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14 Jul, 2009 07:29

Israelis and Lebanese: sworn friends

There have been two wars between their countries. But despite the bloody recent history between Israel and Lebanon, people from the two countries are showing they can still get along.

And sport is one of the ways helping them do it.

Three years ago their armies were fighting it out on the battlefield, and tensions are still high between the two countries. But Eyal Kobi’s and Massoud Hannoun’s friendship has beaten the odds. Their love of basketball made them the best of mates.

“We are a Lebanese team playing in Israel. Of course, there are people who don’t support us. But we really just want to play basketball and have fun,” says Massoud Hannoun, the captain of Erez Nahariya basketball team.

The team has been around for three years, and Eyal Kobi is one of a handful of Israelis who have joined their side. Ironically, he did his army service in Lebanon and today is friends with the sons of the men of the country he was fighting against.

“In their personality they are pretty much like anybody else. They fit in their society pretty good, they blend in. Some of them even have businesses, hire even Jewish people,” Eyal Kobi, Israeli basketball player, told RT.

In 1982, the Israeli army entered Lebanon to fight against the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It stayed for 18 years.

During this time, it was helped by a Christian Lebanese militia known as the South Lebanon Army.

They knew the area well and were also fighting against a new group that was threatening to destabilize the country – Hezbollah.

But the Lebanese soldiers paid a high price for working with Israel. In May 2000, when the Israeli army left, many of them fled with their families across the border.

“In the Arab world, collaborating with the Zionists is a very bad thing to begin with. But the alternative was much worse: to fall into the bosom of the Iranians,” Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies explains.

The South Lebanese soldiers who stayed behind were taken prisoner and tried by Lebanese military courts for treason.

When the Israeli army left Lebanon in 2000, it brought with it hundreds of Christian Lebanese. Although the homes they left are less than a hundred meters from Rosh Hanikra on the Israel-Lebanon border, the new world to which they came could not be more different.

Anthony Aoun has tried to bring those two worlds closer together. His website, LebaneseInIsrael.com, updates friends and family left behind in Lebanon about what their loved ones are doing in Israel. But the quick click of a mouse has not dulled the ache of separation.

“It’s half and half. That’s what I feel. Exactly. I can’t say I’m a Lebanese one hundred percent, and one hundred percent I’m Jewish, or an Israeli. It’s half and half, I can call it like this,” Anthony Aoun said.

Erez Nahariya competes in Israel’s B-league. And although the community has lived in the country for nearly a decade, the sight of Lebanese fans in Israel shouting for their basketball team still raises a few eyebrows.