Thursday, November 1, 2007

How to bypass roadblocks in south Lebanon

Readers wondering why there were no postings on this blog, rest assured: my parents were visiting and thus I had no time to post anything. Not that nothing happened, on the contrary: when asked what my father wanted to see, he responded casually “Oh, I don’t know, what about the South?” “Yeah OK”, I responded carefully, “Saida is beautiful”…

But that was not what my dad had in mind: he was thinking of way more south than that, like border-with-Israel kinda South. There was only one problem: the UN and the Lebanese army have restricted access for all foreigners to the utmost southern part of Lebanon. You can apply for a permit at the police headquarters in Saida or Tyre, but the processing can easily take a few days if not more. So that was not an option for us.

What to do? Well, there was only one thing left we could do: take advice from Barney the dinosaur: “The only time we ever fail is when we just give up”. I am watching this Barney DVD together with our daughter Janine roughly two times a day for roughly the last 6 months so after a while you get really familiar with Barney, much more than you could ever dream of:-) In any way, we decided to just go south and see what would happen.

Sure enough, there was a checkpoint south of Tyre near to Ras el Ain and we couldn’t go any further. Too bad because the original plan was to reach En Naqoura and from there on continue to Bent Jbeil. So we turned around, went back a little bit north to see a road going land inwards. Via Saddeqine, Srobbine, Beit Lif and Ait ech Chaab we reached Rmaich.

Photo 1: The Lebanese-Israeli border from Rmaich in South Lebanon

This is the most southern somewhat larger village in the South and sure enough we could see the Israeli border. It also got us on the road from En Naqoura to Bent Jbeil and suddenly we realized that we had done it: avoided the checkpoints of both the Lebanese army as well as the United Nations. Yay, Michel Suleiman for president….NOT! Anyone who cannot even stop a few Dutch tourists from entering the highly restricted zone, is not able to prevent Hezbollah from reestablishing themselves close to the Israeli border. There was a checkpoint along the way, but the soldier was talking to traffic from the other side and behind us was a huge UN truck, so he didn’t even look at us.

Right next to this checkpoint was a huge field of what could be poppy plants used to produce heroine. They had harvested them, so there was not much left of the plants, but see for yourself. It’s hard to believe they can grow heroine only a few meters away from the Lebanese army, so it might not be poppy plants after all. Perhaps it is cannabis, see also the picture of Harald's blog article which seems similar.

Photo 2: Strawberry Fields Forever...?

Now that we were illegally in the restricted zone, might as well make the best of it, so off we went to see Bent Jbeil. All the earlier news stories reported that this town was completely destroyed during the July War. Not one stone was left on the other, or so the reports came back. Yet, when you enter Bent Jbeil, the damage is not really all that obvious except for a few areas in the city center. Most houses are still standing, albeit with signs of damage, meaning they were not built newly after the war.

Photo 3: Bent Jbeil: The Capital of Liberation

What to think of this? You want to believe that Bent Jbeil was hit hard and yet the evidence a year later tells you differently. How come journalists never picked up on this? It would be so simple to write a “Bent Jbeil: One year later” story, but it seems no one has done that. Better to keep the myth alive of total destruction than to admit that the initial reports were way too dramatic? Once again, it proves that the truth is the first victim of war.

Photo 4: A fully destroyed building in Bent Jbeil in between other houses

What we did notice, though, was the large amount of cement trucks and all the restoration work going on. People are working hard to rebuild their houses, not only in Bent Jbeil, but all through the South. Usually, these are projects funded by the Gulf States or the European Union. Even restaurants are being rebuilt with foreign funding. Too bad this one was closed:

Photo 5: EU funds to rebuild restaurant in the South


Riemer Brouwer said...

Does anyone know what causes the difference in line spacing between the first few paragraphs and the remainder of the text after the first photo?


Gerard said...

Thanks for the update. Hope you are right in your observations. Is it a coincidence that the funded restaurant is christian? Like father, like son. Not many fathers would have asked to go there, not many sons would have obeyed...
On the layout: After the first picture there is this html code between brackets: div style="line-height: 1.6em;". If you could change that to: div, it should be solved. Cannot give you advice how to do that.

Riemer Brouwer said...

Thanks for the tip, the problem seems to be solved.

Anonymous said...

i think you weelooking at tobbaco plants.

Anonymous said...

*were looking at

Riemer Brouwer said...

heh, that would sure take the romance away from it:-)

Anonymous said...

Just so you can identify opium poppies in future.

It doesn't look like tobacco either.

nicolien said...

Riemer, I am just now reading this post... and i went to Bint Jbeil 3 days after the cease-fire (might have been 4) and i have to tell you: it was pretty much completely destroyed. I can show you pictures of a year ago, if you want. Your story says more about how hard they have worked to get things back to 'normal'. And don't forget the damage that is not so easily visible from a passing car (cracks and damage that makes buildings unusable, for example). I have to say I am almost offended by your easy judgement here.

Riemer Brouwer said...


Thanks for your feedback. I haven't visited the South right after the war, so you are right that my judgement could come across as easy. Also, I am in no way an expert in assessing damage, I just looked with my amateur eyes to the South during my recent trip.

What I noticed was:
a. A lot of cement trucks
b. Not many houses build new from scratch
c. Plenty of fixed up houses with bullet holes, meaning they were already standing before the war
d. Hardly any areas of 100% devastation, with the exception of the city center of Bint Jbeil.

Hence, my mixed opinion. There is a lot of reconstruction happening, so there must have been a lot of destruction as well. However, it's just not visible. From the initial news stories, we were led to believe that Bint Jbeil and other villages were fully flattened. That's simply not true.

That is not to say that things weren't bad: they were bad. Question is: were they as bad as reported?

Well, I dare to say no and I wish journalists would have the courage and the self-respect to validate their original opinion and do a follow-up.

I don't know if it was coincidence. But I did see, though, was that most Christian villages were spared while Muslim villages did have reconstruction projects going on. Again, this goes against the popular opinion that Christian villages were also (and equally) damaged as the Muslim villages, but in my humble opinion, this is not true, either.

nicolien said...

Thanks for your reply. I would really like to show you the pictures I have from last year. If you have some time in the coming months (might not be easy, with the twins! hope they are doing well :) )...

As to your comment to Gerard: again I have to disagree with you. Christian villages around Bint Jbeil weren't nearly as badly damaged as the Muslim ones. Same goes for Amal villages along the road to Sour, by the way. Not nearly as badly hit as those who were with Hezbollah. Makes one think...

Riemer Brouwer said...


It seems you are saying the same thing as me regarding the Christian villages in the South, namely that they were not nearly as badly damaged as the Hezbollah-linked ones?

nicolien said...

Correct (i think i misread your comment). In one Christian village close to Bint Jbeil there was even an gas-station unhit... as if Hezbollah trucks can't fuel up on Christian gas :P