In the rubble of Qaim
Report by Le Monde's Sophie Shihab, Special Correspondent to South Lebanon
01.Sept.06 | 13h35
Camped out on what they laughing they call the new terrace of their home –a first floor room with its outer walls half destroyed by the bombing– the women are taking a short break. They’ve cleared the debris out of three other rooms and the kitchen. Their home is one of those exceptionally classified as “reparable” in Qaim, the town in Lebanon that has been 85% destroyed, say engineers –an estimate that any visitor would confirm. A Hezbollah bastion located 7 km from Israel, Qaim was bombed every day during the 34-day war, affirms Baria, on her terrace. She got this information from the men who stayed behind –a thousand fighters hidden underground, they say- because Baria, like the 20,000 other residents of Qaim, fled to the north or to Syria when the shooting starting. This is why only one civilian and two fighters died, declares Baria. True of false, the atmosphere in the repopulating rubble is far from mourning.
Ka-ching, I have $6,000, says Baria, laughing. She has hidden the wad of bills received three days ago from Hezbollah in her blouse. They are helping us anyway they can…water, medicine. But there’s nothing to buy, except meat if you really want it. Her neighbor, whose home cannot be repaired, received $10,000. She’s living for the moment with Baria, whose parents are sleeping in a small outdoor tent –another gift from the Party of God on the caved-in roof of their home. This is nothing, she says.
This is the fourth time we’ve fled Israeli bombs. But this time, the monster was defeated, and we still have Seyyed Nasrallah and we are confident. Everything’s going to be all right, she adds.
The sentiment is echoed on the yellow banner hanging outside Qaim. We shall be victorious in reconstruction as we were in the war. A promise facilitated by the Emir of Qater, who has agreed to finance the entire rebuilding of the town, as well as Bint Jbeil and two other villages among the most damaged.
While they wait, the inhabitants have plenty to do. Thousands have returned, although some do not spend the night and others are preparing to leave as autumn approaches. Auto repairmen, carpenters and other artisans having generators –Iran has recently supplied them– and are busy in make-do workshops. Sweating youth lay electric cable along the upturned street, others in the distance are pulling cable. Until 2:00 pm, I’m a government official. Then, until nightfall, I serve as a volunteer so that the lights return to my town. Within 20 days, we’ll have everything done, God willing, chimes in another. A Hezbollah volunteer? Ha! The entire town is Hezbollah, says Ali, throwing his head back and laughing. He admits that some support the other Shi’a organization, Amal, and that the 50 Christians of the town (30% of the population was once Christian) back the PPS, a pro-Syrian party. Rahmas Qasis, an Orthodox Christian who has just reopened her shoe store, says in a measured tone, Returning to a destroyed Qaim is better than returning to a Qaim occupied by Israel.
The Christian owner of a destroyed home also received $10,000 from Hezbollah, whose members are devout people who don’t lie or steal, unlike those Amal characters, who got rich on reconstructonn during the 1970's. But it would be better if the government were paying the indemnity.
The State, in Qaim, is downtown city hall. The acting mayor, jovial and sporting a short beard, receives us seated under a portrait of the Lebanese President, Emile Lahoud, and hands us a business card with his name, Ali Zreik, director of an Islamic charity in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the bastion of Hezbollah. Ali’s office doesn’t empty out. He warmly greets some visitors, who have an air of comrades-in-arms under their civilian clothes, with a shout out of “Victory”.
The Stockholm Conference? It brought together those countries who gave the green light to Israel to destroy us, he says. They’re plotting against Hezbollah. They are attempting to win politically what they could not achieve militarily. The urgent aid they’re talking about we’ve already received from UN organizations, the Red Crescent organizations of the Gulf, and Algerian, Italian and Turkish NGOs. When asked whether “we” means the Lebanese Government or Hezbollah, he answers with a laugh, Why, it’s the same thing!
In this border area, emergency assistance has also come from FINUL and other NGOs, who are helping the area’s isolated villages to avoid overlap, they say, with the Party of God.