanese civilians, the citizens of Israel who are under constant attack by the Hezbollah bombs are sitting in shelters, or have left harm’s way. Most of the houses in the constantly bombed region of northern Israel are empty, abandoned till better times will come. The bombs of death that are being thrown on the children of Israel – eighty, a hundred, a hundred and twenty every single day, non-stop, everywhere and merciless, the way bombs usually are – most of these bombs are falling in open spaces, on trees and empty buildings.

Unlike what the IDF does in Lebanon (including in Qana) — no one from Lebanon is warning us hours in advance that bombs are about to fall on our heads, no one from the other side is sending us pamphlets asking us to get all civilians out before missiles are launched at our cities. But we aren’t leaving anything to chance, we are not leaving our children unprotected, our guns are not being fired from within homes or houses of prayer, our soldiers aren’t hiding in kindergartens or behind families. Israel has understood long ago that quiet in this area of the world is relative and short, therefore we must always be prepared to defend our people — a defense that is aimed to save lives, not use them as shields. That’s why even when our shelters are sometimes dirty, they are always usable; even when our safety areas are neglected, they are still protective; the population in the center and south of Israel is readily embracing our brothers and sisters from the north, even when it means inconvenience, as guests, never dreaming of calling them refugees. That’s also why when the hospital in Nahariya was heavily bombed by Hezbollah, it was empty and no one was hurt. The school that Hezbollah’s bombs destroyed was empty; Everyday, Hezbollah bombs are destroying houses, cars, civilian facilities – all, or most, empty. Relative to the huge amount of weaponry launched at us, our casualties are minimal.

Should we have left our hospitals, schools, homes populated? Should we have allowed our people to be badly hurt and killed by these endless bombs, showing the horrific scenes to the world?

But Qana, just like the rest of south Lebanon, did not heed our warnings, and Hezbollah brought devastation upon it. As they are crying and counting their dead who had not left harm’s way, we are counting our damaged walls while continuously trying to find ways that will keep the number of Israeli casualties and injuries as low as possible. And although it makes us look like the criminals, it is actually what makes us a human, civilized culture.

The images from Lebanon are indeed devastating and heartbreaking, and although we did everything we could to prevent such a horrific incident from happening, we are deeply sorry innocent children had to pay with their lives for the actions of Hezbollah. Having said that, we also promise to continue defending the lives of our people so that similar images will never be seen in Israel. That is a crime we will absolutely and without regret continue to live with.