Nine years after Israel withdrew from South Lebanon, some 250 members of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), gathered Tuesday to hold a memorial service for 1,250 of their comrades, who lost their lives during the years of fighting alongside the Israel Defense Forces.
After the IDF pulled out of the area, many SLA members and their families moved to Israel, mostly for security reasons.
"Out of 7,000 people who moved from Lebanon to Israel, only 2,600 remain," Claude Ibrahim, a former advisor to SLA Commander Antoine Lahad, told Ynet. "The majority live in Nahariya, Ma'alot, Carmiel, Tiberias, Kiryat Shmona, Safed and Haifa.
"We have come here today to mark the deep bond between members of the SLA and the State of Israel, as well as to make the longing to the homeland we left," he added.
Veterans' children at the ceremony (Photo: Julie Abu-Arj)
The service began with 50 of the SLA members' children singing both the Lebanese anthem and the Israeli one - "Hatikva".
Hoping to return to Lebanon
Members of the SLA living in Israel told Ynet that they too were greatly affected by the global financial crisis, adding that their respective municipalities were doing what they could to assist them.
"We are even worse off than most. Our children have found their place in the school system, but its hard for the older folks to find jobs," Joseph, formerly of the SLA, said.
"In 2002, the government decided to split the care of SLA veterans between the Defense Ministry and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which resulted in some unfair gaps," he said.
Nine years after the pullout, most of them still hope to be able to return to Lebanon one day: "We all wish for peace, and that one day we can go back," one of the SLA veterans' wives told Ynet.
"Our (husbands') decision to fight shoulder to shoulder with the IDF stemmed from the belief that the Israelis and the Lebanese can coexist peacefully," she said. "We still believe that."