BEIRUT - Hussein Choumer hangs around one
corner in the district of Haret Hreik in the
southern suburbs of Beirut. Around him are
mountains of rubble, the remains of over 100
mostly 10-storey residential buildings flattened
by Israeli missiles now turned monuments of
destruction. Books, towels, washing machines, and
mattresses are strewn on the streets, covered with
a thick film of powdered concrete and ash. The
last page in a calendar shows the day it all
started: July 12; the hands of the clock in one
shop is stuck at 12:25. The air is redolent with
the strange mix of filth and gunpowder.
Hussein, his wife, and three children used
to live here. His house is gone. And yet, "I
consider my loss as nothing," Hussein says. "What
matters is that our brothers are in southern
fighting. And as they fight,
they're giving me back my home." Two hours later,
a volley of Israeli bunker-buster bombs once again
hit the neighborhood.
Sixty of the
thousands of families who lost their homes in
these suburbs have camped out in a school in
central Beirut. Outside, a large picture of
Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah hangs at the
center of a clothesline over the narrow street.
The atmosphere inside is anything but despondent.
Over a hundred children are running around the
small courtyard playing. In a little while, they
burst into a chant "We love Nasrallah!" The adults
follow. These families have just lost everything.
They're having the time of their lives.
With over 1,400 dead, more than 3,000
wounded, over a million displaced, and entire
districts and villages in ruins, Lebanon marked
the "cessation of hostilities" on Monday with a
heady mix of awe and anxiety, lamentation and
Hussein's and the displaced
families' steadfastness is perhaps among the most
visible manifestation of how Israel failed to
achieve the military objectives behind this war.
If the point of the massive 30-day aerial
bombardment and leveling of villages was meant to
strike fear in people, as many Lebanese believe,
then the result may have been the opposite.
In the south, site of the most intense
fighting and devastation, the sound of explosions
came from firecrackers and celebratory gunfire
instead of from artillery and bombs. Beginning at
8:15 in the morning, or barely 15 minutes into the
ceasefire, thousands of families began streaming
back to their emptied towns. If the aim of Israel
was to conduct ethnic cleansing in the south, then
the effort seems to have failed for now.
"Hezbollah offers its victory to the
Lebanese people," says Dr Ali Fayyad, a member of
the political bureau of the Hezbollah. It has been
an offer that many in Lebanon seem to have readily
accepted. At night, at exactly the same time that
US President George W Bush was on TV calling the
Hezbollah "terrorists who want to deprive the
Lebanese of freedom", convoys with young people
were driving around Beirut's streets, blaring
their horns, cheering wildly, and waving
Hezbollah's and Lebanon's flags. In street
corners, young and old alike gathered in small
crowds to hand out Nasrallah's pictures to passing
Despite persistent attempts to
cast Hezbollah as an isolated "terrorist
organization" of Shi'ite Muslims, the majority of
the Lebanese population - including Christians and
Sunni Muslims - have thrown their support behind
the group. In one recent local survey, 87% of the
population was reported to be supporting
Hezbollah, including four out of every five
Christians and Druze and nine out of every 10
But while most Lebanese
acknowledge Hezbollah's leading role in fighting
Israel, what many Lebanese consistently refer to
as the "national resistance" is a broad coalition
that includes virtually all of Lebanon's most
important political forces, including Amal, the
other main Shi'ite movement, the Lebanese
Communist Party (LCP), other left groups and
liberal democrats - and even the right-wing Free
Patriotic Movement of General Michel Aoun.
"We have a joke that, in the average
Lebanese family with seven children, four will be
with Hezbollah, two will be with the communists
and one will be with Amal - all of them with the
resistance," says Khaled Hadadeh, secretary
general of the LCP.
The LCP, a leftist
secular party whose membership cuts across the
confessional lines, has itself been very close to
Hezbollah and fought alongside it in the
frontlines in the south. According to Hadadeh, at
least 12 LCP members and supporters died in the
The war was not, as was
frequently reported, just between Israel and
Hezbollah. Contrary to Bush's claim that Hezbollah
actions were in defiance of Lebanon's government,
the Lebanese government, since the outbreak of
war, has consistently supported Hezbollah's
positions and demands. Hezbollah for its part has
vowed to abide by the Lebanese government's
Most Lebanese believe that it
is this unity among the otherwise divided Lebanese
groups that ultimately inflicted defeat on Israel.
"This unity is especially significant because
Lebanon has been a country that's been at war with
itself," points out Anwar al-Khalil, a member of
parliament from Amal. The groups which now
comprise the "national resistance" were at
opposing sides of Beirut's dividing lines during
Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s and 1990s.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a
Maronite Christian said: "We have come out of this
stronger, more united than ever before. Israel
would now think twice before coming to attack us
again." If Israel's aim was to foment Lebanon's
sectarian and religious divisions in the hope of
pitting the Christians and the Sunnis against the
Hezbollah, then the strategy may have backfired.
Despite the celebrations, however, the
Lebanese are not even done counting their dead.
"This victory came with a heavy price," says
Hadadeh. "Now we're still calculating how much we
Ayoub Hmaied from Bint Jabeil,
one of the towns at the heart of the clashes in
the south, rattled off a list of villages where
Israel's missiles led to a massacre of civilians:
Bekaa, Brital, Haissa, Srifa, Qana, Ashaiya ... At
6am, just two hours before the "cessation of
hostilities" took effect, Israel bombed Israel's
southern suburbs in what seemed like a coup de
grace for this phase of the war.
now in a cloudy time," says Khalil. "We cannot say
we have arrived at the end."
though, the Lebanese are still in awe at what they
have achieved. As many Lebanese like to remind
their guests these days, in 1967, it took only six
days for Israel to defeat all of the Arab armies
combined. Now, even after 33 days of massive and
unrelenting bombardment, what they call their
"national resistance" is still standing.
Considering that Israel is said to be the
world's most powerful military and the recipient
of billions of dollars in cutting-edge military
technology, points out Hezbollah's Fayyad, that is
no mean feat.
And this, believes Nahla
Chahal, a half-Iraqi, half-Lebanese activist, is
why Hezbollah is so threatening to Israel and the
United States. "They show not only that it's
possible to resist but that it's possible to
resist and win."
is with Focus on the Global South, a research and