Lebanese refugee finds more than a home in Israel
By Karin Kloosterman
August 06, 2006"
Should I take my math books with me?" were the lastwords that 24-year-old Sharbel Salameh remembersasking his mother the day his father called and toldthe family they had to leave the south Lebanesevillage of Klayaa.It was the only home Salameh, then 18, ever knew. Hewas in the middle of studying for university entranceexams when the news came.The Israeli army had withdrawn their protective linefrom the South Lebanese border the night before. OnMay 23, 2000 Salameh's father, an officer in the SouthLebanese Army (SLA) - and an ally to Israelpeacekeeping forces - knew the family would be soonimprisoned by renegade Hizbullah forces they had beentrying to disarm.With nothing more than a couple of pictures and asmall bundle of clothes in his hand, Salameh and hisMaronite Catholic family quickly said goodbye to theirfriends. Neighbors were crying, he recalls. Theyjoined over 7000 Lebanese refugees and allies toIsrael - among them Catholics, Christians, Druze andMuslims - who eventually fled to Israel for safetyfrom Hizbullah.
Today, Salameh and his family comprise a unique tribe in Israel: they are among some 2,500 Lebanese refugees who no longer have a home in Lebanon because they stood up against Hizbullah and fought for democracy and a free Lebanon.However, being a stranger in a strange land, didn't deter Salameh from making his dreams come true. Six years after adopting Israel as his home, Salameh has earned a first degree in biology.He owes thanks to Tel Aviv University (TAU) and backing from a selection committee member - ProfessorMichael Ovadia - who accepted Salameh's plea to learn despite not having the right grades - or any grades at all - to show for his academic performance.
"They took a chance on me and I didn't disappoint them," Salameh told ISRAEL21c in fluent Hebrew, the language in which he studied.TAU granted Salameh a full scholarship - ThePresident's Scholarship - at the discretion of university President Itamar Rabinovich. The worthy students chosen receive full tuition and additional financial backing throughout their undergraduatestudies. Selection is based on socio-economicbackground; preference goes to those with difficultand complicated life circumstances.Joining about 70 students in the Scholarship program,and after four years of study, Salameh is on the wayto becoming a medical researcher. This fall, he startsa second degree at the famed Weizmann Institute inRehovot where he will study molecular genetics.With the shining support of the TAU, neighbors andfriends, Salameh has become a model Israeli citizen,despite the fact that he is still waiting for Israelicitizenship papers to come through."In Israel, I am in the best place in the world nowwith studies at the Weizmann Institute. I thankeveryone for that and also for the fact that I got tolearn at the best university in the world," Salamehsaid in a phone call from his Hadera home, where helives with his parents.Salameh's appreciation for Israel hasn't wavered."Israel gave us a big chance. In the beginning it washard. I didn't come here as a young kid. I had tolearn a new language, find new friends, adopt a newmentality."
Salameh describes life in Hadera among Israelis as a normal, supportive environment. He doesn't even mention news reports of the Katyusha rockets sent tothe Hadera region.Salameh's success in Israel likely comes from fact that he is a big giver to his community. For the past three years he has worked as a guide for autistic and mentally challenged children in the nearby town ofPardes Hanna. There, he rides bikes with kids, goes swimming; takes them on trips - for nominal pay.Still in contact by email with about 100 ChristianLebanese friends in Lebanon and abroad, Salameh says that people are suffering from lack of infrastructure in Lebanon. Yet, none of his friends support whatHizbullah is doing to their country."I don't want Israel to stop the war against Hizbullah," says Salameh when asked if there should bea cease-fire. "We need to knock out [them] once andfor all. Israel has definitely sent a powerful blow to the morale of Hizbullah. They are less strong and less sure of themselves now."
Salameh has adopted his father's view that Hizbullah are terrorists taking advantage of poor innocent people in Lebanon. "My dad was fighting against them.For me they are terrorists."One has to remember, explains Salameh, that back in1982 when Israel entered Beirut to help dismantleYasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Forces,Christian and Muslim Lebanese were overjoyed. They sang songs and showered Israeli soldiers with flowers.Recalling the traumatic events of six years ago which uprooted Salemeh and his family from their village, he speaks like it happened yesterday."I didn't believe it was happening. It was like someone telling me I'd be dropped in a strange place -like in the middle of California - and I'd have to manage."After an endless night in Tiberias, where the family slept in a park near the Sea of Galilee, they were then shuttled by the army to a hotel in Netanya, unti lan apartment could be arranged.Looking back on the last six years, Salameh is morethan pleased on what he has accomplished."I think that I've gotten it together beautifully."___._,_.___ =========================================================================ZNN - Zionism News Network - is for distribution of information about Zionism, Israel, Israeli and Zionist history, Israel advocacy and anti-Semitism and telling people about your Web site or activist issues. Please do circulate posts from this list by email with all list information and URLs to publicize ZNN and Zionist Web sites. Your submissions are most welcome and will be posted in accordance with list guidelines. To join send an email to ZNNemail@example.com Contents are the responsibility of the posters.We invite you to discuss issues at these Web forums: http://www.zionism-israel.com/cgi/yabb/YaBB.cgi http://www.zionismontheweb.org/boardsVisit these Web sites: http://www.zionism-israel.com http://www.zionismontheweb.org http://www.zionism.netfirms.com=========================================================================