In Bint Jbeil

Survivors Rise From Rubble Of Battered Lebanese Village

Namad Baidoun, traumatized by 20 days of Israeli bombing, screams as she walks out of the shattered ruins of her village of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon.
Namad Baidoun, traumatized by 20 days of Israeli bombing, screams as she walks out of the shattered ruins of her village of Bint Jbeil in southern Lebanon. (Photos By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

BINT JBEIL, Lebanon, July 31 -- The ghosts climbed out of the rubble in this southern town Monday.

Hours after a promised suspension of Israeli air attacks, the civilian survivors of some of the most intense fighting in the war clambered from the wreckage. They were shrunken figures, dehydrated and hungry. Some had lived on candy bars, others on pieces of dry bread. Some were shellshocked, their faces blank, the expression that comes from living under bombing for 20 days. One never made it. He was carried out on a stretcher, flies landing on lifeless eyes that were still open.

Behind them stumbled Zeinab Diabis, so old and stooped that her back was parallel to the ground. Her hands groped along splintered concrete. To anyone who would listen, she cried for her brother, Ahmed, who was still trapped a half-mile away in the basement of a house.

"Who's going to bring him?" she shouted. "Who's going to show them where he is?"

"God answer my prayers!"

Bint Jbeil once numbered 30,000 people and was known in Lebanon as the "capital of resistance," a reputation won for its role in Hezbollah's fight against the Israeli occupation that ended in 2000. Today, after nearly three weeks of bombing and days of combat that pinned down Israeli troops and inflicted their heaviest losses of the war, its center is a forsaken panorama of destruction and devastation, nothing untouched.

Charred carcasses of cars were tossed in deep craters along entire blocks that were pulverized. Two ambulances were hurled on their sides, as was a burned firetruck, next to waist-high rubble that filled alleyways. A string of fluttering red, orange and green flags that once marked a shopping festival were now entwined with the casing of an Israeli artillery shell along a street strewn with cinder block, corrugated tin, wood, wires and shards of car lights. Splintered fluorescent tubes hung from awnings like funereal chimes. At times the only sounds were the cries of cats.

"What's it going to take to bring this back?" asked Ali Hakim, an 80-year-old resident, emerging from rubble that was once his house, where 70 people had taken shelter during the fiercest bombing. "It's a nightmare. It's been literally taken back to zero."

"Just because of a certain group of people, do the Israelis have to destroy everyone and everything?"

The word had spread quickly Monday morning that there would be no Israeli air raids for 48 hours.

Dozens started fleeing north from Bint Jbeil, and villages next to the Israeli border, along charred wadis. A man put his belongings on a piece of cardboard, which he pulled along the street with a string. Two others pushed a woman in a wheelchair along the winding road. A group trudged ahead, with plastic bags, satchels, suitcases and a green sports bag packed with prescription medicine. One flew a white flag.

Alaa Dagher was ahead of them, carrying four children in a wheelbarrow. An ambulance stopped, letting the children board, along with his sister and grandmother.

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