South Lebanon: Unable to Seek Shelter
By: Amal Khalil
Published Friday, August 24, 2012
Six years on from the end of the July 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, most of the destruction has been cleared away and redevelopment has taken place, but the new structures do not include shelters that could protect civilians under renewed attacks. Al-Akhbar investigates why.
Two years ago, Shelters in the Republic of Fear was published, revealing the secrets of the shelters and tunnels built by the late Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, during his wars in the 1980s.
A series of tunnels and shelters were built, several floors underground and tens of kilometers long. They were fortified with asphalt, steel, and anti-explosion doors, and built to withstand very high temperatures.
Many residents of South Lebanon might reject the comparison with Shelters in the Republic of Fear, because we “are a people who know no fear,” as one resident declared. However, with the bombing raids committed by Israel during the July 2006 war in mind, one might speculate that had there been shelters, many civilian deaths could have been avoided.
Scores were killed when residential buildings were targeted in air raids on Srifa, Silaa, al-Hosh, Hallusieh, the Civil Defense building in Tyre, the Imam Hasan complex in Dahiyeh, Burj al-Shamali, Biflai, Yatir, Deir Qanun al-Nahr, Qana, Maaroub, Nabatiyeh, Duwayr, Ansar, Kafrtibnit, Brital, Ayn Arab, Luwayzieh, Ghazieh, Shiyah, Aytaroun, Hadatha, Yaroun, Aynata, Bint Jbeil, Hula, and many more.
All these indiscriminate killings were committed in residential areas where people – neighbors and relatives – had gathered together on the lower floors of buildings believing that they would be safe from the shelling.
Not long after the devastating war ended, people began to rebuild everything, including houses that had fallen and crushed their family members. At the time, the fast pace of reconstruction was seen as yet another blow to the enemy. Today, six years later, most traces of the war have been erased from southern towns and villages.
“In the place of one house, we built several, more beautiful than before,” boast the people of the South. But they admit that they are not safer than they were before. They still have no means by which to protect themselves from Israel’s bombs in a future confrontation.
One of the first bombing raids of the war took place in Zibqine, where 13 members of the Bazzi family died under the rubble of a three-storey residential building. The survivors of the family “came out of death victorious, its members passionate about life. They built a home to replace the one that was destroyed,” the mayor of the town, Raef Bazzi, told us in a phone call.
He took us to the site of the tragedy. We found Darwish Bazzi, who lost his mother, wife, sister, and her three daughters, sister-in-law, and three of her children, nephew, aunt, and neighbor. Bazzi rebuilt the family home several meters away from the old one. On the ruins of the original house, he built a flower bed and a monument in memory of the deceased.
We asked Bazzi if he had built a shelter in the new house in case a war breaks out again. He found the question strange.
“The shells from the Israeli battleships which targeted the house where my family had been sheltering on the ground floor destroyed it completely from its foundations up,” he responded. “Its walls flew in the air like feathers, its stones turned into a fine powder. The house was replaced by a crater 12 meters deep. So even if the house did have a shelter, it would not have withstood the rockets used.”
Moreover, he added, the amount estimated by the government as compensation for the destroyed house was not even enough to rebuild it as it was. Here, he points to the new, single-storey house that he has so far been unable to complete.
The mayor tells the story of three resistance fighters who took refuge in an old basement built from stone, to reinforce Bazzi’s point. It had a vaulted roof that had withstood the ravages of time for several decades as well as successive Israeli attacks on Zibqine that date back to the 1960s. The young men thought it was safe, because it had not been affected by the heavy shelling of the residential area around it. But it was directly hit by a shell which turned it into rubble, instantly killing all three.
Some thought they could seek shelter in the numerous caves in the valleys and woods surrounding the town. But even those could not withstand the kind of rockets being used. The mayor points out that Israeli jets targeted a rock face at the entrance to a cave where movement had been detected. They shelled the place until it was completely destroyed.
We put the question to Sharif Bitar, a member of the engineering team in the Waad reconstruction project, which rebuilt many of the destroyed areas. In his opinion, “Shelters and disaster management, such as the removal of rubble and ensuring food supplies and medical emergency aid are measures to be taken by a state, using all its resources, not by citizens.”
He points out that even in the newly rebuilt Civil Defense building, the scene of a bombing raid in Tyre, no shelter was included, despite the reconstruction being very modern and expensive. None of the buildings rebuilt by Waad include shelters, just parking garages and storage areas.
Bitar – who maintains that most shelters would not withstand modern rockets, capable of penetrating tens of meters into the ground – admits that fortified shelters could be built, “but at extremely high costs and the needed technology is not available in Lebanon. A number of municipalities around Tyre, in cooperation with the Swiss Development Agency, have laid down plans to deal with natural disaster and war but they still require major funding to implement them.”
Furthermore, Bitar says that the shelters might turn into mass graves, pointing out that the massacres that took the greatest number of lives were the ones in which many families were sheltering in one place.
Existing Lebanese legislation made the building of shelters compulsory in government buildings but “voluntary” in private homes and buildings, allowing the private sector to use the shelters for other purposes, such as parking and storage.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.