For just the space of a day in mid-May, the shroud of silence that has enveloped occupied south Lebanon was lifted by the Israeli army raid on ‘Ayn al-Hilwa, the large Palestinian refugee camp that has been rebuilt outside Sidon. Events leading up to this encounter vividly illustrate the dynamic of occupation and resistance in the south today. On May 15, a large demonstration in the camp was disrupted by the local Israeli-sponsored “national guard.” That evening, Israeli tanks and armored vehicles surrounded the camp. Around midnight troops moved in under flares for four hours; some 20 homes were demolished and about 150 residents arrested. Palestinian and Lebanese sources claim 40 were killed or wounded; the Israelis deny any fatalities. The next day, a large demonstration against the raid was attacked by the “national guard”; one woman was killed and several people injured.
The only thing unusual about this incident was the brief burst of publicity it attracted. Since last fall, south Lebanon has been under a state of siege enforced by the Israeli army, Phalangist death squads, the Army of South Lebanon (as the militia of the late Saad Haddad is now known), and Palestinian and Lebanese collaborators in auxiliary militias. Less than two weeks earlier, on May 5, unknown persons assassinated Abu Sultan, the head of the Israeli-sponsored militia in the camp. Israeli and South Lebanese Army troops clamped a tight siege on the camp, preventing movement in or out. On the night of May 7-8, under Israeli flares, ASL troops broke into the camp. According to Lebanese radio accounts, there were dozens of casualties, more than 100 arrests and many homes and shops destroyed.
Two months earlier, on March 2, two camp residents were killed by Israeli soldiers on the coastal road when, according to the Israelis, they failed to heed a checkpoint. This prompted a strike in the camp. On March 5, Israeli forces moved in and one person was killed. There were further IDF searches the next day, and on March 9 the “national guard” tried to kidnap some half dozen camp residents. On March 13, the IDF surrounded the camp with tanks and armored cars and arrested more than 100 Palestinians.
These pacification techniques have not been restricted to ‘Ayn al-Hilwa. Numerous southern Lebanese villages have come under siege or curfew for days and sometimes weeks, usually following attacks on Israeli occupation forces. The town of Jibshit has been the scene of several large-scale confrontations. On February 16, Jibshit’s religious leader, Imam Raghib Harb, was murdered. Harb had long been one of the most outspokenly militant opponents of the occupation. His arrest in the winter of 1983 had sparked off a general strike throughout the south. Southerners are convinced that local henchmen of the Israelis killed him. Several large demonstrations in the town, involving tens of thousands of Lebanese Shi‘a from around the south, prompted the IDF to take over the town center before dawn on March 28. Loudspeakers ordered all villagers between 12 and 60 into the schoolyard. There they were enraged to see Israeli graffiti on the walls of the husayniyya (religious school), and in the clashes that erupted between three and seven were killed, perhaps 20 wounded and more than 500 were arrested.
Israeli armed forces radio says the Army of South Lebanon rather than the IDF intervened in Jibshit. The villagers might be excused for any mistaken identity, since the ASL’s uniforms come complete with Hebrew insignias. The ASL represents the main element in Israel’s effort to cut its own casualties in south Lebanon. In sixteen months since October 1982, 223 Israeli soldiers have been killed by Lebanese resistance forces, and 2,500 wounded. This past March, 70 attacks against Israelis killed three and wounded 36. Fifty attacks in April wounded 23. Two Israelis were killed in 25 attacks in the first half of May. Following the death of Saad Haddad in January, the Israelis renamed his army and brought in a retired Lebanese major general, Antoine Lahd, to head the force. Some 400 Phalangist (Lebanese Forces) militiamen in the south — the so-called Damour brigade responsible for the Sabra-Shatila massacres — have been integrated into the ASL, but these numbers have been more than offset by defections among Shi‘i members of Haddad’s old force. In addition to uniforms, arms and training, the Israelis are paying each militiaman some 1,700 Lebanese pounds per month (about $300), a significant sum in the economically ravaged south. Despite this material enticement, though, the ASL still does not number much more than 2,000 men. Between 5 and 6,000 will be needed to allow Israel to pull out most of the troops it now has in the south, conservatively estimated at 10,000.
According to Israeli radio, the salaries of the Army of South Lebanon are financed by taxes on the local population. Lebanon south of the Awali River has been effectively partitioned economically as well as politically from the rest of the country. All land routes to the north have been sealed; telephone and telex communications with the rest of the country were severed in early March and mail service had ceased; the ports of Sidon and Tyre have been intermittently closed, disrupting all commercial traffic and crippling a formerly thriving local fishing industry. An estimated 70 percent of the south’s citrus crop, normally worth around $200 million, has gone to waste or been sold at a loss. Even local markets have been devastated because Israel has dumped one third of its total vegetable exports in the Lebanese market. As a result of this situation, the entire leadership of the Shi‘i communities has launched a campaign of “civil resistance” and sanctioned armed resistance against the occupiers. As Israeli forces have retreated to hilltop positions fortified with bunkers, minefields and barbed wire, the resistance attacks have targeted their Lebanese surrogates in the Army of South Lebanon and the Lebanese and Palestinian “national guard” collaborators. Israel’s war in Lebanon is far from over, and its “new order” is proving elusive indeed.