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Lebanese refugee finds more than a home in Israel

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  • Ami Isseroff
    Lebanese refugee finds more than a home in Israel http://www.israel21c.org/bin/en.jsp?enPage=HomePage By Karin Kloosterman August 06, 2006 Should I take my
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2006
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      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 last
      words that 24-year-old Sharbel Salameh remembers
      asking his mother the day his father called and told
      the family they had to leave the south Lebanese
      village of Klayaa.

      It was the only home Salameh, then 18, ever knew. He
      was in the middle of studying for university entrance
      exams when the news came.

      The Israeli army had withdrawn their protective line
      from the South Lebanese border the night before. On
      May 23, 2000 Salameh's father, an officer in the South
      Lebanese Army (SLA) - and an ally to Israel
      peacekeeping forces - knew the family would be soon
      imprisoned by renegade Hizbullah forces they had been
      trying to disarm.

      With nothing more than a couple of pictures and a
      small bundle of clothes in his hand, Salameh and his
      Maronite Catholic family quickly said goodbye to their
      friends. Neighbors were crying, he recalls. They
      joined over 7000 Lebanese refugees and allies to
      Israel - among them Catholics, Christians, Druze and
      Muslims - who eventually fled to Israel for safety
      from 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 - Professor
      Michael 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 - The
      President's Scholarship - at the discretion of
      university President Itamar Rabinovich. The worthy
      students chosen receive full tuition and additional
      financial backing throughout their undergraduate
      studies. Selection is based on socio-economic
      background; preference goes to those with difficult
      and complicated life circumstances.

      Joining about 70 students in the Scholarship program,
      and after four years of study, Salameh is on the way
      to becoming a medical researcher. This fall, he starts
      a second degree at the famed Weizmann Institute in
      Rehovot where he will study molecular genetics.

      With the shining support of the TAU, neighbors and
      friends, Salameh has become a model Israeli citizen,
      despite the fact that he is still waiting for Israeli
      citizenship papers to come through.

      "In Israel, I am in the best place in the world now
      with studies at the Weizmann Institute. I thank
      everyone for that and also for the fact that I got to
      learn at the best university in the world," Salameh
      said in a phone call from his Hadera home, where he
      lives with his parents.

      Salameh's appreciation for Israel hasn't wavered.
      "Israel gave us a big chance. In the beginning it was
      hard. I didn't come here as a young kid. I had to
      learn a new language, find new friends, adopt a new

      Salameh describes life in Hadera among Israelis as a
      normal, supportive environment. He doesn't even
      mention news reports of the Katyusha rockets sent to
      the 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 of
      Pardes Hanna. There, he rides bikes with kids, goes
      swimming; takes them on trips - for nominal pay.

      Still in contact by email with about 100 Christian
      Lebanese friends in Lebanon and abroad, Salameh says
      that people are suffering from lack of infrastructure
      in Lebanon. Yet, none of his friends support what
      Hizbullah is doing to their country.

      "I don't want Israel to stop the war against
      Hizbullah," says Salameh when asked if there should be
      a cease-fire. "We need to knock out [them] once and
      for 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 in
      1982 when Israel entered Beirut to help dismantle
      Yasser 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

      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, until
      an apartment could be arranged.

      Looking back on the last six years, Salameh is more
      than pleased on what he has accomplished.

      "I think that I've gotten it together beautifully."

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