Friday, July 04, 2003
ZIPPOREN BORDER POST, North Israel - On Sunday afternoons, for a family outing, people in Beirut sometimes load the kids into the car and drive an hour or so south to throw stones across the border at Israeli soldiers. In this way the children can enjoy themselves while vividly expressing their patriotism, which in this case takes the form of hating Israel. It's a pastime that combines real-life horror and Middle East politics with unsettling elements of Disneyland...
Aside from providing amusement on otherwise sleepy Sundays, the frontier divides southern Lebanon from northern Israel. But an ignorant visitor wouldn't even know that Lebanon exists -- there are no Lebanese flags, no Lebanese border guards. To the annoyance of Lebanon (now sometimes daringly expressed in the Beirut press), Hezbollah controls outright the strip of land that runs 5 or 10 km north from Israel. The soldiers peering across at Israel are identifiably Hezbollah (army pants, army boots, T-shirt choice optional), proudly standing beneath fluttering Hezbollah flags (automatic rifle, rampant on a field of green).
A despicably provocative billboard also stares across at Israel. It shows huge photographs of three dead Israeli soldiers, one with his bleeding head ripped from his body and held aloft by his hair. A sign reads: "Sharon -- don't forget your soldiers are still in Lebanon." As Israelis are only too well aware, Hezbollah won't return bodies of soldiers they've killed, keeping them either as trophies or possible trading chips.
The stone-throwers, who very rarely hit anyone, recently included a platoon of Lebanese Boy Scouts on a field trip. "The children have nothing to do," an Israeli sergeant indulgently explained to me, "so they come here and throw rocks and they make signs, like running their fingers across their throat to say they want to kill me." Stone-tossing has become so popular among young and old that they've stripped the ground near the fence of all conceivable projectiles, so that on several occasions fresh stones have had to be trucked in to keep the game alive.
This is where, three summers ago, Edward Said, the distinguished Columbia University professor and Palestinian publicist, was so caught up in the happy spirit of the crowd that he couldn't resist hurling a rock of his own into Israel. He didn't know (so he claimed later) that the clump of picture-taking tourists on the Israeli side included someone from Agence-France-Presse, whose photograph swiftly went around the world and mortified Said (if we can believe him). An English professor to the end, he explained that his pitch was purely symbolic and expressive, not intended to hurt anyone, which in fact it didn't.
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