Yammouneh Farmers: Keeping Faith in the Land
By: Ahmed Mohsen
Published Monday, August 6, 2012
In Yammouneh, the locals beseech the Virgin Mary. They bang their heads on the walls of the old church and pray “in the presence of Our Lady Mary.”
The people of Yammouneh are “the Virgin’s Shia,” and have worshipped in the church since 1833.
When they enter the church, they do so barefoot, because they are entering the “house of God.” They light candles and sit. The church is a vital component of Yammouneh’s Shia culture.
When a veiled woman entrusted with the keys opened the church’s door for us, children began to come in. They loved its luxurious wooden benches.
The Archdiocese slightly renovated the church a few years ago, because it was made of sandstone. Sunday mass is still held here every week.
In the twin towns of Deir al-Ahmar and Yammouneh, their lives are far removed from war and fighting. “Everything you hear in the media about gunmen and bandits is unfair and slanderous,” says Yammouneh Mayor Jamal Shreif.
The bulldozers came to wipe out their fields. They were holding on to those fields, not just the hashish. They were fine with the army, but not the tractors or the “mercenaries,” because they were “a support force” and do not make the decisions.
It should be made clear from the start that they are not “rebels.” But it is a repeat of what happened since 1991. Then, it was the Syrian army that “supported” the [hash] eradication force.
In 2008, they did not wipe out the fields of Deir al-Ahmar, because [Lebanese Forces (LF) chief] Samir Geagea had paid the village a visit. Yammouneh’s neighbor is an LF “protectorate,” but this year, the Maronite village became a soft spot.
“They burned everything in it,” says one of its farmers. But “in villages with big merchants and political liaisons, they had tea with the merchants, set up a mock eradication, and filmed it.”
In Yammouneh, on Saturday morning, soldiers opened fire on the residents.
The head of the municipality and well-known singer Mouin Shreif joined in the protesters.
“I am a son of Yammouneh. I oppose drug cultivation, but I will support any people who are defending their livelihoods,” he declared.
They say that every year “informants” whisper to the farmers to have faith in God and sow their crops, because “there will be no eradication this year.”
Then security forces wait until harvest-time before they destroy the crops. The farmers accuse “the Central Drug Control Office” of “collaborating with ‘foreign countries and organizations’ against them.”
The daily cost of hiring one tractor is $200. We are talking about 100 drivers and a month spent vandalizing the fields. Added to that “the money the drug office makes from the suspicious characters who fund the eradication operations and those that the bulldozers forget.” They accuse security forces of receiving bribes from the “big” men while “bullying” small farmers.
“If this money was instead distributed to the people of the area through development projects and viable alternative crops, no one would grow this plant anymore,” they said with unusual consensus.
But if the the plants were not grown, there would be no eradication process. Others speak about astronomical sums of money “generated by the Office of Drug Control.” Otherwise, “why would they wait for the farmers’ toil to bear fruit and then charge at them with their filthy bulldozers?”
That day, 70 tractors and 5 giant bulldozers bore down on the village. The residents counted around 100 military vehicles, dozens of officers, hundreds of soldiers, an airborne regiment, and several personnel carriers.
“What is this?” they ask. “An operation to liberate Jerusalem?”
According to observers, around 300 dunams (30 acres) are planted with hashish in Yammouneh. Less than a quarter have been destroyed.
The townspeople guarding the surviving fields have tried everything. In the past, merchants would buy their apples every October at a reduced rate and pay them six months later. “Half the time they never even paid,” but Yammouneh had to sell its apples cheaply, “so as not to stockpile them.”
The newly constructed dam swallowed old apple orchards. One of the landowners lost his land and “500 apple trees,” for a compensation of “a measly 100 million Lebanese Lira ($67 thousand).”
They also tried cultivating potatoes and “got potatoes in return.”
Today, most farmers make “between $3,000 and $5,000” from the cannabis season. This just about covers the cost of “oil for heating in winter and school fees.” An average winter requires around eight barrels of fuel per house, so its inhabitants do not freeze.
Electricity is not a factor. Most of the time, there is no electricity in Yammouneh. The townspeople blame the “region’s MPs.”
A few years ago, Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir visited the nearby Deir el-Ahmar. It left its mark on him, so he promised that its roads would be paved soon. It happened a month later.
But on the Yammouneh crossroads, the deep potholes are unavoidable. The road was last paved during Walid Jumblatt’s tenure as former Public Works Minister in the mid-1990s.
An older resident says “Jumblatt paved it because Dureid Yaghi was running for the 1996 parliamentary elections.” But, “today’s MPs receive 95 percent of the region’s votes and do nothing.”
A few days ago, a member of the Shreif family contacted one of the region’s MPs, “who did not have a clue... The party [Hezbollah] is tying up our hands.”
But Yammouneh cannot be against the resistance. Resistance against Israel is a popular choice where the people do not expect anything in return from Hezbollah. They are convinced with that choice and after all “the cemetery is full of martyrs.”
They just ask that the MP to do his job. The war has been over for more than 20 years, but nothing new happened in the region.
The school has been closed for three years. The clinic donated by Leila Solh does not have human resources. There is no pharmacy. They have nothing left.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.