Watching Lebanon from afar

Heather Scarlett

Students, professors with ties to Middle East talk about

Nawal Ammar describes her life when living in Lebanon and how it is affecting her feelings toward the violence in the Middle East today. CARRIE WICKS | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

Some day, Nawal Ammar hopes to return to her home country.

Born in Beirut, Ammar lived in Lebanon from the time she was 10 years old.

“I came to the U.S. in 1982 after the Israeli invasion of Beirut, thinking that things will get better – and I will go back. I have been in the U.S. for 24 years now,” said Ammar, a professor of justice studies at Kent State.

In recent weeks, national media has offered coverage of the current conflict between Hezbollah and the nation of Israel. And though the constant headlines of bombings and attacks may register with citizens across the United States, the news is especially shaking to those with ties to Israel and Lebanon.

A clash of cultures

Hezbollah is a political party that was created in 1982 in opposition to the Israeli invasion into southern Lebanon, said Edna Erez, a Kent State justice studies professor who was born in Israel.

Erez said Hezbollah claims that the Jews do not belong in Israel because it is a conquered land.

Wada’a Fahel is a graduate student majoring in Masters of Translation in English-French. Fahel grew up in Lebanon, and her parents have always lived in Beirut.

Hezbollah’s power runs deep in Lebanon because the group has “establish(ed) a strong social and humanitarian framework in poor areas neglected by the government,” Fahel said. “Hezbollah has built hospitals, schools and orphanages and provided social services where the Lebanese government has lacked.”

Hezbollah builds support by helping the Lebanese people, and, therefore, they get support from the citizens, said Jennifer Chestnut, executive director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center.

While Israel has had conflicts with other nations, it is not the nation of Lebanon that Israel is fighting with – it is the Hezbollah organization.

“A correction that needs to be made is that Israel has no conflicts with Lebanon, and its only conflict at that territory is with Hezbollah, which occupies southern Lebanon and the border with Israel, and not Lebanon or its government,” said Rita Gochberg, junior interior design major. Gochberg spent most of her life in Israel, where she lived in southern Tel Aviv.

“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and needs to be dealt with as such. Over the past six years, since Israel left southern Lebanon, Hezbollah managed to accumulate great amounts of weapons, the results of which are seen daily in Israel,” Gochberg said. “During the Gulf War the total amount of missiles was 39 over a period of a month over the last days more than 1,400 hit north Israel.”

Fahel said Israel’s conflict with Lebanon has roots dating back more than half a century.

“Like all other Middle Eastern countries, Lebanon has had a long history of conflicts with Israel that extends back to 1948 when Israel was created,” Fahel said. “Lebanon itself was never a major part of any conflict with Israel; however, it was the destination for many of the fleeing Palestinians who have left their homes in what was North Palestine at the time.”

Erez also said the current conflict is nothing new for the national of Israel.

“Conflict is not a new thing,” said Erez. “There have always been attempts to infiltrate Israel and kill people. I grew up with many of my friends and classmates being killed.”

A hope for peace

“The current war was triggered by the Hezbollah crossing the border into Israel and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers who were patrolling the border,” Erez said.

“Hezbollah’s attack on the Israeli soldiers was wrong. There are better ways to negotiate for the return of prisoners,” Fahel said. “The question, however, is really what I think of Lebanon being massively destroyed in response. Lebanon has always been the weak link in the Middle East that pays the price of regional tensions, especially as we do not have a strong army.”

As bombs continue to fall on both nations, many wonder what will become of the conflict.

“The ceasefire will be achieved only when the kidnaped soldiers are returned and Hezbollah stops the continuous bombing of northern Israel,” Gochberg said. “I believe that my country has the right to defend itself, more so when it was an unprovoked attack.”

Erez also disagrees with Hezbollah’s conduct in Israel.

“They hijacked Lebanon from the Lebanese government,” Erez said. “It is always the same thing – some group wants to get Israel off the map.”

“I truly hope we can have peace in the Middle East, and have a normal life instead of being threatened and alert all the time,” Fahel said.

As the number of casualties in the Middle East Crisis continues to rise, citizens of both nations hold on to the hope that peace will come.

“I am strongly opposed to the killing of civilians, both Lebanese and Israeli,” Ammar said. “The latest statistics I saw shows that 400 Lebanese and 40 Israeli civilians have been killed. There is no reason for this killing. I am of course of the mind that a cease fire has to happen immediately to enable negotiations for a lasting peace. A lasting peace in the Middle East is something I have been dreaming of for over a quarter of a century.”

Contact general assignment reporter Heather Scarlett at [email protected].