THERE IS A SPIRIT OF DEFIANCE AMONG THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH LEBANON WHO HAVE MANAGED TO RECOVER AND PROSPER SINCE THE 2006 WAR LIVING OFF THE LAND AND TRADE
Since Hizbollah routed Israel’s invading army in 2006, South Lebanon has remained peaceful and its towns, villages and farms have rebuilt thanks to inancial
support from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran. At that time Hizbollah was hailed across the region for a pyrrhic victory which killed 1,200, wounded up to 1,100, drove one million from their homes and devastated the towns and villages below the Litani River as well as the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Today there is little evidence of this conlict. Destruction was so
great that ruins were razed to the ground and new buildings erected. Rare bullet holes can be seen in the walls of the few pre-war homes and shops that have survived.
South Lebanon has recovered and is prosperous, its inhabitants live well off the land and from trade. While many Lebanese with roots in the south live in Sidon, Tyre,
and Beirut, they return frequently to visit their families. Ties to their home territory remain strong. There is a spirit of deiance
among the people. Farmers plant their tobacco and other crops right next to the Un-drawn Blue Line that marks the ceaseire line to
which Israel withdrew in May 2000 following 15 years of resistance by Hizbollah and Amal ighters.
Wealthy Lebanese construct vast villas of stone with red tile roofs on hilltops which once hosted military outposts and iring points.
Israel has built a section of wall at the village of Kafr Kila where local folk and visitors once gathered to throw stones at the fence behind which Israeli troops patrol and Israeli settlers plant their crops. Bright grafiti decorate
the white washed surface of the wall. Its centre-piece is a collection of photos of ighters and civilians
killed in battle or during Israeli attacks, a constant reminder this land has exacted a high price in
blood and tears. Every village square has a war memorial. No one is forgotten.
Tehran’s gift to the village of Maroun al-ras, Iran Garden, is a favourite picnic spot for local people who come on holidays and weekends in family groups. Men grill kebabs on metal trays illed
with charcoal while women lay out on tables beneath sun shades feasts of hummos, salads, pastries illed with meat and spinach and
freshly baked bread. Children run freely along pathways and climb platforms erected to provide wide views of the countryside on the other side of the Blue Line. Green Israeli ields stretch back
from the line to colonies planted at a distance of a couple of kilometres. A golden-domed mosque set on a rise is a tiny replica of Jerusalem’s elegant 7th century Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which
remains under Israeli occupation and is a symbol of occupied Palestine.
UN force spokesman Andrea Tenenti told The Gulf Today that the “last 12 years” of the peacekeeping operation have been the “quietist period.” The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) now deploys 10,500 troops from 41 countries in this strategic stretch of real estate. Peacekeepers conduct “450-500 patrols a day. There are no special alerts,” the force is “always alert” to handle force movements on the ground, drones and Israeli overlights.
After 2006, UNIFIL’S technical capacities were expanded in order to improve the force’s performance. The Lebanese army is UNIFIL’S “strategic partner,” he stated, relations are “going well, and “joint activities have increased from 10 per cent in 2017 to 18 per cent” this year. During
training and joint operations UNIFIL deals with a mixed group of oficers: Christians, Sunnis and
Shias. Lebanese troops search
homes and other premises for suspected arms not UNIFIL personnel. “The goal of the mission is to hand over to the Lebanese army,” which has been gradually increasing its deployment in the south. Despite constant Israeli
threats, he does not expect the situation to change. Perhaps because Israel has shifted its focus to Syria where Israeli warplanes have been iring missiles
at Hizbollah convoys and bases occupied by Iranian advisers, troops and paramilitaries. With the blessing of the US Trump administration, Israel may skip over south Lebanon when waging its often promised war against Hizbollah and its Iranian allies. Ireland was among the irst
countries to deploy when the force was created in 1978. Today 336 Irish peacekeepers, including 17 women, serve in the western operations area alongside 171 Finns and 36 Estonians. Their base is at Tyre near Bint Jbeil, dubbed “the capital of the resistance” because Hizbollah successfully defended the village during Israel’s 2006 invasion.
Irish contingent commander Lt. Col. Neil Nolan said the mission operates in a 111 square kilometre area containing 11 Shia and two Christian villages and one mixed village. There are also 3,000 Sunni Syrian refugees living here in houses and lats; most of the men
are farm labourers.
“The situation is calm (despite) latent tension,” he stated. Both sides are “very cognisant of the fact our area is susceptible... Matters can change very quickly...we report everything.. that we see and hear. Over-lights and activities on the
ground.” The UN holds trilateral weekly meetings involving Lebanese and Israeli army oficers to resolve problems and tackle tension.
While military forces exert “hard power” peacekeepers provide “soft power” by cultivating civilians in areas of deployment and by implementing humanitarian projects. First aid, money awareness and female self-defence classes “build trust and increase understanding and resilience of local communities,” he stated.
The three contingents living side by side in different sectors of the base and patrolling separately must not only adapt to the culture of the local people but also bridge cultural differences with colleagues asserted Lt. Col. Nolan. Irish troops have had a great deal of experience here and local people are conscious of the sacriices of
the Irish battalions. Forty-seven Irish peacekeepers have died here. Ireland is neutral, the troops have “no colonial baggage,” and, due to their long struggle for independence from Britain, the Irish have the “ability to relate” to others.
The view of the Blue Line and northern Israel from Iran Garden.
A memorial for the 47 Irish soldiers who died in south Lebanon.