Magazine article Newsweek International

'We Are Not Refugees'

Magazine article Newsweek International

'We Are Not Refugees'

Article excerpt

Emil Manoud was tending his fruit trees on a warm spring day when his wife, Lara, came running. (The family's names have been changed to protect relatives who remain in Lebanon.) Tears were streaming down her face. "The Hizbullah are coming!" she cried. Like most of their neighbors in south Lebanon, the Manouds had lived in dread of the day when the Iranian-backed Shiite militia would take unchallenged control of the land north of the Israeli border. Last week that fear came true. The people of Marjeyon, the largely Christian town where the Manouds had spent their whole lives, began fleeing their homes. The local store soon sold out of suitcases.

The Manouds' teenage daughter, Dina, stuffed a few prized possessions into a knapsack. Lara told her to pack only the bare necessities. The family would be coming home again any day, the mother promised. Dina, a senior in high school, knew better.

The Manouds may never return. They are among roughly 4,000 Lebanese who abandoned the land of their birth last week. Israel's messy withdrawal from south Lebanon gave them little choice. Most of the men were members of the South Lebanon Army, the Christian-led militia that was Israel's ally against Hizbullah. The SLA troops and their families would surely have become targets for revenge if they had dared to stay. So when Israel pulled out, they quickly joined the exodus, barely eluding the advancing guerrillas. Once an integral component of Israel's frontline defenses, they must now adjust to their new status as the country's latest refugee problem. They struggle to keep their dignity. "We are not refugees," insists a former SLA fighter. "We are not Palestinians."

Many Lebanese families have ended up stranded on opposite sides of the fence. A lot of villagers stayed behind in south Lebanon, too old or ill, or just plain unwilling to leave. At least a few had the bad luck to be away from home when Israel locked them inside its borders. …

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