The northern border communities in Israel
By Sarit Zehavi
Eleven years ago when I was assigned to the Northern Command as a major in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), we came to live in Galilee, seven miles from the Israeli-Lebanese border. Is it possible that living a few miles (or even feet) away from Hezbollah (a Lebanese militia financed and armed by Iran), people can have normal and peaceful lives?
We are living in a continuous contradiction. Day-to-day, our family feels safe. Our five children are normal, healthy kids who like to play basketball outside, or walk by themselves to visit their friends, including after dark.
On the other hand, as former military officers, we know everything can change in a heartbeat. In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah is holding about 100,000 rockets at various ranges targeting Israel. In addition, one morning last December, Israelis learned that Hezbollah had dug border-crossing tunnels into Israel, feet away from residential Israeli communities on the border, planning to use these tunnels to attack these Israeli homes.
Today, four years after I was discharged from the IDF, I am the head of a research and education center named Alma (after my little girl born around the same time). We educate visitors to Israel’s northern borders about the security challenges we are facing here, daily following social media, TV and websites in Arabic associated with the towns on the other side of the border. The first question we asked in our research department was: “How come?”
How come mothers like me agree to hide rockets below their son’s pillows? In southern Lebanese towns, Hezbollah is involved in community events, education, welfare services and even sport contests, using every opportunity to indoctrinate hatred of Israel, convincing the Lebanese that Israel desires to invade their homes and occupy their country—despite the fact that Israel unilaterally withdrew from south Lebanon almost 20 years ago. However, today Hezbollah’s military capabilities in southern Lebanon continue to threaten our communities, making it not a matter of “if” but “when” we may be forced to militarily confront this terrorist army, which does not even recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist.
How come mothers like me teach their children to hate? Despite all we have experienced and understand, we do not educate our children to hatred. My five-year-old daughter asked me if the Lebanese were the bad guys because they dug tunnels into Israel—I responded the Lebanese are not bad, and that I hope that one day we could visit Beirut, Lebanon’s capital.
The area where I live is an example of shared societies: in one square mile Druze, Muslims, Christians and Jews all live in peace. We maintain social and commercial relations on a daily basis. At our annual Christmas run, over a thousand runners of all religious sects participate in the race dressed in Santa hats. In an Arab town within walking distance of my home, the beautiful mosque decorated every year for Christmas lies few feet from a pub that sells alcohol, forbidden by Islam.
These little examples of peaceful coexistence are a part of my daily life as a resident of Galilee. They give me hope, that despite the indoctrination of Hezbollah’s hatred on the other side of the border, we can succeed in communicating our highest goal to the Lebanese—that one day they will forsake their doctrine of hate, and instead prefer to recognize and establish peaceful relations with the State of Israel, bringing prosperity to both Israelis and Lebanese.