Monday, August 28, 2006

Houla and Kantara Aug 26th, 2006

Houla and Kantara

Today I traveled to south Lebanon with a grassroots organization called Lebanon Solidarity. This group began organizing when the war began. The group has two main goals in the short term; the first is to get basic relief to the hard hit regions of the south, particularly the small villages that have been overlooked by the major NGO’s. The second goal is to join participants from across Lebanese society in organizing a united response to the Israeli aggression that has done so much damage throughout Lebanon.

We first traveled to Houla a village of 1500 homes, 40 of which were completely destroyed, 250 of which have significant damage. The major concern at this time is the water supply, many of the homes in the village depended on the village water supply for all their needs. The 4 main water tanks as well as the motor for the pump were the first things destroyed by Israel’s aerial bombardment. Why water? Can this possibly be a legitimate target in the “war on terror”? Or would Israel merely dismiss this as another instance of “collateral damage”? The Israeli forces hit Houla hard. The heart cannot find words or expression to what the eyes record. Home after home lie in complete and utter ruin. What can be the explanation for this destruction? Self defense? To defeat terrorism? To teach a lesson? To make a point (perhaps might makes right?) The infamous words of our President come back to haunt me, “This is an opportunity.” The hollow words of a blind man that strike me hard as I wander through the wreckage.

While assessing damage in the village, we are met by a ninety-year-old man Ahmad Hagg, who showed us his destroyed house. He was sleeping in the house when it was bombed and was lucky to get out alive. One family member died in the attack. Out in his garden an unexploded bomb lay near where he had his tobacco crop drying in the sun. He insisted over and over again that we tell the world what happened in Houla.

From Houla we journeyed to Kantara. Just 2 days earlier, and over a week into the ceasefire, Israeli soldiers kidnapped 2 residents of the village and removed them to an unknown location. I walk along the main street with fifteen-year-old Mohammad and his nine-year-old brother Ali. They invite me into the remains of their uncle’s house that has been gutted by a fire resulting from rocket fire. As we continue down the street, the boys point to cluster bombs lying in the dust by the side of the road and a landmine which has rocks piled around it to warn people to stay away. (Later that night we learn from UN coordinators that over 300 locations of unexploded ordinance had been identified to date, and many villages had not yet been reached due to security concerns.)

Cluster bombs pose a particularly deadly post war threat. Up to 25% of the canisters do not explode when they hit the ground. One cluster bomb holds dozens of bomblets that disperse over a wide area. Each bomblet is small and inconspicuous. If you find one unexploded cluster bomb on the ground, you can expect there are many more in the vicinity. If a child were to kick one, or try to pick one up, it is very likely to explode, sending shrapnel in all directions. I ask Mohammad about the danger and he tells me many parents are keeping their children indoors until Unifil arrives and clears the area. I ask him, “Why are you and your brother outside?” and we all share a laugh. With such a backlog of locations, it may be weeks before the streets of Kantara are safe for children. In the US media we continually hear analysts report on how Hizbullah has munitions loaded with ball bearings in order to maim and kill as many civilians as possible, and Israel uses precision guided weaponry to avoid civilian casualties. On the ground in Lebanon this myth is easily exploded. Since the end of the war thirty-eight civilian casualties have been reported due to the detonation of cluster bombs, and these numbers are growing everyday. The cluster bombs are American products, like most of the weaponry used to destroy Lebanon.

Everywhere, Hizbullah flags are flying. Photos and posters of Sheik Nasrallah are everywhere. Outrage over Israel’s destruction of infrastructure and against the civilian population was palpable. Whatever the dynamics involved in attempting this misadventure, whether it was pressure from the US, or attempts of the new Israeli government to “prove itself”, or retaliation for the capture of two Israeli soldiers, it was a huge miscalculation. From all appearances on the ground, Hizbullah has gained wide spread support not only for the resistance but for the practical and timely measures taken since the ceasefire took effect.

One can only wonder what measures Israel will consider next, now that Hizbullah is even stronger than before the bombing began.