BEIRUT - As reconstruction resumes in the heavily bombed southern Beirut district
Dahiyeh, the signs are evident of a rebuilding of resistance against Israel
and the U.S.-backed government, largely by way of increased support for Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is leading much of the reconstruction. Dahiyeh was bombed by the
Israelis last year because it was seen as a Hezbollah stronghold. At least 15,000
houses were destroyed.
Many local people accuse the U.S.-backed Lebanese government of refusal to
help reconstruction in pro-Hezbollah areas like Dahiyeh.
Foreign donors pledged more than $7 billion in aid and loans at a meeting in
Paris in January to help rebuild this nation of 4 million. Three of the biggest
contributors were the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia. All three are
seen by the opposition as supporters of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his
allies Saad Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
Michel Samaha, who was minister for information 1992-1995 and again 2003-2004,
told IPS that Siniora, Hariri, and Jumblatt are seeking to strengthen themselves
by "having on their ruling agenda the priorities of the United States in
Lebanon, the priorities of the Zionists in the United States, and especially
the neocons in the Middle East."
The anger against such policies is obvious in Shia areas.
"We've applied for help through the government," 45-year-old Dahiyeh
resident Mahmoud al-Khateib told IPS at his electronics repair shop, which was
damaged by an Israeli bomb. "They came and inspected the damage and said
they would let us know. We're still waiting."
Many people say money meant for reconstruction is going elsewhere. "All
the government cares about is putting money in their own pockets," 18-year-old
student Ali Mohammed told IPS. "They don't care about us, just look around
you at this destruction, they are doing nothing for us."
Blocks and blocks of what were 10-story apartment buildings were leveled by
Israeli bombing. Empty craters is sometimes all that remains.
Hezbollah, led by Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, has spearheaded postwar reconstruction
in the suburb through its NGO, Jihad al-Binaa. The organization is well resourced,
and has a force of 1,500 engineers.
Hezbollah founded Jihad al-Binaa in 1988 during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.
The NGO took the role of a kind of local municipality for the Shia community
in the absence of an effective government. It continues to do so.
Jihad al-Binaa is one of a number of foundations run by Hezbollah. Others also
deliver services normally provided by governments, such as health-care and education.
Hezbollah says the group is funded through religious charitable donations such
as zakat and the Shia Muslim system of khums, through which Shias
donate a percentage of their incomes.
Hezbollah acted quickly after the bombings ended in August last year, offering
$12,000 to each family who had lost their house. It undertook reconstruction
work directly for those most in need.
Officials loyal to Prime Minister Siniora accused Hezbollah of acting as a
"state within a state." In its response delivered on al-Manar TV,
which it owns, Hezbollah officials lashed out at "the absent state."
Within two weeks of the ceasefire last year, Hezbollah said the government
planners "still have no contingency plans for reconstruction in the south
or in Dahiyeh." That has remained largely the picture since then.
Residents agree, and their sentiment has translated into increasing respect
and support for Hezbollah. Israeli officials had hoped the attacks would destroy
support for the group.
"Eight months after the war nobody in the government has yet come even
to inspect the damage to my home," Jihad Brahim, a 40-year-old member of
the Lebanese army, told IPS as he stood near a pile of rubble under a half-destroyed
building. "Look at this rubble: it would take a bulldozer 15 minutes to
clear this, but it's still here."
Brahim added, "Everyone in my building has a year's worth of support from
Hezbollah, and they are also carrying out reconstruction. Hezbollah is much
stronger now, and all of us respect them so much more. I pray that Nasrallah
lives a long life."
"The government is giving us nothing, while Hezbollah is doing a great
job for us," 22-year-old electrician Hussein Shara'a told IPS. "Even
with all this work still to be done, we can live with any difficulty, because
the important thing is that we won the war."
The suburb is dotted with countless green and yellow banners of Jihad al-Binaa.
They say, "Carrying On. Together We Resist. Together We Rebuild."
Mahmoud Rahman has been driving a taxi for 30 years. He bought an apartment
with his savings, but his house was almost destroyed by an Israeli bomb.
"I never had a problem with America before, but because of their backing
of Israel my life is destroyed," he told IPS. "All my kids hate America.
Is this their democracy? If it is, we're better off without it."
Al-Fadl Shalaq, former head of the Development and Reconstruction Council,
a body formed by former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in
February 2005, says the damage suffered by Lebanon during the Israeli onslaught
exceeded that during the 1975-1990 civil war between extremist Muslim and Christian
(Inter Press Service)