In the milk and honey land of editorial writers, it was considered a bad thing for Israel to send military units across the border into Lebanon. The editorial writers understood the reason for the action -- a terrorist attack that killed three persons at an Israeli border settlement -- but still the Israelis are thought to have over-reacted again. Until I got there, I could not have agreed more.
Here, things seems less certain. Here, I am on the border with Lebanon.It is night-time and lying in bed I can hear the artillery being exchanged between the PLO and the Christian militia forces of Maj. Saah Hadad. They are swapping steel. The PLO sends Haddad Katyusha rockets supplied by the Soviets and he responds with artillery supplied by the Israelis.
The whump of the explosions keeps me awake. It has been several days since the terrorists came across the border. They occupied a children's house -- a place where children sleep -- and took them all hostage. One child was killed and one soldier and the kibbutz secretary, the man who administers the place. The army came in the morning and killed the terrorists. This happens every once in a while.
The Israelis supply reporters with a booklet telling how often it happens. Never mind the booklet. It just happened. Down the road, at a kibbutz where we had dinner, the guard has been increased. In the dining hall, all the men are armed. They place their Uzi submachine guns on the floor while they eat their soup.
In the children's house, the kids are getting ready for bed. An armed man stays with them. The perimeter of the kibbutz is a maze of barbed wire. Trenches are found all over the place -- bomb shelters, too. There is one under the children's house.
In it the cribs are stacked three high. The steel door can be closed and the room sealed from gas. There is food. There is oxygen. There is water. On the walls are the brightly-colored pictures of children. Here is where they will come in the event of an attack.
Tonight, there is a lot of army nearby. Earlier, the radio announced that Israeli army units had crossed the border into Lebanon and taken up positions in the territory controlled by the United Nations. The UN has protested. Everyone has protested. Up the road, they have just returned from the funeral of those killed in the terrorist attack.
Across the street from the hotel, the army is headquartered. Uniformed men and women walk in and out. It is good to see them there. It is reassuring. I am a journalist, just an observer, but this is not something terrorists would know if they came in the night.
In Israel, the border is always nearby. The geography itself is a lesson. Everywhere you go, you can see how vulnerable the country either was or still is.
The Golan Heights is an example. The trip there is a staple of Israeli press relations, but you would have to be cynical beyond belief not to get the point. From the heights, a Syrian with a strong arm could have thrown rocks at the Israeli settlements in the Galilee below. The view is awesome, the military potential obvious. In the name of justice, the Israeli will be asked to return the heights. In the same common sense, they probably will not.
Now, in this northernmost section of Israel, there is less shelling than there used to be -- fewer terrorists attacks, too. This is because Israel invaded Lebanon in March 1978 and didn't pull back until the UN replaced the Israeli troops with troops of its own.
The invasion was an awful thing. It resulted in the killing of Lebanese civilians, it produced even more refugees, some of them refugees twice over -- refugees from refugee camps. Beirut is full of them. The world protested. The UN condemned.
Tonight, the area is tense. Tonight, there is shelling once again. The children are scared, nervous. Just up the road is the place where the little girl was killed when the terrorists attacked the children's house. Now, in the children's house, a father kneels to hug his daughter, a tot in a nightgown. His gun is nearby. He kisses her goodnight.
Outside, the guards make their rounds and past the fence there is a lot more army than usual -- some of it, the radio reports, over the nearby border and in Lebanon again. The editorial writers condemn. The world disapproves. But tonight the children sleep safe.