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 dollars in aid and loans at a meeting in Paris in January to help rebuild this nation of four million. Three of the biggest contributors where 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 Harriri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
Michel Samaha, who was minister for information 1992-1995 and again 2003-2004, told IPS that Siniora, Harriri 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 neo-cons 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 ten-storey apartment buildings were completely levelled by Israeli bombing. Empty craters is sometimes all that remains.
Hezbollah, led by Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, has spearheaded post-war reconstruction in the suburb through its NGO, Jihad al-Binaa. The organisation 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 healthcare and education. Hezbollah says the group is funded through religious charitable donations such as zakat and the Shia Muslim system of hummous, through which Shias donate a percentage of their incomes.
Hezbollah acted quickly after the bombings ended in August last year, offering 12,000 dollars 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 read, ‘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 al-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 groups.