ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Lebanon Reflections 1982 – 85

Lebanon Reflections 1982 – 85

10 june 2007

Note: This past week most attentions were focused on the 1967 Six Day War, its aftermath and our perspectives 40 years later. Completely forgotten was the First Lebanon War of 25 years ago. The following piece was written in June 1985 when Israel pulled out of Lebanon after three years of conflict. Shortly afterwards we returned to the south Lebanese security zone.

The story is a conglomerate of events taken from the experiences of numerous Israeli soldiers, myself included. The incidents and emotions are wound together into first person encounters although I was not present at all the events cited. Poetic license is taken – what is written is based on fact but not every aspect is completely factual.

Below is a literary narrative expressing a feeling or spirit of those times.

Lebanon Reflections 1982 – 85

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Southwards, southwards we move – churning up dust on that hot June afternoon. Three years ago we drove these roads and paths in the opposite direction. Forty kilometers and stop. Someone forgot how to count; not only kilometers but bodies. Our armored personnel carrier has a red Shield of David – sign of the medical corps. The purpose of war is to kill; ours is to heal.

A Palestinian boy no more than thirteen is wounded. Blood flows from his arm and leg. I use my tourniquets. Screams in Arabic penetrate the air as I work methodically, my hands dipped in red. “I’m going to kill him already,” says one of the soldiers, a driver who understands Arabic. “Do you know what he’s saying?”

“No,” I reply,” and I couldn’t care less either.”

“He’s cursing you out, along with your mother and whole family. You think he appreciates this? He’ll try to kill us all again. I just hope he gets you first, you son of a whore. He tried to kill us once, you don’t think he’ll try again?”

“I’m a medic and I am doing my job.”

“You’re a traitor, Arab lover!” he shrieks raising a fist to strike me. Two other soldiers grab him.

“You’re right,” explains one of them, “but it’s his job just like it is yours to be a driver.”

“Bleeding heart leftist, communist whore. He loves the little Arab boy, tried to blow our brains out. I’ll kill him and all his kind. Go back to America, we don’t need garbage like you!”

The boy held an RPG aimed at us as we cleaned up resistance around Tyre. Thirteen years old and ready to kill. Arafat would be proud, how could we ever suspect such a thing. When frisking him we found a wad of bills. Had he been paid?

I prepare my infusion set and search unsuccessfully for a vein. The boy has lost consciousness. His blood dries on my hands.

The column will slink north, past the Zaharani River and on to Sidon, eventually to Beirut. The air force is overhead, striking PLO targets.

An overly bright day, hot and oppressive. The civilian population of Tyre is crowded on the beach, the city evacuated to eliminate casualties while the army flushes out the PLO. No water, only thirst and muffled tears.

A reserve sergeant walks up to a brigadier general on the beach. “The women have no more milk for their infants, we must get them baby formulas.” The general looks back sternly, “Can’t you see I have more pressing matters on my mind? If you haven’t noticed, we are in the middle of a war.” The soldier pleads, “but you must,” and moves away.

The general picks up his mobile communication unit, gives command and orders supplies, adding, “and as much powdered milk as you can find. “I envision those burning black eyes and tightly curled lips shouting, “Traitor!”

It’s late summer now, Rosh Hashannah, a new beginning, a fresh breeze. I breathe in deeply, just south of Beirut, the stench of rotting corpses fills my lungs. I try to vomit but cannot. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon denies any responsibility for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. The Christian Phalange did it.

“Oh great fat one,” sighs one of the enlisted men, surveying the refugee camps, “why didn’t you kill them all?”

“We shouldn’t be here in the first place,” protests our resident intellectual, a reservist working on a PhD concerning the development of democratic society. “Well then, what the hell are you doing here?” asks the youth.

Silence envelopes us as the medical units leave the scene. Sins of negligence – the verdict. “A man is known by the company he keeps.”

My second discharge. Night comes, dark and cold. Sleep is no escape, my soul belongs to them, in Lebanon. The convoy, tanks, APCs, supplies – moving up winding hills along the Syrian border. A Mig-23 appears overhead, unchallenged. Panic. Where is our air force? He drops his payload. All scramble out of their vehicles on to the semi-barren mountainous landscape, firing in the air but to no avail. The only place to turn is off the side of the cliff into the ravine. I dive face first into a rock shattering the plastic parts of my M-16 rifle as the medical equipment is hit. The ambulance goes up in flames, the transport vehicles cascade down into the riverbed. There are cries for help but I pay no heed. My hands uncover my wet face, all is red. The earth spins, I am falling into the ravine, past the riverbed into the abyss. Blindness sets in, my eyes sting, I cannot see. I feel the impact of the fall and suddenly awake in a cold sweat.

The Left protests, the Right counter-protests. “Yesh Gvul,” there is a limit – some say, and refuse to go to Lebanon. A vigil is held outside the prime minister’s office. Prime Minister Begin is greeted each day by the scorecard of Lebanon as someone remains on duty to record the number of dead. The rains fall, a biting wind grips one’s bones. The solitary figure stands vigil, day and night, sometimes joined by others. The numbers rise as hopes fall of achieving “our” objectives in that living hell.

General headquarters in Tyre blows up; apparently due to a gas leak but not for sure. Seventy-five dead, scores injured and Defense Minister Sharon appears at a political gathering the same evening. Only at some later date will he inspect the wreckage. Condemn the protesters, yes, but the soldiers will have to wait to be consoled.

Back to the army and General Winter. White, snow-swept and pristine, a cleansing agent at work. Cover the blood, cover the dead, cover the guilt. The Kahn Commission finds the generals and Sharon responsible of negligence. One should choose better allies next time. It is recommended the defense minister be relieved of his post. He is, and becomes minister without portfolio. Cover-up?

A Jewish army struggles; no policies of mass internment, no executions - Syrian style. I keep my head low as Christian and Druze bullets fly above. We play policeman, knee deep in snow and mud. There is no policy we assure ourselves, just a rudderless ship spinning circles at sea.

I make sure I have no leave during my reserve service. The less on the roads, the better. RPGs hail down on the buses and the casualties stream in, an interesting ride home. Rifles point out the windows as we pass Shi’ite towns and villages. We are despised, and don’t think too highly of ourselves either.

The bus is forced to halt not far from Ansar, the prisoner of war camp. Apparently a rumor is out that some men may be released. Women and children block the access road until cleared by the military police.

Ansar – where the prisoners prove how inhuman it is possible to act. “They have weddings there,” recounted a soldier who had guarded there once. “A man takes a young boy, fifteen, sixteen years old and they are married, the boy plays the bride. The boy is then raped at night. If he is lucky, the older prisoner will keep the boy for himself and if not, as is usually the case, then he is turned over to all the guests.”

Another medic who served there continued, “The last time I was there the guards brought a seventeen year old boy to us with a torn rectum. The doctor put sixteen stitches into him, and he was sent back a week later. They got to him again and the next morning the guards found his body.”

“It’s the PLO’s fault, “He explains emphatically, “they should only release our prisoners and we’ll release theirs. If they want to kill themselves, so be it. Anyway, it’s a cheap price to pay to keep those thugs locked up.”

“Cheap in what way?” I think to myself, “The guards are beginning to behave towards them as towards animals. We could become one of them but on the other side of the gate.”

“The future leadership of the PLO lives there, we can never let them go, only kill them all, yes, put them all in a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean and sink it.” A chill runs down my spine. This is no way to be “a light unto the nations.”

We pass UN headquarters at Nakoura, in a few moments we see Rosh Hanikra and are home.

G-d’s later day Maccabean soldiers are no longer heroes. In 1967 for sure, in 1973 undoubtedly, but not today. A war drags on and no one wants to know from us. We are to blame, the army either did it or didn’t do it.

I return to be lambasted. “You have betrayed your moral responsibilities by agreeing to serve. You are aiding the moral degradation and destruction of the Jewish People. You must stand up to the fascists.” So rants the higher moral principles of the sanctimonious Left – so cozy in their posh north Tel Aviv homes. They will judge us from their armchairs.

“With soldiers like you we can only lose the war against the Arabs. No Jew would be safe if we moralized every issue. We need to capture all of Lebanon up to Tripoli and eliminate all the terrorists, Shi’ites, Sunnis and anyone else who is a threat to us. The security of the state is threatened by traitors like yourself,” raves the Right.

Emil Grinsweig is dead. A consensus which barely existed appears buried forever. I am guilty, the grenade thrown should have killed me. I took no stand, vacillated and now have destroyed the security of the state as well as its moral foundation. The world goes out with a whimper and not a bang. We are silent, and silence echoes in my thoughts. Soldier of Maccabee - no one wants to know. No war stories, there are no heroes, no big welcome home for you.

Begin admits he fought a war of “choice”. But did I? I am drafted, over and over. The Lebanese landscape is beautiful, her people deadly. The brutal Lebanese Civil War continues unabated and the IDF is caught in the middle. “But we must stay or the Syrians will take over all of Lebanon,” or so we are told. We are constant witnesses to a free-for-all of bombings, kidnappings, executions, mangled children and overall destruction. The Lebanese are determined no one should survive, not themselves, not even a bird. Have you noticed no living creature flies in Lebanon?

Begin resigns by “choice”.

The convoy moves south towards the “Good Fence” at Metulla. Up the hill, past Metulla to our left, we are one hundred meters from the border. Here not long ago a suicide bomber drove his truck into a troop carrier killing and wounding over twenty soldiers. By then we had begun our pullback but the suicide bombers took no notice. Mass death, right on our doorstep. We make one more turn, home free. The government has brought us home by “choice.”