In southern Lebanon, not far from the border with Israel, tension has been increasing day after day since October 7, the start of the most recent conflict between the Islamist group Hamas and the Jewish state. The inhabitants of the region fear the opening of a new front and, above all, of reliving a war similar to that of 2006.
The large room of the restaurant of the Alma Verdi hotel, nestled in the heart of the village of Alma el-Chaab, seems to have been emptied of all life this midday on Tuesday. Outside, the terrace is empty; the water in the pool hardly moves. A cat meows nearby. Only employees are present, ready to welcome journalists who have come to cover the regional consequences of the Israel-Hamas conflict, which notably led to the death of a reporter from the Reuters news agency.
“My family moved further north, but we stay. We cannot leave the hotel owner alone,” explains Duty Ibrahim, one of the employees there. With a colleague, this Lebanese man who now sleeps at his workplace carefully scans a television on which a continuous news channel delivers the latest information on the situation in Israel and Palestine.
The contrast with the calm of the Mediterranean Sea below is striking. Since October 7, there have been numerous exchanges of artillery fire on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Hezbollah, a Shiite political movement allied with Hamas and supported by Iran, attacked several Israeli positions, which led to responses from the Jewish state. Many residents have already fled to the north; others remained, between fatalism and resignation.
In Alma el-Chaab, the streets are quiet. Only some houses still appear to be inhabited. Near the church, in the courtyard of a bakery, a few residents are chatting. Yvette is the owner of this business which faces the white church. “I closed my shop last Tuesday due to the situation. But I continue to pay the electricity, the costs so that the food does not expire,” she says.
A few meters from her, men are seated under a tree and chatting in Arabic. Mgr Maroun Ghafari is one of them. “We are paying attention to things that are happening. Of course, we are afraid, because we do not know, as we live in this border region, what the future has in store for us,” confides the priest of the Notre-Dame parish in a calm tone. “And we don’t know what the objectives of these attacks are…”
According to the latter, the village usually has between 800 and 900 residents per year, a figure confirmed by a member of the municipality. But today there are only around sixty of them left. And Yvette will also soon be heading to Beirut, a city located a hundred kilometers further north. “My daughter is afraid for me,” she slips with a smile.
Mgr Ghafari regrets the lack of communication from the current government. According to him, the inhabitants are prisoners of a conflict which exceeds them and can only count on themselves. “No one said a word — ‘Stay home!’, ‘Leave!’ or “Do you need anything?”… No one has asked us how the situation is being experienced, it’s a shame,” whispers the representative of one of the village’s religious authorities.
At his side, Milad Eid, the owner of the Alma Verdi hotel, also regrets the situation. But leaving is out of the question. Like the others, he hopes that life can soon return to normal. “If not, we will take shelter. Even if, in a war, you know, there is no real secure place…” he says a little disillusioned.
If not, we will take shelter. Even though, in a war, you know, there’s no real safe place…
A few minutes later, noises similar to explosions rang out. Tension escalates. The handful of men still seated at the table get busy and rush into vehicles.
Back at the hotel, Milad Eid makes numerous calls to assess the situation, understand which areas are affected and determine if there is any damage. Concern can be seen on the faces of those present. According to the Lebanese Red Cross, a team was dispatched to the site in the afternoon to transport the bodies of four bombing victims.
Still raw wounds
Could the violence degenerate and lead to a war comparable to that experienced in South Lebanon in 2006? The question is on everyone’s mind. During this conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, lost their lives on the Lebanese side, and more than a hundred on the Israeli side. Roads had been cut; bridges, destroyed.
The explosions and shootings of recent days bring back painful memories. “During the 2006 war, the situation was much worse, we were afraid,” continues Milad Eid. Why must our citizens live in fear? »
If the situation remains far from that of 17 years ago, the inhabitants of southern Lebanon wonder how it will evolve. They also fear the repercussions of the conflict in a country plagued for more than four years by an unprecedented political and economic crisis: the country has been without a president for almost a year, its currency has devalued by 90%, and its public services operate very little, if at all.
“This conflict could increase the harshness of life for the Lebanese, especially those from the south, like us,” attests Mohamad Gemeel Alaweah, a resident of the Bint-Jbeil area. “This will lead to other problems, while we already have to face a very expensive life, and then the social situation will deteriorate even more,” continues the man who, like many other Lebanese, has experienced several wars. in his life.
For megr Ghafari, the opening of a new front will accentuate the wounds of previous wars. “We have seen that all these wars have no meaning except destruction… They have a psychological effect, especially among young people,” indicates the man who is also the director of a secondary school. When they finish high school, they think about leaving not only the village, but also the country. »
Leave. Despite her attachment to her country, her village and her family, a student who lives in another locality, near Bint-Jbeil, and who prefers to withhold her name for security reasons, believes that her future is elsewhere. And this has been happening for a long time. With the war at the gates of his village, exile is more than obvious: it has become a necessity. “Of course I’m scared!” We don’t know if war will break out or come to us. But I don’t want to stay here anymore, she blurted. I have to go to another country to have a better life. »