Middle East bombs hit close to home for some students

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Although the bombs that landed in Lebanon and Israel are thousands of miles away, for some members of the University community, the violence feels much closer to home.

Since fighting between Israel and Lebanon broke out last week, second-year law student Mac Fadlallah has been anxiously following the news.

His mother, father, brother and two sisters are in Lebanon for their annual family vacation to visit relatives. This was the first year Fadlallah didn’t go.

“We go to Lebanon every summer, and we’ve never encountered anything like this in our lives,” he said.

While the U.S. government planned to start evacuating its citizens to Cyprus on Tuesday, Fadlallah’s family hasn’t yet decided if they’ll go because the family would have to split up.

“They’re taking natural-born citizens before naturalized citizens … so my brother, who is only 18, would have to take my sisters, who are 12 and 6, alone before my parents can join them,” Fadlallah said.

In the meantime, he said, he is frustrated with Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” and with the U.S. government’s refusal to directly ask Israel to stop the attacks.

“Personally, I think it just takes one genuine phone call,” Fadlallah said. “But looking at it historically, you need a lot of people to die before that’s going to start to happen; you need international outrage.”

Political science and Jewish studies senior Dan Goodman is the Israel programming and issues chairman at Hillel. He has friends studying in Israel and also planned to take a family trip there. He said he’ll go, regardless of the violence.

He said he thinks Israel is justified in its actions.

“Hezbollah is a very calculated terrorist group … and that is one reason for the American support for the Israeli offensive in Lebanon – to eliminate Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah is the Islamic militant group in Lebanon accused of capturing two Israeli soldiers last week.

Goodman mentioned the Hezbollah stronghold is in the suburbs of Beirut, and Israeli forces “need to do whatever it takes to basically eliminate them.”

He said terrorist groups like Hezbollah situate themselves purposely in densely populated urban centers to deter enemies from retaliating because of the high risk of civilian casualties. But he said he hopes Israeli forces are taking every precaution to spare innocent lives.

Goodman also said that since Israeli soldiers withdrew from Gaza a year ago, rockets still have been fired into Israel from Gaza, and that is part of the reason Israel is coming down so hard on both Hamas, the Palestinian government, and Hezbollah.

“It’s not about two soldiers in Lebanon; it’s not about one soldier in Gaza, the issue is the civilian population (in Israel) is … living with rocket fire and suicide bombings and terrorist attacks,” Goodman said.

Michael Barnett, Stassen Chairman of International Affairs at the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, agreed that while Hamas was claiming it wanted to become “more of a normal political party,” it was “still allowing incursions to take place from Gaza territory.”

Although some might feel Israel’s tough response to both groups is justified, first-year student Rana Balsheh thinks “the whole thing could have been resolved more peacefully,” and that Israel didn’t give the Lebanese government a chance to negotiate with Hezbollah.

Balsheh’s family is of Palestinian heritage, and she has relatives in Lebanon now.

“Hamas also offered to negotiate for the return of the soldier,” she said, “but Israel wouldn’t do that.”

Barnett acknowledged that Israel has been criticized for “not giving diplomatic options a chance,” but said that “in the past it’s not clear that Hezbollah listens to diplomatic persuasion at such moments.”

Barnett said there is so much history of conflict between Lebanon, Israel and Palestine that the current conflict will not be resolved easily.

“It’s really easy to point to different kinds of precursors … but in fact what you have here are just layers and layers and layers of pretext that have been building up over the years,” Barnett said. “My fear is that this is just going to get much worse before it gets better.”