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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

On the Rim of a Volcano

Michael J. Totten published the second part of his report from the Lebanese border today, and once again I urge you to read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts to whet your appetite:
Eitan pulled off the main road and into his peach orchard next to the fence.

“Lots of drug fields right across the border right here,” he said. Hezbollah uses the drug money to purchase weapons to use against Israel. “Across the border are mostly Shia. We used to have a great relationship with them.”

It’s sort of true, up to a point. Yasser Arafat and the PLO had their own state-within-a-state in Lebanon during the 1970s. They used it as a base to carry out terrorist operations against Israel. In 1982, during the Lebanese civil war, Israel invaded - in effect becoming yet another militia in the ridiculous conflict - to put a stop to it once and for all. The PLO was driven out of Lebanon and into Tunisia. But the Israelis had a little side project going on at the same time. They tried to prop up the hard-right presidency of Bashir Gemayel, which turned into an utterly misguided disaster for everyone…particularly for the freshly elected Gemayel, who was assassinated by - who else? - Syrian intelligence agents.

The Shia of South Lebanon hailed the Israelis, for a while, as a liberation army that freed them from the PLO. The honeymoon didn’t last long, though. Israel stayed far too long, frequently treated the Shia with contempt, and monkeyed around with Lebanon’s internal politics just as much as the Syrians did.

“Nasrallah is a bright guy,” Eitan said, referring to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. “I wish his energy were directed toward something good. But Hezbollah has been infected by Iran.”

“What do you think of ordinary people on the other side?” I said.

“Every day I wave at Lebanese people,” he said.

“Do they ever wave back?” I said.

“Not usually, no,” he said. “They are cold. A few are friendly, though.”

“Do you know why most of them are cold?” I said. It’s unclear how much Israelis know about why things are the way they are inside Lebanon. He already knew I had been living in Beirut, and he could tell by the tone of my voice that I knew the answer.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Why?”

“Because waving hello to an Israeli is treason,” I said.

He looked startled and more than a little disturbed.

“I didn’t know that,” he said. “Some wave hello to me anyway. Do you know why?” I didn’t. “Because they are my friends. They know me. We used to work together when the border was open.”

Of course. The border was open until 2000 when Ehud Barak withdrew the Israeli forces from their anti-Hezbollah “security belt” in South Lebanon. Lebanese crossed the border every day through Fatima’s Gate to work in Israel. Some of them worked with Eitan. Even now they risk being punished for treason so they can wave hi.


It’s a lot easier to hate people when you don’t know them personally, when you can’t work together, when you can’t hang out and talk, when you can’t wave hello. The vitriolic and eliminationist propaganda from Iran and Hezbollah is instantly proven abject and stupid upon contact with average Israelis. An open border and a free exchange of thoughts and ideas is Hezbollah’s worst nightmare.

“What do you want to see happen here, Eitan?” I said.

“I wish we could have peace and an open border,” he said. “Like a normal country. Like it is between Oregon and California. Right now we call the Lebanese enemies. But they are not really enemies. I know them. Some are my friends. The only enemy is Hezbollah.”

Eitan and Zvika leaned against the front of the truck. Eitan said it was a mistake for Israel to withdraw from South Lebanon.

“Hezbollah is the only Arab army to ever defeat us,” he said.

Zvika patiently shook his head. “They didn’t defeat us,” he said.


Lisa told me that several times groups of Israelis drove up to Fatima’s Gate and peacefully confronted the rock throwers.

“We don’t hate you,” the Israelis said. It never did any good. Arabs who go out of their way to throw rocks can’t be easily dissuaded by niceness. And besides, being friendly with Israelis is treason.


So we drove on to al-Ghajar, which is a very strange place. All the residents are Alawite Arabs. One side of the village is in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The other side is in Lebanon. The residents on the Lebanese side wish they lived in Israeli-occupied Syria instead of Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon. The Israeli side is perfectly pleasant and prosperous. The Lebanese side is absolutely Third World, neglected as it is by Hezbollah as well as by the Lebanese government.

This is the place where Hezbollah launched its most recent November invasion. Lisa told me she saw Arab women screaming on the television news, demanding the Israelis beef up the security of their town and better protect them from Iran’s proxy killers.

Read the whole thing.


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