Ten years since they left Lebanon and started a new life in Israel, some 150 South Lebanon Army (SLA) members gathered Sunday in Nahariya. During the ceremony, the names of SLA members who fell during battle in Lebanon were projected on a screen. Following this, the fighters' children, members of the second generation, took the stage with Israeli and Lebanese flags. They sang the anthems of the two countries and did not hide their desire to return to the land their parents left.
Of the 6,500 fighters and their families who left their family members and belongings in Lebanon, just 2,700 have remained in Israel. Over the years, many of them decided to return home to Lebanon, while others left for Europe and the US. Those who stayed in Israel live mainly in the north – Nahariya, Kiryat Shmona, Tiberias, Maalot, and Haifa.
SLA children read poems, in which they extolled the warm relations between then and the State of Israel alongside the longing to return to the lands which, according to them, they were forced to leave against their will. They promised their parents to fight for the right to return to Lebanon for their sake and for the sake of those who fell defending their homes in southern Lebanon and the towns on Israel's northern border.
Minister Yossi Peled with SLA veterans (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yishuv)
Minister Yossi Peled, who has been working closely with SLA members in Israel for more than a decade, said, "At the end of the month, I intend to bring a resolution to the cabinet that provides an apartment in Israel to every SLA family. The State of Israel has done a lot to this day for the SLA members, but, unfortunately, it has not been enough. My conscience, as a Jew and as an Israeli who arrived in Israel as a child, is to give to them, even if it is as little as a roof over their heads in Israel."
During the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon, Peled served as the head of the coordinating task force in charge of the SLA. Last August, he came full circle when he was appointed as a minister heading the ministry that attends to SLA members.
'Lend us a shoulder'
In the audience were SLA members who were wounded during battle, and have since been wheelchair-bound. Minister Peled approached them and spoke with them for minutes.
Yosef, an SLA member, said, "For us, the withdrawal day is not a day that comes once a year. We live this every day, every hour. Coming to a foreign country is hard, also for new immigrants who arrive from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. It is even more difficult for us. What connects us is keeping our religion, our tradition, and our family and friends who are here. We believe in Israel and hope that after 10 years there will be a brave government to make the decision to lend us a shoulder after what we gave it for years."
"I won't forget that night. The residents of Nahariya donated clothing, food, and toys. Ever since, we have welcomed you. We set up nursery schools and schools for your children, and ultimately, they were well-integrated into the municipal education system. I, and many like myself, new immigrants from Morocco, understand what you have been through and promise not to forget you even 10 years on."
Kiryat Shmona Mayor Rabbi Nissim Malka said, "The residents of Kiryat Shmona will not forget until their dying day how the SLA people protected the shelled city with body and limb and fought to protect our homes."