Friday, April 6, 2007
The devastation of south Lebanon has echoes of Angola's towns shattered by South Africa in the 80s
Victoria Brittain in Bint Jbeil
Friday April 6, 2007
"From the rocky hills above the south Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil you look down over a valley of wild flowers and goats, where the word Hizbullah is scored into the grass. Three miles away is the border with Israel, and the red-tiled roofs of its settlements which face Bint Jbeil, the symbol of the war that Israel lost last summer. In 18 years of Israeli occupation of 10% of Lebanon, Bint Jbeil was the capital of Hizbullah's resistance, and it was unsurprising that it took the early brunt of Israeli air strikes, tanks, and street fighting in the 34 days of war......
Israelis, too, know about the power of memory, and made an attempt here to rub it out. Another of their prime targets was the hill-top prison of Khiam, northeast of Bint Jbeil, where hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinians were held and tortured by Israel's proxy, the South Lebanese Army, during the occupation. Khiam was the symbol of Israel's power, and the prisoners' will to resist it. Today, bleak Khiam is a heap of tangled rubble, watched over by a man who spent four years inside the prison and has been telling its story ever since. All he can show now is one small remaining corridor of cells, and an isolation punishment box which he can just fit his body inside.
But three years ago, when I was last here, the anniversary of Israel's withdrawal was a holiday, and there was an atmosphere of celebration under a forest of Lebanese and Hizbullah flags. Khiam then was a Hizbullah museum, where families were shown round by this same former prisoner. The Angolan government produced a white book detailing every attack by South Africa, and today Lebanese citizens are doing the same, documenting civilian losses, damage to housing, land and the environment in a website: warrecords-lebanon.org.
Memory and history will be served by this, but there will be a reckoning beyond it. South Africa learned to live with its apartheid crimes through its truth and reconciliation commission. Will Israel go down this route too?"