The young man slouches and shoves his hands in his pockets. He is standing in front of his new house, rebuilt after it was destroyed during the 2006 July War, in which his father and six other members of his family were killed. The new house is plain; just grey brick walls and a roof, no windows, no doors.
“It was all destroyed in the war,” he tells NOW. ”I was here the first four days, I was visiting my family cause I live in Australia. The first bomb in 2006 fell behind our house.”
The man says his family needs $200,000 more to finish their home, while the Resistance, as part of its reconstruction effort, only offered them $25,000. “It’s better than nothing; we can probably get around $25,000 more. We can’t say they didn’t rebuild many places. The shopping center was old and now it’s brand new,” he says.
“People here in the South are ready for war every day. I don’t speak for myself. I don’t want to stay here. There is nothing here. But if there was to be another war nobody would stay here. They would leave immediately if given the chance. ”
Like him, many of the people in South Lebanon who lost their families and houses during the brutal 34-day war with Israel in 2006 are constantly dreading a renewal of hostilities. Some people in southern villages say they are even expecting new fighting in the first few months of 2010 and many of them are thinking of leaving their homes.
The young man invites us into his family’s nearby sandwich shop and offers us refreshments. “I left after four days,” he says. “The Israelis dropped fliers from the air telling us to evacuate, and my brother, my niece and I left to Beirut. They stayed there and I travelled first by ship to Cyprus and then to Australia. Why stay? There is nothing here. ”
He remembers his father and other family members refusing to go. “We had 170 people in our house, taking shelter from the bombings. And on day 29 the bomb hit the wall of the room my family was in. The wall fell over them,” he says looking down.
“They used phosphorus here too. They were trying to finish Hezbollah, yes. But the Hezbollah members are not all in one place. There would be one here, one there. So the Israelis killed many people just to get one of them,” he explains.
After the war was over, many who had evacuated the town returned to Bint Jbeil. Not him. He says it took him three months before he decided to revisit his home village. “It was all gone. We rebuilt everything. But you know how things usually go; some received more than they needed, others not enough. Hezbollah gave people money for the buildings, but not enough to finish the houses. Before the war this house was finished, it had tiles and a roof and it was furnished. Now we have walls but we had to stop. We have no more money.”
The same is true for a pharmacist in Qana, a southern village in which 57 people died during heavy bombing by the Israeli Defense Forces in July 2006. He said he still has to pay back loans he got in order to rebuild his pharmacy and house, which were destroyed completely.
“Now we are always waiting for something to happen. There is going to be another big war by May 2010. Everybody says it. But I don’t have anywhere else to go. This is my business, I have to protect it,” he says as he leans against the counter. “We’ve had enough. In 1982,war. In 1988, war. 1993, war. 1996, war. 2000, war. 2006, war. And now 2010…” he laughs. “I got used to losing. I lost $115,000 in 2006. Hezbollah gave me a gift, around $15,000, like they did with everybody.”
A little bit down the road in Qana a woman who sells household appliances says she is not scared of any war and that she is determined to stay in her village. “We are used to war. There was a war here all the time. In 2006 we were hysterical. We stayed here for 17 days, and bombs were falling all over. Then we left with the trucks, and bombs kept falling on the refugee trucks too. But we are not scared. We feel there is another war coming,” she says while her husband, who’s wearing khaki army pants and a leather jacket, offers to bring us coffee. They were lucky in 2006; their shop was only partially hit and they didn’t spend too much rebuilding it.
The workers in the Al Mabarrat Charitable Organization in Bint Jbeil are crowded into a small office holding only a desk and two chairs. They still have to furnish their headquarters after rebuilding. “Almost everything was rebuilt here,” one employee says. “They gave money to the people, around 85% of the expenses for each building that was destroyed. We had 60% of the houses completely gone, and 10% were half damaged. We don’t expect another war. We don’t want another war, but with Israel, we never know. We don’t trust them, they bombed innocent people. They are always the ones who start, not us,” he says.
The pharmacist in Qana is not very optimistic. “People don’t think about peace in the future. Israel will never leave us alone. They hope they are going to beat Israel,” he says and then suddenly stops. “We are going to lose again what we lost before. But we have no problem with staying, because if we leave we lose everything for good.”