On Sunday afternoons, for a family outing, people in Beirut sometimes load the kids into the car and drive an hour or so south to throw stones across the border at Israeli soldiers. In this way the children can enjoy themselves while vividly expressing their patriotism, which in this case takes the form of hating Israel. It's a pastime that combines real-life horror and Middle East politics with unsettling elements of Disneyland.
On this border region in the Galilee, the struggle of Israel with its neighbours stops being rhetorical and turns highly graphic. Everything gets visually spelled out, the tension and the loathing, the weird comedy, and the authority exercised by freelance armies, in this case Hezbollah, the Party of God, radical proxy of Iran and Syria. Intensely complicated political relationships spread themselves before a visitor's startled eyes.
Aside from providing amusement on otherwise sleepy Sundays, the frontier divides southern Lebanon from northern Israel. But an ignorant visitor wouldn't even know that Lebanon exists -- there are no Lebanese flags, no Lebanese border guards. To the annoyance of Lebanon (now sometimes daringly expressed in the Beirut press), Hezbollah controls outright the strip of land that runs 5 or 10 km north from Israel. The soldiers peering across at Israel are identifiably Hezbollah (army pants, army boots, T-shirt choice optional), proudly standing beneath fluttering Hezbollah flags (automatic rifle, rampant on a field of green).
A despicably provocative billboard also stares across at Israel. It shows huge photographs of three dead Israeli soldiers, one with his bleeding head ripped from his body and held aloft by his hair. A sign reads: "Sharon -- don't forget your soldiers are still in Lebanon." As Israelis are only too well aware, Hezbollah won't return bodies of soldiers they've killed, keeping them either as trophies or possible trading chips.
The stone-throwers, who very rarely hit anyone, recently included a platoon of Lebanese Boy Scouts on a field trip. "The children have nothing to do," an Israeli sergeant indulgently explained to me, "so they come here and throw rocks and they make signs, like running their fingers across their throat to say they want to kill me." Stone-tossing has become so popular among young and old that they've stripped the ground near the fence of all conceivable projectiles, so that on several occasions fresh stones have had to be trucked in to keep the game alive.
Note the bit about the billboard. Imagine if those two American Airborne soldiers, kidnapped, killed and mutilated in Iraq, had their postmortem photographs plastered on billboards, across an international border opposite an American military base. For six years.
Solemn pronouncements from the UN of Serious Consequences don't carry much sting, when in large part the UN is composed of Israel's enemies. At some point, the murder of Jews has to earn a painful and yes disproportionate punishment. Indeed, albeit sadly, that's the only thing that has kept the nation of Israel alive these past sixty years.