Reconstruction begins amid the ruins
By Sara Flounders
Flounders, of the International Action Center, was part of a fact-finding delegation to Lebanon, organized by the Campaign for Accountability, from Sept. 11-17, 2006. Others on the delegation included Palestinian artist Samia Halaby of Defend Palestine-New York and LeiLani Dowell of Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST).
Every town in South Lebanon displayed signs on store windows, poles and buildings graphically illustrating the different sizes and shapes of cluster bombs. Red tape and signs tied around fields and circling houses warned that cluster bombs were present. Buildings with “M42 Cluster” painted in red kept people away.
The Sept. 13 Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported an Israeli Army commander saying, “What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire villages with cluster bombs.” He charged that “the Army dropped more than 1.2 million cluster bombs,” more than 10 times the 100,000 cluster bomblets previously reported.
The 1.2 million had included only those bomblets dropped by a Multiple Launch Rocket System. Haaretz reported other bomblets were fired from 155-mm mortars or dropped from the air.
The UN has found that Israel dropped 90 percent of all the cluster bombs it used in Lebanon in the three days immediately preceding the cease-fire, that is, after the cease-fire had already been negotiated.
With the fields, roads and town centers carpeted by cluster bombs, it is much more difficult to do the intense work of clearing away bombed rubble and the rebuilding that is already underway.
Even towns not extensively bombed have had their livelihoods destroyed. A visit to the town of Houla, less than 650 feet from the Israeli border, confirmed the wide and systematic damage. Houla is often called the Moscow of Lebanon. It has an elected Communist Party government. Mayor Qasin explained how the ash created by the bombing has coated the crops and destroyed vegetables, tobacco, banana and orange groves.
Houla’s crops are too dangerous to harvest. The region relies on agriculture for its income because decades of continued Israeli occupation and invasions of the south have wrecked the infrastructure and limited all industrial investments there.
When asked how the war had impacted the town of 15,000, Mayor Qasin responded: “Which war? Do you mean the Israeli attacks of 1948, where we lost 90 young men, or do you mean 1956 or 1968 or 1978 or 1982? Maybe you mean 1986 or 1996 or 2000. Or do you mean this year only?”
Prison now a museum
Israeli bombing almost totally destroyed Al-Khiam, population 30,000, a city on a high ridge with a magnificent view of the entire region. From the hilltop one can see Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, the still-occupied Shaba Farms, occupied Golan and Syria. Out of 4,800 houses in Al-Khiam, 1,000 were totally destroyed and 3,000 badly damaged, along with four of its five schools, two mosques and two churches. Hezbollah has vowed to rebuild them all.
Above Al-Khiam is a building that was once the location of an Israeli prison. Notorious as a torture center, it was controlled by an army of collaborators known as the South Lebanese Army. It held resistance heroes before the Lebanese resistance drove Israel out in 2000.
After that liberation, Hezbollah turned the prison into a museum. Artists came from around the world to paint works in the tiny cells where prisoners were held in solitary confinement. Exhibits showed where prisoners were tortured. In July 2006 one of Israel’s first acts in the invasion was to destroy the prison turned museum. Then the Israeli air force bombed the town for days.
A local resident told us that despite the intense bombardment, a small group of 15 Hezbollah fighters continued to fire Katyusha rockets from the high ground of the prison at Israeli targets for more than two weeks. This was the first time a Lebanese resistance force was able to strike back from Al-Khiam at Israeli targets within Israel.
Bint Jbeil—turning point of resistance
The city of Bint Jbeil is the main urban center of south Lebanon. It had a population of 45,000 before the Israeli war began on July 12. The city was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting between the Israeli Army and Hezbollah militants.
At the city’s entrance a sign reads, “Bint Jbeil—Capital of Freedom.” Bint Jbeil withstood days of aerial bombardments and a month-long siege that left most of the town in ruins. Hezbollah fought for 28 days in the rubble of the city without yielding an inch of ground. Its fighters’ determination turned the Israeli invasion into a stunning retreat.
In Bint Jbeil on July 26, Israel suffered its heaviest one-day losses of the invasion. In a bold, daylight ambush, resistance fighters killed nine members of the elite Golani Brigades, wounded many others, destroyed a Merkava tank and an armored troop-carrier, and stopped the Israeli Army’s advance on the city.
The news of their casualties in this small Lebanese city stunned the Israeli public, who were expecting triumphant reports from the front. The Israeli high command was thrown into disarray.
The guerilla militia’s daring tactics and weaponry, particularly their anti-tank missiles, took Israel by surprise. There were street-by-street gun battles. According to Jane’s Weekly, a publication that reports on military equipment and tactics, the resistance included hand-to-hand combat. A few dozen well-disciplined Hezbollah fighters held their ground despite the continual aerial and artillery bombardment.
Bint Jbeil is now a wasteland of scattered rubble and bombed wreckage, most of its buildings uninhabitable.
We visited the hospital in Bint Jbeil and met with its director, Dr. Fouad Taha. He described the bombing of the operating room, the generators and the electrical network. The medical staff continued to work by candlelight and without running water. He said that he worked days without even being able to shower. But the enormous difficulty was worth it, he said, because in the end the invading force was driven back.
The hospital, although still severely damaged, was again functioning. Generators are now housed in tents, as is the operating room. Across from the tents lies a large unexploded missile in a field roped off due to cluster bombs. In front of the hospital a destroyed Israeli tank, left behind in the rushed Israeli evacuation six years ago, is now a shrine to the resistance.
On the main street small shopkeepers sorted through rubble to salvage some of their stock. A small shoe store was named Queens Shoes, since the owner previously operated a shoe store in Queens, N.Y.
On the rubble of every home people have painted numbers giving the street address and the house number, and codes describing whether it can be repaired or must be cleared away. This reminded us of the tracts of destroyed homes in New Orleans. But here in Bint Jbeil, with the social support of the resistance organizations, hundreds of people were hard at work clearing and taking the first difficult steps of rebuilding.
In the small town of Aaitaroun, close to the Israeli border, a woman described the night the Israeli military appeared in tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored earthmovers to bulldoze the town. She proudly pointed out the top of the ridge where local resistance fighters ambushed them, stopping them from reaching the town. Like many others, this young woman had stayed behind to help the resistance when many others were evacuated.
We headed north with the Lebanese/Israeli border sometimes no more than 20 feet away. All along the roads were signs, pictures and shrines to past martyrs of the 1982-to-2000 resistance.
Every town square, regardless of how much destruction there was, was draped in yellow flags and banners of Hezbollah and sometimes of Amal, another resistance organization. Political slogans were everywhere—in Arabic and in English. Even in small towns, in front of the worst destruction a large sign would declare: “Made in USA.”
Emergency generators and temporary water tanks provide basic services to many southern villages.
Reconstruction needs organization
Throughout much of Lebanon workers have patched roads together, cleared rubble from major highways and again marked streets. Detours around bombed bridges and highway overpasses slow traffic to a crawl. But traffic does move.
On our return, as we passed the Beirut airport we saw hundreds of dump trucks piled with concrete rubble lining the road to the landfill. This operation’s director told us that 1,000 trucks a day, more than a truck a minute, arrived at the landfill. The work began and the trucks began arriving the day after the war ended. They had been working around the clock for 34 days. All the work was organized and paid for by Hezbollah, he said.
All the trucks were coming from a huge clearing operation in Dihye in the southern section of Beirut. Because Israel considered the entire neighborhood of Haret Hreik as solidly in support of Hezbollah, its air force bombed the whole district into rubble. Block after block of apartment buildings was destroyed, along with the schools, mosques and small shops that sustained the area.
We returned again to this neighborhood, which we had visited on our first day in Lebanon. This was a neighborhood where, just days after our departure, Hezbollah held a giant rally of up to a million people on a 37-acre site that had already been cleared.
In downtown Beirut bridges and highway overpasses were not yet repaired. Roads have been opened and reconstruction is underway. The mobilization for reconstruction has generated enormous pride and great determination. At each site when we asked who had organized the cleanup or the removal of tons of twisted concrete and steel girders, people would reply that it was Hezbollah.
As we headed to the airport on our final day, our cabdriver pointed out key highway overpasses on the road to the airport that have been destroyed. He also expressed his fear that the corrupt forces who have collaborated with Israel in the past and who want the U.S. to have a foothold in Lebanon may attempt to inflame a civil war.
This man, a Christian, described how his family had opened their home to a Shiite family from south Beirut. He spoke very movingly of the mood throughout Lebanon for unity and the new determination not to allow old religious differences to again divide Lebanon.
[photo credit: Sara Flounders]
For more reports and photos, see www.PeopleJudgeBush.org
Share this page with a friend
International Action Center
5C - Solidarity Center
55 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011
En Espanol: email@example.com
Support Mumia Abu-Jamal: http://www.millions4mumia.org/
phone: 212 633-6646
fax: 212 633-2889
Make a donation to the IAC and its projects
The International Action Center
Home ActionAlerts Press