Aitaroun is typical of the border villages of south Lebanon that were occupied during last year’s war. Town representative Najab Kousan explains that 150 houses and businesses were destroyed with a further 45 bulldozed and 250 in need of repair.
The rural economy is all important here, with 80 percent of local income dependent on it. The local United Nations (UN) troops who recently extended their ‘blue line’ or militarised zone without warning or notification brought this into sharp focus. The area grabbed included one of local farmer Mohammad Ali Daher's most productive tobacco fields. The furious 82 year old had to be restrained by the Nepalese UN soldiers at gunpoint when he confronted them.
The village wants to avoid confrontation with the UN, as this could only benefit the Israelis. They are never far from people’s minds as the village was the last place to be unoccupied last year. The locals have little faith in the UN to stop another invasion. They are also angry that their presence limits the effectiveness of the Hizbollah led resistance who have a proven track record of defending south Lebanon.
Down the road in Bint Jbeil local woman Faten Baydoun shows us round the town where more Israelis were killed by the resistance than anywhere else. Unable to occupy the town the invaders withdrew and shelled it to dust. Fayten lost her home and business and now lives in a neighbour’s house. She remembers how the soldiers set fire to the olive trees as they retreated. Most of the money for reconstruction is coming from Qatar and Hizbollah, with the Siniora government failing to even enquire as to how the town is doing. In the last two days there have been four incidents of Israeli jets and drones flying low over the town – so things are tense.
The following day things boil over in the nearby village of Maroun, which sits on the edge of the UN’s militarised zone. Lebanese army troops who are stationed here are under orders not to discuss the events of the night before. Some men in a local shop give us the details instead. It seems that the Israelis have been regularly driving their bulldozers over the border at night and moving the fence to steal a few more metres of Lebanese land. The French UN troops in charge of the area have failed to intervene and the thieving has become a regular occurrence.
Last night the local Lebanese army lost patience and opened fire on the bulldozer and the troops protecting it. The firefight lasted two hours until the Israelis withdrew. Most people seem to have a weary acceptance that it is only a matter of time before Israel seeks revenge for last year’s humiliation using the UN presence as a back door into an otherwise undefeatable country.