25 May 2011

Day of Dignity

Here are some articles from May 2000:



Wednesday, May 24th 2000, 2:12AM

Israel pulled all of its troops out of South Lebanon overnight the same way they came in 22 years ago - with guns blazing.

The last Israeli troops crossed into the Jewish state shortly before midnight New York time in a head-spinning retreat.

They came under heavy fire from Shiite Muslim guerrillas, who quickly moved in to take over the buffer zone that Israel had occupied to protect its northern border.

As the last tanks and trucks poured across the border, Israeli Air Force jets blasted guerrilla positions and destroyed roads to prevent pursuit. The sky was dyed red by Israeli flares illuminating the retreat.

Israeli demolition experts blew up former army strongholds so there would be nothing left for the guerrillas to use.

Maj. Kobi Dostakam, the last Israeli soldier out of Lebanon, closed the Fatma border crossing gate and told reporters: "It feels good. I hope it lasts." Soldiers cheered and applauded.

The Muslim guerrillas poured into town after town as the Israelis pulled back during the day.

They were greeted like liberators - even though Prime Minister Ehud Barak had promised to pull out of South Lebanon by July to end what has been called Israel's Vietnam.

"This is the happiest day of my life," 34-year-old Zeinab Samhat cried. "I never thought this day would come."

Outside Marjayoun, which served as the enclave's capital, villagers chanting "Allahu akbar" (God is great) stormed the hated Khiam prison and freed the inmates.

"Freedom! Freedom!" a white-haired prisoner cried after he was busted out of his jail cell. "We're actually free at last!"

It was a different story at the Lebanese-Israeli border, where thousands of Lebanese militiamen and their families clamored to be let into Israel.

They held whatever they could pack in their battered suitcases. The mostly Christian refugees have been branded traitors by Beirut for supporting Israel's creation of the security zone in Lebanon and for fighting against the Amal and Hezbollah Muslim guerrillas.

"They're afraid they could be massacred by Hezbollah," said David Gamliel, an Israeli searching the crowd for friends. "This is what happens to those who are friends of Israel."

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy insisted, "We have not abandoned the SLA." But the militiamen cursed their former backers. "Look at what they did to us," one said. "They left us so fast."

When the Israelis began pulling out Monday, militia members began surrendering en masse or running for the border instead of fighting. This prompted Barak to speed up his troop pullout.

Barak yesterday was battered by critics who likened the panicked pullout to the fall of Saigon.

"It's a very sad day," lawmaker Amnon Rubenstein said. "It sets a very bad example, as if Israel can be driven out."

Barak conceded that the situation had spiraled out of control and accused Syria of doing "everything in its power to prevent and sabotage" Israel's exit by inciting and arming the guerrillas.

But David Phillips, a senior fellow at Columbia University's international conflict resolution program, said Israel's "sudden decision to cut and run left a power vacuum."

Inside Lebanon's 'torture' prison

Al Khiam

Prisoners now free to tell of al-Khiam prison

By Hilary Andersson in al-Khiam Soon after the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon, the guards of the notorious Khiam prison fled, leaving the prisoners free.

More than 100 men women and children had been held in appalling conditions.

Torture involved beatings, electric shocks and being hung by the arms for hours
The jail is now empty and a flag of the Lebanese Hezbollah is posted at the gates, but the prisoners' testimonies and the cells bear witness to what went on inside.

Prisoners, some jailed for over ten years without trial, were crammed into tiny, filthy spaces where they ate and slept.

They were allowed out, usually once a week for 15 to 30 minutes, to visit a walled area with no roof called "the sun room." 

Punishment cells
They said they were routinely tortured for the first three months of their stay for three hours a day, three times a day.

Al Khiam prisoner
A prisoner from Al Khiam is reunited with his family
The torture, which took place in a row of interrogation rooms, would involve beatings, being prodded with live electrical cable in sensitive parts of the body, and being hung from painful positions.

Near a post in a courtyard from where the prisoners said they would be hung by their arms for hours at a time, hoods were lying on the ground.
These were put on the prisoners' heads during the torture, a stretcher laid nearby presumably in case of collapse.

The prison was also equipped with a row of punishment cells so small that it was only possible to sit in them but not lie down.

Visits by soldiers

Prisoners would be left in these for up to ten days at a time.
Throughout the jail was the stench of filth.

Prisoners crammed into cells where they lived, ate and slept

Al-Khiam was run by the SLA and Israel has always denied any involvement.

But the prisoners said Israeli soldiers would regularly visit the jail.
Some said they heard Hebrew being spoken in the interrogation cells whilst their heads were covered with the hoods.

Israel's allies condemn pull-out `betrayal'

Sunday May 28 2000
SOUTHERN Lebanon pastoral, green, beautiful, and now very quiet. The guns, the mortars, the rockets are for now silent.

``It's a wonderful place to look at,'' says Israeli soldier Morris Pilosof (20), who was one of the last out when last Wednesday morning Israel ended its 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon. ``But the war was not very exciting. To leave Lebanon is the dream of every Israeli soldier.''

Set up as a nine-mile deep buffer to protect Israel's northern frontier from PLO infiltration, the ``security zone'' occupation continued over the years when the Shiite Muslim guerrilla army Hezbollah took the PLO's place as Israel's thorn in its side on the northern front.

The humiliation and shame for most Israelis is not their army's withdrawal, but the flight in panic of their erstwhile faithful ally, the South Lebanon Army, and the lack of preparation for their future.

As Israel's accomplice in the occupation of South Lebanon, the SLA knew the day would come that they would be forced to leave if there were no prior agreement for their safety with the Lebanese government and Hezbollah.

But never did they did expect the end to come like this. ``The Israeli people told us, `Don't worry, we will leave together. From five or six years ago, [they] said so,'' says Hussein Abdullah, an officer in the SLA. The end came with literally minutes' warning. Higher ranking SLA officers got calls from their Israeli handlers to leave immediately if they wanted to live. Their friends and neighbours saw them, and panicked.

``Early in the morning we woke up and we heard, and we saw, people running in their cars with nothing. No clothes, no milk for their kids, nothing,'' says Daher Daher, comforting his five-month-old son on his lap with his wife beside him.

Within 24 hours, approximately 6,500 Lebanese refugees had crossed the border. But the conditions, they say, were horrible. For 10 hours they were without food and drink.

Now they are bitter. ``We are so angry and feeling forsaken by the Israelis. They didn't tell us they would forsake us like this without any hint,'' says Daher.

The refugees are grateful for help from ordinary Israelis, but also uncomfortable with this attention: ``People think we are poor, dumb, from villages,'' says Daher's young wife. They had good homes and jobs, she says. ``We were living the best life.''

Lebanon's army said yesterday it was holding 1,488 members of the SLA. The army said in a statement that it had already referred 200 ``collaborators'' to military courts and the rest would be handed over in the next few days. Although collaboration could theoretically bring the death penalty, informed sources say no one expects any executions and that most of those convicted are likely to be jailed for a few months.

But Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz has rejected criticisms and said Israel had a ``moral debt'' to the SLA. ``We do not forget them now, in these hard hours of theirs,'' he said.

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