AITA ECH CHAAB — People in this southern Lebanese village are rebuilding their destroyed houses with renewed vigour. And, with renewed loyalties to a combination of Hezbollah, Qatar and Iran.
This village of about 3,000 less than a kilometre from the heavily guarded border with Israel was one of the first places bombed by Israeli warplanes during the war last summer. Residents here grow tobacco and work on their small farms.
The Hezbollah raid in which two Israeli soldiers were detained took place nearby. The village was hammered by incessant bombings by Israeli warplanes throughout the conflict.
But rather than turn people away from Hezbollah, the attacks seem to have made residents fierce supporters of the political group, now providing some of the only reconstruction assistance.
“The sound of the bombs, the warplanes, the drones was relentless for us,” Fatima Ridda, a mother of 11 whose husband was killed in an Israeli rocket attack told IPS, as UN helicopters buzzed overhead. “Now Hezbollah, Iran, and Qatar are the only people helping us try to rebuild our lives. Our own government will do nothing.”
Hezbollah members distributed 12,000 dollars to each family whose houses suffered damage during the war, to help them with reconstruction.
Further undercutting the Israeli-U.S. hopes that the war would turn Lebanese people against Hezbollah, the political gridlock between Hezbollah and the U.S.-backed Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has motivated people to support those helping them — which means Hezbollah, Iran and Qatar.
To that extent people are also turning against the government. And this further strengthens Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the others seen as helping people.
“I love Iran for helping us so much. Our own state has done nothing for us,” Abed Ridda, a businessman who works in Saudi Arabia but lives in the town told IPS. “Qatar is also helping us rebuild, so of course we love the people who are helping us.”
Qatar, a Sunni Gulf state that maintains trade relations with Israel, and Iran, have both been financing reconstruction projects across much of southern Lebanon.
Immediately after the war last July, Qatar took responsibility for rebuilding four largely Hezbollah-supporting towns in southern Lebanon — Khiam, Ait Ech Chaab, Bint Jbail and Ainata.
By the end of January the Qataris had handed out more than 5,000 compensation cheques averaging about 6,000 dollars each in the four towns. That is as much as the total U.S. aid offer of 30 million dollars. At least two further instalments from Qatar are planned.
Qatar has also repaired hospitals, schools and nearly 400 religious buildings and mosques.
Iranian money and expertise has overseen the repair or reconstruction of 60 schools across Lebanon, with work planned on another 100. Iran has pledged more than 112 million dollars to help the south rebuild.
Hussam Khoshnevis, head of the Iranian mission to aid reconstruction of Lebanon, told reporters recently that four hospitals in a list of 22, and 30 places of worship including 10 churches and some Sunni mosques have been repaired.
Electricity has been restored to 60 villages in the south with Iranian aid, and ten major bridges have been rebuilt. Iranian engineers are also overseeing the repair of all of Lebanon’s damaged roads.
The relief work has strengthened allegiances to these opponents of Israel and the U.S.
“Was it reasonable to see (Prime Minister Fouad) Siniora sitting with Condoleeza Rice when Israel is bombing us with U.S. bombs,” Abed Ridda said to IPS, referring to the visit the U.S. Secretary of State made to Beirut during the war. The move infuriated most Lebanese across the south.
“We rely on Hezbollah and these other countries who are helping us now because it’s all we have,” Said Abu Khalil, an unemployed construction worker injured by bomb sharpnel during the war told IPS. “And we rely on Hezbollah to protect us again from the next Israeli aggression, because our own government can’t and won’t do that job.”