Eyewitness Lebanon: The South rebuilds
Published Sep 4, 2009 7:50 PM
In the 2006 war, in retaliation for its failed invasion, Israel bombed
virtually every one of Lebanon’s southern villages and towns. Roads and
bridges were destroyed, with mosques and churches smashed and Red Cross
ambulances, schools, government emergency centers, factories, power and water
networks blown apart. And then, in the last days of the war, after getting a
rush weapons’ delivery from the Pentagon, Israel dropped 1.2 million
cluster bombs on the South.
Bint Jbeil, weeks after Israeli bombardment
in August 2006.
WW photo: LeiLani Dowell
Driving to the South three years later, our guides promised to take us to the
areas that had been hardest hit. We did not know what to expect.
All afternoon we drove up and down the hills of southern Lebanon, through Al
Abasia, Saddaqine, Yater. We saw no destruction or rubble, just a vast
reconstruction effort. Village upon village was rebuilt or being rebuilt.
Bint Jbeil, after reconstruction August 2009.
WW photo: Paul Wilcox
Up and down the rocky hills of Yater, Arayis, Tebrir, Ein Almerzreb, and Bourj
al Moulouk, everywhere rebuilding was in full swing. The buildings were of all
sizes and shapes. Large multifamily houses, new apartment buildings with
balconies, everywhere new construction. The finished units had been painted in
shades of gold, with balconies and trim in terra cotta. They were easily
distinguishable from the weather-stained concrete of older buildings, of which
there were few.
This huge reconstruction effort was in the parts of Lebanon administered by
Hezbollah. This party and resistance movement based in Lebanon’s Shiite
community promised the people that it would rebuild, and the people would
return to their homes. The promise is being fulfilled.
U.S. shown up on the world stage
Father taking pictures of his sons on a
captured Israeli tank at Khiam.
WW photo: Joyce Chediac
This stands in marked contrast to the U.S. government’s indifferent
attitude toward rebuilding New Orleans. Today, that U.S. city’s Lower
Ninth Ward “looks like an oversized graveyard,” and its residents
are scattered across the country. (New York Times, Aug. 31) But in southern
Lebanon the new housing is going full steam ahead, and most of the residents of
southern Lebanon have returned to their villages.
Can you imagine the enthusiasm here if the U.S. government had committed itself
in the same way to rebuilding New Orleans? If it had said to the displaced,
largely African-American and poor population: “We know you have suffered
a disaster. Now we are committed to rebuilding your homes and helping you move
back to resume your lives as if there had been no disaster.”
But this was not to be. Instead those in power said: “Too bad for you.
You are refugees in your own land. Now we can build more expensive housing that
you can never afford.” No wonder the U.S. government hates Hezbollah for
showing up Washington on the world stage.
Our guides said the first year after the war had been especially hard, but
Hezbollah had given each family $12,000—a huge sum in Lebanon. Of that,
$2,000 was meant to cover rent for a year and $10,000 for furniture. This money
went not only to the poor Shiite families but to all families who lost their
homes. For example, families in Marjayoun, a Christian village, were given the
same funds for rebuilding.
We were told that money for rebuilding has come from Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait and Syria. Iran gave significant support. Much later, our guides said,
the Lebanese government came up with some funds. Many people in Lebanon told us
that the government siphoned off much of the money given for rebuilding. This
money never made it to the people. In marked contrast, we heard again and again
that Hezbollah was the only group that put money directly into the
Bint Jbeil: The invaders could not pass
Our guides took us to Maruna Ras, a small village up a steep, rocky incline
close to the border with Israel. This is where the Israeli tanks and troops
first crossed the border into Lebanon in 2006. The village fought back, but it
Next in Israel’s path was Bint Jbeil, a city of 45,000 and the main
administrative center for the South. It was here that the resistance fighters
stopped the Israeli ground advance in street-to-street battles. The people of
Bint Jbeil stopped the invaders, who could not penetrate even a mile into
But Bint Jbail suffered. Bombed by land, sea and air, 70 percent of the city
was flattened. Here too there was no rubble, only new construction.
However, we did not just see reconstruction. In Bint Jbeil and in every village
were pictures of the young men who died defending their homes and whose
sacrifice provided the security in which to rebuild the South. No town was
without its highly visible Martyrs pictures. Some lined the main road, a
portrait on each pole. Others were clustered together, at intersections.
Many pictures, we were told, stood where these freedom fighters fell. Our
guides knew their stories. The first to be killed was a teenager caught in a
building that collapsed after a bombing. There was a portrait of Jawad Aila, a
young man with light eyes, credited with taking out 16 Israeli tanks before he
Khiam: twice taken back by the people
We arrived at Khiam. When Israel occupied southern Lebanon for 18 years, its
puppet Lebanese army kept a prison at Khiam known for its torture of resistance
fighters. But when Hezbollah and its allies liberated the South in 2000, the
jail was turned into a monument to the people’s struggle.
In 2006 Israel’s very first bombings were of its former prison—to
obliterate the people’s monument. Khiam is now rubble. But in the spirit
of resilience, determination and pride we saw throughout southern Lebanon, the
jail has once again been turned into a monument to resistance.
A few of the pre-2000 torture cells remain at Khiam. Also there are Israeli
tanks and other vehicles taken out in 2006, along with resistance missiles and
missile launchers. Khiam now testifies that the people of southern Lebanon
kicked out Israeli invaders two times, and will do so again if they need
Twice taken back by the people, Khiam today is visited by Lebanese families who
perch their children on the mangled remains of Israeli tanks and take their
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