Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The quality of mercy in a culture where mercy is meaningless - by Daniel Seaman

...It is amazing that after all these years many of us still do not understand what this is all about. The conflict here is not a squabble among neighbors over borders. It is a religious battle between opposing civilizations. You don’t have to believe me. This is what they are saying. Our very presence here, let alone our defiant independence, is an affront to the Muslims, an insult to their very being.

Daniel Seaman..
21 December '17..

It was in mid July of 1982. A lifetime ago. I was twenty one, an IDF combat soldier serving with the Israeli paratroopers battalion in Lebanon. We were stationed in the Lebanese town of Suq Al Gharb which sat en route to the Shuf mountains. It was a popular getaway destination, near the city of Aley and it offered a spectacular view of Beirut and the Mediterranean.

“Operation Peace for Galilee” as it was known, was a month away by then. We had settled into a tranquil routine, a bizarre reality so vastly different from the turmoil and anxiety we had experienced during the days of battle just a few weeks earlier. We were now more tourists than warriors and gradually began enjoying the exquisite beauty that Lebanon had to offer.

The town was predominately Christian, though the Aley district had large Druze and Muslim populations. They had all been at war with each other for generations. Now, an eerie quiet had settled over the area.

The summer was at its peak, yet the climate in the mountains was crisp and perfect. We ventured from our base to take in the sights. We hung out in caf├ęs and restaurants and bought electronics and groceries at local establishments.

Our contact with the local civilian population increased. We communicated in English, as few of us spoke Arabic and none of them spoke Hebrew of course. In casual conversations we often heard from the locals how our presence there was a welcomed relief because, for the first time in years, they were experiencing a relative calm.

The city of Aley had a significant Jewish population at one time, but they had all fled under duress years before. All that remained was a synagogue, left to the safekeeping of a local Muslim custodian. He reached out to us one day and led us to the place. He shared with us stories of his Jewish neighbors. Most importantly, he wanted us know that he had performed his responsibilities dutifully.

It was around then that I became friends with a local Druze man of roughly my age. His family owned a store we frequented. Unlike the others, he had a marked American accent which caught my attention. He was a student of Economics at UCLA in Los Angeles and was home for the summer. We were instant “landsmen”.

We had long conversations about the situation and about the Middle East. Sometimes we would sit and watch the news of the events unfolding around us and would exchange thoughts.

Most of all, I remember one particular conversation when we discussed his observations and thoughts about us, the Israelis. It was more a warning than an exchange.

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