A haunting Arabic melody filled the Cedar Cultural Center Sunday night as community members gathered to raise money for the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese civilians left homeless after Israel’s July invasion.
About 100 people turned out for the benefit concert organized by Minnesotans for Lebanon, a Twin Cities-based humanitarian aid organization.
Rabih Nahas, a University pharmacy graduate student who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and lived in Lebanon until he was 18, helped found the group “Our goal is to help the Lebanese with whatever little money we could give and to donate our time and effort into getting the Lebanese population back on track,” Nahas said.
The conflict between Israel and Lebanon erupted when Hezbollah, a Islamic militia based in southern Lebanon, crossed the border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Israel retaliated with a full-fledged air and ground invasion designed to permanently disarm the terrorist organization.
Many of Nahas’ family members were still in the country when the bombs started falling. His parents escaped to Jordan, but other relatives were trapped when the international airport and major roads were bombed.
The war ended Aug. 14, when the United Nations brokered a cease-fire, which called for about 15,000 peacekeepers to stabilize the region.
Nearly 1 million Lebanese – a fourth of the population – were displaced after 34 days of intense fighting. Lebanon’s Higher Relief Council estimates 1,189 Lebanese were killed. A majority were civilians and about one-third were children. There were 157 Israeli casualties, 39 of them civilian deaths, according to the Israeli military.
“The war and the destruction seemed to target the collective punishment of the Lebanese civilian population,” Nahas said.
He said the entire country suffered when Israel failed to differentiate between Hezbollah and the Lebanese population when it targeted civilian infrastructure by bombing the country’s airport and bridges. By installing air and sea blockades, Israel made it difficult for aid to reach the wounded, he said.
But Julia Krieger, president of the University’s Gopher Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Israel had no choice because the roads were being used to transfer weapons to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria.
“Israel had to protect itself from terrorist attacks and groups that deny its right to exist,” Krieger said.
She said Israel made all efforts to spare civilian casualties. But Hezbollah made that impossible by surrounding its weapon caches with civilians, she said.
“The way Hezbollah places itself within the civilian infrastructure should, in itself, be a war crime,” Krieger said.
Nahas said too many civilians were caught in the cross fire.
“Lebanese houses are not like the houses in the Twin Cities. They’re multifamily dwellings up to 20 stories,” he said. “When you destroy the home of a Hezbollah member, you’re destroying the homes of a small 2,000-people town in Minnesota,” Nahas said.
Dan Goodman, Israel programming and issues chairman at Hillel, the Jewish student center, said the war was a tragedy for everyone involved. But Hezbollah, and not Israel, deserves the blame, he said.
“The Lebanese are not victims of Israeli retaliation, but of Hezbollah’s use of them as human shields,” Goodman said.
Marcia Lynx Qualey, co-coordinator of Minnesotans for Lebanon and English graduate student, said the group was created for “humanitarian relief, rather than politics.”
The organization includes Muslim, Christian and Jewish members, Lynx Qualey said.
The concert featured Sakher Hatter, who played the Jordanian oud – a Middle-Eastern instrument of the lute family – and the music collective Crossing Borders. All proceeds from ticket and CD sales went to Mercy Corps, a group providing humanitarian relief in Lebanon.