|A War-Torn Lebanese City in Ruin
Bint Jbeil bears the
scars of weeks of fighting with Israeli forces, but
many regard Hezbollah's charge to battle as a point
Block after block of destruction
Bint Jbeil's own ground zero
LEBANON — There used to be a city here.
Where there were businesses, now there is rubble. Where
there were small apartment buildings, schools, homes,
now there is rubble. Block after block of destruction,
Bint Jbeil's own ground zero.
Now that Israel's invasion force has nearly completed
its withdrawal and many Lebanese have returned to their
homes, the scope of the damage is becoming clear. It is
evident that Lebanon faces a multibillion-dollar, three-
to five-year rebuilding task.
Yet many residents of this small city hail the Hezbollah
militia for picking a fight with Israel by killing and
kidnapping Israeli soldiers July 12 and then holding the
Israeli army at bay for 34 days until a cease-fire was
"This is a victory for us," said car dealer Nidal
Shawara. "Israel is trying to take our land again, and
Hezbollah is protecting the land here. Israel wanted the
land up to the Litani River, but they couldn't take it,
and they had to move back."
This is the official Hezbollah line, reinforced by
hundreds of prominent new billboards praising Lebanon's
"divine victory" over the widely despised Jewish state.
But this does not feel like a country that has
vanquished its opponent.
Hezbollah's fighters in Bint Jbeil and other towns along
the border did repulse an Israeli invasion, but the
country endured a frightful pummeling from the Israeli
air force that killed more than 1,000 people and
inflicted widespread damage, particularly in the south.
Help is coming from a number of disparate sources.
Rivals like the United States and the Iranian regime are
kicking in millions, with President Bush pledging $230
million in emergency aid.
The oil-rich Qataris, Kuwaitis and Saudi Arabians are
funding a number of projects, and the International
Monetary Fund is working on reconstruction along with
dozens of nongovernment aid organizations.
Some privately funded luxury real estate projects in
central Beirut are going ahead despite the bombing, and
well-to-do Lebanese-Americans and other Lebanese
expatriates are making substantial donations to get
their country back on its feet.
But even the most enthusiastic analysts point out that
the problems that led to the war have not been
addressed, leaving the very real possibility that
hostilities could resume at any point, derailing
reconstruction in the blink of an eye.
ready to fight
Hezbollah has not disarmed, despite a U.N. Security
Council resolution calling for private militias inside
Lebanon to give up their weapons, and Israel remains
active along the border. The scene is set for future
confrontations, residents say.
Marwan Beydoun, a butcher in Bint Jbeil, said the 15,000
armed U.N. peacekeepers flooding into the border region
would be powerless to keep the combatants apart.
"Neither the United Nations or anyone else can stop
Israel and Hezbollah from fighting again," he said.
"What can the U.N. do? They can't do anything."
U.S. officials who say the war caused between $3.5
billion and $5 billion in direct damage are optimistic
that Lebanon can recover its economic equilibrium fairly
quickly if the U.N. resolution calling for Hezbollah and
others to disarm is fully implemented.
They maintain that disarmament would create a stable
environment that would encourage investors to return.
Many people, however, think Hezbollah is too strong to
be disarmed, given the weakness of the Lebanese
government, which has not extended its control to
Hezbollah strongholds in the south or to the southern
suburbs of Beirut.
"I don't think the Lebanese government will even try to
do the unthinkable," said Fawaz Gergez, author of
Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy.
"The Lebanese prime minister never said he would disarm
Hezbollah but said he would try to find a formula to
integrate them into society. Hezbollah is more than a
militia, more than an army. It's a social and political
Gergez said that to try to take Hezbollah's weapons by
force would lead to a major civil conflict inside
"Lebanon cannot afford that; it would be suicidal," he
said, "and the prime minister understands that."
The direct damage to Lebanon is visible. More than 80
bridges have been destroyed, leading to huge traffic
tie-ups. An estimated 20,000 homes have been flattened,
and thousands of small businesses and shops have been
leveled. Electricity plants and communications
facilities are badly damaged.
One of Lebanon's leading economists, Marwan Iskandar,
says his company's research shows the indirect costs of
the war will far exceed the direct cost of the damage,
which he estimates is $5 billion.
"The indirect loss is far more, and you can't measure it
yet," said Iskandar, the managing director of M.I.
Associates. "Part of it is the loss associated with the
emigration of 70,000 young Lebanese who are seeking work
outside Lebanon because of the war. Suppose the direct
destruction costs $5 billion, and suppose we put all
that in to regain the level we were at on July 12. You
are paying all that money to get back what you had, not
to add to it."
Lebanon might be able to reach that point in three or
four years, he said. But the country would have
sacrificed all of the potential growth those years might
have brought. And Lebanon would have fallen further
behind competitors who were able to expand their
economies during that time.
There has also been serious damage to Lebanon's emerging
reputation as a pleasant, sunny haven for wealthy
residents of the Persian Gulf seeking second homes to
escape the Gulf's stifling heat.
These "Gulfies" — as they are known locally by grateful
shopkeepers — had financed a boom in luxury
developments. But this trend has been endangered by the
fighting, which also wiped out what had been expected to
be a $1.5 billion tourist season, Iskandar said.
He is also gloomy about the prospects for curbing
Hezbollah's military strength. He said his research
indicates that Hezbollah, which enjoys strong financial
support from Iran, has an annual military budget of
about $2 billion.
He said this means that in recent years Hezbollah has
been able to spend $5 billion on cement alone to fortify
its tunnels in southern Lebanon.
"No private army in the world can match that, and we can
see their defense works well," he said, adding that it
is very easy for Iran to continue funding Hezbollah's
operations because there are no controls on cash brought
With the cease-fire holding and the Israeli withdrawal
expected to be complete within several days, aid
officials say the relief program is winding down because
food-, medicine- and water-distribution systems are
generally working well.
"We're out of the emergency phase," said David Orr, a
spokesman for the World Food Program. "Within a week or
10 days of the cease-fire, more than 90 percent of the
people had returned to their home areas, and that was an
early indication that stability was returning"
The agency plans a final food delivery for mid-October,
Orr said, and plans to leave the country shortly after
But there are still many areas with water and
electricity shortages, officials said.
U.N. spokesman Khaled Mansour said two persistent
problems remain: the need for shelter for people whose
homes were destroyed and the discovery of more than 500
locations in the south with unexploded Israeli cluster
He said it would take explosives experts more than two
years to cleanse the area of the small, hard-to-detect
bombs, which have already killed 15 Lebanese and wounded
more than 80 since the August cease-fire.
"We don't yet have the maps from Israel that would show
us where the cluster bombs were used," he said. "The
bombs are very unstable, and it's really dangerous. You
can be an expert, and still it explodes in your face.
"It's an economic issue because the bombs are in houses,
schools, hospitals and fields. It's a major problem in