Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Special Ynet report: Israeli journalist in Lebanon

From Ynet (includes video footage)
By Rinat Malkes
Published: 07.12.07, 17:51

One year after the war, Israeli reporter working for Brazilian newspaper visits Hizbullah's stronghold in southern Lebanon, meets Shiite group members and documents the destruction, recovery and despair in the land of cedars

Exactly one year after the war, I arrived in Lebanon as a correspondent of the Brazilian newspaper O Globo.

The word Israel must not be mentioned in Lebanon. I even cut the labels off my clothes, to make sure that not even one letter in Hebrew will accidentally be seen. In order to visit the villages in the south an approval from Hizbullah must be obtained.

"Where are you from?" I was asked by an organization member, and I, who made aliyah to Israel several years ago, was praying that he wouldn't notice how hard my legs were trembling.

A year after the Second Lebanon War, in the villages of south Lebanon the destruction is apparent everywhere. Life has not yet returned to normal, the water supply to some of the houses is cut off, and the power supply is also interrupted.

Hizbullah's fighters, on the other hand, have made a full recovery and are prepared for a potential future confrontation with the IDF. The sophisticated weapons provided by Iran since the ceasefires are ready to go into use.

At least 70 percent of the residents of Bint Jbeil, the Shiites' capital, have left the village. Despite the dozens of Hizbullah flags that are hung throughout the village and hundreds of posters proclaiming victory placed along the South's roads, one can not detect overt Hizbullah presence; no armed men on the streets, only top leaders of the organization know the whereabouts of the weapon depots.

Yet, Hizbullah is keeping an eye on every suspicious move. Young men on motorcycles roam the streets of Bint Jbeil. Several residents claim they are Hizbullah and that the UN Resolution will not stop them.

"We are Hizbullah. Israelis don't understand that our warriors are the residents of the area. They are farmers working their olive and tobacco fields. Over the years they realized that Israel is the enemy of the Lebanese people.

"They believe that Nasrallah can protect Lebanon from Zionist and American interests. If a war breaks out, these same farmers will take arms and fight for all of us. They'll never drive Hizbullah out of southern Lebanon," said one resident, an employee of the only guesthouse in the village.

A matter of life and death

When I tried talking to more locals, the conversation was interrupted by a Hizbullah man. "Stop immediately. We don't allow conversations with the residents," he barked at me. The man, who seemed angry, took me aside and looked me in the eye.

The interrogation continued: "Where are you from? Which countries have you visited?" I couldn't make a mistake, I had to lie. It was a matter of life and death. Had the man known I was from Israel, I would be in serious trouble.

Bint Jbeil is, undoubtedly, the village that endured the most attacks during the Second Lebanon War. Even today, electricity is available for only eight hours a day, and water is driven in on trucks from Tyre and Sidon.

The cleanup of the area from shell duds was completed only a few weeks ago. All of the residents are unemployed but they are slowly getting back on track – as Hizbullah promised to pay each family $10,000.

Tyre's Home Front Commander, Abass Garib, said nothing has changed in the past year. He was at the command's headquarters when the building was attacked by the IAF. He lay under the rubble for four hours. He believes the second round between Israel and Hizbullah is around the corner.

"After I was hit, I lost my confidence in mankind. We have been working so hard to save lives but then I realized life has no value in the Middle East," he said. "We feel hurt. Our government can't protect us."

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