“Beaufort” is a harrowing and mostly factual look at the last days in 2000 of Israel’s hold on the medieval Crusader castle that anchored its 15-year occupation of the so-called “security zone” in southern Lebanon. It is a finalist for an Academy Award in the best foreign language film category.
The enemy is a constant menace but never seen. The small Israeli garrison faces sophisticated road mines, frequent mortar barrages and devastatingly accurate missile hits. Since Israel’s withdrawal was known to be imminent, the soldiers were prohibited from risking casualties by patrolling and striking preemptively or punitively at Hezbollah as had been routine previously. This undermines the soldiers’ morale by making them feel like sitting ducks and useless.
A surprise in the audience of the special screening I attended was a member of the cast of “Beaufort,” a 26-year old of American-Israeli background who had actually served as a soldier at Beaufort during part of this time. From him we got the earnest but not deeply reflective view of someone who feels that there was no choice but to have been in Lebanon, guarding northern Israel. Either he or the moderator– an Israeli who works here for the non-profit fundraising organization, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces– made the point that if the IDF were still in the security zone of southern Lebanon, most Hezbollah rockets would not have had the range to hit Israeli towns and cities in the summer of 2006.
My question to the young man was whether he thought that the Hezbollah would be Israel’s enemy if not for the invasion of Lebanon in the first place in 1982 (or at least the IDF overstaying its initial welcome from the Shiites upon ridding the south of the PLO’s armed presence). He would not get drawn into a discussion of history (which he seemed ill-equipped for), but he did admit that one could certainly speculate. He did point out with justice that even after the UN declared Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon to be complete, Hezbollah has remained violent in its hostility, provoking the war of 2006.
To him, the question of having served in Lebanon was simply one of standing up for the Jewish state, which the Jewish people had suffered for 2000 years without. His attitude, and apparently that of most of the audience– a largely young crowd brought together for a special screening by “Dor Chadash“– was that Israel had no other choice. I understand this perspective but wish that I could have felt it useful to more forcefully press my polite dissent; I did not want to alienate the assemblage by seeming to be overly critical. This kind of event presents a challenge for a pro-Israel dove like myself, trying to broaden people’s thinking without turning them off.