Two Months in the Middle East #4

Israeli tank

Captured Israeli tank in Brashit

Hill 880, Irish UN Outpost
Brashit, South Lebanon – June 10th, 2000

Standing on the watchtower of hill 880, one of the most exposed outposts of the UN in Lebanon, I began to realise how dangerous it was for the troops before Israel retreated. A former SLA compound is less then 500 metres to the north east. A ridge about 400 metres away was a vantage point for Israeli tanks. The Israeli border is visible on the horizon. Hizbullah used to launch rocket attacks into Israel, from a football pitch down the hill from the garrison. Hill 880 was stuck in the middle. All of the soldiers I talked to seemed to have more time for Hizbullah then the Israelis. Hizbullah are described as the “hairies”. The names used to describe the Israelis and the SLA are unprintable. This attitude surprised me, until I visited Camp Shamrock, the headquarters of the Irish UN forces here.

Camp Shamrock, Tibnin, South Lebanon – June 10th, 2000
We are inside the bomb disposal unit here. The weapons on display are a sobering reminder of what Israel will do to “protect” it’s northern borders. We are shown fleshettes, small explosives that contain thousands of nails, designed to rip any bystander to shreds. Another choice weapon used is the landmine. Disguised as rocks, they are incredibly lifelike, and have killed and maimed many innocent Lebanese. As usual, it is the native Lebanese who have suffered the most.

Hill 880

Descending Hill 880 in an armoured car

The truth has been another victim. The western media usually referred to Hizbullah as “terrorists” or “extremists”, Iranian backed and Syrian controlled. That Hizbullah is a legal army given a mandate to defend the South from Israeli attacks was not mentioned. The South Lebanese Army in contrast were portrayed as just that, an army. In reality they were a rag-tag militia entirely dependent on Israel. Touted as a Christian army, most were forced to join (70% were Muslim) and they had little or no native Lebanese support. Again these points were ignored in the media.

At this stage our two week tourist visa had run out and we headed for Israel. There are two ways to make this journey, either by ferry via Cyprus, or by air through Jordan. The Jordan route is cheaper and much faster. One way to Amman costs about $100. And from the airport you can get a taxi straight to the Allenby bridge crossing into Israel.

Tel Aviv – June 17th, 2000
Tel Aviv is a city you will love or hate. To be honest, most hate it. That attitude is as much to with the dirt and noise as the lack of any real sights. Apart from the beach and the nightlife (and even that is over rated), there is nothing to do here. There is however a huge underground backpacker community here who work illegally in jobs ranging from dishwashing to construction. Most seem to be heading to London or Greece, most can’t wait to leave.

If you have to stay here the best hostels are the Gordon and the Disengoff, and resolutely secular Tel Aviv can be a nice break from the religious madness elsewhere in Israel. Oh, and the women are amazing.

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