While images of Lebanese children’s corpses getting dug out of the rubble circled the world, the Costa Rican government, activists and concerned citizens this week took a stand for peace in the bloody conflict that rages between Israel and Lebanon.
In an opinion piece published in the daily La Nación Sunday, the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize laureate expressed concern about the recent outburst of violence and said dialogue is vital to resolve the escalating conflict in the Middle East.
The same day, in an attack that outraged much of the world, Israeli rockets killed 57 Lebanese civilians including 37 children in the southern city of Qana. So far, the Israeli attack on Lebanon has left a death toll of more than 600, including nearly 200 children, according to news reports from the region.
The Israeli Embassy in San José said yesterday attacks on Israel have left 56 dead. Members of Costa Rica s Lebanese, Palestinian and Muslim communities marched through western San José Sunday morning calling for peace.
Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry issued an official statement requesting an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon.
Also Tuesday, Arias met here with the former Spanish President Felipe González (1982-96), and the two agreed the situation in the Middle East is worrisome and a ceasefire is necessary, according to a statement from Casa Presidencial.
González said a cease-fire would provide a chance for international organization to send humanitarian aid and for the countries to exchange prisoners.
The conflict started as an Israeli response to the capture of two of its soldiers and the murder of three others July 12 by the military forces of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Islamist Shiite organization and political party created in opposition to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s.
The invasion has destroyed the country s infrastructure, including bridges, the international airport and 20- to 30-story buildings in Beirut, according to Albert Karam, Lebanese Consul to Costa Rica.
In his article, President Arias says he does not favor one side over the other in the conflict, but favors peace through dialogue.
Arias provided an example from 19 years ago, when he helped bring peace to Central America through the Peace Plan that won him the Nobel prize.
I resolved to follow the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt and lock my President colleagues in a hotel room in the Guatemalan capital until we signed the Peace Plan we had presented to end violence in our isthmus, he wrote.
The Foreign Ministry s statement says Costa Rica expresses its repudiation for indiscriminate and excessive armed actions that have reached an innocent civilian population and even United Nations peace personnel, referring to four U.N. observers killed July 25 in an air strike in southern Lebanon.
The ministry also declared that Costa Rica condemns the Hezbollah raid that initiated the conflict and requests the immediate liberation of the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
With family, friends and ancestral roots that tie them to the Middle East, Lebanese and Israeli Costa Ricans and representatives in the country share the anguish and indignation of their people in the Middle East.
According to Karam, the Lebanese-Israeli conflict has deep historical roots originating after World War II, with the creation of the Israeli state on Palestinian territory by the United Nations, a claim Israeli Ambassador to Costa Rica Alexander Ben-Zvi agreed with.
In 1978, Israel invaded Lebanon, and occupied the country for almost 20 years, Karam told The Tico Times.
He described Israel s Seven-Day War against Hezbollah in 1993 as a major conflict. The consul added that some 10,000 Lebanese prisoners detained during Israel s 1978 invasion have remained in Israeli jails during the past 20 years, and Hezbollah s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers was simply a form of negotiation.
Israel s action is disproportionate, they should have negotiated with the Lebanese government or the chamber of legislators. But they know in this world the law that prevails is survival of the fittest, Karam said. Gustavo Prifer, president of the Zionist Israeli Center of Costa Rica, a religious organization formed more than 70 years ago, said the release of the Lebanese prisoners, whose arrest he attributed to terrorism, is simply not negotiable.
(Hezbollah) killed Israeli soldiers and abducted two others to negotiate the liberation of criminals You cannot remove these terrorists from jail Imagine if you started releasing people from prisons everywhere, Prifer said.
The Lebanese consul, who criticized the United States for what he called a one-sided position in favor of Israel, warned that if a prompt solution to the conflict is not found, hopefully through the United Nations Security Council, this could be the beginning of a war that could involve the entire world: first neighboring countries and then, as part of a domino effect, other nations worldwide.
However, Israeli Ambassador Ben-Zvi said he sees the end of the conflict through a clear, simple solution: the disarming of Hezbollah.
It s Lebanon s decision, he said. Prifer denied the United States has a onesided view of the conflict, and said no country could criticize another for defending its citizens.
For example, he said the United States reacted as it should have by waging war against Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001.
Praying for Peace
Amid the buzz of conversation in both Arabic and Spanish, a crowd dressed in white and red to match the Lebanese flag on Sunday morning marched from Channel 7 TV station in Pavas, in western San José, to the statue of Costa Rican patriot León Cortés at La Sabana Park.
Carrying white balloons imprinted with the word paz, approximately 100 members of the Lebanese, Palestinian and Muslim communities in the country, as well as Costa Rican and U.S. peace supporters, waved Lebanese and Palestinian flags and carried banners depicting the horror of recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon.
The activity, for which many parents dressed their children in traditional Lebanese garb, attempted to have no religious or political undertones, according to activist and march organizer Gabriela Arrieta.
The idea is to raise awareness among people.War, as well as peace, is a matter that involves everyone, she told The Tico Times at the march.
Others could not contain their anger. Death to the state of Israel, they are criminals who murder innocent people! Executioners just like the Nazis! Elena Gutiérrez shouted to the crowd.
Libertarian Movement legislator and faction leader Evita Arguedas, who also attended the march, called for an end to the conflict.
Arguedas, a Tica whose mother is of Lebanese origin and who said her family preserves traditions such as Lebanese food and use of a hookah pipe, said she believes Costa Rica must make a call to the international community to help bring peace.
Later, marchers released their white balloons into the sky and a child released a white dove in a gesture of peace before the crowd dissipated shortly after noon.
Rashid Sauma, a third-generation Lebanese immigrant who has visited Lebanon three times and speaks highly of its beautiful scenery, said the conflict poses losses not only to Lebanon but also the world.
Lebanon is a millenary land, a land of cedars, where Jesus walked, the crib of the Phoenicians. It houses the impressive ruins of (the city of) Baalbek. You can enjoy the snow at a ski station and in a matter of one hour you can be catching sun at a beautiful beach, said Sauma, president of Casa Libanesa S.A., a Lebanese cultural organization and club founded by Lebanese immigrants to Costa Rica in the 1930s.
Sauma said Casa Libanesa has organized a Catholic mass Monday at 7 p.m. at Don Bosco church in downtown San José to pray for peace in Lebanon.
Also Monday, union workers and students from the University of Costa Rica plan to protest in front of the Israeli Embassy on Paseo Colón at 11 a.m.
How to Help
Casa Libanesa has opened a bank account to collect donations for relief assistance in Lebanon. Donations can be made at Banco de Costa Rica, account number 249514-7, until Aug. 9, when the funds will be transferred to Mexico. From there, they will be delivered to Lebanon via a military plane filled with humanitarian aid arranged by the Mexican government and the Lebanese community in Mexico, Sauma said. For more info, call 256-6621.