At Funeral, a Sunni Village
Condemns Hezbollah’s Presence
Resident of Marwaheen, Lebanon
MARWAHEEN, Lebanon, Aug. 24 -
For months, the residents of this predominantly Sunni village near the
Israeli border watched anxiously as the Shiite Hezbollah militiamen
brought arms and rockets into town in preparation for battle. The
residents grappled with whether they should accept the fighters'
presence and face a possible Israeli attack or try to eject them, with
the more probable risk of retribution by Hezbollah.
On Thursday, as the village
buried 23 people who were killed by Israeli warplanes while trying to
flee on July 15, many had belatedly made up their mind.
"We kept beseeching them, 'Stay out! Stay out!' "
said Zainab Ali Abdullah, 19, who lost her
father, brother and several other members of
the family in the attack. "They said, 'We're all in
the same boat together, so deal with it.' But why
should our children die for their cause?"
Hundreds of people gathered here
on Thursday to lay to rest the last bodies
that had been left at a temporary mass grave in Tyre, burying
them in a grave site on the edge of a tobacco field
overlooking a valley in an emotional ceremony
that brought much-needed closure to the town's ordeal. The bodies had
languished in the temporary grave for more
than a week after the cease-fire, until the residents decided t was safe
For many, the gathering on
Thursday also became a chance to air
grievances against Hezbollah, whom they blame for having brought
trouble to their quiet community.
Criticism of Hezbollah is rare
in southern Lebanon, where the group exercises
significant influence and economic power. Villages like
Marwaheen - which largely supports the Future
Movement of Saad Hariri, son of the
assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri -
often miss out on Hezbollah's largess but pay the
price for its politics.
"There is no way for us to stop
them," said Ibrahim, who lost several
relatives in the attack and who asked that his last name not be
used for fear of retribution. "These are not people you can say no to."
On July 15, Israeli loudspeakers across the border
warned villagers to evacuate after Hezbollah began firing rockets into
northern Israel from near the town. The
families gathered in the center of the village and then went to a nearby
United Nations base for shelter, but, they said, they were turned away.
Many returned to the village, but one group,
including Ms. Abdullah, drove in two cars in the direction of Tyre, a
larger coastal town that they hoped would be safer.
About five miles away, one of the vehicles broke
down, Ms. Abdullah said, and was soon struck
by a shell from an Israeli gunboat. Israeli helicopters then fired
rockets at both cars and continued with machine gun fire, she said. Only
four people survived the attack, she said,
including herself, her niece Lara, who lost her entire family, and two
neighbors. Ms. Abdullah said she walked with
shrapnel wounds in her leg and stomach for an hour and a half to get
The town's troubles began
sometime last year when a local resident who
had converted to Shiism was appointed the local representative of
Hezbollah, residents said. Soon strange things began to occur:
strangers came through for late-night meetings;
trucks would come and go in the middle of the night; and a
suspicious-looking white van was parked at each end of the village.When
the war broke out, rockets flew out of the village and a hilltop nearby,
and the fears of many residents that trouble would come grew stronger.
On Thursday, one of the
suspicious white vans was sitting next to the town mosque. The van had
apparently been hit by an Israeli missile, but the launching platform
for a Katyusha rocket could still be seen
inside. A rocket that lay next to the van a few days earlier had been
removed. Elsewhere, villagers showed off a weapons dump that included
heavy machine guns, mortar
rockets and launchers, and numerous other rockets
left behind. Part of the weapons store had been bombed, but a much
larger store down the street was intact.
Residents said Hezbollah was
using them as human shields. "One man in this village was able to turn
all our lives upside down for just a bit of money," Ibrahim said. When
the villagers left, he said, the fighters did too, as evidenced by the
limited damage done to the town. "We want the army and the United
Nations to come in here and protect us," he
said. "Israel is our enemy, but the problem is that
Hezbollah gave them an excuse to come in and kill our
children. In an emotional two-hour burial, a
train of ambulances carrying the bodies drove
into town with sirens blaring and recitation from the
Koran playing over loudspeakers. Survivors ran to the
vehicles."That was my dad," Ms. Abdullah said pointing at a poster on a
wall in town depicting her family members who
were killed. "That was my brother, and that is
his family. I wish God had taken me with them."
Ms. Abdullah stood outside as the coffins were
carried to a makeshift staging ground for the burials, waving farewell
to each body as it was carried past.
"Farewell, father," she cried as his coffin moved past, fighting
off her cousins who tried to hold her back.
"Farewell, brother, I will miss you."