“Who is Handala?” Mahdi asks as he stares up at the separation barrier. Giant blocks of cement covered in graffiti; some artistic, other vandalistic, and the rest strokes of anger taken out on the wall, were as big as mountains to 5-year-old Mahdi. From the ‘F word’ to love messages to anti-Zionist slogans, the wall has become a concrete canvas, a work of resistance art.
He says he knows what’s behind the wall. “…The Israelis, they’re the bad guys. We have to shoot them,” exclaims Mahdi mimicking the ricocheting impact of a machine gun. He soon forgets our conversation and runs along the wall as if racing against it. He wins every time. The boy, born and raised in a pro-resistance environment, believes that one day he will grow up to be a fighter.
The Israelis claim they built the separation barrier along the border with the southern Lebanese town of KfarKila to prevent infiltration attempts into occupied Palestinian territory.
Stretching from “Fatima Gate,” a former crossing between Lebanon and Israel, to the Spanish pond between KfarKila and Adaisseh the barrier is meant to ‘protect’ the Israeli military giant from threats such as Mahdi.
While it is by no means a mammoth as huge as the “apartheid wall” in the West Bank, neither in size nor in its effect on the lives of civilians, the barrier adjacent to the southern border has cast a shadow over the Lebanese side and has even blocked the view of occupied Palestine. At a sly level, the Israelis may have built it to wall up ambitions, as if it will make the struggle disappear.
Mahdi presses his ear against the wall, wondering if there is someone listening on the other side. There probably is. The walls do have ears. Israel spying on Lebanon, specifically Hezbollah, is no secret to anyone.
Now all eyes – except for those of Hezbollah’s – have been diverted from the lurking predator in the south. The new front against the so-called Islamic State has distracted us from the timeless conflict.
As a Lebanese citizen, from the south in particular, I have failed my country. It’s been 10 years since I last visited my village Yaroun which lies within the triangle of resistance: Maroun al-Ras, Aitaroun, Aita al-Shaab. Not only have I forgotten what it means to be from the south amid the struggles of daily life, but I am also guilty of being an ignoramus when it comes to the history of our land. Yes, I am willing to stand in a court of justice (if that exists in Lebanon) and plead guilty. My crime? Getting lost in the stream of normalization. My self-handed sentence would be to swim against the current.
But then again, it is them who are breaching international law by continually flying within Lebanese aerial space, carrying out ground military incursions, spying, and most symbolically of all uprooting trees. These trees, with their roots in Lebanon and branches in occupied Palestine stand witness to the tensions on the border. These trees could one day ignite an all-out war.
Once again, the Arab struggle against Israeli settler-colonialism comes down to a David and Goliath confrontation. If Mahdi had a slingshot he would pick up some rocks and hurl them at the enemies of the holy land. If this were to happen, Israeli troops would either crawl under a rock or respond with gunfire. No human barrier has ever stopped Israeli occupation forces from killing children.
Building a wall won’t make what’s behind it disappear and neither do good fences make good neighbors at all times, at least not when this ‘neighbor’ continues to occupy Lebanese land. All the while, the color of occupation paints a grey sky above Mahdi’s dreams.
Fatima Hanan Elreda is a news editor at al-Etejah TV. She has a BA in journalism from the Lebanese International University and is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature at the Lebanese University.