Bint Jbeil, capital of liberation and resistance

Omayma Abdel-Latif of Al-Ahram Weekly, who visited Bint Jbeil several times since the end of the Israeli occupation in May 2000, tells the human story of the "capital of liberation and resistance."

Lebanese women walk in front of an abandoned Israeli military vehicle and beneath a poster of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, centre-right, his predecessor Abbas Al-Musawi, centre left, Iranian Ayatollah Khamaini, left, and the late Ayatollah Khomeini, near Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon in 2005. (photo: AP)

(2 August 2006) - AT THE entrance to Bint Jbeil, next to Sahet Al-Berka (Pond Square), stands a rusty Israeli tank with a Hizbullah flag hoisted over it. The tank was captured by Hizbullah fighters during their war of liberation in the year 2000 and was kept at the entrance to stand witness to their victory over a ruthless enemy. Bint Jbeil, the border town with a population of 3,000 people and "the Dame of Jabl Amel and Galile" -- as its residents call it -- made news headlines this week when focus shifted to cover the fierce battles between Hizbullah fighters and the Israeli war machine that did not spare women, children, houses or fields in its atrocious war of destruction against Lebanon. Throughout the week, the Israeli propaganda machine hyped up the image of the town, projecting it as "the capital of Hizbullah" and the stronghold of the missile launchers, in order to sell its capture as a major victory and justify any atrocities Israel will commit against civilians.

The city does enjoy a significant status, however, but it is more symbolic than strategic. Bint Jbeil is commonly dubbed "the capital of liberation and resistance". Posters of shuhadaa (martyrs) from Bint Jbeil, as well as Hizbullah's yellow and green flags, adorn the streets of the town. Hizbullah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is venerated here. Last year, he gave a speech commemorating the fifth anniversary of the liberation in the centre of town. One important reason why Bint Jbeil is significant is that of all the southern towns, Hizbullah and its leadership enjoy massive unquestioning support among the inhabitants: for this is a city that has always prided itself for defeating the Israelis.

The news that Bint Jbeil fell to the hands of Israeli forces early on Tuesday shocked many of those who knew the city and its people all too well. But as it turned out it was all part of the Israeli pyschological warfare for, until the paper went to print, the fierce battles to control Bint Jbeil were still raging with a rising death toll of 14 Israeli soldiers and 25 injured. Eye witnesses spoke of the destruction of many of the town's houses and the ongoing fighting raised fears of a worst case scenario for those who left relatives and loved ones behind under Israeli fire. The first thought that came to mind was the fate of at least 400 families who have been trapped in the city ever since the Israeli atrocities began, and who were too afraid to leave because the roads out of Bint Jbeil were not safe enough for their children. On Tuesday night, Ali Bazzi, MP for Bint Jbeil in the Lebanese parliament was on the phone with UNIFIL to secure an exit for those trapped inside. "The UNIFIL, said Bazzi promised to help but I hope they deliver before it is too late."

Fears were growing that, if the town was captured, the Israelis might embark on acts of retribution against those residents who decided to stay behind -- an act that will be seen as a mark of defiance to the week-long Israeli calls for residents to leave Bint Jbeil. But there were hardly any options left. Qasim Qasir, a Lebanese journalist, described the scary trip from Bint Jbeil to Sidon. "It was as though death was chasing us all along the road," he wrote in the daily An- Nahar newspaper. "Israeli warplanes were over our heads, my children were crying and terrified by the sounds of missiles. It is was a trauma for us all," he added.

But if Qasir was among the lucky few who managed to escape the Israeli onslaught on the south, many families were not. The plight of the Saads, a family of 20 people, nearly half of them children, is indescribable. The day after Hizbullah captured the two Israeli soldiers, the Saads were waiting nervously as news unfolded, but their resolve was firm: "We will not leave," said Hana Saad, a mother of two girls, Saja and Haneen. "This is our land and we have faith in the resistance," she told a friend over the telephone from her house in Bint Jbeil on the day Hizbullah captured the soldiers. This spirit of defiance was perhaps a result of previous experiences of enduring Israeli occupation. The four siblings Qasim, Amin, Hana and Ali grew up in the house in Bint Jbeil and were familiar with scenes of the Palestinian resistance fighting Israeli forces.

Their resolve was strengthened by the victories the resistance was winning over Israel when, on the second day of the attack, Hizbullah inflicted damage on an Israeli destroyer. But, three days into the Israeli aggression, it became all too clear that Israel was intent on making Lebanon suffer badly. When it poured its wrath on the people of the south to vindicate Hizbullah's operation, the Saads decided to leave their homes and move to a makeshift shelter at a neighbour's house. Things went from bad to worse when all lines of communication were cut. Amin, the elder brother who lives in Paris, said he awaited news from relatives and friends who might have seen or heard from his family. "Of course one can think of a million scenarios, but our only hope is that God will protect them," Amin told a friend over the phone from Paris. "I just hope that they went out to Remeesh, a village nearby, but I know the decision to leave is a very hard one, especially when there are families and children involved."

For a week now, Amin has not managed to get in touch with his family, and no matter how much he tries to hide his anxiety, it is all too obvious. Amin is not the only one: there are many like him who have left loved ones behind. At least 20,000 Lebanese live in Dearborn, Michigan, who still have family and relatives in Bint Jbeil. But Amin is left with hardly any options, except deciding to go back to Lebanon once a ceasefire is in place. But until then, Amin will go on praying that the violent bombardment of the city, which intensified during the past 36 hours, will have spared their families and houses. He and others who are still rooted in Bint Jbeil can only hope that the next time they go back to Sahet Al-Berka they will find more than one Israeli tank with Hizbullah flags to signify not only the victory of Hizbullah over the Israeli aggressors, but also the spirit of a city and a people in their struggle against a merciless war machine.


Hizbullah Hits Advancing Israeli Tanks
Hizbullah resistance group hit two Israeli tanks near the town of Marjayoun during fierce fighting in the area on Thursday, August 10, 2006, a resident said. Hizbullah said in a statement it had destroyed 11 Israeli tanks, killing or wounding their crews, in fighting in the area. Israeli infantry had advanced from the border to the Christian towns of Marjayoun and Qlaiah and the village of Burj al-Molouk overnight, virtually unopposed. They passed through the towns and appeared not to take positions inside them, witnesses said.

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