Amir Hallel: One day, we will be neighbours again

I was desperate to contact someone to challenge this Israeli idea of borders
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The Independent Online

The narrow-mindedness of some of the residents of Israel's northern region mirrors the short distance between their towns and farms and the southern Lebanese border village of Maroun al-Ras. Their expressions of joy last week at the Israeli Defence Forces' destruction of that small village showed their inability to think even a few steps into the future; after all, it is they who will need to live as neighbours with this village, and not the soldiers of their barbarian army.

It is only a stone's throw from Baram in Israel's northern Galilee to Maroun al-Ras; I know because I grew up in Kibbutz Baram. If I close my eyes, I can still see the houses, the mosque and the fields sloping down to the foot of the village. But were I to stand there today, my vision would be blocked not only by the hundreds of tanks and heavy armoured vehicles amassed on Israel's northern border, but by the mushroom clouds of smoke rising from the ruins of this once pastoral landscape. My view would be blocked also by the surge of people, on my side of the border, coming to celebrate the destruction, coming to celebrate the downfall of their neighbouring fellow farmers.

The army spokesmen have been inundating the Israeli public with news of the great store of arms found in this Lebanese village - in people's homes, in the mosque, behind every shed and haystack. But it is hard for me to be impressed because, like every child who has grown up near one of Israel's borders, I can tell you exactly where our kibbutz stores its own arsenal of weapons, well-oiled and ready-for-use at the alert of an SMS. And not only are there nashakiya, the personal weapons stores, but a well-organised Israeli military base also lies between Baram and Maroun al-Ras.

In the Israeli media the suffering of the people from northern Galilee is represented as something unbearable. Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling daily newspaper, ran a story about a man who moved with his family from the north to Tel Aviv, and after a few days decided that he "couldn't take it" and returned home. It was entitled: "The story of a refugee".

But the real suffering is that of the people of Lebanon, the almost one million refugees who have been displaced from their homes, whose wells have dried up, whose electricity has been cut off, who have been bombed on the roads trying to leave home as ordered to by the Israeli air force. When talking about ghost towns or villages, we are not talking about people who have left home temporarily to stay in hotels or in the guest rooms of their relatives. We are talking about people who have no homes left to return to.

When I was a boy it was the Israeli army, and not Hizbollah, which prevented from me from ever getting to know my neighbours up the road in Lebanon. The army put up fences and land mines, thinking that these would freeze the situation of "us and them" forever. But in 2006, it doesn't work like that any more. In 2006 we have the internet.

When I heard that the army had destroyed many of the houses of Maroun al-Ras, I was desperate to contact someone in the village to challenge this Israeli idea of borders, of them and us, and to express my heartache and regret that their village had been attacked.

After numerous attempts at ringing Lebanese office numbers I found on Google, I finally found the mobile number of Moustafa Alawiya, the head of the village. Moustafa spoke to me through an Arabic-speaking friend of mine. Fortunately, nobody from his family was hurt, but the Israeli army has destroyed his home and now he and his family are living like refugees outside their village. The Israeli army is still preventing them from returning.

According to Alawiya, the army demolished many houses in the village, 12 of the villagers were killed, nine of them being children, and 15 others have been injured. The roads to the village have been completely destroyed. There are still some people left in Maroun al-Ras, and he and some others are trying to get food and water in - but without success. According to Alawiya, while Israel destroyed his village, the world - America, Europe and the Arabs' leaders - did nothing.

One day, I told him, "Inshallah, we'll have peace and we will meet like any human beings." He thanked me. According to my friend his voice was broken and tired. He seemed to lack the energy to speak. I then asked my friend to tell Moustafa Alawiya that I am an Israeli but before I could explain why I was calling, Alawiya hung up. He refused to answer the phone again. Pity, I thought; I wanted to tell him that once I was his neighbour.

The writer is an Israeli journalist