Theater of Cruelty

Life in front of the wall

Silence has subsided along Israel's borders. Still, the population is in constant readiness.


[Israel] The road snails along the Lebanese border. A few meters to the left you can see the path marking the border boundary, where an electric fence is the only thing that prevents passage between the two countries. A statement that a shock from this fence will cause the certain death to hang in the air. Shortly after the clearing comes: the fence is not deadly. On the other hand, it is equipped with sensors that alert the nearest military base if anyone should try to take over.

Here, in the very north of Israel, only live barbed wire and occasional protective walls prevent Hezbollah from contacting Israelis. This summer, contact became fatal. A Lebanese commando group took over on the Israeli side and kidnapped two soldiers. It led to a different war, where the enemy was no longer a rational state, but radical Muslims with advanced weapons.

The traces of the matches are still evident. There are prints after roughly patterned tires in the sand, and in the asphalt there are black stripes after heavy acceleration or braking. There is a path to the left, with some stones in front. Stop: Border ahead, it says on one of them. The other is equipped with a yellow cross.

A scary action

What happened to this fateful day this summer when Hezbollah guerrillas went berserk on the wrong side of the border?

- Hezbollah had destroyed the surveillance systems, so we did not know about the kidnapping until an hour later. Then they had transported two reservists (mobilization soldiers) from our base across the border to Lebanon. We immediately sent a tank after them, but it went on a mine, says an officer from the Nurit base, which is a little further up.

"The four soldiers in the tank, and the two who followed Hezbollah into Lebanon, were killed," he said.

The result was six killed soldiers and two more kidnapped. It was a heinous action, even for Hezbollah to be. For the Israelis living along the border, provocations from the Lebanese militia are nothing new. Residents as well as soldiers tell of regular episodes along the border. But most of them are harmless, like when Hezbollah teases its soldiers in front of the Unifil base just over the border of Hanita's kibbutz.

- Unifil, snorts the residents of the kibbutz.

They have no faith that the new international force in Lebanon will succeed in keeping Hezbollah at bay. The mandate is too narrow. The UN soldiers must neither guard Syria's border nor disarm guerrilla soldiers. Hezbollah will always be just a few meters away.

- The border goes right up there, says Nathan Hilton.

He points to the nearest mountain peak. The divide between the two countries narrows along the mountainside in the north. In this way, both Israel and Lebanon are protected from the highest peak. Everyone in Israel remembers, or has been told, how the Syrians used the Golan Heights to pepper everything they saw moving down the valley before 1967.

In this troubled part of the world, it is about occupying or neutralizing the highest points of the landscape.

Hanita is on the slope below the border. The inhabitants here have learned to live with the visible and invisible presence of the Lebanese soldiers. During the war, it was Hezbollah's flag flying over the Unifil base. Even in peacetime you can see guerrillas playing with their weapons up there.

For Hilton, it's incomprehensible.

- In this area there are no border disputes, he says.

- And it is many years since Israeli soldiers withdrew from Lebanon.

He has a point. The border in the north is the closest to a mutually recognized boundary between Israel and the Arab neighboring countries. The barbed wire and the electric fences separate two states with clarified territorial sovereignty over international law.

This summer, the kibbutz became a war zone. It was the first time the 582 residents had the Great K war. But close contact with Hezbollah is not new. On the way up to the kibbutz, in a tight turn where the cars have to slow down, a wall of several meters high has been erected. It is to keep enemy soldiers out. It became too tempting for suicide bombers to jump over the fence.

To this day, there are no armed guards at the entrance to Hanita. It may be accidental, or it may be a sign of danger

as above.

A few weeks after the ceasefire was concluded, it is almost impossible to find traces of the bombs anywhere. The only thing that disturbs the image of a hazy haifa are some grenades on the walls here and there, and a couple of bomb sheds.

It is so typical of Israel this, to quickly remove the marks of war and suicide. As if to erase all reminders that this is a country unlike any other, a country in constant readiness at some level.

A modern country

- Israel is in every way a modern country, says Michal Zahav.

- We want to live our lives in peace and quiet, and tend to erase events that break with this image. It is a kind of rhythmic ritual that alternates between forgetfulness and periodic reminders, she says.

Michal Zahav works in the social office in the small municipality of Mevasseret Ziyyon outside Jerusalem. She was one of those who welcomed 500.000 refugees when the war began in mid-July. It was a landmark experience that also helped restore the historical community of Jews, she believes.

- Suddenly, many people understood what it means to have to leave their homes. It created new ties between the evacuated settlers from the Gaza Strip and the rest of the nation. In a way, it united a south that is constantly exposed to bomb attacks with a north that has never experienced rockets, says Zahav.

A new sense of solidarity. This is not the first time the war has created ties between people. For Israeli soldiers, the war was also a paradigm shift. It established the army in the role of defense, and not as a brutal occupier or evictor of Jewish settlers. But the war was also a powerful wake-up call for Israel: a testament to what happens when Israelis resort to mental or military readiness.

- We have not had a war like this since 1973, says Zahav.

Then she gets into it.

- In fact, we have not had a war on our own territory since 1948, she corrects herself.

It's a sudden realization. The 1967 war was waged between states, and fighting took place outside Israel's borders. The Yom Kippur War in 1973 did send in enough Syrian soldiers over the Golan Heights, but ended up with the Israelis just miles away from Damascus and Cairo.

Never before have the bombs rained down on the tiny country on the Mediterranean coast, which is as big as Telemark county and makes up 0,1 percent of the geographical Middle East – something the supporters of Israel like to point out.

Nearly seven million people live in this small area, including one million Israeli Arabs. If the Jews came together during the war, the summer became a test of the Arab people's loyalty to the state.

It was fragile at best. Some Arabs in Haifa did not hide the fact that they were on Hezbollah's side during the bombing. Thus, the war chewed away even more bits in the weave that has been the Arab-Jewish community for 60 years.

A journey into schizophrenia

Traveling through Israel is a journey into political schizophrenia. On one side of the road are Palestinian villages crammed behind fences and walls. On the other side are Arab detached villages.

It's so narrow, so narrow this country. Ten meters from the new national highway 6 lies the occupied West Bank, separated from Israel by a wall. But the wall is not visible from this side. Walls of earth, grass and trees make what on the other hand is a gray and gray concrete wall a study in architectural road shoulder art.

You have to have celebrities in the car to realize that you drive along concrete blocks whose only beauty on the Palestinian side is graffiti.

So narrow, so narrow. On a clear day you see the sea far out there, or at least well-known landmarks in the urban coastal landscape. Tall buildings we are told are located on the beach. At the same time, we drive right next to the green line between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

At its narrowest, the stretch between the wall and the sea is twelve kilometers. Further north you can see the silhouette of Keisarya as the road veers westward from the occupied territories with its three million enemy Arabs.

On the left are the friendly Arabs, they say. Arabs like Nabil Shehebar, probably.

We meet him in Haifa. He says Israel is a good country to live in, and definitely the best for him. He has traveled in the Arab world, but could not imagine going there again and much less living there.

- They hate us there, he says.

- They hate us even more than they hate Jews.

Nabil Shehebar is a Christian Arab. That makes him a minority in the minority. Seven out of ten Arabs in Israel are Muslims. The rest are Christians or druggists. On the other side of the ethnic divide, there are Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Orthodox Jews with Black Hats, Jews with hats similar to fur-wearing sombreros, Jews with and without corkscrew hairstyle, Zionist Jews and Jews. love the state and Jews who hate the state.

There are Moroccan Jews, Yemenite Jews and Russian Jews. There are 14.500 Ethiopian Jews transported from an air bridge over 30 hours in 1991 after the Israeli government bribed Addis Ababa to allow them to travel.

There are Jews who believe in the Messiah, like Salo Kapusta. As a former officer and reservist at the Nurit base, he turns off a chat with the Druze conscripts there.

- The Druze are very loyal, says Kapusta and pats one of the young soldiers on the back.

- They are loyal to the state they live in, whether it is Syria, Lebanon or Israel, he says.

- Right?

On this silent day, only Druze soldiers guard the entrance to the Nurit base. But the door to the most sacred is locked. The base is in readiness. The two comrades who were kidnapped on July 12 are still in captivity. The enemy is a few meters away and respects no boundaries.

The war is removed from the physical landscape. Only burnt forest and some gaping windows here and there testify to the nightmare. It takes longer to remove the war from the mental landscape.

Outside of what is called the Prime Minister's Office, the demonstrating reservists are still standing. Leaning against a tree stands a poster with a picture of former Prime Minister Golda Meir. There is a text there as well. "When you fail, you must go." That's what she did after the 1973 war, when she swept up all the political responsibility for what was almost a military defeat, thus saving the state from further conflict.

When you fail, you must go

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should have done the same, says Ari Yarden.

- They started this war without having any plan for how to take care of the civilians. They sent soldiers to their deaths on the basis of sheer idiocy. That is why we do not call this war the second Lebanese war, but the war of the other Israel, he says.

By the other Israel he means north and south. This is where the bombs fall while the government sits safely in Jerusalem.

The reservists are furious, primarily at the way the war was waged. And in Israel, the reservists or mobilization soldiers are the army. The country has under two hundred thousand soldiers, but almost half a million reservists. It is a formidable force for a country with six to seven million inhabitants.

Today, five to six of them protest in front of the government buildings. One of them is Yigal Gamliela. He wonders if we understand what this action is about.

- They went to war on two promises, he says.

- They were to knock out Hezbollah, and they were to bring out the two kidnapped soldiers. They did none of the parts. We no longer know how to fight wars. We are going to lose the next war, and that could lead to our annihilation.

- It will take longer to push away the memories this time, says Michal Zahav.

- But in the end we will forget this summer as well. Then we will be reminded of it again, when the next war comes. That's how we live here.

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