Many Tarshiha residents blame Israel for war, side with Hizbullah

During these days of heavy casualties in Israel and Lebanon, the most outwardly peace-loving community here seems to be the Israeli Arab population. Ask almost any Israeli Arab how he feels about the war between Israel and Hizbullah and he will likely tell you that he is against all wars and wants only peace. "I think this war was unnecessary," Adnan Na'im, a cousin of Amir Na'im, 17, one of three youths killed by a Katyusha rocket on a lightly traveled road outside of Tarshiha last week. "We have to stop the war and hope for peace." These sentiments are echoed by Assad Shanati, 50, the bereaved father of Shanati Shanati, who would have turned 20 in September. "I'll tell you the truth," he said. "I am against all the wars in the world. What are those who die for no reason guilty of?" It is not hard to understand why so many Israeli Arabs maintain this neutral and politically correct stance. Minorities are usually caught between a rock and a hard place and try their best not to offend anyone. And, truth be told, while they themselves are threatened by Katyushas and they may also have Jewish friends in the North or in the army whose lives are also in danger, many of them also have relatives in Lebanon, including Palestinians living in refugee camps in Beirut and southern Lebanon. Nevertheless, if you scratch beneath the surface, it becomes apparent that a majority of Israeli Arabs side with Hizbullah and Hassan Nasrallah. Or so, at least, believes Hazar Fa'ur, 26, a resident of Tarshiha and cousin of the rocket's third victim, Muhammad Fa'ur, 17. "Most people won't dare say it aloud, but I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their private conversations that they support Nasrallah," he said. He said he blamed both sides for the war, but mentioned only Israel's alleged faults. "Lebanon was only missing one piece of land, the Shaba farms," he told The Jerusalem Post. "Had Israel given it back, no one would have justified Nasrallah's actions." He added that Israel should have negotiated with Lebanon instead of withdrawing its forces unilaterally in 2000. On the other hand, Fa'ur said he regarded both Hizbullah and Iran as his enemies and said he strongly opposed religious fundamentalism. Mahmoud, who declined to give his family name, is a relative of Assad Shanati and has been spending his days in the mourning tent since last week's tragedy. He also blamed Israel for the war. "The mistake began in 2003, when no one in Israel took Nasrallah's threats seriously that he would kidnap more Israelis unless it released [Palestinian terrorist Samir Kuntar,"] he said. "If they had released him then, this would not have happened." It was somewhat strange, after hearing these sentiments, to enter the home of Ahmed Fa'ur, father of Muhammad, the third victim. There, fastened to the gate leading into the courtyard of the Fa'ur home, is an Israeli flag. Fa'ur explained that Muhammad had placed the flag in honor of Independence Day. He was looking forward to the day he would enlist in the IDF, his father said. Muhammad's cousin said that many members of the family, which is Muslim, had served in the army. One was killed in 1974, when he volunteered to storm an apartment building in Kiryat Shmona after Palestinian terrorists broke into the building, killed some of its occupants and took others hostage. Fa'ur did not want to talk politics. Muhammad was the eldest of his six children and the apple of his eye. He said he had done everything to protect his family. Instead of building an above-ground safety room in accordance with the minimum requirements of the law since 1994, he built a proper underground bomb shelter. When the sirens sounded in Tarshiha, everyone in his family went to the shelter. Even the upper floors were built with reinforced concrete. "We didn't believe such a thing could happen," he said. "We thought we were protected and safe. But when fate wants to take a life, even 100 bomb shelters won't help." Muhammad, said his father, took the Katyushas seriously. "He was a smart boy. He always wanted to be in a protected area. He understood this was no game. But on that day, when I asked him where he was going, he told me, 'What am I going to do, stay buried in the shelter all the time?'" There was a terrible irony in the death of Assad Shanati's son as well. "I didn't let him work outside the house," he said. "I made sure that he was by my side all the time." In fact, Shanati was almost by his son's side when he died. He was working in his brother's olive orchard, where he raised vegetables and grazed goats, when the rockets fell. He was standing 50 meters above the road where his son was riding. He actually saw the car from where he was standing and heard the explosion, but did not believe anything was wrong. To make sure, he called his son four times on his cellphone but did not get a reply. Then he called one of the two friends who were with him. When he again did not receive a reply, Shanati sent a younger son to run down and see what had happened. When the boy ran back crying, Assad understood immediately. Hazar Fa'ur said he was angry at the fact that only one minister, Ya'acov Edri, visited the bereaved families in Tarshiha. Edri came for a few minutes before the funeral on Friday. No one else came, said Fa'ur because the victims were Arabs, and because of the general neglect of the North by the government. "We have no hotels, no government offices and poor roads," he said. "I escaped to Jerusalem for two days and people there asked me if I have a blue identity card. It's like a different country, here." About 35 percent of the population of Tarshiha has left the area for safe havens in the South. Those who stayed behind could not afford to leave, according to Adnan Na'im. He charged that officials of the Ma'alot-Tarshiha Municipality had promised to take residents away for a break from the danger and stress, but had failed to do so so far.