Better late than never – SLA vets to get Israeli housing grants

Some 400 South Lebanese Army soldiers will receive 550,000 shekels to help them buy homes in Israel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Twenty-two years after they fled their country to save themselves from Hezbollah’s wrath, hundreds of South Lebanese Army (SLA) soldiers will get state aid they had never received before.

“Done,” tweeted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Sunday. “Today we have fixed a terrible wrong done to SLA fighters. [They] fought at our side for 18 years…. When we retreated from Lebanon in 2000, many SLA soldiers had to leave their homes in Lebanon and reach Israel in just a few hours…. They came homeless, without a job – with nothing.

“Unfortunately, many of them were abandoned by the Israeli government. Today, the government approved a housing grant of NIS550,000 for every vet.

“As one who fought in the security zone alongside our SLA brothers, I’m proud to stand at the head of the government that closes this circle and pays back our brothers-in-arms.”

According to a 2002 report that Maj. Gen. (ret.) Meir Dagan gave to prime minister Ariel Sharon before being appointed head of the Mossad, SLA officers ranking from company commander and up who managed to get to Israel in the final days before the withdrawal were taken care of by the Shabak intelligence agency. The agency also assisted personnel from the SLA security services.

But this only accounted for approximately half of the 2,900 troops who fled.

The lower ranks and ordinary soldiers and their families, who were in just as much danger of reprisals if they had stayed in Lebanon, received no Israeli help – a state of affairs that Dagan decried even then. Many have struggled since then to make a living.

The IDF said it has been in contact with all the former soldiers who are still in the country, and have told some 400 of them that they are eligible for the grant. The money will be made available through 2026 to either the men themselves or their widows, if they are living in Israel, but not to their children.

Chief of staff Lieut. Gen. Aviv Kochavi praised the move, which he said had been in the works for some four years.

“I’m happy that our efforts are bearing fruit today,” he said. “The process is not yet complete but we see this step as a significant and valuable achievement.”

“It is our moral duty to provide them with a dignified and respectful life,” he said of the now middle-aged men who “fought by our side for many years and risked their lives.”

June 6 marked the 40th anniversary of the First Lebanon War, called then Operation Peace for Galilee, as the IDF invaded Israel’s northern neighbor to stop the constant rocket attacks launched by the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that controlled Lebanon’s south.

After the PLO was kicked out by international agreement, Israel established a security belt in Lebanon in 1985 ranging from three to 12 miles deep, patrolled both by the IDF and its Christian Arab allies.

The casualty count rose over the years of clashes with Islamic militias in the zone, including the newly established Hezbollah, although far more died among SLA forces than the IDF.

Then-prime minister Ehud Barak bowed to public pressure to retreat completely to the international border in 2000.