40 years after the First Lebanon War, Israel’s wounds still aren’t healed

“I don’t have another land,” Israeli lyricist Ehud Manor wrote 40 years ago during Operation Peace for Galilee, “even if my land is burning.”
Kiryat Shmona, a small Israeli city a short distance from the Lebanon border, had indeed been burning over the previous year. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Katyusha fire from inside Lebanon in July 1981 had caused residents to flee, and rockets continued to rain down over the ensuing months.
The final straw came on June 3, 1982, when members of the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organization tried to assassinate Israel’s ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov, leaving him in a coma until his death in 2003.
Three days later, four massive armored Iraeli columns moved north across the border, marking the start of the operation. It would take more than 18 years, and the lives of well over 1,000 IDF soldiers, before Israel’s presence in Lebanon ended.
The Hebrew name for the operation, Sheleg, was an acronym for Peace for Galilee, but it also means snow, evoking the white peaks of Israel’s northern neighbor, as well as a sense of purity.
Indeed, the operation, which would come to be known as the Lebanon War — and later the First Lebanon War, once there was a second — began on June 6, 1982, with broad consensus about its self-evident morality and necessity across the spectrum of Israel’s Jewish mainstream.
“It wasn’t out of a love of war that we embarked on this campaign,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday night at the national commemoration ceremony for the war’s fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, “but out of Israel’s deep obligation to protect its citizens.”
The campaign was seen as an entirely justified operation against the Palestinian terrorists who were firing rockets on border towns, slaughtering passengers on buses, and shooting Israeli diplomats in Europe.
But the Israeli public’s belief in the righteousness of the operation and the trust in its leaders began to crumble over that summer. “The longer the war went on,” Bennett said to the families of the war’s fallen, “the more disputes around the war multiplied in Israeli society.”
The publicly stated aims of the war were achieved quickly, yet new goals — far grander ones — were then pursued. Israel’s local allies perpetrated a massacre that shocked the country. And the conflict that started on June 6, 1982, never seemed to end, morphing into a complex and often bloody occupation that stretched almost two decades.
Forty years is a deeply resonant number in Judaism. It represents the span of a generation, and the Israelites were forced to spend 40 years wandering around the Sinai in order to wait for the entire generation that left Egypt — and rebelled endlessly in the desert — to die out.

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