Bridging Religious Divides
On July 12, 2006, a war broke out in the Middle East directly involving the two neighboring countries of Lebanon and Israel. It took place between the Israeli military and Hezbollah, “an organized political Islamist group based in Lebanon with a military and civilian arm.” (Human Rights Watch) On 14 August 2006, a ceasefire negotiated by the United Nations halted the hostilities. The war officially ended on 8 September 2006 when the Israeli naval blockade on Lebanon was lifted.
During the war, an Israeli girl, A, corresponded with a Lebanese girl, B. They wanted to understand the war from each other instead of through the mainstream media. They felt that the available media sources in a given country during conflict only offer a single side, rather than a balanced view, of an event.
Excerpts from their dialogue
23 July 2006: A and B had been working on a publication together via email. They had never met. A. starts a private dialogue with B. by asking her about the situation in Lebanon during the war.
A: I would love to hear more of your thoughts about war, your life, the current situation in Lebanon. My side of the current story is that my family lives in the Golan and that a rocket fell close to their house a few days ago. My grandmother lives in Tel Aviv and though she is scared of the long range rockets Hezbollah is supposed to have, she refuses to leave the country because she says Israel is all she's ever had and she wants to die there if a rocket falls on her house. I feel almost silly saying it because Lebanon is getting so much more of it than Israel. Either way, worry is worry and there's no way around it. What can we do? Ma Laasot as we say in Hebrew. What are the feelings among your friends and family?
29 July 2006: B answers by saying it is difficult to assess the feelings of her family and all of her friends.
B: The feelings amongst my family and friends? What a tough question. I don`t know how much you`ve delved into Lebanese politics, but it`s an extremely twisted and complicated world of it`s own. Because of how Lebanon was formed as a nation and because of the different groups or populations that make up the country, almost all political orientation is based, first and foremost, on what sect you come from. Each sect then forms its political policy based on the foreign power it associates itself most with…Because people are from different sects and have different political orientations centering around different foreign relations, when something happens in the country, the people of Lebanon are split up just as the world is. This split in Lebanon depends on the global divides….
29 July 2006: In the same email B. responds to an apology by A.
B: Please don`t apologize for what Israel is doing to my country. I apologize for what is happening to the citizens of your country. I apologize for violence in general. Every single person is someone`s child, or someone`s parent, or sibling and often all three. There is heartache in each one of those families and the death tolls are sick and irrelevant. If it`s one or 400 that are dying, whether it be in Israel or in Lebanon, to each one of those families, to each person, there is insurmountable pain. And for what? Nothing is worth that...
8 August 2006: A thanks B for her willingness to communicate during such a time. She then asks B. two questions.
A: Before anything, can I just say how meaningful and special this is? Within all the mess, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be writing to you and hearing your thoughts. I don’t know how not to make this sound cheesy because I hate cheesiness but honestly this is one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had.
Thank you thank you thank you
A: I mean is it really possible for rationality (i.e. the idea that Israel does have legitimate reasons for doing what it is doing) to override pure emotion (i.e. the knowledge that your country and your family are being bombed)?
A: Ok, so you and I are theoretically on opposite sides of a bloody war, right? I’m the daughter of an Israeli and you're the daughter of a Lebanese; Israel and Lebanon are at war. Just yesterday, 'my side' bombed a civilian building in your country killing 50 or more civilians. As a response the leader on 'my side' issued a statement saying that he was in ‘no rush’ to conclude a ceasefire until he was had completed his mission. Meanwhile, the people in your country took a poll by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information in which 87% agreed with the retaliatory rockets Hezbollah is firing on Israel. In short: 'our sides' are killing each other. and yet M, here we are exchanging emails, reassuring each other that we don’t actually want this, that you don’t want a rocket to fall on my family's house in the Golan as much as I don’t want a bomb to fall on your family's house in Beirut.
2 August 2006: B responds to A’s question concerning hatred. In the same email, she comments on her experience the day she was leaving Beirut during the war, then on the war in general
B: Hatred is not an emotion I feel often. The closest thing I’ve come to it is anger…genuine anger and frustration. I, personally, believe that hatred cannot exist when there is understanding.
B: When you see something on the news, like about the war in Iraq, and they say, ‘so, and so, were blown up in this city’, you're numb to it, because you don't know who they are. But these places, I knew them so well, and I would never see them again. It was just surreal.
Three days after the war started, I headed back to the news station and it was the only time I felt calm, because the news was instant and I felt like I was doing something useful. I was the first in the news station to read about an Israeli announcement instructing everyone to leave the suburbs of Beirut-this is the area in southern Beirut that was most heavily bombed. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even tell the people next to me. I got the news from Reuters. The majority of my extended family was in that area. I instant messaged my dad. He told me to come home and that we were leaving the country.
5 August 2006: A offers her perspective on her nation’s ‘enemy,’ Hezbollah.
A: Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t had time to reply—but I needed time to think and digest all you said. These issues we’re talking about, they come down to the core of who we are
A: By the way, another problem I see with Hezbollah is their undermining of the nation-state: the idea that non-state actors should be given the right and perhaps even the responsibility to 'protect a people' is scary because they cant be held accountable. They aren’t under the normal law system, we can’t impose sanctions, and they just don’t need to follow the accepted rules of the game. I guess that’s one other reason why the idea of Hezbollah and other similar groups has always made me nervous--how can we ever know what’s next? its the same with the terrorist group in Colombia--we never know what they will pull out of their sleeve next time. How many they will kill, kidnap, rape. So unless we can get rid of them we will always be scared.
8 August 2006: B responds to A’s fears of Hezbollah who, according to her, have no limits.
B: The fundamentalism aspect always scares me. I mean look at Al-Qaeda; again comes the argument, ‘who can argue with God’. So you CAN'T argue with these people, because if you do, you'd have to argue religion, and sometimes you can't even do that because lots of different people interpret it in different ways. In short, fundamentalism can make people do CRAZY and violent things…and the fact that they think God told them to, makes them all the more enthusiastic and determined….
Hezbollah, on the other hand, is religious, don't get me wrong, they do think that they are doing something for God. They can be considered 'fundamentalists' in a way but if you've ever heard Nasrallah speak, he discusses his opinions logically. He speaks in the name of God, but justifies with logic.
9 August 2006: A. responds to a point made by B. in the previous email about persecution and fear.
A: You, like us, feel that you might be destroyed (by Israel, in your case) at any moment. So, you're afraid, and so are we. The craziest people in the world are those that are afraid. Think about it in your personal life. Who are the people who act out the most? Those that are insecure. Who is usually the class bully? The kid who is afraid because he gets beaten at home. And who are those that act most rationally, most calmly? Those that have nothing to fear, those that are completely secure about themselves and what they are doing. The god that drives Jews isn’t 'Adonai' or 'Allah', its fear….a
17 August 2006: The final words of that thread of emails three days after the war had ended
A: The only reason you’ve affected me is because I know you see my side too. That’s a gift.
Take care. Thank God for some quiet. I hope it lasts.