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After Israel's barbaric war

September 7, 2007 | Page 7

ANAND GOPAL reports from Southern Lebanon on conditions today, one year after Israel's failed war aimed at crushing the Lebanese resistance, which forced one-quarter of Lebanon's population to flee their homes.

"WHAT WE'RE seeing here, in a sense, is...the birth pangs of a new Middle East." Just hours after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made this now-famous statement, Israeli ordnance slammed into Yousef Wehbe's home, demolishing it. His father was killed in the assault.

Wehbe, a Lebanese civilian from the southern village of Ainata, recalls, "My father was 85. He posed no threat to anyone. My house and my life were destroyed."

Throughout southern and eastern Lebanon, the areas most heavily bombed by Israel during last July's war, residents tell similar stories. One year after the war's end, much of the country remains under reconstruction, and many Lebanese bitterly remember last year's war.

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IN BENT Jbeil, a small blue sign greets the visitor: "Welcome to Bent Jbeil. The capital of liberation." While Israel was unable to eradicate Hezbollah from this small border post, it did succeed in completely destroying the heart of the town.

What else to read

The International Socialist Review has provided continuing coverage of the Israeli war on Lebanon and the aftermath. Toufic Haddad's "Birth Pangs of a New Middle East" sets out the backdrop of the war and analyzes its consequences. For a more recent analysis, see "Lebanon and the Middle East Crisis," an interview with Gilbert Achcar.

Socialist Worker's coverage of the Israeli war on Lebanon is collected in a special archive on Israel and Palestine--including articles and interviews by Dahr Jamail on the shape of Lebanon since the war; Rania Masri on the impact of the war; and Elaine Hagopian on Lebanon's history of war and resistance.

 

After Israel dropped leaflets instructing civilians to flee, residents found that every major road, bridge and gas station surrounding Bent Jbeil had been demolished. So the residents instead huddled in the historic district that lies at the town center, thinking that Israel would avoid attacking areas packed with civilians, and with such cultural importance.

But today, the historic district is a mass of crumbled cinderblocks and empty concrete shells that were once houses.

"They destroyed everything," the city's mayor told Socialist Worker. "They didn't care who was there. Some families sent their wives and children there for safety, and they never saw them again."

Funds delivered to the Lebanese government for the city's reconstruction have disappeared, and town residents consider the area uninhabitable. Poor Syrian migrant workers have since moved into the abandoned district, living amid the rubble, without electricity or running water.

In Taybeh, a village a bit north of Bent Jbeil, reconstruction is moving faster. New steel bridges and freshly paved roads have removed any sign of last year's conflict. But the memories of the war are harder to erase.

Maneefa Nasrallah speaks of how Israeli soldiers occupied her home and converted it into a base of operations. "They ruined everything," the 72-year-old says. "They damaged the inside of my house, and I have spent months trying to fix it. They even shot two people, two civilians, from the front of my house."

One day, soldiers paid a visit to the house of Maneefa's neighbor, Ali Nasrallah. The men threw a grenade at Ali's sister as she stood on the patio, killing her instantly. They then shot his brother and severed his father's limbs, while the family was forced to watch. Finally they killed the mother, as the others lay dying.

"My parents were 81 years old," Nasrallah says, as tears stream down his cheek. "What kind of threat did these old people pose? What did they do?"

At his feet lies the shadowy outline of a human figure--his mother's blood has left an indelible mark on the patio floor.

Everywhere in south Lebanon, photographs and posters commemorate those lost during the July war.

The archway marking the entrance to the garden behind Muhammed Karim's house, in the mountain village of Houmine, has at its center a portrait of a smiling, handsome young man. Nasib Karim was killed just over a year ago, and the family's first summer without Nasib has been especially difficult.

"Because of the time of year, I started dreaming about him," his father, Karim, says. "But I wake up in the middle of the night and realize that he isn't there--there is no worse feeling."

In the nearby Jouad household, the family passes around a picture of a young man in a lab coat. Ali Jouad was a university chemistry student, but his father Kassim explains that "because he wanted to defend his country and his land, he joined the resistance."

As Kassim talks, his wife grips Ali's picture as if her life depended on it. She says, "I can't talk about him. If I do, I will start to cry. No one will know how it feels to have my son stolen from me."

But despite the grief, Kassim remains optimistic. "Everyone supports the resistance now. I hope all my children will join the resistance."

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THIS IS perhaps the biggest change in Lebanon since the end of the July war--the resistance organization Hezbollah is stronger than ever.

Many analysts see Hezbollah's strength, and the Lebanese government's inability to counterbalance it, as central to the political crises that the country has seen since the July war. The political scene is split between the March 14th movement, let by Sa'ad Hariri, son of the slain ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and the opposition, led by Hezbollah.

The March 14th Movement, which includes the Phalange party (infamous for the Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinians in 1982, carried out under the eyes of the Israeli military) has a pro-U.S., pro-business and anti-Syria orientation. When the opposition, which includes in its ranks Christian and left groups, called a general strike early this year, millions of poor and working-class Lebanese arrived in Beirut in a show of support.

The U.S. has funneled millions of dollars to the Lebanese government in an effort to offset Hezbollah, increasing military aid sevenfold in the last year--many of Washington's Gulf allies have supplied heavy weaponry. Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper recently reported that the Bush administration authorized a covert CIA plan to fund anti-Hezbollah activities, and the U.S. has earmarked $60 million for the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

At the same time, there is widespread suspicion that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia at one time partnered with Sa'ad Hariri and other prominent Sunni politicians to fund radical Sunni Islamist groups in an effort to counteract Shia forces in Hezbollah and its supporter, the Iranian government.

One of these groups, Fatah al-Islam, is currently fighting the Lebanese army from the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared. The fighting completely destroyed the camp, and over 30,000 Palestinians are now without homes.

Presidential elections are scheduled for the fall. The U.S. and its allies have called for an anti-Syrian president who can work with a strong, centralized army to enforce UN Resolution 1701, which demands Hezbollah's disarmament.

The March 14th Movement doesn't have enough votes in parliament and must compromise with the opposition in order to select a presidential candidate. But the opposition is unlikely to acquiesce to a pro-U.S. candidate, so there is a chance that the country is heading toward a period where there is no head of state.

Condoleezza Rice's vision of a weakened Hezbollah and a strong Lebanese state working with Israel and the U.S. against Syria and Iran--her new Middle East--hasn't come to pass.

Instead, Hezbollah is stronger than ever, fueled by the anger of ordinary Lebanese at the governments that have ruined their lives. In Maroun al-Ras, Abbas Fares puffs a cigarette amid buckets of paint and plastic sheets, as workers rebuild his destroyed home.

"America is terrorist," he says. "When America allows Israel to drop cluster bombs, isn't that terrorism? When you drop a bomb that weighs four tons, isn't that terrorism?" Fares' sister and brother-in-law were killed in last year's war.

"There is a new Middle East," he continues. "But it is one where Israel was finally defeated. Israel will think 100 times before it tries to invade our homes again. They will never defeat the resistance."

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