Student - August 31, 2006

The Middle East

During recent weeks Israeli student Itay Bar-on feared for the lives of his relatives and friends in Israel, during the conflict with Hizbullah militia in Lebanon. Bar-on, who will graduate in September in Geo-information Sciences, shares his views.

Itay Bar-on came from Israel to the Netherlands eight years ago to do a Bachelors at Larenstein in Velp. He looked for a degree course in the Netherlands as he had met a Dutch volunteer on his kibbutz in Israel and wanted to live with her. After graduating from Larenstein, Bar-on went on to do a Master’s at Wageningen University in Geo-information Sciences, and is now on the verge of completing this. Although almost finished he does not intend to return to Israel: ‘It is too hard to find a job in Israel. And my girlfriend is now my wife.’

During the hostilities Bar-on remained in close contact with family and friends in Nahariya, a town in the north of Israel. ‘My family was living in shelters. I kept in touch by e-mail, phone and skype, but it was not an easy time for me. The problem was that those whose lives were in danger couldn’t always be near a computer or phone, so sometimes I had to wait days without contact, just hoping that everything was alright. I could only breathe easily once I had heard from them.’ For Bar-on the stress ended two weeks before the ceasefire as his family decided to evacuate and go to relatives in the southern part of Israel, where things were safer.

Bar-on says that for Israelis the conflict with Hizbullah is not a new phenomenon. ‘Hizbullah has been around for many years, and we have been in conflict with them since the eighties. And the conflict will continue in the future as long as Hizbullah remains, as it is not going to disarm. No UN resolutions, not even a thousand UN resolutions will change that. For now Hizbullah has been hit, so things will quieten down for some time. But I’m convinced they are re-arming as we speak. So, as far as I’m concerned, I have no trust in lasting peace as long as the root cause is not dealt with, and that is the support Hizbullah receives from Iran and Syria.’

Though Bar-on’s views may sound very resolute, he says his perspective is different from that of friends and family in Israel. ‘When you are in the middle of a conflict like this and your life is in danger, you want something done and you want it done immediately. That’s the difference between me and my family in Israel. I’m not being shot at. Those who are in the firing line want tough and decisive action.’ Bar-on tells that about half of the Israeli population feel that their army has failed in the war against Hizbullah. ‘But I think they did their best. Warfare against guerrillas is different from war against a country.’

Israel and Lebanon would both be better off if they could live in peace with each other Bar-on believes. But he does not believe that the Lebanese government is capable of carrying out its mandate. ‘A big UN force should be installed, with a mandate so that they can force the government of Lebanon to take control of the entire country and disarm Hizbullah. Many Europeans were fast to condemn Israel after its first military strike, but when it comes to sending troops for a UN force they remain silent. I hope this crisis will not be forgotten within a few weeks, and I hope the real problem will be addressed at a higher level. Talking with Hizbullah will be difficult, but talks should start with Syria and Iran, those behind Hizbullah.’/ Joris Tielens

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