Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dahieh: Destruction and Reconstruction

On Tuesday, we visited Dahieh, a southern suburb of Beirut that was all but reduced to rubble during the Israeli bombing campaign. The Israeli Defense Forces claimed to target Dahieh because it is the home of Hezbollah’s headquarters. Many homes were destroyed, people other than Hezbollah fighters were killed from Israeli bombs, and many of them were children. The neighborhood is home to many Shia, who are supporters of Hezbollah. Because Dahieh is just on the outskirts of Beirut, citizens from the city watched in terror as F16 fighters bombed the neighborhood to pieces. Because of Israel’s brutality and Hezbollah’s steadfastness, many other sects of the population became sympathizers, which one would think wasn’t Israel’s original intention.

We arrived and saw many red hats on the heads of Hezbollah aid workers who are working to help with cleanup efforts. Volunteer architects have been coming to Dahieh to survey the destruction and aid in rebuilding. The destruction is incredible. Piles of dusty broken concrete lie where six story buildings once stood. On the top of the rubble, carefully placed propaganda banners have the slogan ”Made In USA: Official Trademark” and other banners with “Extremely Accurate Targets” written on them. Bulldozers dig though the mess, pick up pieces of rubble, and place it into the back of trash trucks. Other volunteers and families try to salvage items from the destruction.

We walked toward a tent where a press conference about the reconstruction is happening. I moved toward the front and grabed a spot before the mainstream press could take all of the spots. A Reuters reporter complemented me on my camera and then put a piece of gaffer’s tape over the made in the USA engravings on my lens.

“Trust me, you don’t want to have to explain yourself all day here. People are upset,” he said with some concern.

“Considering the circumstances, I understand, “ I replied.

The conference started. The first speaker is in charge of the architects working on reconstruction. He spent the first few minutes congratulating Nasrallah on his victory and then described the wreckage. He condemned Israel for the large civilian death toll. After a few minutes, people clapped and reporters grabbed people to interview. I moved out of the tent and noticed all of the red Hezbollah hats milling about the wreckage.

After the end of the Israeli offensive, Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah claimed victory over Israel and followed by saying, "completing the victory can be done with reconstruction, particularly the houses," he said. "Everyone must enter the battle to rebuild." Hezbollah's volunteers were evident within the suburb.

In a volunteer tent in the bombed-out neighborhood, where almost daily press conferences were held during the week, Dr. Bilal Naim was busy in conversation with journalists and architects who came to survey the damage. Bilal Naim is a Hezbollah member co-ordinating the clean-up in Dahaih and other southern suburbs. We explained to him that we were journalists working on a story about the cleanup and he agreed to do a short interview.

Dr. Naim went straight into the estimated amount of destruction. “Here, there were more than 300 buildings totally destroyed and more than 600 buildings seriously damaged. In addition, there are about 12,000 damaged residential homes.”

I asked him how much total destruction was estimated in Dahiah and he replied, “I don’t think that amount has been settled yet. For Dahiah alone, we estimate that there is over one billion dollars of damage. The doesn’t take into account the south or Bekaa, with all of the damage to agriculture, the environment, human health, and economic damage caused by the destruction of factories. I think the amount exceeds 3.7 billion dollars.”

Bilal spoke of Hezbollah’s role in reconstruction. “Hezbollah is helping in the reconstruction. Hezbollah is helping people buy new furniture and providing rent for one year until it is safe to truly rebuild.” Dr. Bilal, like many Lebanese citizens, is skeptical that the ceasefire will last longterm.

Hezbollah is moving quickly to aid the citizens of Dahieh. They have worked quickly to help with the reconstruction efforts. In addition to physically helping families, they have been handing out huge sums of money. Over 30,000 housing units were destroyed throughout Lebanon during the 34-day Israeli offensive. Families that lost homes during the war are being given between 10,000 to 12,000 dollars by Hezbollah. At a small school in Dahieh, people have lined up to receive wads of US hundred dollar bills.

When asked about the source of money, Hezbollah official Ghassan Darwish told the Daily Star that many supporters donate a portion of their money each month to Hezbollah and also admitted that Iran helps Hezbollah on some occasions. Some analysts have criticized Hezbollah at trying to overstep the Lebanese government, but neither the state or the UN has been unable to act as fast. Wherever the funds came from or whatever the intentions of the reconstruction are, Hezbollah has won the support of this destroyed neighborhood.

Video Coming Soon...

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