Ministers okay housing grants for South Lebanon Army vets living in Israel

Some 400 former soldiers who fought alongside IDF during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon from mid-1980s to 2000 to be given $160,000 apiece in aid

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Two militiamen of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army direct a convoy of armored vehicles in southern Lebanon, June 3, 1999. (Butros Wanna/AP)
Two militiamen of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army direct a convoy of armored vehicles in southern Lebanon, June 3, 1999. (Butros Wanna/AP)

Cabinet ministers on Sunday okayed a bill that would provide some 400 South Lebanon Army veterans living in Israel with a NIS 550,000 ($160,000) grant toward purchasing a home.

The SLA, generally commanded by Lebanese Maronite Christians, was formed during the country’s bloody civil war with training and support from Israel, which hoped to see the formation of a Lebanese government with which it could make peace. Israel and Lebanon have formally remained at war with one another since Israel’s creation in 1948.

From the mid-1980s until the summer of 2000, the Israel Defense Forces maintained outposts in southern Lebanon, dubbed collectively the Security Zone, which were there both to assist the SLA to maintain control over the region and to prevent terror groups in Lebanon from attacking northern Israel.

Following the IDF’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, thousands of SLA soldiers came to Israel for fear of persecution and reprisals from their countrymen, in large part due to the militia’s brutal tactics in southern Lebanon during that period, particularly in its notorious al-Khiam prison, where torture was rampant. Thousands more SLA members remained in Lebanon or were exiled following Israel’s chaotic withdrawal.

Sunday’s bill was jointly suggested by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, after the IDF established a panel for addressing “gaps” in the absorption of SLA veterans in Israel, some four years ago.

According to a statement, there were some 400 former non-senior SLA soldiers living in Israel, who had not yet received assistance. The grant can also be claimed by the spouses of deceased SLA veterans, provided they reside in Israel.

File: Activists protest for better financial support for former South Lebanon Army (SLA) soldiers, outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2021. (Flash90)

The grants will be provided to those eligible from this year until 2026, in accordance with a priority list created by a team to be established for this purpose of the grant distribution, the military said.

Gantz hailed the bill as “historic justice” for those who “fought with us back to back, and were displaced from their home and homeland.”

“As the person who closed the gate during the exit from Lebanon more than 20 years ago, I feel great pride and privilege to come first circle on this as well, with those who fought by my side and became an integral part of Israeli society,” he said.

Liberman said the bill shows Israel’s “moral commitment” to SLA veterans. “We will always remember the joint fighting of the SLA soldiers side by side with the IDF soldiers.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi attend a ceremony for a new monument in memory of fallen South Lebanon Army (SLA) soldiers, in Metulla, July 4, 2021. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi said the military has “great appreciation and commitment to our brothers in arms, the soldiers of the South Lebanon Army, who fought alongside us for many years and risked their lives.

“We cherish their contribution to the achievements of the fighting in southern Lebanon, and over the years we have not forgotten our allies and our moral duty to provide them with a decent and dignified life,” he said.

“We have been working on the subject for four years and I am glad that our efforts are bearing fruit today. There is still a ways to go, but we see this step as a significant and valuable achievement,” Kohavi added.

The IDF said the panel established to address SLA matters was also involved in commemorating the legacy of SLA soldiers, including inaugurating a new monument, awarding veterans a campaign medal for their service in southern Lebanon during Israel’s occupation of the area, and plans for a museum in the northern city of Metula.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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