A Dangerous Occupation

The killings in June in Borg Rahal and Bidias, southern Lebanese villages of scarcely two thousand people each, testify to the continuing troubles of the Israeli military occupation of southern Lebanon that began two summers ago. With Israel distracted by its foundering economy and Lebanon by the continuing fighting and negotiations in Beirut, southern Lebanon seemed to have faded from attention when I visited the region recently. The news from Borg Rahal reached me on the second day, in the seaport of Tyre, only twelve miles from the Israeli border. When my driver maneuvered our beat-up Toyota seven miles past coastal orange groves and up a one-lane country road into the dry hills east of the Mediterranean, several dozen men were filing out of the village mosque. I was immediately spotted as a foreigner among the conservative Shi’ite Moslems, whose women were wearing traditional chadors. We were in the Shi’ite heartland of southern Lebanon. A few of the men, recognizing me as a reporter because I carried a spiral notebook and a Nikon camera, led me inside the mosque for an inspection of “evidence.” On the marble manbar, or pulpit, there was an axe, a crowbar, a beige-colored tear-gas cannister with Hebrew lettering on the side, and six spent bullet casings which clinked together in my hand when I picked them up.

Ali Khoraiss, a village leader, told me that a man named Hassan Sahli, twenty-three years old, was killed just before midnight the previous day, June 11, after tough-looking men—later identified to me by the Israeli Defense Force as agents of the Israeli internal security service, Shin Bet—had arrived carrying automatic rifles to arrest the dead man’s brother, Hussein, for suspected guerrilla attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Khoraiss said: “The Israelis went to Hussein’s house but he was not there. His mother would not say where he was, so the Israelis stayed for almost an hour. Many young men started a protest outside, and when they were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) we heard shooting. It lasted about twenty seconds at 11:15 PM sharp. Then the Israelis left in their cars.”

By then outside the mosque, along one of the streets of squat concrete block houses, the funeral procession was beginning, with as many as five hundred agitated men. Many were young and bearded and came from neighboring villages. Nine of the men hoisted the wooden coffin of Hassan Sahli, and the forty-minute march to the small cemetery became a demonstration against the Israeli Defense Force. With their fists punching the air, the men yelled over and over again, “Al Mout Lasrael” (Death to Israel), “Israel Shaytan Akbar” (Israel is the greatest devil), and “Israel Shaytan Moutlak” (Israel is the original evil). They became quiet only when they removed the white shroud from Hassan Sahli’s face and lowered his coffin into its grave next to an olive tree. In the tradition of Islamic martyrs, who are allowed a direct passage to paradise for having died fighting an oppressor, the…

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