For farmer-turned-Hizbollah fighter, zeal undiminished

SRIFA — When not fighting under the Hizbollah banner, Abu Hadi is a farmer whose faith in the movement appears unshaken by the destruction of his village and the deaths of his relatives.

Neighbourhoods here lie in ruin and Srifa’s main Shiite mosque has giant holes punched into it by Israeli rockets. A partially constructed school was flattened, and the city markets are mounds of concrete and steel.

Abu Hadi said Israel’s overwhelming use of force took Hizbollah by surprise. But Hizbollah had used the time since the Israelis withdrew in 2000 to prepare for the assault, including training missions in Iran. “In the last six years, we have made progress in all kinds of missiles and in all kinds of rockets. In Hizbollah, every man has an expertise. There is training and learning in Iran,” Abu Hadi said. “Even if we have some kinds of missiles from Iran, this is our right … just like Israel gets help from the United States.” In wartime, Hizbollah fighters are reticent to identify themselves. But since the ceasefire, young men have emerged from the ruins of south Lebanon claiming to be Hizbollah fighters. Their credentials often are difficult to check. Abu Hadi, a 35-year-old father of two, gave only his nickname, which means “Father of Hadi.” He said if he gave his real name, the Israelis might somehow target him — with or without a ceasefire.

But evidence of his credentials as a Hizbollah fighter go beyond his claims and can be seen in the rubble of his village. By all signs, Israeli planes targeted Hizbollah fighters like him in a campaign of destruction that the Israelis said was aimed at crippling the movement.

The destruction in Srifa, near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, suggests that the Israelis believed Abu Hadi and his neighbours were Hizbollah fighters. Abu Hadi pointed to his house — blasted into ruins — and said the bodies of two of his nephews were buried in the rubble. A third family member was injured, unable to be moved for three days because of the ferocity of the Israeli assault, he said. Abu Hadi’s diary — notes hurriedly scribbled as bombs and missiles pounded the ground — is a vivid recounting of the horrors of war. Though his claims can’t be verified, his words relate the intensity both of the conflict and the emotions it has engendered among the Shiites of south Lebanon, Hizbollah’s base of support.

“On the first day of the war on July 12. They are shooting at the school. There is no one inside. The school is under construction but they think the school is a military centre for Hizbollah. It isn’t.” He continued reading from the single sheet of paper he’d pulled from his pocket, the words small and crammed together: “The first day they shot from the planes and hit the house of my friend and killed him and his wife and his two children. They were my good friends, and I was afraid that maybe they would fire on my house. After that I sent my wife and children away from Srifa.” On July 18, he wrote: “It was 3 in the morning. The planes came. There were so many overhead. There were maybe 30 planes and they were firing rockets and missiles. They thought they were hitting the centres for Hizbollah but they killed 25 people, they were civilians” — a claim that is impossible to substantiate. Village officials have reported 15 houses destroyed in air strikes about the same time, and two days after the ceasefire took hold, they reported 32 bodies pulled from under the rubble. Srifa last Friday buried 25 villagers, 10 of them Hizbollah fighters.

Another entry: “On Saturday they attacked a graveyard. They are even afraid of the dead. It was very heavy attack for two days, they attacked with rockets and with planes.” August 9: “They hit all the houses that had belonged to the martyrs of Hizbollah. They started to shoot at every house of the Hizbollah men who had died.

And the last entry: “In the last two days before the ceasefire, they had a big, big attack on the homes in Srifa. They destroyed everything they thought belonged to Hizbollah, was near to Hizbollah, that was in the neighbourhood of Hizbollah.” That was when Abu Hadi says his home was smashed.

Abu Hadi said things were particularly hard in the final days of fighting. There was no shortage of weapons, but food supplies had run out.

“In the last days of the war, it was very hard to survive. We had just one can of tuna in 24 hours and some bad bread,” he said.

Ghandourieh, a southern village that overlooks the Litani River, fell to Israeli forces in the final hours of the conflict. It was Abu Hadi’s first hand-to-hand combat, he said. “There were about 150 Israelis and 20 Hizbollah. We were waiting for them. When you are coming to my house, I will be waiting. I will prepare very well,” Abu Hadi said.

Hizbollah’s spotters saw the Israeli tanks and radioed from one Hizbollah group to another until the message reached Srifa. “In each village, there is a Hizbollah observer, and he transmits to the next village that Israelis are coming and saying the best way to fight them,” he said.

Abu Hadi has put down his weapon and begun documenting the damage to his village for Hizbollah. In his notebook he has each building identified. There are 601 destroyed or partially destroyed buildings in Srifa, according to his reckoning.

“We will rebuild everything,” he said.

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