On the Lebanon-Israel border: A room with a (militarized) view

by Belen Fernandez    

 

My first glimpse of Israel took place in 2006, shortly after the conclusion of what the Lebanese call the July War and the Israelis call the Second Lebanon War—a title that conveniently rounds down the number of times Israel has mercilessly assaulted Lebanese territory.

My friend Amelia and I had embarked on a postwar hitchhiking tour of Lebanon, which in many areas amounted to a tour of rubble, bombed-out bridges, and oil-coated coastline. Over the course of the 34-day conflict, Israel had dispensed with some 1,200 lives in the country, the majority of them civilians.

We arrived late one evening to the south Lebanese town of Kfar Kila, situated directly on the Israeli border, after hitching a ride from a soda delivery truck in the village of Houla. Lacking any sort of plan and dependent entirely on the goodwill of the Lebanese, we made the acquaintance of a young man called Ali who invited us to stay the night at his family’s house and graciously refrained from inquiring as to why the hell we were wandering around a recent war zone in the dark.

Most of Ali’s family had fled northward following the onset of hostilities in July; an uncle had remained behind to look after the cows, four of which were ultimately martyred by the Israeli army. From the balcony of the house one could observe the glittering Israeli outpost of Metulla, which shone in blissfully uninterrupted contrast to the Lebanese side of the border, where electricity cuts continue to be a more regular phenomenon than electricity itself.

The arrival of daylight offered new scenes to behold of Israeli military vehicles and bulldozers, barricades and barbed wire, while also revealing Israel to be distinctly greener than its northern neighbor—a perk, no doubt, of usurping Palestinian water supplies. Ali escorted Amelia and me down the road to Fatima Gate, the old border crossing between Lebanon and Israel where Edward Said famously threw a stone in July 2000, shortly after Israel’s forcible eviction from the country it had occupied for 22 years. It was suggested that Amelia and I throw a stone, as well—an option that was politely rejected in light of the presence of Israeli soldiers burrowed under a heap of camouflage just across the fence.

In subsequent years, the Israelis apparently deemed the existing border fortifications insufficient and took it upon themselves to construct a new-and-improved boundary. Visiting Kfar Kila these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally stumbled upon Donald Trump’s fantasy for the US-Mexico border. A looming cement wall now adds to the myriad ways Israel has militarized and obstructed the regional landscape—all, of course, while supposedly making the desert bloom.

As has been clear from the get-go in 1948 when Israel set up murderous shop on Palestinian land via a campaign of ethnic cleansing, the Israeli process of erecting and fortifying borders has been accompanied by a convenient proliferation of double standards—such as that Israel is not required to abide by the borders that Israel itself invented.

The Palestinians know this all too well, having seen their confines continuously dictated and re-dictated by the Israelis only to have the same confines then violated in mass killing sprees; see, for example, the 2014 Israeli war on the Gaza Strip in which some 2,251 Palestinians were wiped out in a matter of 50 days.

But the double standard also applies to Lebanon, where the frontier has been endowed with a similarly unilateral sacrosanctity. Indeed, one might mistakenly deduce from Israel’s apoplectic reaction to—for example—a Hezbollah drone entering its airspace that Israel has not in fact been behind drones, airstrikes, invasions, occupations, supersonic overflights, and other flagrant violations of the border in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, lest the Lebanese start feeling too comfortable in their own territory when the Israeli army is not physically present, unexploded cluster bombs serve a handily sadistic function. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) has noted with regard to the 2006 war: “Israel rained as many as 4.6 million submunitions across southern Lebanon in at least 962 separate strikes, the vast majority over the final three days of the war when Israel knew a settlement was imminent.”

A defining characteristic of these munitions is, of course, that they often fail to explode on impact—meaning that, in the words of HRW, they “caus[e] civilian casualties for months or years to come.”

Make that a decade and counting.

Like cluster bombs, hypocrisy is a gift that keeps on giving. Israel, the only nuclear power in the region with a vast and unregulated arsenal, continues to preside over not only a militarized landscape of barriers, troops, and towers but also a fully militarized society that functions with the help of a universal draft and a surplus of institutions—both state and otherwise—that propagate bellicose rhetoric under the guise of “self-defense.”

And yet it’s somehow Hezbollah—which, mind you, formed in literal self-defense following the devastating 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon—that is to blame for allegedly converting Lebanon into a de facto military base and dutifully thwarting regional peace and serenity.

In preparation for the next cross-border showdown, Israeli officials have busied themselves advocating for collective punishment and issuing threats according to which Israel will no longer distinguish between Lebanon and Hezbollah. Granted, Lebanese children fired on at close range by Israeli helicopter in 2006 might have been hard-pressed to detect any such previous distinction.

Last year, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon presented to the UN Security Council a helpful map of the south Lebanese village of Shaqra—pardon, the “Shaqra fighting complex,” as the image was labeled. Israeli cartographers have indicated points of interest such as schools, mosques, and cemeteries, which are few and far between compared to the abundance of multicolored symbols designating alleged arms depots, rocket launchers, infantry positions, underground tunnels, and so forth. A box on one side of the map informs us that the population of Shaqra is 4,000 and that the “percentage of overall [Hezbollah] presence” is 30 percent.

I myself have visited Shaqra several times over the past few years and have failed to trip over any rocket launchers, although I have observed a lot of schoolchildren, bakeries, farms, hair salons, a Botox establishment, a colorful entity called “Magic Land,” a pond, and a painting of Che Guevara. Anyway, Magic Land is probably an arms depot.

Of course, Israel’s progressive conflation of militants and civilians in Lebanon—essentially a means of preemptive auto-exoneration for impending war crimes—is no joking matter on a border that has already played host to unquantifiable amounts of arbitrary suffering and death.

During my most recent excursion to Kfar Kila and Fatima Gate, the proprietor of a shop next to the border wall complained that, as if all the killing weren’t enough, the Israelis had now blocked the view, too.

Should Israel ever decide to shock the world and engage in some sort of meaningful self-reflection, perhaps it can build mirrors instead of walls.

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