Former SLA members worry about family on both sides of border

antoine lahad 88 (photo credit: )
antoine lahad 88
(photo credit: )
Samer thought that he'd seen the last of Hizbullah. For five years, he was a fighter with the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a small militia that helped the IDF fight Hizbullah during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. When the IDF withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Samer and many of his fellow SLA members fled to Israel, fearing for their lives. Today, an estimated 2500 former SLA fighters and their families live in Israel, the majority in the northern towns of Ma'alot, Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya. The rockets exploding in their communities have a familiar return address. The bombs smashing the towns and villages of their youth are targeted for the enemy, but don't always spare their loved ones. Ex-SLA members who know the threat of Hizbullah firsthand now find themselves worrying about casualties on both side of the border. Samer refuses to stay in his building's bomb shelter. "I was in the SLA, I'm not afraid of Katyushas," he said. "I get restless. It's better to stay outside, where I can help people." A few days ago, a rocket fell outside his building, and Samer helped dig out the rubble. "I love the state," he said. "If I can help, I will." Dani, a 33-year-old supermarket clerk who lives in Metulla, also makes a point of staying out of the shelters. "They aren't comfortable," he said. Both men worry about their families in Lebanon, but keep their phone calls short: Hizbullah, they say, may be listening. Samer joined the SLA when the PLO came to his village of Marjayoun. "They made a lot of problems for us," he said. "They raped our women, and they killed my brother." In 1995, Hizbullah killed Samer's father, who had been a sergeant in the Lebanese army. Not long after, he joined the SLA. "I wanted to do something useful, to help," he said. Despite his worries for his family's safety, Samer doesn't believe that Israel should agree to a cease-fire. "They should continue fighting, and fight well. They have to kill Nasrallah. There is no other choice. Hizbullah isn't Lebanon. Hizbullah is Iran." Like Samer, Dani joined the SLA to protect his village from Hizbullah and the PLO. "Nasrallah's time has come," he said. "The worse mistake Israel could make is to turn back now - Hizbullah is in the hands of Syria and Iran. It's stronger than it used to be. Nasrallah is saying that he'll hit Tel Aviv, and I believe him. This is very scary, and not an easy thing. It's not easy for any of us."