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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=14&datee=06/16/00&id=82214


 

SLA soldiers face a new threat - tedium

The families who fled to Israel have been given shelter and food - and not much more

By Sharon Gal, Ha'aretz, Friday, June 16, 2000


Three weeks in Israel were enough for Y. to conclude, "Here, if you ask nicely, it doesn't work. When you yell, maybe." He is 23, a former Engineering Corps soldier in the South Lebanon Army. When the central sector of the security zone fell, he fled with his pregnant wife, 20, to the Fatma border crossing. His father was killed in the Lebanese civil war in 1976; his mother remained in their village, Qaliyah.

"I cried a lot. I told her to come with us to Israel. But she said, 'How can we all leave the house? Hezbollah won't do anything to a woman alone. Go with your wife.'"

He talks to her twice a week using an Israel Defense Forces phone. "She says that nothing has happened to her up to now, but who knows, maybe she's not telling me the whole truth," he said yesterday after speaking with her.

Y. and his wife were housed at the Neve Ativ hotel on the Golan Heights, together with 130 other SLA soldiers and their families. Even though they are at one of the country's most desirable winter resorts, the refugees find it hard to enjoy. Their daily routine is intolerable: from the bedroom to the dining room three times a day, perhaps a short walk around the grounds and then sitting in the lobby to watch television. A grueling routine. The televisions in the rooms receive only local channels and CNN. Y. and a few other refugees rigged up an antenna using a spoon in hopes of getting a Lebanese station, perhaps. Unfortunately, they only got "Al-Manar," the Hezbollah station.

"The things they say don't reassure us," Y. said, "as if Hezbollah is chasing us down to here." The station emphasized Bashar Assad's statement that Hezbollah would not be stripped of its weapons, adding to the refugees' discomfort. "Bashar might be worse than his father."

There are no children's activities. "It's hard to keep them busy," said an Israeli soldier serving at the facility. "There's almost nothing we can do with them." There are 56 children and youth at Neve Ativ. Last week they were sent to schools in the area, but within two days they had had enough and returned. "We can't make them go," the soldier explained.

Majid Salim Abu Hassan, 34, served in the SLA for six years. He is at Neve Ativ with his wife and their 1-year-old son. The war in Lebanon left its mark on him - a missile fired at the Sujud outpost five months ago left him permanently sightless in one eye. His wife keeps a picture of her brother, Ali Yusuf Ramadan, killed less than a year ago at the Rehan outpost at the age of 21.

On Tuesday they sat at two separate tables in the lobby before lunch, bored. Abu Hassan chain-smokes Marlboros. He was recently informed that his Mercedes was stolen by villagers from Kila, Hezbollah supporters.

"We lived in houses - now we feel like we're out on the street. Every day we eat, rest, eat again, rest again, eat again and go to sleep. It's hard."

Y. emphasizes, "The army is really trying. Maybe because they feel we are partners in fate. We were soldiers until recently and they are soldiers, but we aren't happy here."

He says they did not receive meat at lunch during the first week. He has been asking for a refrigerator for their room for a few days. "My wife is in her fifth month, she needs to eat more than three times a day. But when someone needs medical attention, they take them to the hospital immediately."

After living as a refugee for three weeks, he has no doubt that it was a mistake to enlist in the SLA. "At Qaliyah I had a house. What do I have here? They put us on the Golan, far from everywhere. We got NIS 1,000 a month, but it's expensive here. It was hardly enough for a few clothes and for cigarettes, but it's better here than at the outpost at Tiberias, despite that it's like a jail here. A taxi to Kiryat Shmona is NIS 80. How can you go?"

The outpost in Tiberias is Lake Kinneret's Amnon Beach. It is a closed, depressing camp. Lieutenant Colonel Yisrael Merom decided independently that it would be a closed military area. Motti Mordechai, the manager of the beach [and the brother of Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, currently awaiting trial on sexual assault charges], says he "doesn't know from journalists. There's no such profession. I'm ashamed of that profession." Each passes the buck to the other when an outsider asks to meet the SLA people.

One incident from about a week ago may shed some light on the bad atmosphere. Major Ra'ad, Merom's second-in-command, was attacked by a few SLA men. The IDF spokesman said that two SLA members were transferred to another facility after they harassed women and were asked to stop. The IDF spokesman says the confrontation was only verbal. SLA members said there was a fight and that one of the attackers threatened the officer with a knife. Boredom and frustration reign at the Amnon refugee camp, too.

"How can it be good when you're thrown far away from your home," said an SLA man waiting in a long line for the pay phone near the administrative offices. Ali Halil, 57, a former member of the security apparatus in Lebanon, is still looking for an answer. "Why did Barak do this to us? Look at us, my son, his children and their children won't forget this."

The routine at Amnon is similar to that at Neve Ativ, except for the "closure" imposed on the facility. Since last week there is a new directive to the guard at the beach entrance: Even those coming to visit the SLA men must be accompanied by soldiers.

Y. at Neve Ativ envies the children. "Look at them," he says. "They are playing as if nothing happened. What does a kid understand? You know, sometimes it's better not to understand.

 




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