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April 24, 2007

In Lebanon, Tempers Rise Over Reconstruction

by Dahr Jamail

BINT JBEIL, Lebanon - Eight months after Israeli attacks left devastation across many villages in southern Lebanon, reconstruction comes with mounting anger toward both Israel and the central Lebanese government.

The war that raged between Israel and Hezbollah July 12 to Aug. 14 last year destroyed many villages in the south and left others badly damaged.

Within hours of the cease-fire, about a million people who had fled southern Lebanon began to return, many to wrecked homes. One of the towns almost completely destroyed was Bint Jbeil, less than 5 km from the Lebanese-Israeli border.

"Israeli warplanes would bomb us, then their tanks up above the hill outside our city would shell people when they fled their homes," mayor Ali Beydoun told IPS at his partially destroyed house. "I have come back to work on rebuilding our home, while my family is staying in Dahiyeh in Beirut." Dahiyeh is a southern suburb of Beirut that was also bombed heavily by Israeli warplanes.

Beydoun is just as angry with the current Lebanese government as with the Israeli military.

"We support the opposition to the government because we want our rights and we want justice and support in rebuilding from the war," he said. "At least the head of the government should come see what happened to his own country."

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora never visited southern Lebanon to see what happened during the war. Beydoun says, "Instead he went on holiday to Jordan. Is it possible for a prime minister not to know or care about his own country?"

Rather than funding from the Lebanese government, Bint Jbeil is being rebuilt primarily with money from Qatar and with some help from Hezbollah, which was first on the scene with funding and relief supplies for the residents.

Others are angry with the local government.

"The local municipality isn't letting us rebuild our homes the way they were," Bilal Hussein Jama'a told IPS. "They want to build a bigger road and more modern housing units, but this could affect my house as I had [it] before."

Jama'a, who stayed in the conflict-ridden city for the first 17 days of the war, is also up against both the Israeli military and the Lebanese government.

"They can bomb us one day and we'll rebuild the next because we are not afraid of them," he said. "But the rebuilding is on our own, with the help of Qatar and Hezbollah and Iran, but not from our own impotent government."

Jama'a said he supported "100 percent" the continuing sit-in near the parliament in Beirut led by several opposition parties.

Residents are angry that there is no support from the government but the government steps in to regulate construction paid for by others.

Hussein Ayoub, now rebuilding his house in the border village Maroun er Ras, said a rich Kuwaiti was financing reconstruction of several houses in his village.

"The man wanted to pay directly, but Siniora forced him to pay through the Lebanese government," he said. "We're not getting our rights, and the government is responsible, so we must protest to demand our rights now."

He added, "I'm disgusted with state interference with how I want to rebuild my home. They send people to come check how I'm building it, but with no assistance whatsoever."

Amnesty International stated after the war ended that many of the attacks on Lebanon's civilian infrastructure were collective punishment, not the "collateral damage" that Israel claimed.

United Nations Development Program spokesman Jean Fabre estimated in August 2006 that economic losses to Lebanon from the month-long war amounted to "at least 15 billion dollars."

According to the Lebanese government, more than 1,100 Lebanese civilians were killed during the war. Forty-three Israeli civilians were killed by Hezbollah rockets.

The fighting is over, but tension continues to hang over the region. A Lebanese soldier at a border post who asked not to be named told IPS that Israeli warplanes have been flying into Lebanese airspace nearly every week in violation of the UN-brokered cease-fire agreement.

"We see the drones [unmanned espionage aircraft] nearly every single day," the Lebanese soldier added. This IPS correspondent observed an Israeli warplane overhead in southern Lebanon, and at least one military drone.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Dahr Jamail writes about the effects of the US occupation on the people of Iraq, since the mainstream media in the US has in large part, he believes, failed to do so.

    Dahr has spent a total of 5 months in occupied Iraq, and plans on returning in October to continue reporting on the occupation. One of only a few independent reporters in Iraq, Dahr will be using the DahrJamailIraq.com website and mailing list to disseminate his dispatches and will continue as special correspondent for Flashpoints Radio.

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