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Room for Disagreement

The focus on Lebanon in the last three weeks has generated what no discussion about the Levant has managed to avoid since the third day of creation (did God create oranges first that day, or lemons? Citrus groves have been waging their own intifadas over that one ever since). Namely: disagreement. I post here two of the more compelling recent comments, one by an American married to a Lebanese Christian, disagreeing with my characterization of Hezbollah as, among other things, a Shiite Taliban. The other, by one of our friends at Jewlicious, disagreeing with my take on Israeli designs as described in yesterday’s piece. I don’t think anything said in these letters in invalid, which reinforces a point essential to an eventual peace, if we’re ever to have it in Lebanon and the rest of the place still embarrassingly called Holy: differences of opinion and interpretation are not barriers to co-existence. They’re only proof that pluralism needn’t be lovey dovey to be civil, and even—as in a Pirandello play, but with real lives at stake—to find a common stage.

—Pierre Tristam

In Defense of Hezbollah

I disagree with your characterization of Hizbullah and with your analysis of Lebanese opinion of Hizbullah. Surveys are showing a solid majority of the Lebanese population representing all four major religious groups are backing Hizbullah. In a survey of Lebanese opinion cited in the Christian Science Monitor, Lebanese support for Hizbullah was 87%. Another survey by LBC, as noted by As’ad Abukhalil at angryarab.blogspot.com, also shows strong support for Hizbullah. 64% were opposed to disarming Hizbullah (including 63% of Sunnis); 67% supported the capture of the 2 Israeli soldiers and 84% blamed Israel for the war (including 84% of Sunnis). This survey also conforms with what I have seen among my Sunni, Christian and Shia friends, who with the exception of 2 Christian friends all are supportive of Hizbullah. The reason for this is that the majority of Lebanese see Hizbullah as the national resistance, not as a terrorist group.

In your travels in southern Lebanon, did you ever visit Khiam jail? If you did, maybe you would understand why violence was necessary to liberate South Lebanon. I can also tell you a number of stories of how my husband’s family from Aytaroun suffered under Israeli occupation. When my husband was a child of 8 years old, he was a used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers to travel back and forth with them from his village to their mountain base. My husband had to leave his mother and father and home in south Lebanon when he was 14 years old and go to Beirut to live with older brothers to avoid being involuntarily conscripted into the SLA. His father was tortured in Israeli run jails for allowing his sons to leave South Lebanon and for not joining the SLA. A friend of my husband’s who didn’t leave his village, was hauled off to the army base, and tortured into agreeing to join the SLA. Standard torture was alternate dousings with hot and cold water, electricity and painful stress positions. When that didn’t work, family members, including mothers and sisters, were brought in and tortured. On his first day out on patrol, my husband’s friend stepped on a mine and was killed. They had him out in front, of course. He was only 14 years old. My husband’s family never joined the resistance, but they all know they owe their freedom to Hizbullah.

I also disagree with your assessment of Hizbullah as a radical group that would be fighting other religious groups in the middle east. At a time when the Lebanese militias were fighting each other during the civil war, Hizbullah concentrated its attacks solely against the Israeli occupiers. Throughout its history, Hizbullah has sought to maintain unity among the country’s 4 religious sects and from my own experience, I can tell you that Hizbullah is NOTHING like the Taliban. I lived in Lebanon for 3 months, including six weeks of that time in an apartment in Haret Hreik. Haret Hreik is where many of my friends and many of my husband’s family members lived and I can assure you there is no attempt to force Hizbullah’s beliefs on the population there. In fact there is a great respect and tolerance for Sunni and Christians, including an American Christian like myself. The women there, no matter their religion, were allowed to dress as they choose and no one was forced to wear the hijab.

With respect to your allegations of anti-Semitism, could you show me evidence of this? Or are you saying criticism of Israel is in and of itself anti-Semitism?

I generally agree with and respect your writing, but you are way off the mark on this one.

In Defense of Some Defense

I’m sorry, but I also have to disagree [see the Aug. 3 article]. First of all, there were instances of high alert on the northern Israeli border during Sharon’s term in office. Second, Israel made no noises and no threats regarding Hizbullah or Lebanon in the time leading up to this war. Third, if you haven’t noticed, Israeli society takes it pretty hard when a soldier is killed and even harder when one is kidnapped. You’re proposing that they left their soldiers open to attack anticipating a war.

Where I do think you are right is that the Israeli army kept training as if it would have to return to Lebanon one day. It also trains against Syria, since that is another belligerent front. It’s perfectly normal to expect armies to train for wars, attacks and actions and doesn’t indicate a desire to actually go to war.

However, the biggest argument against your claim is the mandate and purpose of the Olmert government. He was elected on the coattails of Sharon and his openly expressed strategy to leave most of the West Bank. Olmert ran on this platform and was focused on trying to garner the support he needed for that move. Undermining him were Palestinian rockets being launched daily from Gaza after Israel’s evacuation from there and every such rocket was a reminder to the Israeli public that a unilateral move in the West Bank, as promised by Olmert, would be very dangerous and could lead to circumstances beyond Israel’s control.

All of a sudden, the Palestinians launch a successful raid on the IDF from Gaza and by kidnapping the soldier, Shalit, show that in effect the disengagement has not led to greater security. Lo and behold, two weeks later, Hizbullah takes a similar action, kills three soldiers and kidnaps two. At this point you have a rookie PM, a rookie Minister of Defense and a non-infantry Chief of Staff with two significant military embarrassments at their doorstep and for Olmert a destructive depiction of what his stated goals of disengaging from most of the West Bank could lead to.

That embarrassment, combined with the sense that Israel’s enemies were no longer afraid of it and therefore may take graver and more significant actions, along with the need of the government to further its future plans while calming the upset population are the root causes of this war, in my humble opinion.

I also wonder whether Israel would have gone in so deep and so hard if Hizbullah had not launched that Katyusha volley into Haifa in the very first days. They even denied launching it, causing some to think it was a cell acting on its own, but once a major Israeli city had been attacked by rockets, the IDF had both the reason and the excuse needed to go into true battle mode.

What worries me, to be frank, is that Israel did not seem to have a master strategic plan and over-reacted initially thereby leading to the unfolding of events we have seen. In other words, they’re not as smart and haven’t shown themselves to be as smart as what you propose.

Read The Middle Live and Unbound at Jewlicious...

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