This Week in History: Lebanon and the Mothers (JERUSALEM POST) By MICHAEL OMER-MAN 05/20/12)
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On May 24, 2000, the last IDF combat soldier withdrew from Lebanon,
where Israel had maintained a continuous presence since Operation
Peace for the Galilee in 1982. The withdrawal, one of three Israel
has made from captured enemy territory (the other two being Sinai and
Gaza), was the only one that came because of domestic public pressure
on the government rather than despite it.
In 1982, Operation Peace for the Galilee sent Israeli troops deep
into Lebanon, quickly occupying the capital of Beirut and areas
throughout the country. Three years later, however, the IDF withdrew
the majority of its troops to a declared security buffer zone along
the countryís southern border with Israel. For the next 15 years,
Israelís military presence and operations were primarily limited to
the buffer zone, except for a few larger operations that pushed
deeper into Lebanese territory.
The logic behind holding the buffer zone along the border was to
prevent terrorist infiltrations into Israel and stop rocket fire from
raining down on Israelís northern settlements. While the first
objective was largely achieved, Hezbollah continued to find ways to
launch rockets at northern Israel. Additionally, deadly clashes
between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah militants were a constant
Though casualties slowly and regularly mounted on both sides over the
years, one particularly large and devastating tragedy in 1997 sparked
a grassroots movement within Israel that played a large part in
ending Israelís presence in southern Lebanon.
On February 4, 1997, two Yasur (Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion)
helicopters transporting IDF troops into the Lebanese buffer zone
collided over the Upper Galilee, killing 73 Israeli soldiers.
The following day, a small group of mothers of IDF soldiers, some of
whose classmates and friends had been killed in the crash, staged a
small protest at the Mehanayim Junction north of Rosh Pina. Pushed
into action by the tragic helicopter crash, the mothers demanded an
end to Israelís involvement in Lebanon.
The Four Mothers movement slowly grew from the original handful of
mothers to hundreds that staged regular protests, including vigils
outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv the day after every Israeli
soldier died in Lebanon. The Israeli media began giving wider
coverage to the movement, whose name holds biblical significance, and
it touched on a previously untapped sentiment in the wider Israeli
public Ė that the continued IDF presence in Lebanon was unnecessary.
But in Israel, where the politics of security often trump all other
considerations, the latent opposition to the war had been almost
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post just weeks after the IDF´s eventual
withdrawal from Lebanon, early Four Mothers member Linda Ben-Zvi
recalled, "When we began, Lebanon was a silent war. No one talked
about it. There was very little support for a withdrawal, let alone a
unilateral withdrawal. We didn´t just reflect public opinion, we
The public pressure began to have an effect on the political echelon.
In April of 1998, Binyamin Netanyahu, then serving in his first term
as prime minister, announced a decision to implement UN Resolution
425, which in 1978 had first called for Israel to withdraw from
As a consequence, while campaigning ahead of general elections in
1999, future prime minister Ehud Barak ran on a platform that
included a pledge to withdraw Israeli soldiers from what was
increasingly being framed as the Lebanese quagmire. Barak, who won
the elections, indeed implemented his campaign pledge within a year
of taking office.
While the movement cannot be given the full credit for Israelís
withdrawal from Lebanon, its significance in bringing about the end
to the 18-year military affair cannot be diminished. In less than
three years, the movement and the sentiments behind it grew and
spread throughout Israeli society before finally penetrating the
dayís political agenda.
The Four Mothers movement has since been hailed and studied both in
Israel and abroad as an example of a grassroots movement, notably of
women, that successfully ended a war. Although by no means
exclusively credited to the movement, in the years since, the role of
women in peacemaking has become a significant part of conflict
resolution studies and practice.
Within Israeli society and among its politicians, however, the
movement and its success in bringing about a unilateral withdrawal
from Lebanon has drawn fire over the years. The withdrawal did not
bring an end to the rocket fire from southern Lebanon nor did it
prevent cross-border raids, the most consequential of which lead to
the 2006 Lebanon War. Following the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza
Strip and the continued rocket fire emanating from that territory,
the very idea of unilateral withdrawals has been assailed as one that
endangers the security of Israel. Others, however, argue that it is
the unilateral nature and not the withdrawals themselves that failed
to secure Israelís borders. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/20/12)
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