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.
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.
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.
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.
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: