Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Review: Tragedy in South Lebanon by Cathy Sultan

It is late afternoon in the tiny village of Qana, six kilometers southeast of Tyre in South Lebanon. The United Nation’s blue and white flag hanging over the compound usually billows in the breeze. Today, its torn scraps snap harshly at the same light wind, signaling something horribly amiss.

Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006
by Cathy Sultan
Scarletta Press, 2008
Nonfiction; 172 pgs

When news reached the United States about the war that broke out between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, my heart sank. Stories of civilian casualties flooded the news. In today's political climate with the Middle East being a hot spot, I jumped at the chance to read Cathy Sultan's Tragedy in South Lebanon: The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006. I wanted to better understand what was happening in that area and perhaps gain insight into what was behind the war.

The author shared her experience during the Lebanese civil war that began in 1975 in her book, A Beirut Heart. She was an American who had moved to Lebanon with her children and husband several years before. She currently lives in Wisconsin and serves on the Executive Board of the National Peace Foundation. In her most recent book, Cathy Sultan takes a hard look at the events that took place in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. She spoke with civilians and soldiers on both sides of the conflict and examined the history that led up to the war. Lebanon has been a pawn throughout history, in the middle of a tug-of-war between powerful countries, each wanting their own stake.

On July 12, 2006, two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah. This was common practice along the border, both Israel and Hezbollah taking turns kidnapping and holding civilians or soldiers hostage with the expectation of making a trade. Only this time, Israel's leaders were unwilling to play along. In a show of force, Israel attacked Lebanon, hoping to wipe out Hezbollah once and for all.

Some say that the Israeli's wanted an excuse to fight and had been preparing for war for some time. Yet they sent their soldiers into Lebanon ill-prepared. Their equipment was old and many of the newer soldiers were untrained. They were thrown into battle against a guerrilla army that knew their country's homeland inside and out. Hezbollah also knew its enemy well, having studied them for decades during the Israeli occupation of its southern lands. To complicate matters, Hezbollah had a huge stockpile of weapons, armed by Iran and Syria.

Israel felt threatened by Hezbollah and their rising strength. Hezbollah was first organized as a resistance group to fight against Israeli occupation in Lebanon decades before. Hezbollah has a reputation of being a terrorist group, not to mention they had once vowed to destroy Israel in its entirety, a threat that Israel took very seriously.

The 2006 war was not all about the threat of one group on the other, however. The water sources and portions of land in Southern Lebanon would be a boon to anyone who controlled them. Israel has a desperate need for water and control over a portion of the Litani River would be quite beneficial. It runs through Lebanon, however, and it would severely hurt any chance of Lebanon getting fully back on its feet if the river was no longer considered theirs. The Shebaa Farms are another bone of contention for the Israelis and Lebanese. Syria gave the land in question to the Lebanese people; however, Israel contests the right of Syria to do such a thing. The United Nations has since proclaimed that the Sebaa Farms are in fact Lebanese land and Israel, who still has a presence there, has been ordered to pull out.

The role of the West in all of this is obvious but not always so direct. Further, the politics of the United States, Israel, Iran and Syria all continue to play a part in Lebanon’s future. And the people continue to be in the middle of a tug-of-war with no end in sight. The true victims on all sides are the civilians. These are people who are trying to survive as we all are. They want to work, love, raise their children and feel safe.

Lebanon still is trying to recover from the chaos left over from the war two years ago. The war caused such an upheaval that it left the Lebanese government in near shambles. The entire infrastructure of the country was nearly destroyed. Major transportation highways, hospitals, schools, and publishing houses were left in ruins. The drinking water continues to be contaminated by oil, phosphorous from munitions, and sewage as well other chemicals, all the result of the war of 2006. People's homes and businesses were completely wiped out. Cluster bombs sit like time bombs waiting for the unsuspecting child to discover it any day now--or ten to 30 years from now. The effects of the 34 day war will be felt for many years to come.

Israel says Hezbollah used civilian structures to hide both themselves and their armaments; however there has been no evidence to support such a claim when examined by independent groups. Israel has been asked for information on where the missiles carrying cluster bombs were dropped, but Israel has yet to turn over the reports despite the UN resolution ordering them to do so. Such information is vital to the deminers who are trying to clear away the threat of future deaths of innocent people due to these insidious bombs. The loss of viable farm land has hurt the economy significantly and ecologically, the country is in dire straits. This once beautiful and lush country has been deeply wounded. Just when Lebanon seems to get on its feet, it seems to be knocked down again.

Hezbollah is no less guilty in all of this. They too used cluster bombs in urban areas and killed civilians. They toyed with the Israelis despite making a promise to Lebanon that there would be peace as Lebanon entered into one of its most prosperous times in recent history. The tourist business was on the upswing and Lebanon seemed to be thriving. All that changed very quickly, however, with the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers.

The focus of the book is on Lebanon and the damaged suffered by the Lebanese people. The author went into the Israeli casualties on a smaller scale, and so the book comes across as slanted more in one direction than the other at times. The author, however, tries to make it clear both sides were at fault and that it is the politicians, the leaders, who need to be held accountable for their actions.

Cathy Sultan does not gloss over the responsibility of anyone in Lebanon’s current woes. Her information is well researched and documented. War is an ugly thing. Innocent people are caught in the middle and those in power seem only to care about strategy and winning the battle. Tragedy in South Lebanon offers an honest and much needed perspective on a war and country that is too often ignored amidst the talk of current Middle East issues. Originally published at Front Street Reviews.

Rating: * (Good +)

Check out the Cathy Sultan's website for more information about her books.


  1. This book sounds incredible. Thanks for pointing it out!

  2. Wow, great review. This book sounds really good and it'd be good to get perspective with more in-depth information.

  3. Thank you, Tracy and Iliana! It was interesting to get a different perspective on what is/was happening in that region. I am glad I took a chance on this book.

  4. This is a part of history/current events that I know very little about, so I'm definitely going to put this one on the list! Thanks for the great review.

  5. Trish - I hope you do get a chance to read it!


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