Lebanon Abandoned: Broken Promises Three Years Later
By Chris Mitchell
Middle East Bureau Chief
May 27, 2003
Several hundred Israeli soldiers died over the years protecting Israel's northern border. The pullout created major changes in both people and places.
CBN.com on the ISRAEL-LEBANON BORDER Three years ago this month, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled Israeli troops out of the south Lebanon security zone. While Barak made good on a campaign promise, the pullout had a devastating impact on thousands of south Lebanese, many of them Christians.
The date was May 23, 2000. Israeli troops ended a more than 18-year presence in south Lebanon. The unilateral withdrawal appeased many Israelis weary from a bitter and bloody battle with terror. Several hundred Israeli soldiers died over the years protecting Israel's northern border. The pullout created major changes in both people and places.
CBN News went to see the "good fence" that divides Israel and Lebanon. For years, this border crossing symbolized the friendship with Israel and its northern neighbor. Today, three years after the Israeli pullout from south Lebanon, the good fence is deserted and anything but friendly. The good fence today symbolizes the tension on Israel's northern border and bears silent witness to a chaotic scene three years ago.
Back then several thousand Lebanese Christians fled south Lebanon when the Israeli army pulled out. Despite assurances they would have time to move their families and belongings, the pullout came suddenly and with little warning. Most, including employees from the CBN television station in south Lebanon, fled across the good fence with just the clothes on their backs. "It was terrible. Nobody knew what was happening, and all of a sudden your whole life was turned upside down," said Beverley Timgren who operates the Arazim Dental Clinic in Israel.
Timgrens ministry offers complete dental service to the south Lebanese at a nominal fee. She fled along with the south Lebanese three years ago after serving within south Lebanon for years. She knows the difficult adjustment many of them have had to make. "Starting a new life in a country like this is very, very difficult. Everything that they worked for, they left behind. They're enemies of their own government now because they're friends of Israel. They're really struggling to come to terms with everything," she said.
The south Lebanese have not done well. Some returned to Lebanon and received harsh prison sentences for collaborating with Israel. Others scattered to various countries in Europe and North America. Still others stayed in Israel, where they are despised by fellow Arabs for their alliance with Israel, and largely ignored by Israelis. It is hard to get work, and they face language and culture barriers. Now Israel's most loyal Arab allies are stateless and virtually abandoned.
They can not go home. Most would rather return to Lebanon, but the Lebanese government, a virtual puppet of Syria, considers them to be traitors.
CBN News talked with a south Lebanese woman, who asked not to be identified. She lost her husband in the war while he served in the South Lebanese Army [SLA]. This widow's situation is typical of many south Lebanese living in Israel.
"Now, we are not getting much assistance and I have to pay rent and all the utilities, electricity and water, all the expenses of my family. It's very difficult to manage... Very difficult. I don't know what to do. I don't know who to talk to. I don't feel really settled and I have concerns in managing life for my children," she said.
The Lebanese Christians' plight is magnified by the fact that they are pioneers in the war on terrorism. They began fighting in the mid-1970's when they helped battle thousands of Palestinian radicals then based in Lebanon. Later they kept their alliance with Israel and helped hold the Iranian-backed Hezbollah at bay.
Yaer Ravid, an Israeli intelligence officer, helped forge this relationship between Israel and the Lebanese Christians. "The contribution of the SLA to the war on terrorism is important, central in several areas. They invested much effort, sacrificed many sacrifices, many wounded and dead. In other areas, they were heavily involved in helping the IDF," he said.But Ravid calls the treatment of the SLA by Israel in the past three years shameful.
"All the years that we worked together, it was clear, and it was made clear to them that if a day would come when the IDF would have to withdraw and they came here, they would receive the rights, the full rights of Israeli citizenship. And they would receive the benefits of army veterans according to the number of years. They would receive compensation, house for house, belongings for belongings, and of all the promises almost nothing has happened," he said.
Timgren says the south Lebanese do not want to be forgotten. She said, "They want to be understood. They want to be supported. They want people to think about them and that they need help."