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Hezbollah rebuilds, in more ways than one

The US designated terrorist group-turned construction company regroups despite political quagmires, the global recession and sanctions.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The bombing of Beirut’s southern suburbs by Israel in 2006 destroyed and damaged hundreds of buildings. Now, despite three years of political instability, the global financial crisis and United States sanctions, the Hezbollah-run organization tasked with reconstruction has nearly completed rebuilding, and the affected neighborhoods are once again buzzing with activity.

Hassan Jeshi, the head of Hezbollah’s reconstruction program, called, Waad, or “The Promise,” says the $400-million effort has so far rebuilt 70 of the 260 buildings destroyed in the war, and repaired nearly all of the more than 1,000 buildings damaged. He says the project will finish by the end of 2010.

“We passed the half way mark in repairing all the buildings,” Jeshi said. “We are delighted because … people are coming back to their homes, and they are happy.”

Amidst tall yellow cranes and freshly painted new apartment buildings, the sound of hammers, saws and dump trucks has given rise to renewed life in the areas devastated by Israel’s month-long bombing campaign that left thousands of Lebanese homeless.

In two separate walks through Beirut’s southern suburbs, GlobalPost had the chance to interview some of the estimated 800,000 people who live here, all mostly Shiite Muslims.

Hezbollah building site in southern Lebanon
A new building stands beside an old one
in southern Beirut.
(Ben Gilbert/GlobalPost)

As an indication of both the extent of Hezbollah’s tight control in the southern suburbs and the group’s paranoia about Israeli spies, this reporter had to obtain permission from Hezbollah to tour the area, and was accompanied on both occasions by a Hezbollah security agent, who stood within earshot of all interviews.

People who live in the southern suburbs (called simply “Daheeyah,” or “suburb,” in Arabic) see Hezbollah as the protector against, rather than instigator of, conflict with Israel. The group’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, sparked the war.

Still, residents blame Israel, and the U.S., for the destruction here.

“Hezbollah is trying to give us better,” said Abbas Dhani, 50, a school principal, as he walked into his newly rebuilt apartment building in the Hart Harayk neighborhood. “They are defending us. We are near to Israel, so we have to suffer.”

Dhani, like other residents of the southern suburbs whose homes were destroyed, received $12,000 to pay rent for a year after his home was destroyed and to buy new furniture until Hezbollah could rebuild. He says times have been tough since the war and he lost a good paying job at a school that was also destroyed. Still, the pain of the last three years is offset by the value of his new rooftop apartment, which has risen from $35,000 to $90,000, he says.

The southern suburbs were originally constructed on the orchards and fields south of Beirut as Shiites from southern Lebanon escaped violence caused by Israeli onslaughts, Christian militias and Palestine Liberation Organization guerillas during Lebanon’s 1975 to 1990 civil war.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/lebanon/091215/lebanon-israel-hezbollah