Hizbullah march 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
It's not easy getting around the Hizbullah complex in Dahiya, southern Beirut. Watchful eyes stare out from everywhere and without permission from the Hizbullah authorities, no one will talk to you. The complex itself is an arresting complexity of confounding contradictions - a mixture of destruction and victory alongside one another.
On the one hand, life presses ahead as usual. Hawkers sell their wares and white taxis blare their horns. But juxtaposed against the normality, motorcyclists drive past gaping holes in the ground. The central bridge just to the left of the complex is impassable - with holes and broken wires hanging over its edges. Everywhere you look, clean up operations are on the go.
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Samy Mehdi consults with a handful of workers in the fourth floor apartment he shares with his two elderly parents. The family evacuated their home on the first day of the war, escaping to live with relatives further inside Beirut. The buildings to the left and right of his apartment complex have been completely destroyed. Where large residential buildings once stood are now enormous holes burnt into the ground. An Arabic exercise book flutters in the wind. Alongside it a red shoe lies abandoned in the soil.
"I love Hizbullah now more than ever," smiles Mehdi, in what might at first seem a surprising response. "I really love them more. They gave us something we didn't have. Forget the destruction, they gave us dignity. For fifty years the Arab world suffered defeat, defeat, defeat. This is the first time we are the victors."
The 33-year-old supermarket owner lost his stall during the war. But he is impressed with Hizbullah for coming to assess the damage and paying him eleven thousand dollars to recover.
"It's enough money and it makes me very happy. If Hizbullah asks me to go to the streets, of course I'll go. If we have some demands and the government doesn't give us what we need, like any country in the world where if you need something and you don't have it, we will protest."
It's a sentiment echoed throughout the Hizbullah stronghold. Support for the organization is now stronger than it has ever been, making it by far the most significant political and military force in Lebanon.
Emboldened by this backing, Hizbullah is demanding at least one third of seats in the country's cabinet and threatening to go to the streets if the demand is not met. An original deadline for Monday came and went without any disruption, but the rumor is that protests could erupt later in the week.
Ali Sahan says he'll be the first to demonstrate. The 17-year-old lost his iron supply store when a bomb exploded on it. He was paid out twelve thousand dollars by Hizbullah.
"Hizbullah helps us so much. If Hizbullah didn't fight Israel there would be more destroyed buildings than there already are. Of course I'll go to the streets because the government is a big liar. I don't like what they do. They don't give us the money they get from other countries. I don't trust them."
Hizbullah central council member Bilal Naim confirms the organization is following a four-phase plan of reconstruction. First, it helps people who lost their apartments to rent new houses. Every family who falls into this category is paid $10-12,000. Then, it finances the rebuilding of homes and the removal of rubbish from the streets. Lastly, it focuses on reconstruction.
"We have finished the first step and we are trying now to implement the plan for the reconstruction phase, especially in the south," he says. "We want to work as a coordinator for the people. Every building has an elected representative who liaises between us and the people. We gave every family two choices - to rebuild themselves or to let us do it."
Naim says that if the political impasse doesn't give way soon, Hizbullah will move to the streets.
"Maybe this week, maybe next week, I can't say. But we have a right to represent the people and if the government doesn't listen to us, we will mobilize maybe one million people."
In the compound, residents are united in their gratitude for Hizbullah. Not one of them blames it for the destruction and damage caused during 34 days of war with Israel. Instead, they condemn the IDF for using excessive force.
Staring out at the debris that surrounds him, Mehdi puffs on his cigarette and with his voice rising, he states emphatically that "Israel attacked us. We defended ourselves. Everyone has a right to defend himself if attacked. We have hostages in Israel; some of them have been there for 25 years, and so we capture Israelis to make an exchange. There is no excuse for attacking the whole of Lebanon for two soldiers.
"The people here think the situation between Israel and Lebanon will be stable. They think the last aggression was a big victory for us and they don't think the Israeli army will try to make a new aggression.
"But what people now are scared of is the internal problems. The majority in the cabinet don't want to share power with the other parties, with us, and this will make problems in the future."