Bint Jbeil, Lebanon -- Abdullah
Hassan Nasrallah proudly displayed a check for $11,000
to repair his home, which was damaged in last summer's
war between Israel and Hezbollah.
The money came not from the elected Lebanese government
in Beirut, nor Jihad al Binaa, Hezbollah's construction
firm, nor even Iran, Hezbollah's strategic Shiite ally.
It came from Qatar, a Sunni Gulf state that hosts a
major U.S. military base and maintains trade relations
"Over the last four months, we've had Jihad al Binaa,
Qatar and the government's reconstruction committee
visit us four times each," said Nasrallah, pointing to
the bright paint marks on a damaged building left by
surveyors from each agency. "They all came, but in the
end it was the Qataris who paid."
In the Lebanese capital, 70 miles to the north,
Hezbollah militants are leading demonstrations to bring
down the Sunni-dominated government led by Prime
Minister Fuad Saniora, which they accuse of following
U.S. and Israeli interests by trying to strip the Shiite
group of its arms.
Yet in the war-battered south, the universal language of
cash is outweighing sectarianism and politics.
Bint Jbeil, a Shiite town and bastion of Hezbollah
support, would seem an unlikely place for reconciliation
between Islam's rival branches. But the international
scramble to rebuild the damage is providing an unlikely
model for cooperation between Sunnis and Shiites -- one
that might be exported elsewhere around the region.
Oil-rich Qatar is providing aid to repair nearly 400
religious buildings, including the Grand Mosque at the
heart of Bint Jbeil's Old City, which is being rebuilt
in partnership with a committee from Hezbollah and Amal,
another Shiite party.
"Before now, Qatar used to aid governments directly,"
said Khaled al-Hitme, the fresh-faced engineer heading
up his country's $300 million, 18-month reconstruction
operation. "This is the first time we are actually
rebuilding a country. My boss joked with me that once
we're finished here, he will have to send me to rebuild
The Qataris are rebuilding the southern towns of Khiam,
Ait Achab, Bint Jbeil and Ainata -- hospitals, schools,
mosques and houses.
"The people were very thankful to us," al-Hitme said.
"Qatar was clear in calling for an immediate end to
hostilities from the beginning of the war. We're not
looking for Shia, Sunni, Hezbollah or Saniora. We pay
directly to the people themselves. We see everyone as
Sitting on a coffee table at Beirut's luxurious
Phoenicia Hotel, where al-Hitme has been staying for the
past seven months, is a thick book entitled "Monthly
Report 4 by the Rehabilitation Project for South Lebanon
Qatar and Lebanon."
By the end of January, the report details, the Qataris
had handed out more than 5,000 compensation checks
averaging $6,000, the first of three installments, to
the people of the four towns in south Lebanon they are
rebuilding. More than $38 million already has been
Iran is also using its oil wealth to help rebuild
Lebanon, despite its complaint that the government is
throwing obstacles in its path for political reasons.
So far, Iranian engineers have overseen the repair or
reconstruction of 60 schools across Lebanon, with 100
more on their to-do list. Four hospitals out of 22 have
been repaired, while 30 places of worship -- including
10 churches and some Sunni mosques -- have been
completed, leaving 70 still to do. Electricity has been
restored to 60 villages in the south, and Iran is
bankrolling a total rehabilitation of the notoriously
poor electricity system in Beirut's southern suburbs.
Fifty of Lebanon's bombed-out bridges are on the Iranian
timetable, with 10 major ones completed so far, and
Iranian engineers are overseeing the repair of all of
Lebanon's damaged roads.
"We have taken on 150 kilometers of main roads and some
500 kilometers of smaller roads," said Hussam Khoshnevis,
head of the Iranian mission to aid in the reconstruction
of Lebanon. "But there is a lack of information from the
government, so we are mapping the roads ourselves," he
"We have an agreement with the government where we do
the job ourselves and we hold onto the money and spend
it directly," said Khoshnevis. "But though we have this
agreement, we feel a certain hostility from the
government, and that we are not being appreciated for
our efforts compared with other countries."
In the devastated southern suburbs of Beirut, where
Hezbollah maintains its headquarters, Iranian engineers
offered to rebuild bombed-out highway overpasses.
They found that engineers from Saudi Arabia, the Sunni
Arab regional rival to the ascendant power of Persian
Shiite Iran, had already won the contract for that work.
In Bint Jbeil, the Iranians opened an office to
coordinate the reconstruction of the Shiite stronghold,
only to find Qatar had agreed with the national
government and local municipality that Sunni money would
pay for the extensive reconstruction.
"If there is any country who says they want to rebuild,
then we step back, and this is what happened in the case
of Qatar and Bint Jbeil," said Khoshnevis. "Wherever
there is damage, we rebuild -- regardless of sect. For
us what is important is doing the job."
But the Islamic republic's close ties to Syria -- whose
heavy-handed control of Lebanon since 1976 ended when it
was forced out after the assassination of former
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri two years ago --
have produced wariness in accepting its aid.
For its part, the United States pledged $230 million in
humanitarian reconstruction and security assistance to
Lebanon. A further pledge of a massive $770 million in
U.S. aid came at January's Lebanon Donors' Conference in
Yet the most visible impact of American post-conflict
aid to date has been the provision of 20 military
humvees -- the first batch of a total of 285 -- to the
Lebanese army. Though a smattering of U.S. Agency for
International Development signs can be found around
rural areas, the agency employs just eight people in
Since last summer's war ended, USAID has given $7
million to a Christian charity for a school
rehabilitation project. It has also awarded a $30
million contract for the reconstruction of the Mudairej
Bridge -- one of the tallest in the Middle East -- to
Contrack International, an American company, and
provided $5 million to aid the cleanup of oil along
Lebanon's northern coastline.
Sweeping down along the turquoise Mediterranean
coastline, across temporary bridges and permanent
potholes, and high up into the rugged hills of south
Lebanon, the residents of Bint Jbeil and other towns
that lost so much to the war care more about the pace of
reconstruction than the source of the aid.
Khalil Ajami is awaiting
reconstruction money from Qatar for
his house in Bint Jbeil, damaged in
last year's Israel-Hezbollah war.
"This house was my life's work," said Khalil Ajami,
standing by the ruins of the home he built in hopes that
some of his 13 children would eventually return to live
with him through his old age.
Pockmarked with bullet holes and gutted from the inside
after a huge mortar exploded through the roof, the
rubble of his once-pristine home now serves as a
temporary overnight refuge for Ajami, who travels to
Bint Jbeil from southern Beirut -- where his other home
was also destroyed -- each time news breaks that
reconstruction engineers are making another survey.
Sectarian grudges are a luxury the homeless Shiite
grandfather can little afford.
"If I had money, I would not ask for money. I don't want
charity," he said, waving a photograph of his home from
before the war.
"But I am lost and I am getting bored waiting for
someone to help me. Yes, they are Sunnis, but Qatar is
doing something, which is more than I can say for the
politicians in Beirut."