National Catholic Register


What’s Real in the Middle East?


August 27-September 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/28/06 at 9:00 AM


It’s impossible to remain completely calm when a Katusha rocket lands in front of you.

And it’s the one you don’t see that is dangerous.

I watched from across the Sea of Galilee as batteries of them pounded into Tiberias. Even from a mile away the sound was nauseating, yet at least the thin black line through the sky told us that we were not in the killing zone.

Suddenly, there was no black line. No sound either. Because the deafening punch of 500 pounds of metal filled to bursting with explosives and ball bearings is seen a fraction of a moment before it is heard. Doors and walls thundered and trembled, sirens screamed their mournful song; people shouted and ran.

I ran, and quickly realized that only an underground shelter would give me any safety. So I drove. Fast. Always with that knowledge that at any moment I could be a victim in Hezbollah’s jihad to destroy the Jewish state.

This was the middle of my two weeks in an Israel at war, and it taught me that many people outside of the country simply do not understand the Middle East. Israel withdrew from Lebanon six years ago. It originally went into the country because the Palestinians had occupied southern Lebanon and were shelling northern Israel and killing innocent Israelis.

When Israel did finally intervene, its army was greeted with flowers and candies by the local Shiite Muslims, tired of the way they were treated by the Palestinian militias. Syria also entered Lebanon, but, unlike Israel, its army remained in the country until last year.

Syria assassinated the former Lebanese prime minister, murdered journalists who opposed the Syrian occupation and conducted a reign of terror, and there are still Lebanese activists rotting in Syrian political prisons.

This is the same Syria that, along with Iran, has armed Hezbollah and now claims to be a compassionate nation accepting refugees and wanting only peace and co-existence.

As for Hezbollah, they are not the “freedom fighters” that some of their friends in North America claim them to be. One of the prisoners the terror group wants released from Israel is Samir Kuntar. In 1979 he and his gang broke into the home of the Haran family in northern Israel.

They took Danny Haran and his 4-year-old son Anat to the beach, where they bashed the little boy’s brains out on the rocks while his father watched. They then shot the man to death. Smadar Haran, the mother, hid in a loft with the couple’s 2-year-old daughter. But in holding her mouth over terrified little Yael’s mouth in an attempt to save her, Smadar tragically smothered her daughter to death.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called Samir Kuntar a hero and demanded that he be the first prisoner released by Israel. Nasrallah is also the man who insists that his people launch rockets from civilian areas and that they target towns and cities that have no military significance.

The Palestinians, of course, have been largely forgotten during these weeks of war. Unlike Hezbollah, the Jews of Israel and the Muslims and Christians of Palestine have compelling arguments on their side. Part of the problem is that the Palestinians have been treated badly by everybody in the region, particularly the Arab states. Leaders in Cairo, Damascus and the Persian Gulf will cry for their Palestinian cousins in public but close their doors to them when the cameras are turned off.

Thus they suffer. Just days ago, I stood waiting at a West Bank checkpoint between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Beside me was a small boy, perhaps 5-years-old. He looked at the soldier in front of him and then suddenly lifted up his shirt to display a slightly bulging package taped to his tiny body. All I could think was that this was an absurd, pathetic way in which to die.

Then there was a cacophony of explanations in Arabic and Hebrew, and Israeli soldiers told the boy to keep still and raise his arms away from his body. The boy obeyed, and it then became clear that this was no suicide bomber, but a poor child who had to wear a colostomy bag.

His permit had expired, but he was taken to the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem where he received some of the finest medical treatment in the world. A hospital, by the way, where every third or fourth person treated is an Arab.

I tell this story because it is more typical of the mess — the tragedy but also the co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians — than most of the propaganda currently poured out over the war in Lebanon. Some see Israel as always being right, many believe all it does is wrong.

The answer is somewhere in the middle. There were certainly doctored photographs of Israeli attacks on Lebanon, with bodies taken from morgues, Hezbollah fighters pretending to be corpses and the now obligatory spotless child’s toy mysteriously appearing again and again in photos of the carnage. But innocent people certainly died.

Problem is, the innocent will die again. The peace is fragile and neither side is satisfied. Islam is increasingly extreme, Christians flee the region in ever-greater numbers and Europe’s cult of secular relativism makes it powerless and weak. These are fascinating and terrifying times for the land of Christ Jesus. But then again, when were they not?

Michael Coren is a Canadian

journalist and broadcaster.