The SLA Are Getting More Than They Deserve

Gideon Levy

Scattered among these SLA men are some who not only do not deserve a safe haven in Israel, but who should also be put on trial in front of an international tribunal for war crimes.


HA'ARETZ

28 May 2000

A Hezbollah guerrilla guarding a group of prisoners from the South Lebanon Army, in the freed southern Lebanese prison of Al Khiam. (AP) 

   Suddenly, Israelis have become so moral. A survey published by Yedioth Ahronoth shows that a majority believes the South Lebanon Army (SLA) has not been treated fairly. Donations and toys for SLA refugees and their families have been collected all around the country in recent days. Orthodox Jews at the Hesder Yeshiva, in the Atniel settlement, have taken a phrase from the Book of Psalms, praying for "Arabs who are allies of Israel." The yeshiva's rabbi, Menachem Fruman, has even called for the establishment of a committee to foster national soul-searching on this issue.The work of Fruman's envisioned committee would do nothing for 300 Palestinian children killed during the Intifada. Nor is he calling for Israelis to do penance for the killing of 100 civilians at Kfar Kana, in Lebanon, during the IDF's 1997 Operation Grapes of Wrath. Nor are toys being collected for children who lived in 2,200 Lebanese homes destroyed by Israel.

Instead, it is the treatment of SLA soldiers which bothers Israelis - and right-wingers, not previously known for their great sympathy with Arab suffering, are leading the pack in this spree of contrition.

Israel's new refugees, its retired mercenaries, are being treated in a way which no previous group of Arab refugees would ever have dreamt of. Despite the great public sympathy and the guarantee that the SLA refugees will be given citizenship within a year, despite the bitter weeping for them and the fact that an IDF Major General (res.), no less, has been appointed to attend to SLA refugee absorption needs, a majority of moralistic Israelis believes that the SLA men have been treated unfairly.

Suddenly, Israelis are shocked to witness the plight of Arabs who were expelled from their homes and left helpless. They are filled with pity as they see families which have been ripped apart. Is it really necessary to remind this contrite public that these aren't the only indigent Arab refugees in the region, and that they aren't the first refugees for whose dire circumstances Israel is to blame?

There can be no denying that on an individual level, the plight of the SLA men is a tragedy. Families have been uprooted from their country, lacking all means to support themselves. But they themselves bear primary responsibility for this situation.

Young Lebanese who enlisted in the SLA consciously chose to sever themselves from their own country and join forces with its enemy. They were fully aware that this was a story whose conclusion was predetermined. They couldn't have reasonably expected that Israel would remain in Lebanon forever; nor could they have expected that the Lebanese would forgive them for their betrayal. In the end, collaborators always have to pay for their deeds - and the most that the SLA men can hope for now is that Israel will provide them sanctuary during their moment of woe.

Israel has met this hope. In doing so, it has acted as justly as the circumstances allow. In view of their current situation, the SLA men's anger is understandable. Nonetheless, it is not righteous anger. They are paying for their acts.

Betrayal of their native land is not the sum total of these acts. Scattered among these SLA men are some who not only do not deserve a safe haven in Israel, but who should also be put on trial in front of an international tribunal for war crimes. Voluminous evidence of their wrongdoing, which remained fragmentary throughout the years of the Israeli occupation in South Lebanon, is now available. This is evidence which proves that a cruel regime ruled over the tormented southern Lebanon strip. The broad traits of the occupation were decided by Israel, but its daily execution was carried out by the SLA.

The SLA men know the reasons why they had to flee with such frenetic haste from their villages. Data compiled by human rights groups, such as B'tselem's "report from afar" released at the start of 2000, depicts a blood-curdling picture: horrifying torture, arbitrary expulsion, prolonged detention without trial, stringent limitations curbing freedom of movement, and more. It's small wonder that more than half the population in South Lebanon fled during the last 15 years.

The correspondent of the British newspaper The Independent wrote this week about what he witnessed at the liberated Al Khiam prison: Electric wires used to torture inmates during interrogation, a whipping-post, boards on which prisoners were tied-down, letters which were never distributed, and a crutch used by a prisoner crippled by torture. The acts of abomination at Al Khiam took place under Israel's supervision and with its encouragement; but they were carried out by SLA men. Some of them are now dwelling at hotels in Israel's North, and Israel guarantees them a future in this country. They don't deserve it.
 

 

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levy@haaretz.co.il
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