Real People Stories

War in the Middle East: Two Teens, Two Worlds

UPDATED 08/07/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/07/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT

Like teens the world over, the two girls were eagerly anticipating summer: Lebanon's Sana Mrad, 15, was looking forward to studying English, while Israel's Opher Hacohen, 17, had begun working as a camp counselor. Then on July 12, after Hezbollah militants from Lebanon kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, war erupted—and their lives turned upside down. Sana left her bomb-strafed Beirut suburb, first for an aunt's house, then on to Syria. Opher fled to Tel Aviv after rockets rained down close to her house on Kibbutz Amir, then returned home. Separated by 75 miles and decades of venomous history, the two girls have much in common: Each is the youngest of five children; both love music and hate violence. Now they share a common worry: What does an uncertain future hold?

How has the war upended your life?

Sana: I woke the morning of July 13 to the sound of the air strikes. When I heard the explosions and saw the black smoke fill the sky, I felt worried about Lebanon, but not about me. I have not done anything terrible in my life, so death does not scare me. My family and I left our house at 2 p.m. All our neighbors fled because the Israelis distributed flyers warning us to evacuate. We know so many people whose houses were completely destroyed, including one of my aunts. Luckily she was not inside.

Opher: On July 12 I was helping children get on their bikes when suddenly we heard loud explosions. I wasn't too worried. I can tell the difference between Israeli artillery shells and incoming Katyusha rockets. This was artillery shells. My mother started freaking out that Syria would attack and that my brother Nadav, who just joined the army, would become involved. I stayed with my boyfriend in Tel Aviv for five days, but it was time to get back to reality. I missed my family and the kibbutz [farm].

How are you feeling these days?

Sana: I am tired physically and emotionally from the news about the bombs, the deaths, the wounded. I miss my normal life, my friends and my house. I did not realize how blessed my life was until this war started. I feel as if a part of my heart is somehow dead. I am scared it will not be alive again.

Opher: It's a bit frightening, but if one thinks about it too much then it can create a situation of total hysteria. The way I figure it, the chances of being hit by a Katyusha are so low that it probably won't happen. When someone calls over the kibbutz loudspeaker for us to go to the bomb shelters, I don't go. I hate the bomb shelters. They're disgusting. There's a horrible smell of damp.

What sorts of things help you cope?

Sana: Usually, I like to go to the movies and listen to Arab pop music. Now, I'm very bored. I stay at home all day without doing anything. I can't see my friends. I only talk to them online when I go to the Internet cafe.

Opher: Sometimes I go to a reinforced room in our house and listen to music, like the Beatles and Bob Dylan. I keep the iron shutter closed in case a rocket lands and sends shrapnel flying.

What's best about where you live?

Sana: I love going to the beach; it's my favorite outing. I don't go to a mixed beach. I'm religious. I am not allowed to wear clothes that reveal too much skin.

Opher: I love the nature on the kibbutz. I love the Jordan River. We often go and swim there. I really enjoy being around my friends. These are kids who I know as far back as I can remember.

What's worst about where you live?

Sana: I would love to stay in Lebanon, but there are certain boundaries and restraints that keep many like me from realizing our dreams. Success depends on how well-connected you are. Also, people in my neighborhood are very traditional and girls only care about getting married. I want to finish my studies and become independent before thinking about marriage.

Opher: I hate the fact that we have nowhere to go out. We are in the middle of nowhere and there's not much to do.

Have you ever traveled abroad?

Sana: I have never been outside Lebanon. I have always dreamt about visiting Malaysia. It looks so exotic.

Opher: I've been to Boston twice. I was also in London and Holland. I'd love to visit Lebanon when there is peace.

What do you see in your future?

Sana: I am thinking about studying nutrition or photography. I would love to have my own business one day. I want to be my own boss.

Opher: I'm going to take a year off after high school and work, probably with children, in a volunteer program. I'm not sure if I want to join the army. My cousin and I have plans to travel around the world. As for going to university, I don't know; it's too far off. I used to dream of being a vet, but now I think more about working with endangered animals or at an animal shelter.

How do you view this war?

Sana: My family voted for Hezbollah. I am very proud of the resistance. How can we carry on living happily when there are Arab prisoners in Israeli jails? We have to defend ourselves and stand for our dignity. This is the right time.

Opher: I don't feel comfortable with the use of military means, but I don't know if there is another way. This policy hurts innocent people in Lebanon.

Would you talk with the enemy?

Sana: We would disagree on so many levels. An Israeli is at the end an Israeli citizen and must be committed and attached to her society. I don't think I could convince her of my viewpoint, same as I won't be convinced by hers.

Opher: A dialogue between Israeli and Lebanese teenagers could be a bridge for peace. I assume that in many ways they are like me, but I really don't know anything about them.

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