Interview with Bilal Sharara
Bilal Sharara, Secretary General of the Lebanese Parliament spoke recently with WSN’s Manuela Paraipan.
WSN: Good afternoon, sir. I know you have recently written a book about Bint Jbeil. Could you tell me a little bit about the history of the village?
BILAL SHARARA: The story of Bint Jbeil is a long story because of the village’s strategic position on the border. Its commercial and cultural features also add to its value in the region. It is the nearest village to Palestine. Before the
Israeli occupation of Palestine, Bint Jbeil had significant relations with the markets in Haifa. There were many people, residents of Bint Jbeil who had shops there.
WSN: Really? I did not know that.
BS: One of my relatives had a shop in Haifa and when the Israelis invaded Palestine, he left for Senegal. His sons made prodigious careers in Senegal. Because of the geographic location the Palestinian refugees spread out from Bint Jbeil after they came from Palestine. Many at the time stayed in Bint Jbeil.
WSN: Do you still have refugees?
BS: No. Not now. Sultan Abu Aynen's father lived there and taught at a school in Bint Jbeil. Perhaps some sort of under-the-table agreement was made between the Lebanese government and the Israelis to keep the Palestinians away from the borders. They were driven to the coastal regions. Due to these details every individual who dreams of liberating Palestine has to pay attention to geography in order to find a place to do all these operations. This is why they come to Bint Jbeil.
WSN: You anticipated my next question: Why is Bint Jbeil called the capital of Hizbollah?
BS: Bint Jbeil became the capital of all who dream to liberate Palestine. Bint Jbeil was always the place for those who were against all forms of colonialism. In 2000, Hassan Nasrallah declared it the city of resistance and liberation. There was a great festival and he made a speech. In the same week of the festival, Speaker Berri went to Bint Jbeil and the parliament held an urgent session there. Even President Emile Lahoud visited Bint Jbeil. Many officials were present at the festival.
WSN: Did they do it to show support for Hizbollah?
BS: They wanted to see the liberation on the ground, to see how it happened. But they did not bring with them the solutions to our electricity, infrastructure and sewage problems.
WSN: If Bint Jbeil was in a poor situation then, now it is clearly worse. Did you receive any kind of compensation for the damages of 2000? Who is supposed to pay?
BS: The government should pay through the council of southern Lebanon. We have yet to receive compensation for houses that were destroyed back in 1975. Actually, ever since the Israeli attacks of 1970 we have suffered and no one has helped. Now the Qataris are here but they pay only for the new damages.
WSN: I saw the center of the village. There is nothing left. What was the point of hitting it? As far as you know, were there Hizbollah fighters hiding in the village?
BS: I cannot say for sure if the Israelis meant to destroy our historic heritage or not but as an observer you can see there must have been a reason behind the attacks. Perhaps because in the center the population is dense so they thought that the militants were hiding inside the houses. But I can assure you that the resistance did not send rockets from inside the town.
BS: No. There is not enough space for them to move around.
WSN: How many people lost their lives in the village?
BS: Forty people. Twenty of them were Hizbollah militants.
WSN: What did the people do during the war? Did they stay in their homes or did they seek refuge in other villages?
BS: All of them went either to Mount Lebanon, North Lebanon or Beirut. People also left the Beirut suburbs and parts of the Bekaa Valley. It was like a bomb exploded and shattered the people all over the place. Those who hold double citizenship left via the respective Embassies. Some went to Syria.
WSN: Aside from the damages caused by the war, what other problems do you have in Bint Jbeil?
BS: Everything. All sorts of issues. Few of the problems were solved immediately because of foreign support. Like the Egyptian help. A team came to repair the electricity network but this was only because of my friendship with the Egyptian
Ambassador. The media came, promises were made and they had to respect them.
WSN: What about the water?
BS: Even without war we are always suffering because of the water shortage.
WSN: You don't have water in the ground?
BS: If we want wells we have to dig more than 615 meters and water is rare in Bint Jbeil. They say that it’s due to a shortage of water in the region, but I think they don't want to upset Israel. The water gathers in our region but it seeps into Israel and the hills linked with Israel. We have problems with the drinking water and the water for general use.
WSN: Is Israel to blame for the destruction or Hizbollah for starting the war?
BS: Who started the war in 1978? Who started it in 1972? Hizbollah was not there. Since 1948 and until now, Israel always violated our space and regional waters. Hizbollah penetrated the blue line for the first time in last year’s operation. Israel did it on daily basis. This war was pre-planned. But Israel did not expect that we would confront it with such strength. The Israelis thought that when we heard they were coming, people would run away. This time we did not flee. And next time we won't flee.
WSN: Did anyone from the government visit Bint Jbeil to assess the casualties?
BS: A general assessment was done but none of the ministers came to have a look. I mean not from the majority. Through the parliamentary committees, we made a survey of the casualties and this is a primary report. There is much more damage than mentioned in the report and it is not all about Bint Jbeil. There is a reason behind the terrible damages suffered by the village. Madam Rice wished to go to the Rome conference and announce that Bint Jbeil was taken by Israel. This would have had great meaning if it could have happened. But it did not. At some point the Israelis said they occupied it and then they had to deny it. The goal was to occupy Bint Jbeil and get to the Litani River. The harm would have been much greater if all the field artillery rockets had exploded.
WSN: Who disarmed the rockets that did not explode?
BS: UNIFIL and the army. In addition we had the cluster bombs. Maybe this is the meaning of the divine victory proclaimed by Sheikh Nasrallah. Some may laugh, but we think it was God that prevented the rockets from hurting us more. Or maybe the Israelis used old rockets trying to clear out their arsenal.
WSN: I understand that Bint Jbeil is a symbol of the resistance. Is it a Shia resistance or a Lebanese resistance?
BS: We are all Lebanese and Arabs.
WSN: Some would mention here the Phoenicians.
BS: Let the others say what they want. Walid Jumblatt said something like that. He is our friend. He went to the same festival as Hassan Nasrallah in Bint Jbeil.
WSN: Why was he there? To congratulate Sheikh Nasrallah?
BS: He came and asked if he could give a speech. He was not in the program.
WSN: You were not expecting him?
BS: No. He invited himself. There were many officials there at the time.
WSN: If you have anything else you would like to add, please do so.
BS: You have visited southern Lebanon twice. We are people who want to live in stability, our houses are more dear to us than those of the Israeli settlers and maybe more expensive. You have entered our homes and see how we are living. Peace for us is a necessity. We are paying the price of regional struggle since 1948. Soon it will be 60 years.
I don't think there are any other people in the world that can bear this situation. The Second World War ended in 6 years and in Lebanon we have a war every 5 years. In 1993, 1996, the Qana massacre. Then again in 1999. Even in 2000 as the Israelis withdrew they said goodbye by striking some of the villages. And we have the 2006 war. Every now and then the Israeli Chief of Staff remarks that he has learned lessons from the old wars, implying that there will be a new one. The Shebaa Farms are not for the Shias. We don't posses even one meter there. The farms are only for the Sunnis and Christians. This is why I say that we are all Lebanese.
WSN: What would need to happen to actually have peace with Israel?
BS: Do you think Israel wants peace? What should we do with the Palestinians who are here? Are the Israelis going to take them back to their home? This is the essential point. Are they going to let go of the idea that they want our land, our waters? I am not going to talk about peace anymore but we do not want war.
WSN: That is good enough for me. Thank you, sir.