Looking back at Lebanon’s 2006 war

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A man carries the body of a young girl killed in an Israeli bomb attack on Qana, South Lebanon, on July 30, 2006. (Photo: AFP-Nicolas Asfouri)

By: Rana Harbi

Published Saturday, July 12, 2014

Eight years ago today, a month-long brutal war between Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Israel began. As a result of the conflict, more than 1,100 Lebanese died, a further 4,000 were injured, and over one million Lebanese were temporarily displaced.

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah conducted an operation code named “True Promise” during which the party killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two in a cross border operation. Claiming to be acting in retaliation, Israel unleashed hell across Lebanon with 33 days of aerial bombings and heavy shelling of civilian neighborhoods, homes, schools, hospitals, powerhouses, bridges and other infrastructure. Hezbollah responded with intense missile barrages at towns as far south as Haifa in the Israeli occupied territory of Palestine

On August 14 both sides signed a UN-brokered ceasefire based on Resolution 1701. Two years later, on July 16, 2008 an Israeli-Hezbollah prisoner exchange took place when Hezbollah released the remains of the two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006 in exchange for five Lebanese fighters held by Israel as well as the remains of about 200 Lebanese and Palestinians.

Eight years have passed since, but endless stories and memories remain. Below are the accounts of two Hezbollah militants and one Lebanese civilian who had either participated or witnessed the 2006 war.

- Abu Hasan Musulmani, a Hezbollah militant from al-Jebbayn, South Lebanon

Not much had to be said. My two sons kissed their mother’s hand and asked for her forgiveness. My wife has great patience and even greater faith. She gave us her blessings and we left.

The Israelis were now in our village and we knew we had to defend our border communities. Al-Jebbayn, in the district of Tyre, is about 1 km away from the border fence with occupied Palestine. The clashes began in a frontline valley and we faced gunfire from any and all directions.

From a distance I saw Ali, my 20-year-old son, fall down after an artillery shell targeted him. I didn’t know if he was dead or injured as the clouds of exploding rocks and the smoke of detonating ordinance blurred my vision. Shortly, amid the fury of the devouring flames my second son, 22-year-old Hassan, fell down just few meters away from me. I started crawling towards Hassan across the hazardous area under intense enemy fire.

Upon seeing me, one of my fellow combatants threw a hand grenade to suppress the hostile fire sufficiently to enable me to reach my wounded son. When I managed to reach him he was lying face-down in a pool of his own blood. I turned him over and he grabbed my hand. “We have to evacuate,” one of my companions cried out loud. I tried to patch my son’s wounds and limit the river of blood flowing from his stomach but I could see the light in his eyes fading away. “Its over,” Hasan whispered. We both knew it. I dragged his body and tried to hide it. “We have to retreat now,” a voice screamed from a distance. I became a proud father of two martyrs on August 9, 2006.

It wasn’t until four days later that we were able to retrieve the bodies. The moment the cease-fire was declared I ran down to the field and started searching for my sons’ bodies. We gave them the final farewell they deserved.

On July 9, 2013, my 23-year-old son Ibrahim died in the battle against takfiris in Aleppo, Syria. I personally believe that the battle against takfiris in Syria is as noble and grand as that against the Israelis as both are existential threats to Lebanon and the resistance axis.

Death in any battle against injustice elicits more pride than grief. We not only have the right but also the obligation to defend our land and our existence from any aggression. I believe that the road to freedom is paved with sacrifice and blood. My three sons sacrificed their lives so that others can live with dignity. My wife and I love our sons, we love them greatly, but for us martyrdom is a sublime and honorable goal. Our willingness to sacrifice our lives for our cause and our indifference toward earthly and corporeal concerns is the driving force behind the 2006 victory.

Whatever more we can offer, we will. Our men, our children, our siblings. Hassan’s son, who was less than two years old when Hassan passed away, is still too young but, God willing, one day when he realizes that this country’s soil is drenched with the blood of his father and his fellow martyrs, he too will join the Resistance.

- Lana Jafar, a Lebanese resident of Maaliye, South Lebanon

Did you pack everything?” my dad asked as he lifted the last box. My mother nodded, turned off the television and asked me to carry my backpack and go down to the car. Two weeks into the war we decided to flee to Syria after the Israeli army had repeatedly dropped leaflets ordering villagers in the south to evacuate their homes and move northwards. I was fifteen years old at the time.

My dad had covered the car with a big piece of white fabric and white flags were trailing out of the windows to indicate a civilian status. As I sat in the backseat of that car, a feeling of fear gripped me. I opened the window and could hear the howl of Israeli jets hovering over above us as we headed north. I knew this was going to be a harrowing journey.

Even though the Israelis continuously urged civilians to leave their houses, many civilians were targeted by aerial missiles and the burned bodies of entire families were left in vehicles for days as recovery teams failed to reach them. The Israelis had no red lines.

My dad drove through narrow side roads because the highway was completely destroyed. Before we reached Tyre, we found a civilian car still burning in flames in the middle of the road. “Marwan, lets go back, this could have been us,” my mother cried, begging my father to turn around. But we kept driving. Along the way we saw dead bodies inside burned vehicles. I tried to silence my cries so that I don’t wake up my two-year-old sister but I couldn’t. My parents tried to comfort me but their voices were trembling which made me cry even harder. “Why are they doing this?” I cried. “We are not militants.”

On our way we saw thousands of people crammed into cars and buses or piled into pickup trucks, trying to flee the south just like us. Mattresses, baby shoes, tattered dolls, and clothes were dispersed along the road. We passed car wrecks, still smoking after Israeli strikes, and we didn’t even stop to check if the people inside were alive or dead.

I was starting to fall asleep when a munition fired from an Israeli Apache helicopter struck the car in front of us, blowing the bumper off and starting a fire. The vehicle started swerving and then stopped in the middle of the road.

A man, his wife and three kids abandoned their car quickly and my father stepped out of our car to make sure they’re okay. As they approached us a second missile hit their car. I started screaming and my mother started swinging my sister in her arms trying to calm her down. The five family members jumped into our car and my father sped down the last remaining route that connects the south with Beirut.

I could hear the menacing roar of Israeli warplanes the entire journey. I was terrified, but we made it.

- Rida, the military name of a Hezbollah militant from Houmin al-Fawka, South Lebanon

I was on duty that day. I left my house in Homin al-Fawka in South Lebanon and headed to Bint Jbeil further south. I stopped in Tyre to get my laptop fixed when I heard the news. Hezbollah, a cross-border operation and Israeli shellings. I stormed out of the electronic store and stopped a taxi. When we reached Qana the driver turned off his car. “I’m sorry I can’t take you any further,’ the taxi driver said in a trembling voice. “If you don’t take me I’ll have to walk all the way to Bint Jbeil,” I calmly replied while looking him straight in the eyes. He understood. “I will take you even if its the last thing I will do,” he said as ambulances drove passed us, rushing to nearby hospitals.

I met up with three of my fellow Hezbollah soldiers and we chose a safehouse to hide in and plan our operations. Two young university students from the Homeid family, who happened to live down the block, provided us with food and water the first three days. They disappeared on the fourth day. We stayed with neither food nor water for five long days until the order came: change your residence immediately.

As we walked down the street to our new location we were shocked by the damage the Israeli bombardment had caused. Right around the corner we saw what used to be the Homeid's residence. We ran towards the completely destroyed building and tried desperately to find the bodies of the two brothers buried under the load of rubble. But we knew it was too late and we had to keep moving.

In every house we entered we left a piece of paper with a phone number written on it along with a list of everything we ate, drank, used, broke or took from the house so that when the war ends the house owners can contact us and we can pay them back. We never received any calls though.

As a unit of four we were responsible for multiple tasks; from close monitoring and signaling to preparing ambushes against attack operations such as infantry, airborne and air assault brigade operations. I remember our first anti-infantry operation. When multiple Israeli Merkavas entered Bint Jbeil we were nervous because the improved Merkava 4 tank was considered by the Israelis to be the main battle tank that will pave their way to victory.

During the fighting, the tanks encountered catastrophic fire hazards after being penetrated by our advanced anti-tank missiles. When the first Merkava blew up we couldn't believe our eyes. The Israeli soldiers faced nothing but hellfire after that. Between the gunfire of the men on the front line and the anti-armor missile launchers from behind, we were able to shatter the illusions of the Israeli infantry.

One day after Israel was forced to retreat from Bint Jbeil, the Israeli forces retaliated by committing a deliberate act of mass murder in Qana that claimed 58 lives including 32 children, the youngest being 9 months old, according to the Lebanese Red Cross.

The Israelis continued to escalate the bloodbath hoping that the carnage would pressure Hezbollah into surrendering. This never happened and the war ended on August 14.

On August 15, I called my wife for the first time in 34 days and she told me that my 28-year-old brother Hussein, who was two years younger than me, had died in clashes four days ago. It was the saddest moment of my life. Next to me my friend was also on the phone with his wife. “Did you deliver?” he asked his 9-month pregnant wife. “Not yet?” he cried with joy, “I’m coming.”

We stood there next to each other with tears of sorrow in my eyes and tears of joy in his. I guess all wars end this way.

Comments

Bravery and tragedy. They seem to mark our Arab nation.

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