Surviving War: A Mother’s Tale

by Amal Bouhabib with photographs by Sarah Hunter

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On Thursday, 13 July 2006, Jocelyn Haddad woke at 3 a.m. in her home in Yaroun, a village of Shiites and Christians on the Lebanese side of the Israel-Lebanon border. It was tobacco season; the tobacco flowers had begun to yellow and Mrs. Haddad, along with other village women, descended on the fields before dawn to pick the ripe leaves from their stalks.

A few hours later, Mrs. Haddad returned home to rouse and feed her four children — three girls, 19-year-old Wardy, 16-year-old Jiselle and 11-year-old Marcelle, and a boy, 14-year-old Hana. For the past six years, she has run her family alone. Her husband, Kamil, once served in the Southern Lebanese Army, which was equipped and trained by Israel during its occupation of southern Lebanon. After Israel’s May 2000 withdrawal from the south, Mr. Haddad fled to North America.

As she woke her children, Mrs. Haddad noticed that the electricity was out for the second straight day. But no one in Yaroun gave it much thought. Power grids throughout the country often failed.

There were rumors of new skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party that had controlled southern Lebanon since Israel’s withdrawal. But skirmishes, like power outages, were nothing new in southern Lebanon. Why should this be any different, Mrs. Haddad wondered.

Like most residents in Yaroun, she did not know how vast and destructive the skirmish was becoming. The previous day, on 12 July, Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid, killing three Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two others. Israel launched a quick rescue mission that cost the lives of five Israeli soldiers and failed to recover the kidnapped.

Such actions were not uncommon in the years when Israel occupied the south. But since the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah never had mounted such a foray into Israel. The international community, including the Arab League, widely condemned Hezbollah, which claimed they took the soldiers to earn the release of Muslim men in Israeli jails. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the attack an “act of war,” while the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, General Dan Halutz, said, “If the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years.”

Still, the scope of Israel’s response surprised everyone — even Hezbollah.

By the time Mrs. Haddad’s children had returned from school on Thursday afternoon, Israel had already imposed an air and sea blockade on Lebanon. Israeli jets were targeting all major outlets out of the country, including the Beirut International Airport and the Beirut-Damascus highway, as well as the main roads and bridges in southern Lebanon. The residents of the region found themselves trapped.

During the first few days of the fighting, most of Yaroun’s 5,000 residents stayed put. Eventually, they realized this was not just another minor scuffle between longtime enemies. By Monday, 17 July, Mrs. Haddad’s produce had begun to rot, and the bombs and shells were coming closer. That afternoon, an Israeli missile destroyed a neighbor’s home, and Mrs. Haddad took her children to her sister-in-law’s house in another part of the village. Others sought refuge in the Melkite parish church, St. George, which in calmer times served Yaroun’s 160 Melkite Greek Catholic families, including the Haddads. Father Elias Saliba opened the church to Shiites as well, transforming the church into an improvised bomb shelter.

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