The following is adapted from the column written on Sept. 17 by our khaver, J. Zel Lurie, for the South Florida Jewish Journal. (Readers are reminded that unless explicitly indicated, weblog postings do not necessarily reflect the view of Meretz USA.)
Thirty years ago, the fence between Lebanon and Israel was dubbed “The Good Fence.” Villagers in South Lebanon had been cut off from medical specialists and hospitals in Beirut by the civil war that was raging. They streamed across “The Good Fence” at Israel’s invitation for treatment by medical specialists from Israel’s finest hospitals. They were also permitted to import and export their goods through Haifa’s port.
I recall visiting the fence outside of Metulla in the dry summer of 1977. We found an open-air clinic in an idyllic setting of apple trees manned by a Hadassah group which had come up from Jerusalem for the day. We were accompanied by Rafi, an Israeli-Druse journalist from one of the Druse villages near Haifa. Speaking Arabic to the crowd of women and children who were awaiting treatment, Rafi learned that most were Christian with a few Muslims among them.
In 1982 tanks rumbled across the good fence as Israel invaded Lebanon. For the next 18 years, Israel occupied southern Lebanon. The gate in the fence continued to serve as the pathway to good medicine and good business.
In 2000, when the Israel Army and its allied South Lebanon Army withdrew into Israel, the good fence became the fence that separated good from evil. The Iranian proxy soldiers of the Hezbollah began their harassing attacks across the border almost immediately. On October 7, 2000, Hezbollah soldiers crossed the border and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers. Two were Jews, Adi Avitan and Benny Avraham, One was a Bedouin tracker, Omar Saud.
Perhaps they were killed rather than kidnapped, No one knows for sure. That’s what evil people do. More than three years later, in January 2004, the bodies were returned to their Israeili families together with one live prisoner, a shadowy Israeli business man who had been captured in Qatar by Hezbollah agents.
Hayim Avraham, Benny’s father said on Israeli TV: “For 1,208 days they kept us in the dark about the fate of our children.” That’s what evil people do. In exchange for three bodies and one live crook Israel released over 400 prisoners, most of them Lebanese,
In a recently published remarkable book, Coming Together, Coming Apart, Daniel Gordis describes what he saw on Israeli TV that night in January 2004. He writes: “Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Saoud came home today. They came home to a country which is not afraid to cry. Israeli television tonight alternated between coverage of Beirut and the air force base at Ben Gurion airport.”
The Beirut segment, he relates, was filled with joyful, back-slapping released prisoners, with fireworks lighting up the sky and then came “the sickening, endless speech by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah” in which he intimated the possibility of more kidnappings to exchange for prisoners.
And then the TV cut to the air force base where a quiet ceremony took place, at which people cried, Gordis continues:
I thought about the apartheid accusation a few times tonight especially when the coffin of Omar Saoud, a Bedouin, a career soldier who decided that defending the Jewish state was how he wanted to spend his life, was carried from the plane to the jeep. Six soldiers, three on each side of the coffin, arrayed to carry him one step closer to his final home, four who looked Jewish, one who seemed to be a Bedouin, though it was hard to tell, and one, an Ethiopian. All by the side of Omar Saoud, and then, all saluting him. And then the chief of staff and the bearded IDF chief rabbi, standing at the side of his coffin, saluting him and standing at attention. Quite an apartheid state.
And then the two Jewish fathers standing together and reciting Kaddish. And after the Kaddish, an imam, by the side of Omar’s father, chanting an Arabic memorial prayer, as his mother sobbed and the honor guard stood at attention, along with the prime minister, the president, the chief of staff, and others. So much for the apartheid state.
Two months ago, Sheikh Nasrallah made good on his evil promise. Once again his Iranian proxy soldiers crossed the former good fence and ambushed a patrol of soldiers. Two were abducted and the others killed.
Then the Sheikh got the surprise of his life. Instead of the negotiations he expected, the Israel air force immediately attacked and attacked. They destroyed his entire stock of long-range Iranian and Syrian missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv. They leveled an entire section of Beirut where Hezbollah was centered. They destroyed every bridge leading to Syria, but they couldn’t find the katyusha rockets which were scattered in homes and trucks, Almost 4,000 were fired aimlessly into northern Israel killing 43 residents, 25 Jews and 18 Arabs.
The ground troops did not do as well and a commission of inquiry will find out why. But the month-long war ended with the Lebanese army “invading” their own country and finally occupying southern Lebanon, no longer under Hezbollah control. The Lebanese soldiers will be assisted by thousands of troops, chiefly from Italy and France, under UN command.
And the two kidnapped soldiers are still prisoners awaiting a deal to free them in exchange for Lebanese prisoners, including one serving a life sentence for murdering a Jewish family. Ariel Sharon refused to release him in the 2004 exchange.
We hope the soldiers are alive but we can’t be sure. No third party, including the International Red Cross, has been allowed to visit them.
The good fence will now be a normal border fence. It will be crossed mainly by UN soldiers spending their leaves in Tel Aviv.
On the outskirts of Metulla, on a recent trip to Israel, I found a sign “To the Good Fence.” I drove up a wide paved road to a locked gate. We were the only car on the road. An Israeli soldier standing in the shade watched me as I turned around and drove back to Metulla.