Lawrence Velvel Challenged on His Views About the Middle East

Aaron Sharif

Received for Lawrence Velvel: Appended is an email, forwarded to me by an old friend, that was written by a citizen of Israel.  His name is on it, but I have redacted his address and phone numbers.

As I write this I hear the guns.
I don’t like guns. Can I do without them?

For the last 35 years we have had to constantly build and rebuild defenses against terrorist infiltration and katyusha rockets coming across the border from Lebanon. It was not a game. Our people were murdered. Schoolchildren were held hostage in their classroom and slain “for the cause”. A rocket fell only too close for comfort in front of my house with shrapnel flying through the walls of our children’s bedroom, glass shattering over them as they slept. Our army fired back, our air force made small punitive answers. We wanted a Lebanese government to control the Fattah groups that were responsible, but the Lebanese government was not functioning while all the ethnic groups in Lebanon were busy fighting and killing each other.

In 1982 the Israeli army went in to do what the Lebanese were unable and unwilling to do: drive the Fattah groups far from the border. Lebanon was still unable to put together a viable government, and the Israeli public was torn between the need to stay in part of southern Lebanon to keep our border safe, and the need to get out and let the Lebanese once more do what they can to govern and control all of Lebanon including the terrorist organizations. To my mind, it is unfortunate that this internal conflict within the Israeli public lasted till the year 1999. Nevertheless, in that year a number of things happened. Israel announced that its army would leave southern Lebanon on the basis of a major requirement: the Lebanese government would take responsibility for the border with Israel, would place its army in southern Lebanon and would disarm the Hezbollah. The Lebanese Government and the United Nations required of Israel to have a U.N. team delineate the exact international border between the two countries. Israel acceded and so it came to pass. The U.N. passed its resolution for Israel to move over the border delineated by its team in order for the Lebanese army to take control of southern Lebanon.

Israel moved out of southern Lebanon, the Lebanese army did not move in. Since then, not only did the Lebanese government totally ignore its responsibility for southern Lebanon, but it allowed the Hezbollah to become the complete controllers of the area with a constant buildup of arms and equipment from Iran through Syria. Rockets kept flying over onto Israeli communities. Attempts and a few successes were made at kidnapping across the border. The Lebanese Government turned a blind eye with hints of approval. The international community puts no pressure whatsoever on the Lebanese to take control of the border and to disarm the terrorist military organization in their midst. The international community does pressure Israel to “stay calm”. Meanwhile the Hezbollah acquire bigger and more far-reaching rockets: an organization called “terrorist” by the non-fundamentalist world, unhampered by any intervention by its host country, blatantly initiating terrorist attempts over the international border, constantly and overtly threatening to use its growing arsenal against my country. I wonder if there is even one country within the “organized countries” of the world that would accede for years to the demand to “stay calm”.

As a rule, Israel did its best to “stay calm” and respond very minimally over these past 6 years since moving back to the international border. Our main plea was to the U.N. and the “Major Powers” to influence the Lebanese government into deploying their army along the border.

Two weeks ago, while Israel was already involved with a major kidnapping incident in Gaza, the Hezbollah launched another well planned incursion over the border, killed 3 soldiers, kidnapped 2 soldiers, and then (probably to aid the escape of the kidnappers) opened full fire with rockets and automatic guns at Israeli positions across most of the Lebanese-Israeli border. (keep calm?? O.k. this time it was not a civilian riding a bicycle in the town of Shlomi that was killed by a rocket attack. This time it was only soldiers. Why get so upset?? After all – aren’t soldiers expendable?? No, no, no. our soldiers are there to defend, not to be killed.)

Remember the last straw that broke the camels back? Well, this was a very heavy straw – a baleful. With neither the Lebanese Government, nor the U.N., nor the major European powers, nor the entire gamut of anti-violence organizations, willing to offer any solution for the safety of Israelis from the terrorist threats across the border, our own government had to stop “staying calm” and began the forceful eviction of Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, the destruction of their arsenal and the destruction of their well-developed Beirut Infrastructure.

I am extremely unhappy about this result.  I doubt that violence can eradicate violence. For 35 years we have been looking for ways to fend off the terrorism from the Lebanese border. No one has offered a viable solution, other than “stay calm” – essentially turn the other cheek, and prepare for the next slap-in-the-face to be much harder.

You are right. Probably most Lebanese want a cease fire, but their democratic government is unwilling to take responsibility for the border, and unwilling to begin the long hard road of disarming  a terrorist organization in its midst. They are very willing for a ceasefire which will leave Israeli citizens still under the threat of terrorist action, while they can turn the other way, free of any responsibility.

You are right. At this juncture probably most Israelis are wary of a ceasefire that will leave the Hezbollah with the continued ability to be a very meaningful threat. Were the Lebanese willing to “take care” of the Hezbollah, I am certain that almost every Israeli would revert once more to “staying calm” and embracing a cease fire.

It therefore seems to me that your comparison of who wants a cease fire and who doesn’t is more than simplistic and naïve. It borders on a demagogic approach to the problem of “how do we defend ourselves” – and not only ourselves. We also have children and grandchildren.

Are we exaggerating?? I hear say that we are using the Hezbollah as a poor excuse for once again “taking Lebanon”,  while the Hezbollah are no more than just a small group of extremist terrorists who have no real ability to do damage to life and limb??
How simple it is for one to delude oneself.

The Hezbollah are a proven threat by the facts of their past terrorist activities, and by their show of arsenal strength during these last few days. Many people were certain that Israel was exaggerating about the growing arsenal of rockets being stockpiled against Israel. In the past 11 days the Hezbollah have launched over 2000 rockets into Israeli cities, towns and villages. Their range now covers considerably more than the communities within sight of the border, and they openly threaten with even longer ranging rockets. We believe them. Our kibbutz is already pockmarked with a good number of “hits” both within the area of our homes and all around our fields. Most people have chosen to migrate with their children far southward out of the line of fire. So did my own children and grandchildren. A day after they left a rocket landed a few meters from their home and went through the roof of our local grade school. Other rockets continued to land too close for comfort, but those of us still here have gone either underground or into (relatively) secure rooms. The town of Nahariya, just south of us, is less fortunate. People there have been killed by direct hits, and our Hospital is filling up with the injured.

Yes. I know we are much stronger than the Hezbollah and all of Lebanon combined. I know we have weapons and abilities they can not match. I know that therefore we are considered the “bully” and they are the “underdog”. That makes us the bad guys in your eyes while they are the good guys. Which also means by your logic that in the interests of peace and justice we should be willing to cease fire and go back to the way things were: a terrorist organization attacking us at our doorsteps, building up an even larger arsenal supplied by such purely noble countries as Iran and Syria, and hosted by a country whose government sees nothing wrong with such an arrangement and also accepts this fundamentalist terrorist organization into its parliament and government. Thank you very much for supplying such a just solution.

I too would like to silence the guns and “send over sandwiches and clothes instead” to the people who allow, condone and aid the terrorist activities of the Hezbollah. Someone who has no need to protect his own children and grandchildren can deceive himself in seeing this as a solution. It is total delusion regarding the Hezbollah approach to extreme fundamentalist terror.

Now let’s start talking about solutions……………..
I have none.
I would like to see world pressure on Lebanon to take over southern Lebanon and to disarm the Hezbollah. Unfortunately, world pressure will not come by our “sending over sandwiches”. Perhaps it will come in order to aid western interests (not Lebanese interest) against unbalancing the situation in Lebanon.
I would want the return of the kidnapped soldiers.
I would want the return to Lebanon of captured terrorists, but only after the disarming of the Hezbollah arsenal and the presence of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon.
I know how difficult it will be to disarm the Hezbollah and that the process may take a long time. Perhaps then, we can engage a settlement on the basis of the Hezbollah announcing unequivocally that they accept the sovereignty of the border as delineated by the United Nations, and will from here on desist from any activity across the border.

Then again, there is a very small territory which the U.N. team claims does not belong to Lebanon, but Hezbollah insists on having it transferred to Lebanon. This too can happen in a situation where the Hezbollah are disarmed and affirm their desisting from any further activities across the border along with the guarantee of the Lebanese government.

O.K. how can any of this happen?? Not without the cooperation of the Lebanese government. Till now we have heard no word from them about willingness to deal with the Hezbollah – only their desire for a cease fire. At long last other countries (France, Germany, Turkey and U.S.) are beginning to pressure and negotiate in that direction. I hope it succeeds. We need to stop shooting before it turns us into the same kind of fanatics that are shooting at us.

People are getting hurt even when there is an attempt to single out only Hezbollah activists and helpers. Unfortunately, not everything which looks like Hezbollah from the air is purely Hezbollah on the ground. These are the difficulties of fighting a terrorist organization that purposefully spins much of its webs within the normal fabric of civilian life. True, the result is such that many rules of “fair” fighting are lost when having to fight terrorists within a civilian population that gives it comfort and shelter. Also, the figures you hear about from Lebanon don’t tell you how many of the casualties are Hezbollah. They haven’t been interested in giving out that information, therefore all casualties are “civilians” only. I wish there were no casualties at all. But after being unwilling to stop terror from Lebanon into Israel, the Lebanese government somewhat reminds me of the young man who murdered his parents and asked the judge for mercy because he is now an orphan. Somehow I wonder what kind of letters you send to Lebanon to the supporters of said “orphan”.

One day a week I have been going into the West Bank to the Palestinian village of Sa’alem near Nablus to protect them against possible harassment by Israeli settlers who I hope will be moved out of their homes soon, like those moved out of Gaza. I do that because I believe the settlers have infringed on the land of legitimate owners and have no right being there, and in any case are morally corrupt in condoning the harassment of other human beings on the basis of their own type of religious fundamentalism.

But the Hezbollah are another story. They want my legitimate home and I’m willing to fight for my home. They want to propel katyushas onto my grandchildren. I can’t allow them the opportunity to do that. This is my basic emotional instinct. I imagine I shall never be a total pacifist. I believe in defending myself as best I can when I run into an enemy whose sole purpose is my demise. I then accept the penalty of being called a “bully” by those who are unwilling or unable to help me protect my grandchildren in other ways.

Of course, at the moment at which I thought our government was attempting to go beyond the necessity of disabling the Hezbollah and the terrorist threat, I will join many other Israelis in public protest. It seems to me that time has not arrived. By the way, I never saw any viable public protest in Lebanon against the actions of the Hezbollah as hosted by the Lebanese government.

Therefore, Oak, I will not spread your message. I have my own. And yes, I think you’ve got it all wrong. Please don’t misunderstand. Your heart is in the right place. But the situation you relate to is at best segmented and at worst – tainted.

Be well and continue working for peace. I shall too.



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