Israel shelled southern Lebanon with rockets after a barrage of rockets from Palestinian militants. The inhabitants of the southern city of Tyr do not expect a war. “Can’t they fight their fight in Palestine?”

Jenne Jan Holtland

It was like “the world was collapsing,” says Raya, 11. She’s talking about the Israeli missile attacks, Friday morning around four. The whole family woke up. “The walls were shaking,” says father Alex Madani (57), even though they actually arrived in the southern Lebanese city of Tyr for a carefree holiday in the sun. The family has been living in Hannover, Germany for years.

A day and a half after the salvoes, like many local residents, they go to look at the place where one of the rockets fell, ten minutes south of Tyr. A small bridge has been shattered, as has the irrigation canal below. The concrete is in a thousand pieces, the steel rods stick into the air like chopsticks. Why did the Israelis hit this particular bridge? ‘Just to clarify one point,’ thinks Abu Waleed, a 64-year-old farmer. “They target the bridges more often.”

About the Author
Jenne Jan Holtland is a Middle East correspondent for by Volkskrant. He lives in Beirut. He was previously a correspondent in Central and Eastern Europe. he is the author of the book maputo messenger (2021).

The three missiles caused no casualties, and that appears to have been the intention of the Israel Air Force: to send a signal, not to provoke war. Or was there luck involved? Moussa Shobar, a 27-year-old Palestinian, says he saw a fourth shell fall from the roof of his house, not far from a residential area. There was no explosion, human lives were saved.

The reason for the back and forth salutes was the heavy-handed intervention of the Israeli security forces in the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem last week, in which dozens of Palestinians who were praying were injured. The holy month of Ramadan added to the anger. A militant group, believed to be Hamas, responded by firing 34 rockets at Israel from Lebanon, most of which were ripped out of the sky by the iron dome-defense system.

hezbollah

Analysts agree that the attack from Lebanon was coordinated with Hezbollah, the most powerful actor in the south of the country. On paper, it was the biggest escalation of violence since 2006, when Hezbollah waged a 34-day war against its southern neighbors.

But this time everything is different, and neither Hezbollah nor Israel are waiting for a war. From previous failed military adventures, 1982 and 2006, they have learned the lesson that the other side cannot be brought to its knees. Hezbollah has entered the political establishment at the national level and is not willing to risk that comfort. Illustrative is last fall’s agreement in which Lebanon, with Hezbollah’s tacit consent, and Israel recognized each other’s maritime borders to allow offshore gas extraction.

On the downed bridge you can hear two different conversations. You hear conversations about decades of animosity with Israel and the willingness, a workhorse among Hezbollah supporters, to die for the Palestinian cause. It includes tense language that could have come straight from the mouth of Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s charismatic leader.

“If they hit us, we hit them.”

“One day we will liberate Palestine.”

But you can also have a completely different conversation with a 32-year-old avocado farmer from the region. He does not want his name to appear in the newspapers, because Hezbollah’s hold on the south is too great and the risk of retaliation too real for that. ‘If the Palestinians want to liberate their country,’ he says to the others, ‘can’t they fight their fight in Palestine?’

economic malaise

For a long time this type of statement was heresy. But even in this south, usually so loyal to Hezbollah, there is anger over the economic malaise, hyperinflation and frozen bank balances, which have crippled Lebanon since 2020. Hezbollah is partly blamed for this, though such sentiment is often ring behind closed doors and not in the presence of reporters.

A little further on, 17-year-old Nadim Abdusatter holds up a heavy piece of junk: a fragment of the second Israeli missile. Ten years ago, his family fled the war in Syria, but they are not safe in their new country either. The force of the impact was so great that a detached stone passed through the ceiling. “They ran out just in time,” smiles Nadim. “God has given me the opportunity to live longer.”

Local residents inspect the dilapidated bridge ten minutes south of Tyr.  Sculpture Aline Deschamps

Local residents inspect the dilapidated bridge ten minutes south of Tyr.Sculpture Aline Deschamps

A ten to eleven meter deep crater is visible among the orange trees. Why did Israel fire at this? Was this the place from which Hamas had fired rockets? Nadim’s father, Abdulkhaleq, 42, shakes his head. “We saw them ourselves, firing from the hills beyond. I think Israel just wants to scare us.” He doesn’t know who will pay for his roof repair.

30 thousand euros

The same goes for the farmers near the bridge that was shot to pieces. A captive official estimates that 30,000 euros are needed for the repair. Because irrigation has come to a standstill, there is a threat to farmers in the region: their banana and orange bombs will soon dry up. They do not have to count on compensation.

That’s also a difference from the 2006 war: at that time, the rich Gulf states got their grants to repair broken infrastructure. Now Lebanon is bankrupt and no one dares to throw money into the bottomless pit. The avocado farmer is already feeling the storm: he and his father will have to do the work themselves. This time there will be no money: neither from the region, nor from the Beirut government. And not Hezbollah.