Ex-SLA soldiers feel the pain of both sides

Thousands of South Lebanese Army veterans fled to Israel with family members following the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

idf checkpoint in north  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
idf checkpoint in north
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It hasn't been easy watching an army ravage his homeland, but Nabih Abou Raseh still wants the IDF to press ahead in Lebanon. "It hurts me when I see my country falling apart, when civilians are harmed, but the price that we're paying in northern Israel and in southern Lebanon is less than the price if we don't do anything and Hizbullah continues to strengthen itself," he said. Abou Raseh is one of thousands of South Lebanese Army veterans who fled to Israel with family members following the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, fearing reprisal for having allied themselves with Israel during the war there. The images of death and destruction flashing across the TV screens of the 700 families that remain have been doubly hard for them to watch, as they face bombardment by Hizbullah rockets in their homes in northern Israel and know that friends and family in their former villages are suffering from Israel's counter-attack. "Part of me sits in Israel and lives in Israel. Let's say it's my second country," Raseh said from his home along the border. "The other lives in Lebanon. I hurt on both sides." Other members of the Lebanese community in Israel said they feel similarly, though some took issue with the extent of the destruction wrought by Israel in its campaign against Hizbullah. "We are with the IDF in its action against Hizbullah," said Peter, who asked that his last name not be used. "We are not with the Israeli government in what they are doing to our country or our people." Still, he urged the IDF to "finish what it started," fingering Israel for creating Hizbullah by its occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1980s. Abou Raseh said that a ceasefire now would be the equivalent of giving a cancer patient painkillers. "We don't need morphine," he argued. "We need to operate." Despite her hope that Israel would succeed in erasing Hizbullah, Marline Abou Rad said her expectations were low, since Israel had taken "half-steps" in the past but always allowed Hizbullah to rebuild in the end. She asked why Israel hadn't moved against Hizbullah long ago: "What were they waiting for?" Abou Rad said that Hizbullah was not Lebanese but a group merely doing the bidding of Syria and Iran. She, like other fellow expat Lebanese living in Israel, said she wants to see a Lebanese government strong enough to take control of the southern part of the country. Abou Rad's current hometown, Ma'alot, has experienced its fair share of rockets since Hizbullah began its onslaught last week. But Abou Rad, who grew up in Beirut, hasn't been rattled by them. "I was in these situations before," said the 36-year-old, who recalled having seen many destroyed buildings in her lifetime. "We're used to it already." "We've lived through all these wars," Abou Rad said, then added, "Enough."