'Our Hearts Are Torn In Two,' Say Lebanese in Israel

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Friday, July 21, 2006

'Our Hearts Are Torn In Two,' Say Lebanese in Israel

Nahariya, Israel (CNSNews.com) - Sitting in their Nahariya apartment, Pierre and his family (no last name for security reasons) flip back and forth between new in Arabic on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation and news in Hebrew on Israeli television. They are listening for updates on the war that now rages on two fronts -- and it is the northern front that concerns them most.

Pierre and his wife care deeply about what happens on both sides of the border. Pierre, now an Israeli resident, is a former captain in the South Lebanese Army, one of thousands forced to flee his native land six years ago when Israeli troops withdrew from a buffer zone they had maintained there for 18 years with the help of the SLA.

Hizballah filled the vacuum when Israel pulled out.

"It's a big problem for us. Because our hearts [are] half here and the big half [is] in Lebanon, especially now," said Pierre.

Pierre's parents and his wife's parents live in a Lebanese village just 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, but they have not been able to see them for six years. Now they can't even make contact.

Australia and the U.S.A. are closer to Lebanon than Pierre is, he said, because until recently, Australians and Americans could visit Lebanon and he can't -- because of Hizballah.

On Friday, a Katyusha rocket landed close to Pierre's home in this seaside town, which is less than 10 kilometers (six miles) from the Lebanese border. Earlier this week, a man in Nahariya was killed by a rocket as he ran for the bomb shelter.

But Pierre said he is more nervous about the situation in Lebanon than he is about the rockets falling in Nahariya.

It is as if Hizballah has taken his and his wife's parents hostage, he said. They use the houses and put Katyushas among the civilians and then they attack Israel, he said, and then Israel strikes back. The Israeli army has already attacked Hizballah targets in his former village, said Pierre.

Pierre's wife Mirvat said she worries more about her parents than she does about herself.

"It's very difficult. In the bomb shelters, [which they share with other apartment dwellers] there is television, air conditioning. We sit and play and talk. There they don't even have shelters," she said.


Given the difficulties, Pierre said, Lebanon is at a crossroads: "You disarm Hizballah, or good-bye Lebanon."

"We defended the south from what is happening now. We fought for 30 years to keep this area a Lebanese area," said Pierre, a Maronite Christian.

Lebanon, a country of more than 3.8 million, is about 40 percent Christian and 60 percent Muslim - Shiite, Sunni and Druze. It is unique in all the Middle East in that it has a Christian president and a power-sharing mechanism between the different factions.

Politically, the Christians, Sunni Muslims and Druze generally stand together.

The now defunct SLA was founded in 1976 by members of the Lebanese Army who lived in southern Lebanon and defended the south against the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had entrenched itself there and was using it as a launching ground for terror attacks against Israel and abroad.

The SLA joined forces with Israel to fight the PLO and later the Islamic fundamentalist Hizballah, which saw itself as the self-proclaimed defender of Lebanon. Backed by Iran and Syria, Hizballah would like to see Lebanon become an Islamic state.

Pierre said on Friday that he was not surprised by Hizballah's strength, given the fact that it is supplied with weapons from Syria and Iran. He said he believes that Hizballah may still have some "surprises" in its arsenal (as Hizballah has said it does) and could fire rockets deeper into Israel than Haifa.

Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said as much on Thursday in an interview with Al-Jazeera vowing to save "all of our reactions for the right time."

An Israeli Air Force jet bombed a truck loaded with 10 long-range missiles earlier this week, which would have been capable of hitting Israel's main commercial center Tel Aviv.

Longing for home

Of the thousands who fled Lebanon in 2000, some 2,700 Lebanese still live in Israel, about one third of them in Nahariya -- close to the border of their beloved homeland.

"Nahariya [is] the most beautiful city in Israel, even in all the Middle East area, except Jounie of course," said Pierre, a reference to the Lebanese Mediterranean city north of Beirut. He longs to go home.

The Lebanese government doesn't have anything against the former SLA members, he said. It is the Hizballah who does.

If Israel can finish the Hizballah, a "new Lebanon" will emerge, he said, free of Syrian and Iranian influence. "You wait and see after this mission, you [will] see [peace] between Lebanon and Israel," he said.

"I think this is the last battle. We pray. We want to see our parents," he said.

Is he hopeful about the outcome of the crisis? "Yes," said Pierre with a smile. "This is our last hope to go back to our country."