Um Khalil, who stayed in her village until the "resistance sent someone to tell me if you want to keep our minds at rest, leave during the truce", would cook and bake and leave food under the fig tree for Hizbullah's fighters, or as she knows them, "the young men of the resistance". Sometimes, she invited them over for coffee.
"Here, on this porch, I had breakfast with them before I left… Thank God they proved to be up to the task and triumphed," she said.
Whenever the situation got worse, the boys would ask her to keep the lights in her house turned off at night. On those dark nights, she slept with a knife under her pillow, to stab "the jew" if he enters her house. "It's out of the question to sit and watch him, even if it meant my death."
After the war, Um Khalil greeted the returning fighters with rice and candy. 'They all came to me and I made sure they were all OK and kissed their shoulders one by one like they were my sons."
Um Khalil lost neighbors who refused to leave the village, and six of her seven cows that kept her and the resistance fed throughout her stay.
In other villages, tales are woven about the heroism of the "resistance fighters". Hussein Sherri fought and killed 18 Israelis according to some, 12 according to others. In his village of Odeissah, it was Mercy Corps who arrived with assistance. But it's the heroism of Sherri that's remembered. In Kfar Kila, one store owner opened his grocery store to find a list of items taken by Hizbullah, with a promise to reimburse. Sure enough, a Hizbullah member soon showed up and reimbursed him. The Israeli army could not enter Kfar Kila. (source: As-Safir, September 13. Reprinted in tayyar.org)
For those who stayed in their homes and looked after the fighters, who in turn looked after them in this surreal mode of existence, Hizbullah is no foreign tool, it is part of their fabric. That is why many of us thought the Israeli objective of "destroying Hizbullah" was so foolish. This may seem illogical to some, but the antidote to Hizbullah is not Israeli force. And it's definitely not 1.2 million cluster bombs.
Israel's army fired more than 1.2 million cluster bombs into Lebanon during the month-long conflict, the liberal Haaretz newspaper reported Wednesday citing a senior Israeli army officer.
The unnamed officer described his unit's use of the controversial bomblets during Israel's 34-day offensive against Hizbullah fighters as "crazy and monstrous." "We covered entire villages with cluster bombs," the newspaper quoted the commander as saying.
… UN chief Kofi Annan has condemned Israel's use of cluster bombs and the world body estimates that as much as 40 percent of the apple-sized bomblets fired into Lebanon failed to explode on impact. Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that Israel's cluster bomb use in Lebanon had "been taken to a new level", during a visit to southern Lebanon in the war's immediate aftermath.
Southern Lebanon is now littered with unexploded cluster bombs and ticking human bombs. Their diffusion is not an easy matter, and the story I began my post with proves the immensity of the task lying ahead, unless you want to dismiss it as As-Safir biased reporting. I am aware of other stories, possibly from Sunni and Christian villages where residents offered no food to the fighters. But there are too many Um Khalils out there to ignore. As someone who has tasted the food of many Um Khalils, and who knows how many southerners readily open their houses to help not only their sons in Hizbullah, but also strangers from beyond Hizbullah's realm, I cannot judge her, let alone dismiss her influence.
For many of us, the elitist city dwellers, the Israeli withdrawal ended the pretext for war and heralded the need for a peaceful future. But to many people who live with memories of tragic times, the future is the past and the present. Time does not move forward for those kept in the margin, and who never frequent our fancy downtown restaurants, especially when their self appointed leaders keep them locked away.
One hopes that Um Khalil will one day open her house to the boys from the army. Maybe, just maybe, those boys who ate the food she left under the fig tree will learn that local food is good as long as the cook is kept alive, and spices are local. And maybe those calling for Um Khalil to wear a Lebanese flag will get off their expensive high horse and taste her cooking for a change.
The responsibility is on everyone.