(The following is an article for Face up, an Irish teen magazne)
War is not just high politics and gun battles, but touches everyone near it. Adults are oft set in their ways, children say what they are told and politicians lie. Teenagers, on both sides are the one sure way of finding the truth. I spoke to Darine from Lebanon and Yotal from Israel about their experiences of the war, everyday lives and there hopes for the future.
“I’m still scared, not scared from Israel, scared from Hizbollah…”Darine Matar is a nineteen year old teenager from Tyre, a badly bombed city in southern Lebanon. Darine is a member of the minority Christian community, and is afraid to walk the streets for fear of Hizbollah. Hizbollah are a radical Shia Muslim militia which operates throughout Southern Lebanon. The recent war was not so much a war between Lebanon and Israel, but a war between Hizbollah and Israel.
On the first day of the month long conflict, Darine was with her friends on the beach. “I saw boats and I thought it’s a joke… it’s not real. But after five days, I was crying all the days” The Matar family immediately moved from their home by the sea in Tyre to live with Darine’s grandmother across town. Their home is on the second story of a group of houses, and as such they would be far less likely to survive an Israeli hit than if they were in their grandmother’s Bungalow. “I slept next to my little sister every night, not because I was scared for me, because I was scared for her”
While they remained in Tyre, life was made up of fearful days and sleepless nights. Bombs rained down upon their city, killing hundreds. Having endured the Israeli pounding for a week, the Matars fled north to the relative safety of the mountains, leaving behind friends, their home and their father’s fishing boat. There they stayed until a ceasefire was declared, a month after the bombing started.
Darine, now back home, tells me how girls are not allowed to work in Southern Lebanon. “In Tyre, girls not work. I have idea to work, but my father, he say no work” “The boys, they can do as they like, do anything they want, but the girls no.” However, this discrimination has led to an interesting development. Boys are allowed, and indeed expected to work from about age twelve onwards, while the girls are told to remain in school. During the summer the girls swim, sleep and go for walks while their male counterparts are earning money. The “close-minded” men see education as little more than a pastime with which girls can entertain themselves until they are ready to marry. Indeed some adults, including Darines parents, push their daughters not to work even when they are finished university.
But what all of this leads to is that the female population of Lebanon including Darine, who wants to study media in Beirut next year, are far more educated than the males. With the difference that an education can make to ones wages, it will be very interesting to see the effects that the difference in education between males and females will make to Lebanese society in the next decade or so.
“Every time I hear a door slam I jump, I think maybe it’s a bomb” Yotal Phung is a thirteen year old Israeli from Haifa, the northern Israeli city which was hit by many Hizbollah rockets. Yotal’s Christian parents immigrated to Israel following the Vietnam War. They now run a successful Chinese restaurant on Jaffa Street in Haifa.
When the war started, it was believed that Hizbollah did not have the technology to reach Haifa. But after less than a week, Fajar missiles started to fall upon Yotal’s home city. Yotal’s family restaurant is located near the port area of Haifa, by far the worst hit area of Haifa. Hizbollah attempted to disrupt the Israeli economy by hitting her ability to trade. Some fled, others waited in bunkers hoping the war would be short lived. After a week and a half of enduring sirens, bombs and terror, the Phung family fled south to live with relatives. They did not return until the war was over, and the rockets stopped falling.
Yotal hopes to study computers when he leaves school, but this comes of course after his stint in the army. Conscription is in place throughout Israel, and everyone, male and female must enter the army once they finish school. Only orthodox Jews and Arabs are exempt from military service. When I asked Yotal about his feelings on the matter, he just laughed. “I need to join, or else I’ll go to gaol!” he chuckles, as if the idea of not joining the Army was a silly one. I asked him would he join if service were not compulsory, the bright young man paused at this, as if the idea was a totally new one. “hmmm… I think yes” –Why? “They teach you to fire a gun” Yotal tells me with a smirk, “and they turn you into a man.”
I asked Yotal why he thought Hizbollah bombed Haifa; “…they try to scare us. Because Israel Army bomb their house” he says with a shrug. “I think everyone the same” Yotal goes on, “I think there can be peace with the Arabic. We need to talk.”
“This is everyday life here, wars bombs and terrorists.” Explaining why he wishes to stay in Israel once he’s older rather than emigrate from the war torn nation, Yotal tells me that he loves Israel, he considers himself Israeli despite the fact that he is Christian, and he loves the “beautiful city” of Haifa.
Christians Jews and Muslims all mix in the same social groups in Haifa, as well as members of the Bahi faith, and countless other denominations. It is a truly multi cultural city, despite the strains of war. I asked Yotal at the end of our chat did have anything he wanted to tell the readers of Face Up. “Arabic is not bad, you see war on TV and people say Arabic is bad, but not all Arabic is bad.”
Israel and Lebanon