Saturday, July 29, 2006

Prayers go out to Israelis, Lebanese

By Darren Meritz / El Paso Times
El Paso Times

An El Paso Jewish community gathered Tuesday to pray for Israelis and Lebanese as attacks continue between Israelis and Hezbollah forces inside Lebanon.

A group of about 30 members of Chabad Lubavitch gathered for an afternoon prayer, which Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg said harked back to a psalm that explains that true power is not in ammunition and weapons, but rather in spirituality.

“We have a spiritual and family obligation to get together and pray together as one nation, wherever we may be, in one voice,” Greenberg said. “Obviously there are innocent people in Lebanon who are suffering, but if you have a government that harbors terrorists doesn't do anything to stop them then obviously they are the problem.”

Chabad Lubavitch is one of several religious and community groups in El Paso that have had prayer vigils and services to promote a quick end to the violence in the region.

At St. Anthony of the Desert Maronite Catholic Church, which a large contingent of Lebanese attend, parishioners had a prayer vigil Sunday and were invited to speak about their experiences regarding the conflict.

The Islamic Center of El Paso has been hearing testimony from its members about the Middle East violence after Friday services. St. Pius X Catholic Community has scheduled a Mass of Peace and Reconciliation in an ongoing attempt to stop violence in the Middle East and elsewhere for 12:45 p.m. Sunday.

The latest conflict was sparked after an Israeli soldier was captured and two others were killed by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza, prompting an Israeli offensive there on June 28. On July 12, Hezbollah snatched another two other soldiers, prompting the incursion into southern Lebanon.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that fighting during the past month has claimed more than 400 lives.

Greenberg described Israel's actions as justified because the country long had sought to negotiate peace with Lebanon, including a withdrawal from the 9-mile-wide security zone in May 2000 originally carved out in 1982.

Lebanon nonetheless chose not to recognize Hezbollah's weapons buildup, which was discovered during the most recent Israeli incursion, he said.

Greenberg likened the warring Arab faction in the current conflict to a drive-by shooting: Both the driver of the vehicle, Lebanon, and the shooter, Hezbollah, are culpable.

“If (Lebanon) couldn't control Hezbollah, they should have turned to the United Nations about them building up,” he said. “We are not fighting for money. We are not fighting for property. We are fighting for rest for security.”

Moshe Bork, a former Israeli soldier who has lived in El Paso for 33 years, said at Chabad Lubavitch on Tuesday that he has a sister and brother still living in the area.

“I think Israel is going to come out on top, but in between you have too many people who are innocent, if it's Israelis or if it's Lebanese, who are getting killed,” said Bork, 54. “It's something that should have been taken care of in 1982 so we wouldn't have to worry about it today. It's too many civilians getting killed.”

El Paso educator Helen Goldberg said her daughter-in-law's family grandparents, aunts and uncles are now in Israel. Some have relocated from the northern port city of Haifa to near Tel Aviv to avoid the shelling.

“We all agree that Israel has to go in and wipe out Hezbollah,” she said. “We're saddened by the civilian deaths, but if Hezbollah didn't use people as human shields, the casualties would be a lot lower.”

Downtown merchant Rachelle Nedow said her niece, Blair Schlusselberg, a Coronado High School senior, began a six-week summer trip to Israel just before the hostilities began about a month ago. Despite the dangers, the tour group decided to stay in Israel, Nedow said.

“She said it was really scary. They were in the north and they got there just a few days before the bombing,” she said. “She chose not to come home. They did not cancel the trip.”

Darren Meritz may be reached at; 546-6127.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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