In 1982, Issa was five years-old. That year, Israel invaded Lebanon killing over 19,000 Lebanese civilians and more than 9,000 Palestinians in Lebanon. It was then that Israel watered the seeds of resistance in Lebanon–the seeds that led to Hezbollah’s formation, the seeds from which Issa would grow and from which 14 years later he would die resisting another Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
I knew Issa for 12 years and I will always remember him smiling shyly as he spoke of his new bride when he married two years ago, and how he would eagerly share pictures of his new daughter Fatimah, with pride radiating from every pore in his body. Issa was from southern Lebanon. He lived most of his life under Israeli occupation. He witnessed every day its reckless cruelty against his family, his people, his Lebanon. Like most southern Lebanese, he lost family members and homes to Israeli bombs.
Since 1968 Israel has killed some 33,630 Lebanese civilians and wounded 49,385 more.
While it was almost always the South that bore the brunt of Israel’s wrath, no Lebanese is untouched by this brutality. And no Lebanese is unaware that the international community has stood by, callously looking on as Israel kills with impunity.
Israel’s abductions of both Lebanese and Palestinian civilians also pass largely unnoticed, drawing no condemnation from world leaders.
Palestinian guerrillas abducted an Israeli soldier on June 25 in response to Israel’s abduction of two Palestinian civilians the previous day. As the world rallied behind Israel, that detail was hardly mentioned. There were no calls for their release, no acknowledgement that Palestinians had a right to defend themselves. Instead, as Israel unleashed it wrath on the civilians of Gaza, President Bush stood behind Israel and announced that it had a right to “defend” itself.
Today, with some 9,200 Palestinians wallowing in Israeli jails, most without trial or charges against them, Israel continues its assault on Palestinian cities and towns in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and continues to abduct Palestinian civilians, including senior political figures from the democratically-elected Hamas government and Palestinian Legislative Council members. The silence from the world is deafening.
When on July 12, Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers hoping to exchange them for the six Lebanese held in Israeli prisons, Israel, again with America’s support, inflicted massive damage on the whole of Lebanon, destroying its fragile economy and killing upwards of 1,400 innocent civilians and injuring some 4,000.
Though Israel’s crimes are whitewashed as “self-defense”, their scars are burned into the memories of all Lebanese.
In 1982, Israel set up a militia that arrested, tortured and imprisoned Shiites in southern Lebanon. Most were held in the notorious Khiam Prison. When Israel was finally driven out of Lebanon 18 years later, Hezbollah opened Khiam to the public. It was a damning monument to the savagery of the prison that was run under the direction of Israel’s Shin Bet security force.
Hezbollah gave guided tours, often led by former prisoners who knew Khiam like the backs of their hands. They would stop outside each room to describe, in painful detail, the torture and cruelty that took place inside its walls. The solitary confinement rooms were particularly unsettling. After the prison was opened, the stench of human feces and urine was overwhelming–the human suffering palpable.
During this last war, Israel made sure to destroy the prison, flattening the evidence. It lies in ruins today. Another shred of the grim and damning evidence of Israel’s cruelty in Lebanon gone. But the scars of Khiam too are burned into the memories of the Lebanese.
When Israel invaded Lebanon this time, pounding the country and promising to take it back 20 years, Issa took up arms to fight; his will to live free or die trying far bigger than any label slapped onto him by the invaders. He came home to his wife and daughter one day to spend a few hours with them. He was killed the following day by an Israeli missile dropped from an un-manned drone.
Issa was the birth child of Israel. For every one Issa that dies unjustly and unnoticed by the international community, ten more are born. There is another way–justice.
RANA EL-KHATIB is a Palestinian/Lebanese poet and writer living in Beirut.