Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chatting with Israelis

This is a magnificent and extremely enlightening piece by a Lebanese blogger called "Lebanon Profile", whose blog is one of my favorites:

Story I-A few days ago, a close Sunni Lebanese friend of mine, we'll call her Yasmine, developed a close relationship with an Israeli in Athens. Her family is under constant attack and is providing shelter and aid to many of Lebanon's internal refugees, most of whom probably voted for Hezbollah. His family is under attack. He has relatives serving in the Israeli military participating in the campaign against Lebanon.Yasmine and her Israeli friend kissed one night while dancing. Afterward, she broke down crying. What had she done?! It took awhile for me to explain that she is not a traitor. She is not aiding the destruction of Lebanon. She is not directly harming her family (although her father would probably have a bit to say about the drinking, close dancing, and kissing). She did what was natural. She created the kind of bond that will prevent violent action from occurring again. Israel now has a face. How could she wipe it off the planet?

Story II-In fact, for all of the party's rhetoric, many Hezbollah supporters do not want "Death to Israel! Death to America!" I just spoke with two Shia men, Muhammad and Rida, in the United States who are proud American citizens. They rhetorically support Hezbollah, but are smart enough not to send them any money or officially lobby on Hezbollah's behalf.Muhammad and Rida support the war in Iraq. Rida's brother is serving in Iraq. Muhammad is actively involved in his union's activities, and his wife is on the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of their children's school. She's thinking of running for the school board.Yet, they support Hezbollah.

How can this be, you might be asking? It's because of the sectarian nature of Lebanon. They support the political party that supports their people. Rida's village, Bint Jbeil, has been razed multiple times. Hezbollah took care of them financially. Hezbollah provided medical aid when they needed it. Hezbollah fought against the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA), which tyrannically ruled over south Lebanon while Israel controlled it. The SLA had members of multiple sects, but was led by Maronite Christians.The Lebanese government didn't help the people in the south when their area was controlled by Palestinians. The Lebanese government didn't protect them when Israel occupied the area. The Lebanese government did nothing to try and shut down the Khiam prison camp. Neither the Syrian or Lebanese governments tried to liberate the south from SLA and Israeli rule. Hezbollah's supporters stand by the people who took care of them. Most of them don't want the utter annihilation of Israel. They want the defense of Lebanon. I would say the majority are anti-semitic, but their anti-semitism isn't nearly as virulent as that I've seen in Europe and other Arab countries.

Story III-my friend Zeina is brilliant and gorgeous. She was the number one student at every institution she's ever attended, including where she did her graduate studies at one of Europe's most prestigious schools.Her boyfriend is Jewish. She talks with him on the phone daily.One of her relatives died fighting Israel during the occupation of the south. He's considered a martyr, and his picture hangs throughout southern Lebanon. She is no anti-semite. She aggressively challenges those around her who make anti-semitic remarks. She doesn't hate Israel. Yet, she supports Hezbollah. They provided aid to her family. They liberated her land. She knows Christians, Sunnis, and Druze will never come to her aid. They didn't before. The utter racism of many other Lebanese political parties also makes it impossible for her to support any of them. They make it known that she is not wanted. They don't even want her in the country.

...Obviously, Hezbollah hardliners are just as bad or worse than Iranian fanatics. Even Shia Lebanese are frightened of these guys, which is why they are not the face Hezbollah shows to the outside world. Hezbollah recruits young, attractive, intelligent, professional, moderate candidates to run for office. These people are the public face who publicize all of Hezbollah's humanitarian projects.Sadly, the Shia population of Lebanon has few other choices in Lebanon's sectarian framework.

For Israelis and Westerners, the situation with Hezbollah is different. For Lebanese and Arabs, the situation with Israelis is different. Erecting barriers of ignorance only escalates the conflict. Yasmine, Muhammad, Rida, and Zeina are good people confronting a whole slew of issues thrown at them...